Did the sun really stand still?
(image courtesy pixabay)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
When people doubt the Word of God, even in the church, Joshua’s account of the sun stopping (Joshua 10:12-14) takes a beating. Gregory W. Dawes does it in his challenge of history to religious authority (Dawes 2001).
1. Gregory Dawes disputes biblical authority
Who is Gregory Dawes and what is his theological persuasion? At the time of writing this book, Dawes was a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand (Dawes 2001: rear cover). He is now associate professor of philosopher at the University of Otago.
The pitch for his book is summarised in the conclusion:
It seems that there is something wrong with the believer’s claim to religious authority. If this is the case, then the problem with which our authors have been dealing is a pseudoproblem, not because of the historian’s assumptions, but because of the theologian’s. The simplest explanation would seem to be the sceptical one. There is no way of reconciling Christian claims to religious authority with the knowledge and methods of the discipline of history. The historical viewpoint of our age undermines claims to biblical authority, while the Jesus of history is not a figure who can be reappropriated for out own time (Dawes 2001:368).
Therefore, after studying the ‘doubting Thomases’ of modern theology, Dawes concludes with some of them as a sceptic of biblical authority.
Dawes doubts the validity of miracles: ‘How can we be certain that an event is both beyond the productive capacity of nature and that it is performed by God (rather than some other supernatural power)? It is hard to see how this can be done outside of the framework of a particular set of religious beliefs’ (Dawes 2001:105).
1.1 William Lane Craig’s definition of miracles is:
…. contra the Newtonian conception, miracles should not be understood as violations of the laws of nature, but as naturally impossible events. Contra Spinoza, admission of miracles would not serve to subvert natural law, and the possibility that a miracle is a result of an unknown natural law is minimized when the miracles are numerous, various, momentous, and unique. Contra Hume, it is question-begging or invalid to claim that uniform experience is against miracles (Craig 2020).
2. Origin of recent challenges to biblical authority
Generally, you won’t find it in the Early Church Fathers. Here are a few example of what they thought of the Bible:
Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335 – 394), ‘We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (On the Holy Trinity, To Eustathius, emphasis added)
Irenaeus (d. 202), ‘We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith (Against Heresies, 3.1.1, emphasis added).
Athanasius of Alexandria (296–373), after he had outlined the books of the Bible stated:
These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.’ (Festal Letter 39, 6–7, emphasis added)
St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), ‘For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine. (Augustine, Letters, 148. 4.15, emphasis added).
From this sample of four early church fathers, we see that they had a high regard for the authority of the canonical Scriptures.
2.1 Why the confrontation of biblical authority?
The challenge to biblical authority came through ‘the new astronomy’ of the seventeenth century with people like Johann Kepler. This challenge, says Dawes, ‘was the heliocentric cosmology set forth by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) which called into question the accepted picture of a geocentric world’ (Dawes 2001:10). In other words, the old-fashioned (biblical) earth-centred world was challenged by the Copernican sun-centred universe.
To draw attention to the so-called, out-dated biblical view, the miracle that Joshua experienced of the sun stopping was used. Dawes wrote: “The text here is Josh. 10:12-14, which suggests that the sun revolved around the earth, not vice versa” and The Book of Mormon “corrects the biblical cosmology” (Dawes 2001:10).
2.2 Book of Mormon ‘corrects’ Bible?
The Book of Mormon (Helaman 12:15) reads: ‘And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun’.
The verses from Joshua that have taken a beating by the sceptics (secular or religious) contain this kind of language:
‘Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.’ And the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day (Josh. 10:13 ESV)
How is it possible for the sun to be stopped when it does not revolve? In our scientific day, we know that the earth revolves around the sun. Was the Bible wrong in its statement about standing still? That’s the view of those who doubt God’s word and want to make light of supposed errors in the Bible.
3. How could the sun and moon stop?
Is there an explanation that does justice to the Bible’s integrity and does not cause Christians to close down the use of their minds?
We need to remember a fundamental of biblical interpretation. The Bible speaks in everyday language as it seems to us – it’s called phenomenological language. In its pre-scientific language, the Bible speaks to the common people. Just as we speak of the sun ‘rising’ and ‘setting’, so does the Bible (see Psalm 50:1). Meteorologists today speak of the times of ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’. This is how we commoners see and understand it, even though it is technically incorrect.
4. Responsible assessment of Joshua 10: Sun standing still
How do we explain the sun standing still, according to Joshua 10? The God of miracles who created the world is capable of doing that and he doesn’t have to explain it to us because of his all-powerful nature and operation (omnipotence).
However, that is hardly an answer that will satisfy doubting Australians. Did God stop the earth’s rotation for 24 hours or is there another solution? Here are some other factors to consider:
Take a look at what Joshua 10:13 states: ‘So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day’.
The last sentence of this verse reads literally, ‘The sun did not hasten to go down for about a whole day’.
Therefore, the earth’s movement was retarded so it took 48 hours rather than 24 hours for the earth’s circuit of the sun.
Or, could the Hebrew, dom, be like the English onomatopoeia , ‘be dumb’, thus indicating ‘the sun was to remain hidden – hence “silent”— during the violent thunderstorm that accompanied the troops as they fled before the Israelites down the Valley of Aijalon’.
In Egyptian, Chinese and Hindu sources there have been ‘alleged stories about a long day’ but they ‘are difficult to verify’.
Since a hail storm accompanied this event (Josh 10:11), it is reasonable to conclude the Hebrew dom should be translated as ‘was dumb’ or ‘silent’. Therefore, ‘the sun did not “stop” in the middle of the sky, but its burning heat was “silenced”’.
The information in Josh 10:11 adds fuel to this interpretation, ‘The Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites’ (NIV). So, ‘Joshua’s long day’ is really ‘Joshua’s long night’.
In my view,
the best solution is this. Joshua prayed early in the morning, while the moon was in the western sky and the sun was in the east, that God would intervene on their behalf. God answered Joshua and sent a hailstorm. This had the effect of prolonging the darkness and shielding the men from the searing rays of the sun. The sun, therefore, was ‘silenced’ in the middle of the sky and the moon ‘did not hasten to come’.
What a day to remember, for on it God went out and personally fought for Israel—and more died from the hailstones than from the weapons of the army of Israel.
6. Works consulted
Craig, W L 2020. The Problem of Miracles: A Historical and Philosophical Perspective. Reasonable Faith (online). Available at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-problem-of-miracles-a-historical-and-philosophical-perspective/ (Accessed 2 March 2020).
Dawes, G W 2001. The historical Jesus question: The challenge of history to religious authority. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.
Kaiser Jr, W C, Davids, P H, Bruce, F F & Brauch, M T 1996. Hard sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
 See Greg Dawes 2020. Academia (online). Available at: https://otago.academia.edu/GregDawes (Accessed 2 March 2020).
 Dawes referred me to Craig’s (2020) definition of ‘miracles’.
 He wrote of the general church, i.e. Christians.
 See Australian Government: Geoscience Australia 2010. Compute Sunrise, Sunset & Twilight Times (online). Available at: http://www.ga.gov.au/geodesy/astro/sunrise.jsp (Accessed 2 March 2020).
 I obtained these points from Kaiser et al (1996:186-188).
 Kaiser et. al. (1996:186)
 ‘Onomatopoeia’ ‘refers to the use of words which sound like the noise they refer to. ‘Hiss’, ‘buzz’, and ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ are examples of onomatopoeia’ (Collins Dictionary 2020. s.v. onomatopoeia).
 Kaiser et. al. (1996:186).
 Kaiser et. al., (1996:187).
 Kaiser et. al. (1996:188).
Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 02 March 2020.