I Was a Fifth-Grade Flat-Earther

As a child, I was a convinced flat-earther because of a lady in our fundamentalist church, and she believed it because of the Bible.

Revelation 7 clearly says:

And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth (KJV)

How can you be more clear than that? The earth has four corners, and four corners form a square. So the earth is flat—and square. Pure logic!

Morning Bible Reading in the Fifth Grade

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At that time, American school classes began the day with a Bible reading. My teacher had designated me his Bible student since I carried my Bible around with me and read it whenever I finished a test early or had other free time. So he asked me to read the passage that day; I chose Revelation 7 and began to read at the the front of the class.

And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.

And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.

And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.

Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. (KJV)

Actually, I did not complete the entire passage. I had not planned ahead and got bogged down in the tribes, so the teacher asked me to read down to ‘here’, which I was glad to do. I could not even pronounce some of those names.

Billy Trips Me Up

My purpose was to prove the earth was flat. Afterward, my classmate, Billy, asked me about the reading, and I repeated that the earth is flat and pointed to the four corners of the earth. He said, ‘Yeah, but that could be the four directions—North, South, East, and West.’

I was dumbfounded; I had never considered that before. Confidence in my biblical interpretation was broken by a fifth grader. I don’t recall whether I stopped being a flat-earther that very moment or whether I persisted a little while. But I certainly was not a flat-earther much longer.

Inerrancy and ‘Plain Reading’ of the Bible

Inerrancy and ‘plain reading’ of ‘scripture’ are closely connected errors in approaching the Bible. Inerrancy assumes everything the Bible says is God’s eternal truth, and ‘plain reading’ means the Bible says what it says and needs no questioning even with regard to genre. Therefore, if the Bible says the earth has four corners, then it has four corners.

But Billy was right; it is not as simple as that. Four corners here does not actually mean four physical corners. Just as we should not understand that angels were actually holding back four winds.

But beyond that, the four corners are only incidental to the passage, which is not about corners but the sealing of the tribes of Israel. And the passage does not appear in some historical description, or even a future historical description, but in an apocalyptic work based on wild drama and heavy symbolism. This is not the place to discover facts about how the earth is shaped—it doesn’t address that at all.

And yet a lady in my church read, ‘I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth’ and came to a firm conclusion that the earth is flat—and square. No doubt in her mind. And she was not alone. Even after I abandoned flat earth views she still had plenty of people who agreed with her.

But not all flat-earthers agree that the earth is flat and square; rather they believe the earth is flat and round. Using similar techniques as she did, they find proof in a different passage—Isaiah 40:

With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

There you have it. The earth is flat—and round. Isaiah clearly says that God sits above the circle of the earth, though the information is only incidental to the passage which is about something else entirely.

What Else Do Flat-Earthers Believe?

Flat earth beliefs are actually quite detailed, and we will talk about them next time.

Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.

Articles in this series:
I Was a Fifth-Grade Flat-Earther

See also:
Books and Resources on Inerrancy


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26 Responses to I Was a Fifth-Grade Flat-Earther

  1. tonycutty says:

    It’s also an example of selective literalism. The very next phrase after the ‘four corners’ bit says there are ‘four winds’, but anyone with a simple weathercock on their roof can tell taht there are famr more than four directions from which the wind blows. You were expected to take the four corners seriously, but nobody took any notice of the four winds. And they accuse us of cherry-picking…. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. tonycutty says:

    You do realise that talkinf about FE ideas might well attract all kinds of tards, don’t you?

    I did a post on Flat Earth, and I disabled comments for it 😀



    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, I read your very good article again (I had read it before). You seem to be well aware of flat earth thought. It is too bad you had to disable comments on the post.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      tony, careful with the language, the use of ‘tards’ could be taken as ‘retard’, and so might be offensive to someone of a PC disposition, who could think that it would be offensive to someone else.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Johnny Patmos says:

    Hi. It’s also possible the author thought the earth was flat, but it doesn’t have to be our modern day understanding with the science we now have. No need to rationalize it as N, E, W, S … we can just call it a difference of opinion that has nothing to do with the meaning of the verses. Even if John saw it in a truly inspired vision, we have symbolism in dreams all the time and it doesn’t mean it had to reflect to the actual science of Earth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Johnny, you are right. The author might have thought the earth was flat, but the corners still don’t seem to be significant to the rest of the passage. I agree that we need not consider it only the four directions; other meanings are possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My brother in law believes that Earth is the center of the universe and everything rotates around it. He believes that it is a lie that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He has 10 children, and he teaches this to them. He believes this because of various Bible passages that don’t even really say what he thinks they are saying, and he gives no qualification to genre, metaphor, etc. So, I know exactly what you mean by this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy says:

