Starting in Genesis and carried on throughout the Scriptures, God tells us numerous times about “the face of the earth”, and “the face of the waters”. Rarely addressed, these two expressions do suffer from a lack of sound interpretation. However, the word of God is a sword, and a sword doesn’t bend to personal opinions; it’s precise. We may ask then, what is the meaning of those? What is the face of the earth, and what is the face of the waters? Why did God choose the word ‘face’ in describing the earth and waters?
Etymology & meaning
The word face in Hebrew is panim or paneh1Panim or paneh, “face, faces” https://biblehub.com/hebrew/6440.htm see also: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h6440/kjv/wlc/0-1/. The suffix -m (pronounced “im”) indicates plurality2https://tmcdaniel.palmerseminary.edu/GeseniusGrammar.pdf p. 224, § 87. It is used in the singular 3 It is the same for elohim “gods”, mayim “waters”, chayyim “lives”, and shamayim “skies” . While panim is a noun, its root-word is a verb4It is not an isolated case. See: raqia, “firmament” https://biblehub.com/hebrew/7549.htm – panah – meaning “to turn”5Panah, “to turn” https://biblehub.com/hebrew/6437.htm See also: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h6437/kjv/wlc/0-1/.
The noun derived is or refers to that with which you know you’re turned – your face6The noun derived from the verb indicates something related to the action it expresses. Raqia follows the same scheme – raqa “to beat” gives raqia “beaten, hammered”.. The principle is that, when that part of your body is turned toward someone or something, you know you’re turned toward such person or thing i.e., you face such person or thing. In other words, the question is, what do you know you’re turned with? The answer is, your face. Therefore, we’re calling that part a face, because it is with that part that you know you’re turned7Notice I say “that with which you know you’re turned” and not you have turned, because there are other ways for you to know that you are turning or that you have turned – example: your ears, which are not located on your face. Only with your face can you know where you are turned – where you are facing, what you are looking at; because that’s where your eyes are. I can know that I am turning or that I have turned with my ears, but I know where I am turned with my eyes, i.e., with my face..
Now, what is your face exactly – what does it look like? It has topography, although it is not specifically curving upwards or downwards; neither does it bend around your head8“the front part of the head, from the forehead to the chin.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/face see also: https://botoxtrainingcentre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/AnatomyAtlas.pdf; neither it is your head – your face is not your head, and you don’t call your head your face or your face your head, the back of your head your face, or the sides, or the top9Parts of the head [non-exhaustive]: “top, parietal ridge, temple, crown, nape” https://www.healthline.com/health/crown-of-head#location. Your face is just that, your face – an overall flat surface with definite boundaries and topography.
When Moses or other prophets tell us about the “face of the waters or deep” or “the face of the earth”, are they saying that the waters, or the earth, have eyes, eyebrows, a nose, nostrils, cheeks, lips, a chin and a forehead? Of course not. They live on this very earth and see it every day, and know what water looks like, and know that earth and water and humans are different from one another. This affirmation – or assumption – is even more ridiculous given the fact that they are inspired by the Holy-Spirit102 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, because even if indeed they are stupid, he is not, he knows the difference between all those, and he is not wrong. No, they are simply giving the name of that part of the body to the earth or to that part of the earth – and the waters – because it has the very same characteristics: it is flat11One may say that the fact that the earth has topography means that it can’t be flat. Such statement is a red herring and an equivocation fallacy since the context here is that of the earth being a sphere or not, and such expression is clearly defined and understood as meaning the surface of the earth not bending upwards nor downwards, regardless of its specific topography. If the case was specifically about the topography of the earth, then yes, that would not be a good word to use; but it isn’t, so it’s dismissed. It is like saying sandpaper isn’t flat because to bacteria it has topography, or that a carpet isn’t flat because to ants it has topography. Again, if the point was specifically about the topography of the sandpaper or the carpet, then yes, that would be a wrong word to use, but, again, it isn’t the case. – it doesn’t bend – and it has boundaries; thus, describing the earth just as they would describe their face.
