Dr. James J. S. Johnson

It is He Who sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; it is He Who stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)

What is “the circle of the earth”? Just because an interpretation seems to “help” win arguments does not make it right—it’s the truth that really counts.  (Sad to say, quite a few creation scientists, employing superficial review of the Scriptures, are guilty of this.)

For decades some creation scientists have suspected (and/or assumed) that Isaiah 40:22 refers to Earth’s spherical shape, because Earth is round like a ball.  But is that what the phrase “circle of the earth” refers to, in Isaiah 40:22?  As a matter of Biblical creation apologetics (as opposed to deistic science practices), it is important to take a philological “magnifying glass” to the Biblical Hebrew text’s details, in order to see what this verse is actually describing.

The foundational question — if truth is the priority — is whether the Hebrew noun chûg, used in Isaiah 40:22 (and translated as “circle” by the King James Bible translators), means “round” like Earth’s spherical shape, as opposed to some other kind of “circle”.

The noun “ball” is used to translate the Hebrew noun dûr in Isaiah 22:18. So, if God had wanted to describe Earth as a globe (i.e., a ball), in Isaiah 40:22, why not use the Hebrew noun dûr? Obviously that noun was part of Isaiah’s vocabulary, because Isaiah used that noun (dûr) in Isaiah 22:18.

But, to understand this part of Isaiah 40:22, the most focal question is what does chûg (“circle”) mean? To answer this question, we should compare Scripture with Scripture, i.e., especially by reviewing how that same Hebrew word is used elsewhere within Scripture.

First, consider that the noun chûg is used only 2 other times, in Job 22:14 and Proverbs 8:27.

Job 22:14 says: “Thick clouds are a covering to Him, that He seeth not; and He walketh in the circuit [chûg] of heaven.”  Question: is this “circuit” an orbit-like pattern or a spherical ball?

Proverbs 8:27 says: “When He prepared the heavens, I was there; when He set a compass [chûg] upon the face of the depth.” Question: is this “compass” an orbit-like pattern or a spherical ball?

Next, consider the root verb (that this Hebrew noun derives from), which is the Hebrew verb chûg, spelled that same as the noun (similar to how our English words “report” and “record” are either verbs or nouns, depending upon context).

As a verb, chûg appears in Job 26:10 (“He hath compassed the waters…”), denoting cloud-contained rainwaters, being part of Earth’s water cycle dynamics. The idea here is cyclical or circuitous movements, not sphericity.

Furthermore, we can review other Hebrew words that utilize the consonantal stem CHG (also transliterated ḤG), such as the verb châgag that uses the extended stem CHGG (also transliterated ḤGG). By doing this we acquire more relevant data for identifying the core meaning of chûg. Consider, therefore, these Scriptures that employ some form of the verb châgag, and/or a noun derived from that verb: Leviticus 23:9 (“feast”); Leviticus 23:34 (“celebrate”, “feast”); Leviticus 23:41 (“celebrate”, “feast”, “celebrate””); and 1st Samuel 30:16 (“dancing”).(1) Do the concepts of celebratory feasts—or “dancing”—fit the idea of Earth’s spherical roundness? Or, do “dancing” and cyclical celebrations compare better with Earth’s orbit-motions, while circling the sun, within our solar system that itself orbits within the Milky Way Galaxy?

The best English word, to picture the core idea here, is choreography—an amazingly well-ordered, orchestrated, festive, happy, harmonious DANCE.(1),(2) Like King David, even the heavenly bodies “dance” unto God’s glory!(2)


(1)The Hebrew noun chûg (“circle” in Isaiah 40:22, KJV) is related to the verb châgag, which is translated “celebrate” in Leviticus 23:9 & 23:41. The Hebrew noun chûg shares the same root verb as chag, another Hebrew noun, which is translated “feast” (referring to the Feast of Tabernacles) in Leviticus 23:34 & 23:9 & 23:41. The concept of celebratory dancing is illustrated in 1st Samuel 30:16, where the Hebrew verb châgag (in participle form) is translated “dancing”.

(3)See 2 Samuel 6:14 & Psalm 149:3. Notice that the festively cosmic choreography of Isaiah 40:22 is like the mathematically blended and harmonious interactive movements of a perfectly performed Norwegian Leikarringen folk dance (see photograph above), as opposed to a frenzied solo dancer’s break-dancing gyrations.

><> JJSJ    profjjsj@aol.com

In AD1982, at Wake Forest University, Dr. Johnson received the American Bible Society Award for scholarship in Biblical languages, especially Hebrew and Aramaic. However, despite many repeated efforts (and repeated encouragement from Kermit and Glenda Anderson), Johnson has unquestionably failed to learn the memory-challenging choreographic artistry of Norwegian folk dancing.