    Has anyone considered that these are probably Hebrew idioms? The Greek translators weren’t familiar with Hebrew idioms and so transliterated them, losing the original meanings. Some Hebrew idioms we can learn today because they are still in use amongst Jewish Hebrew speakers. But some are lost to antiquity.
    It is sad that well meaning people have embraced error because of an ancient language and cultural concepts that they don’t understand.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Cheryel, you could be right. And it is important to consider these things. But I don’t think it would matter to a flat-earther; most I have heard and read are committed to a flat earth no matter what arguments are presented to the contrary.


  6. Chas says:

    Tim, the author of Revelation seems to have gained his ideas on this from Jeremiah 49:35-36 :
    I will bring against Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; I will scatter them to the four winds, and there will not be a nation where Elam’s exiles do not go. Quite a lot of Revelation seems to be derived from the OT prophets.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tommy W Willcockson says:

    Let me begin by saying that I am somewhat unusual as a minister/hospital chaplain in that my Meyers-Briggs puts me as an almost 100% “thinker” with almost no “feeling” component. I have always been a stickler for logic and rational thought instead of going “heart first” into anything.

    When I was in seminary, the school changed “direction” and was inundated by fundamentalist professors and students. When one of them would tell me he was a Bible literalist, I’d say that they were not and that I could prove it.

    Then I would turn to that passage in the Revelation of John and read. My follow-up was to say that either the earth is flat or it used to be flat OR God apparently didn’t know what shape the earth was at the time he “breathed” that passage.

    To a person, they would sputter and spit and finally say, well that wasn’t meant literally–it was a “literary tool” and was figurative.

    Then I would say, “So, you don’t take the whole of scripture literally then–so you are not a literalist?” They would argue that they were–it was just that certain parts of scripture werent’ meant to be taken literally.

    “So how do you know what is to be taken literally and what is to be taken figuratively/”

    “I just know…” (Then a walk away.)

    In the beginning, I really thought I could change minds using logic and reasoning and rational thought to change minds and hearts. Of course I soon realized I was wrong about that–but by then it was just plain fun to play with their heads…

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tommy, that’s a great story! But I am not surprised that you found it was not so easy to change people’s minds and hearts with that approach. I don’t know of any approach that works until they have already begun to question on their own.


  8. DI says:

    I have often thought that all the problems between denominations etc. within Christianity are because of either taking a bible verse literally when it is meant to be symbolic or taking it symbolically when it is meant to be literal. I wish we all could get together and go through the entire Bible and decide once and for all if it is literal or symbolic, but that might take a few thousand years.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      DI, wouldn’t that be great?! But I am not sure it could be done even in a few thousand years.


  9. What gets me about this and so many other things is the human desire to know for certain about everything. We will do anything we possibly can to make sure we supposedly know. We’ll twist things just so we can confirm that we know. Yet, the reality is we know so very little. I think one of the biggest tragedies of fundamentalist thinking and beliefs is that it strives to eliminate mystery, and expansion. Faith isn’t just about more head knowledge about God. It’s about a deeper mysterious relationship with God – one that expands as we grow in faith. If we know everything there is to know, then there is no room for growth. And that runs counter to a basic characteristic of life. Life is always expanding and changing. Knowing everything doesn’t leave room for growth or change. It is the essence of stagnation. Certainly some things about God don’t change. Or rather, our perception of God. But we are limited creatures and our understanding of God and our encounter with God does change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Matthew, ain’t it the truth! Some people cannot live without certainty–whether their certainty is on target or not.

      You always have such a way with words: “I think one of the biggest tragedies of fundamentalist thinking and beliefs is that it strives to eliminate mystery, and expansion. Faith isn’t just about more head knowledge about God. It’s about a deeper mysterious relationship with God – one that expands as we grow in faith. If we know everything there is to know, then there is no room for growth.”

      I love this! And let me just say that there is so much I DON’T know that I have plenty of room for growth.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The further along in this journey of faith I go, the more I realize how little I know about God. Yet, this is comforting too – relationship with God is a never ending source for growth and exploration and discovery. God shows up in my life in ways I never imagined. And then calls me go out in other ways I may not always like. But God is always faithful.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: I Was a Fifth-Grade Flat-Earther | Hebrews 13:2 NIV Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! EASTER 2019

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