This is why saying “the face of the earth – or the face of the waters – is not literal” in order to argue against the earth being flat does not save the day, as it is:
- A straw man12“A straw man is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man, precisely because nobody thinks it is literal in the first place;
- A red herring, deflecting the conversation towards what nobody claimed13Red herring: see note #11.;
- A non-sequitur14“When the conclusion does not follow from the premises. In more informal reasoning, it can be when what is presented as evidence or reason is irrelevant or adds very little support to the conclusion.” https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/logicalfallacies/Non-Sequitur see also: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_sequitur fallacy, because the fact that it’s an expression doesn’t nullify the point it’s making – actually, it’s the exact opposite15It is like reading “it’s raining cats and dogs” and saying “well, cats and dogs don’t literally fall from the sky; therefore, the author does not mean it’s raining heavily or raining at all”. The author doesn’t mean cats and dogs are literally falling from the sky, he uses an expression so that people understand what he means. The expression is not literal, but the point is: it’s raining a lot. That’s why he is using the expression in the first place – to make the point. This is the exact same thing with “face of the earth” and “face of the waters”, these are not literal human faces, but the point is: the earth and the waters are flat with boundaries.. The point still stands.
Those are figures of speech16“A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_speech called anthropomorphism, which is “the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object.17“the ascription of human qualities to a deity, […] other non-human things” https://www.etymonline.com/word/anthropomorphism#etymonline_v_26345 “The attributing of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects, animals, plants, or other natural phenomena, or to God. To describe a rushing river as “angry” is to anthropomorphize it.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/anthropomorphism”; from anthrōpos “human” and morphē “form”18“having human form; anthropoid in form” https://www.etymonline.com/word/anthropomorphous#etymonline_v_44379; plus, the suffix –ism – indicating a practice or teaching of something19“word-forming element making nouns implying a practice, system, doctrine, etc.” https://www.etymonline.com/word/-ism#etymonline_v_12269.
Those are not the only cases of geographical20Geography – “the science of description of the earth’s surface in its present condition” https://www.etymonline.com/word/geography anthropomorphism in the Scriptures. For example, Moses, David, Ezekiel and Jonah speak about the heart of seas21Exodus 15:18, Psalm 46:2, Ezekiel 27:24-27, Ezekiel 28:2, 8, Jonah 2:3; Jesus, prophesying about his death, said he would be in the heart of the earth22Matthew 12:40.
Furthermore, we still use this figure of speech today – example: the “arm” of a river. It is a “narrow extension of water flowing out from a much larger body of water”23“In geography, an arm is a narrow extension, inlet, or smaller reach, of water flowing out from a much larger body of water, such as an ocean, a sea, or a lake.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arm_(geography). Are we saying that there is a human arm attached to the river it’s going out of? Of course not. We’re simply ascribing a human feature to that smaller stream so that people understand when we’re referring to it. The river is the torso and the smaller stream flowing out of it is the arm – analogous to the human body.
Some people say that the word face means “surface” as that of a ball, because Moses – and the other writers – simply didn’t have the word “ball” in their vocabulary24Or where not smart enough to understand it’s a ball; or God didn’t tell them to avoid shocking their 1.5 millennia B.C. limited minds, etc. The excuses are literally infinite., and therefore wrote “face” but they really meant surface – not face – and of a ball. However, this statement doesn’t hold for at list two reasons:
First, this statement assumes different meanings to words that can have the same one. In geometry25“The branch of mathematics that treats the properties, measurement, and relations of points, lines, angles, surfaces, and solids.” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/geometry – literally “earth measures”, a face is a flat, 2-dimensional surface26“In solid geometry, a face is a flat surface (a planar region) that forms part of the boundary of a solid object” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_(geometry) – notice a pattern or relation; while a surface27“surface, In geometry, a two-dimensional collection of points (flat surface), a three-dimensional collection of points whose cross section is a curve (curved surface), or the boundary of any three-dimensional solid.” https://www.britannica.com/science/surface-geometry. The oldest appearance of the word surface as of “surface of the earth” I could retrieve is of a 14th century poem; and as a mathematical definition, of a 17th century mathematics dictionary. There may exist however older writings containing such vocabulary. can be a face, but not necessarily. Simply put, a face is a surface, a surface can be a face. This is why, saying that the word face actually means surface is self-defeating, as it begs the question of what kind of surface it is. But we’ve already been given the answer: it is a face. It is like saying the word face actually means surface which is a face anyway, since that’s what is written. See the following conversation:
- The Bible says earth has a face.
