Question: If the Bible is scientifically accurate, then why did people believe theories such as that the world is flat if the Bible says the opposite? Why did modern science begin so late if the Bible is so old and already has modern science in it?
Answer: I will be happy to respond to your questions today—although I cannot jump right in and answer your specific statements. Why not? You have an inflated view of the relationship between the Bible and science, so we have to talk about that first. Otherwise, we would just be traveling around in a circle of false assumptions.
The main problem is that your question pivots on the statement that “...the Bible is scientifically accurate.” Now, this is indeed a true statement…but it is misleading; it makes it sound as if the Bible is a science book, which it is not. It is better for us to say that the Bible does not contradict science...because this is more exact. It simply does not weigh-in on as many scientific topics as you suppose. But since your question involves the shape of the earth, let us look at these two verses.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. (Revelation 7:1, ESV, emphasis mine)
And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
(Mark 16:2, ESV, emphasis mine)
Revelation 7:1 “says” that our planet has four corners! Mark 16:2 teaches that the sun rises! But we know that the earth is a sphere…and that spheres have no corners. We also know that our planet rotates on its axis and that the sun stays put. So, how does our “scientifically accurate Bible” look now? Not so good…but not so bad either. Here’s why.
Regular people in everyday conversation do not speak with scientific accuracy. For instance, we might say of a well-traveled person that she has been to the four corners of the earth, and even we who are aware that the earth rotates still say that the sun rises. Why is this? Because this is how people speak—loosely, inaccurately and with images...and God knows this. So he used normal language as his primary method of speaking to common people in his word.
When we consider how we normally speak, it is your science textbook that is odd, not the Bible. Your Science book must be (because of its scope) exact about what it says and careful about the terms it uses. But people do not talk this way. So, when people are having normal conversations—even ones that involve issues of science—they still talk in casual terms. “Did you see that sunset!” is normal. “Did you see the light refracting as the earth rotated on its axis!” is more correct…but it is weird…and God doesn’t do weird; he does normal. The Bible is a collection of works in which God is talking to normal people in a non-technical fashion—and sometimes even poetically! As such, you would be breaking a primary ethic of communication by insisting that the Bible be read as we read technical documents.
What does this mean for your question? First, since the Bible is not a science book, and since it is not designed to give you technical answers, do not stretch it to that use. Second, the Bible does not tell us enough about the shape of the earth to say that it holds one position or the other. That topic is only addressed in a few places—and never directly!
Look at Rev. 7:1 (which I’ve already cited). If this were literalistically true, then the Bible is teaching that the earth is flat (or possibly a three-sided pyramid). But I don’t know many who will interpret apocalyptic language that way. And although Isaiah seems to indicate that the earth is at least a circle (which may still be flat) by saying, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth” (Isa. 40:22), it follows with, “and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” So his language is decidedly non-technical. I could come up with a few more indicators, but they are of similar quality, so no strong case exists either way…and your question is based upon the Bible teaching that the earth is not flat. Sorry, it does not teach that…but neither does it teach the opposite. A technical definition of the shape of the earth is beyond the scope of the Bible.
As a final note, the Bible does not contain any modern science—not as your question supposes. Modern science came in the fullness of time when humankind could communicate globally, share findings and build off one another’s achievements. Those conditions are unique to the last few centuries. Except that God set up our physical environment and gave us these extraordinary brains (and that the Bible was the basis of education for centuries), modern science advanced with few declared attachments to God’s word. But—and I cannot say this strongly enough—it also advanced without contradicting God’s word.
All truth is God’s truth.