- Well, it’s not a face, it’s a surface because …
- Okay, what kind of surface?
- Well, it’s a globe.
- The Bible says it’s a face, so it can’t be a globe – nor anything else than a face.
To the question “what kind of surface is it?”, saying anything else than a face is going against the word of God because God tells us what kind of surface it is – a face.
Second, it is a category error and a composition fallacy28“A category mistake, or category error […] is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_mistake “The fallacy of composition is an informal fallacy that arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition. Your face is not something in itself, it is a part of something. The face of someone or something is not that whole person or that whole thing, it is part of him/her or it – my face is me, but I am not my face. In other words, nothing “is” or “is not” a face, rather, something “has” or “has no” face. It is not an “is” issue, it is a “has” issue. A face is what you have, not what you are.
Likewise, the face of the earth is not an “is” issue, it is a “has” issue. As such, saying that the word face refers to the surface of a ball breaks the law of non-contradiction29“In logic, the law of non-contradiction […] states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time, e. g. the two propositions “p is the case” and “p is not the case” are mutually exclusive.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_noncontradiction since by definition, the surface of a ball doesn’t have any face, and a face cannot be the whole ball30“Every solid figure, with the exception of a sphere, has one or more faces, or flat surfaces.”; “A sphere has no faces, a cone has one circular face, and a cylinder has two circular faces.” https://flexbooks.ck12.org/cbook/ck-12-conceptos-de-matem%C3%A1ticas-de-la-escuela-secundaria-grado-7-en-espa%C3%B1ol/section/10.1/related/lesson/faces-edges-and-vertices-of-solids-msm7/. A ball is its own surface, not flat and without boundaries31“A sphere is a three-dimensional round-shaped object. Unlike other three-dimensional shapes, a sphere does not have any vertices or edges.”, “It has one curved surface.” https://www.cuemath.com/geometry/sphere/, which is opposite to what a face is.
As stated before, your face is no other part of your body, neither is it your whole body, rather, your body has a face. Likewise, the earth is not a face in itself, the earth has a face. Therefore, the earth having a face means it can’t be anything else than something that is not a ball, with a face32Clarifying the statement: George’s face is also George; however, George’s face is not George’s whole body. Likewise, the face of the earth is also the earth, but it is not the whole earth – the whole earth is not just a face, just like George is not just his face. See the following example: It is raining, George receives drops of water on his face. The face of George also receives water. In fact, it is because the face of George receives water that we can say that George receives water. Both are true at the same time, as well as the face of George not being George as a whole. That’s the difference intended between “is” and “has”.. Its definite shape is unknown33God tells us in Jeremiah 31:37 that the foundations of the earth cannot be searched out, which means that nobody can know its definite shape, nor its definite measurements. This also indicates that the earth cannot be a ball, since a ball curves at a definite rate, and therefore, its measurements are known. In consequence, any person or institution that claims to know the earth’s shape or size contradicts the word of God, and is wrong., but it can’t be a ball.
Another nail in the coffin of this statement is hammered by Isaiah prophesying against Judah, and addressing Shebna, the chief servant of King Hezekiah34Isaiah 22:15. He says to Shebna that because of his wicked ways, God will send him into exile, and he will die there. He says he will “toss him like a ball35Isaiah 22:18” – in the text: “toss you like a ball”36dur, “a circle, ball” https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h1754/kjv/wlc/0-1/ The word for ball is dur. It is also used to mean to encamp or encircle (Isaiah 29:3) and pile or pile up (Ezekiel 24:5). Here in Isaiah 22:18, God says he will wrap Shebna up or wind him up around and toss him like a dur. Replacing dur with circle or pile doesn’t make sense because those are not things you wrap or wind up and then toss away. A more correct idea is that of a tumbleweed that is wandering around, going here and there, having no place of rest, etc; which is made of wrapped up twigs and tossed away to the wind..
For the sake of the argument, let’s ignore the statement’s deconstruction done above, and let’s assume that, before Isaiah prophesied about Shebna, he – nor did any Israelite before him – knew the word “ball”. In fact, they were not restricted in their vocabulary as they could have used words conveying a similar idea, like “head”, but let’s also dismiss that, and assume that he and all the other authors used the word face because they had no better word to convey the idea of a ball37It is not because I don’t use a word that I don’t know it exists. This is a non sequitur..
The question is, why is it then, that even after Isaiah used the word ball, he and all the prophets after him continued to use the word face to refer to the earth? Why is it that God continued to inspire his prophets to use the word face. Why is it that they kept using that word, given that God’s truth could finally be fully revealed.
For centuries upon centuries, God and the prophets wanted to convey the idea of a ball but just couldn’t because of a lack of vocabulary. Why, now that they can spread God’s real truth to the world, would they continue writing with the same word that means everything but ball, if indeed ball is the word they want, the word they need, and the word they so longed to use? Why would they possibly keep using the same wrong word once they had the right one?
They have no excuses. If God wanted to convey the idea of a ball, and face is a poor choice, why do they keep saying the word face to refer to the earth, now that they can write as much as they want with the correct one? If the word face was not accurate at all, and now we have the perfectly accurate term, why wouldn’t we use that perfectly accurate term and throw the obsolete one away?
It makes absolutely no sense, unless there was no intent for the word ball to ever be linked to the earth in the first place. The only logical conclusion is that the word face never conveyed the idea of a ball, and God never intended it nor used it to convey the idea of a ball – let alone a spinning one. And God never wanted to convey the idea that the earth is a ball, because if that ever was the case, he would have done it as soon as he could, and that is, since the beginning.
He would not have waited hundreds and hundreds of years to tell us about something so important. Would you believe it? Having to wait for centuries because the humans through whom you want to share your message lack some vocabulary? The inconsistency of all this is that when he finally “could” do it, he didn’t. So, either God is misleading and–or doesn’t have a clue what he is doing, or he knows exactly what he’s doing and the word face never meant, never means, never will mean ball, and the earth was never a ball for ball to be associated with it.
The fact is, God is not limited by the vocabulary of men; if the prophets do not use a certain vocabulary, it is not because they don’t know it, it is because God does not want to use that vocabulary, period. Again, if he wanted it, he would have done it, and from the beginning. Face doesn’t mean surface of a ball, it doesn’t mean a ball, the earth has a face, the earth is not a ball.
Regarding the above argumentation, all the following prophets falsify the statement that face ever meant a surface of a globe, or a ball, or a sphere:
Isaiah 23:17; Jeremiah 25:26, 28:26; Ezekiel 34:6, 38:20; Daniel 8:5; Zephaniah 1:2-3; Jesus – God himself: Luke 21:35; Paul: Acts 17:26
When writing the Septuagint38“The Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint is the earliest extant Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint from the Hebrew and Aramaic texts, the scribes used the word prosópon39prosópon, “face” https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4383/kjv/tr/0-1/ for face, from pros “toward”40pros, “to, toward” https://biblehub.com/greek/4314.htm and ops, from optanomai41optanomai, “to look at, appear” https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3700/kjv/tr/0-1/ “to look, appear”. Just like panim, prosópon means face – a human face – and conveys the same idea of looking somewhere i.e., having your face turned toward somewhere. Jesus and Paul use this very word respectively in Luke 21:35 and Acts 17:26.
The words ball42πάλλα [palla], “ball, globe” https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dpa%2Flla&highlight=ball and sphere43σφαῖρα [sfaira], “sphere” https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dsfai%3Dra^&highlight=ball already existed before the scribes wrote the Septuagint, or Jesus and Paul walked on the earth. Yet, they still chose face to talk about the earth, which indicates that what they understood of the Scriptures is that face just means that – a face – and not a ball44Even if somehow, they didn’t know those words, the simple fact that they used face – keeping the same exact word with the same meaning, just in a different language – shows that that’s what they understood it means.. Therefore, the earth is not a ball, whether it be in the beginning, before Isaiah or after Isaiah – or in other words, never. Since God the Son, the Lord and Savior, reveals the earth as having a face and not being a ball, it is consistent that as Christians, we head in the same direction.
See the translation from the Hebrew to the Greek of the expressions “face of the earth” and “face of the waters” in the document here-below: