The fifth-largest planet of the solar system and the third in order of position from the sun. It is an oblate spheroid, being slightly flattened at the poles. Satellite observations have indicated other slight irregularities in the shape of the earth. Its mass is approximately 5.98 × 1024 kg (13.18 × 1024 lb). Its area is about 510,000,000 sq km (197,000,000 sq mi). Earth’s measurements are (approximately): circumference at the equator, just over 40,000 km (24,900 mi); diameter at the equator, 12,750 km (7,920 mi). Oceans and seas cover approximately 71 percent of its surface, leaving about 149,000,000 sq km (57,500,000 sq mi) of land surface.
The earth rotates on its axis, bringing about day and night. (Ge 1:4, 5) A solar day or an apparent day is a period of 24 hours, the time taken for an observer at any one point on the earth to be again in the same position relative to the sun. The tropical year, which concerns the return of the seasons, the interval between two consecutive returns of the sun to the vernal equinox, is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, on the average. This figure is the one used in solar-year calendar reckoning, and its fractional nature has caused much difficulty in accurate calendar making.
The axis of the earth tilts 23° 27ʹ away from a perpendicular to the earth’s orbit. The gyroscopic effect of rotation holds the earth’s axis in basically the same direction relative to the stars regardless of its location in its orbit around the sun. This tilt of the axis brings about the seasons.
The earth’s atmosphere, composed principally of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, and other gases, extends over 960 km (600 mi) above the earth’s surface. Beyond this is what is termed “outer space.”
Bible Terms and Significance. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used for earth as a planet is ʼeʹrets. ʼEʹrets refers to (1) earth, as opposed to heaven, or sky (Ge 1:2); (2) land, country, territory (Ge 10:10); (3) ground, surface of the ground (Ge 1:26); (4) people of all the globe (Ge 18:25).
The word ʼadha·mahʹ is translated “ground,” “soil,” or “land.” ʼAdha·mahʹ refers to (1) ground as tilled, yielding sustenance (Ge 3:23); (2) piece of ground, landed property (Ge 47:18); (3) earth as material substance, soil, dirt (Jer 14:4; 1Sa 4:12); (4) ground as earth’s visible surface (Ge 1:25); (5) land, territory, country (Le 20:24); (6) whole earth, inhabited earth (Ge 12:3). ʼAdha·mahʹ seems to be related etymologically to the word ʼa·dhamʹ, the first man Adam having been made from the dust of the ground.—Ge 2:7.
In the Greek Scriptures, ge denotes earth as arable land or soil. (Mt 13:5, 8) It is used to designate the material from which Adam was made, the earth (1Co 15:47); the earthly globe (Mt 5:18, 35; 6:19); earth as a habitation for human creatures and animals (Lu 21:35; Ac 1:8; 8:33; 10:12; 11:6; 17:26); land, country, territory (Lu 4:25; Joh 3:22); ground (Mt 10:29; Mr 4:26); land, shore, as contrasted with seas or waters. (Joh 21:8, 9, 11; Mr 4:1).
In each case of all the above senses in which these words are used, the form of the word in the original language, and more particularly the setting or context, determine which sense is meant.
The Hebrews divided the earth into four quarters or regions corresponding to the four points of the compass. In the Hebrew Scriptures the words “before” and “in front of” designate and are translated “east” (Ge 12:8); “behind” may mean “west” (Isa 9:12); “the right side” may denote “south” (1Sa 23:24); and “the left” may be translated “north” (Job 23:8, 9; compare Ro). East was also (in Heb.) sometimes called the sunrising, as for example, at Joshua 4:19. West (in Heb.) was the setting of the sun. (2Ch 32:30) Also, physical characteristics were used. Being almost the total western boundary of Palestine, the “Sea” (the Mediterranean) was sometimes used for west.—Nu 34:6.
Creation. The planet’s coming into existence is recounted in the Bible with the simple statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Ge 1:1) Just how long ago the starry heavens and the earth were created is not stated in the Bible. Therefore, there is no basis for Bible scholars to take issue with scientific calculations of the age of the planet. Scientists estimate the age of some rocks as being three and a half billion years, and the earth itself as being about four to four and a half billion or more years.
As to time, the Scriptures are more definite about the six creative days of the Genesis account. These days have to do, not with the creation of earth’s matter or material, but with the arranging and preparing of it for man’s habitation.
The Bible does not reveal whether God created life on any of the other planets in the universe. However, astronomers today have not found proof that life exists on any of these planets and, in fact, know of no planet besides the earth that is at present capable of supporting the life of fleshly creatures.
Purpose. Like all other created things, the earth was brought into existence because of Jehovah’s will (“pleasure,” KJ). (Re 4:11) It was created to remain forever. (Ps 78:69; 104:5; 119:90; Ec 1:4) God speaks of himself as a God of purpose and declares that his purposes are certain to come to fruition. (Isa 46:10; 55:11) He made his purpose for the earth very clear when he said to the first human pair: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.” (Ge 1:28) There were no flaws in earth or the things on it. Having created all necessary things, Jehovah saw that they were “very good” and “proceeded to rest” or desist from other earthly creative works.—Ge 1:31–2:2.
Man’s habitation on earth is also permanent. When God gave man the law regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, he implied that man could live on earth forever. (Ge 2:17) We are assured by Jehovah’s own words that “all the days the earth continues, seed sowing and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, will never cease” (Ge 8:22) and that he will never destroy all flesh again by a flood. (Ge 9:12-16) Jehovah says that he did not make the earth for nothing but, rather, that he has given it to men as a home and that death will eventually be done away with. God’s purpose, therefore, is for the earth to be the habitation of man in perfection and happiness with eternal life.—Ps 37:11; 115:16; Isa 45:18; Re 21:3, 4.
That this is the purpose of Jehovah God, sacred to him and not to be thwarted, is indicated when the Bible says: “And by the seventh day God came to the completion of his work that he had made . . . And God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred, because on it he has been resting from all his work that God has created for the purpose of making.” (Ge 2:2, 3) The seventh, or rest, day is not shown in the Genesis account as ending, as in the case of the other six days. The apostle Paul explained that the rest day of God had been continuous right through Israelite history down to his own time and had not yet ended. (Heb 3:7-11; 4:3-9) God says the seventh day was set aside as sacred to him. He would carry out his purpose toward the earth; it would be fully accomplished during that day, with no necessity of further creative works toward the earth during that time.
The Bible’s Harmony With Scientific Facts. The Bible, at Job 26:7, speaks of God as “hanging the earth upon nothing.” Science says that the earth remains in its orbit in space primarily because of the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force. These forces, of course, are invisible. Therefore the earth, like other heavenly bodies, is suspended in space as if hanging on nothing. Speaking from Jehovah’s viewpoint, the prophet Isaiah wrote under inspiration: “There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers in which are as grasshoppers.” (Isa 40:22) The Bible says: “He [God] has described a circle upon the face of the waters.” (Job 26:10) The waters are limited by his decree to their proper place. They do not come up and inundate the land; neither do they fly off into space. (Job 38:8-11) From the viewpoint of Jehovah, the earth’s face, or the surface of the waters, would, of course, have a circular form, just as the edge of the moon presents a circular appearance to us. Before land surfaces appeared, the surface of the entire globe was one circular (spherical) mass of surging waters.—Ge 1:2.
Bible writers often speak from the standpoint of the observer on the earth, or from his particular position geographically, as we often naturally do today. For example, the Bible mentions “the sunrising.” (Nu 2:3; 34:15) Some have seized upon this as an opportunity to discredit the Bible as scientifically inaccurate, claiming that the Hebrews viewed earth as the center of things, with the sun revolving around it. But the Bible writers nowhere expressed such a belief. These same critics overlook the fact that they themselves use the identical expression and that it is in all of their almanacs. It is common to hear someone say, ‘it is sunrise,’ or ‘the sun has set,’ or ‘the sun traveled across the sky.’ The Bible also speaks of “the extremity of the earth” (Ps 46:9), “the ends of the earth” (Ps 22:27), “the four extremities of the earth” (Isa 11:12), “the four corners of the earth,” and “the four winds of the earth” (Re 7:1). These expressions cannot be taken to prove that the Hebrews understood the earth to be square. The number four is often used to denote that which is fully rounded out, as it were, just as we have four directions and sometimes employ the expressions “to the ends of the earth,” “to the four corners of the earth,” in the sense of embracing all the earth.—Compare Eze 1:15-17; Lu 13:29.
Figurative and Symbolic Expressions. The earth is spoken of figuratively in several instances. It is likened to a building, at Job 38:4-6, when Jehovah asks Job questions concerning earth’s creation and Jehovah’s management of it that Job obviously cannot answer. Jehovah also uses a figurative expression describing the result of earth’s rotation. He says: “[The earth] transforms itself like clay under a seal.” (Job 38:14) In Bible times some seals for “signing” documents were in the form of a roller engraved with the writer’s emblem. It was rolled over the soft clay document or clay envelope, leaving behind it an impression in the clay. In similar manner, at the arrival of dawn, the portion of the earth coming from the blackness of night begins to show itself to have form and color as the sunlight moves progressively across its face. The heavens, the location of Jehovah’s throne, being higher than the earth, the earth is, figuratively, his footstool. (Ps 103:11; Isa 55:9; 66:1; Mt 5:35; Ac 7:49) Those who are in Sheol, or Hades, the common grave of mankind, are regarded as being under the earth.—Re 5:3.
The apostle Peter compares the literal heavens and earth (2Pe 3:5) with the symbolic heavens and earth (2Pe 3:7). “The heavens” of verse 7 do not mean Jehovah’s own dwelling place, the place of his throne in the heavens. Jehovah’s heavens cannot be shaken. Neither is “the earth” in the same verse the literal planet earth, for Jehovah says that he has established the earth firmly. (Ps 78:69; 119:90) Yet, God says that he will shake both the heavens and the earth (Hag 2:21; Heb 12:26), that the heavens and earth will flee away before him, and that new heavens and a new earth will be established. (2Pe 3:13; Re 20:11; 21:1) It is evident that “heavens” is symbolic and that “earth” here has symbolic reference to a society of people living on the earth, just as at Psalm 96:1.—See HEAVEN (New heavens and new earth).
Earth is also symbolically used to denote the firmer, more stable elements of mankind. The restless, unstable elements of mankind are illustrated by the characteristic restlessness of the sea.—Isa 57:20; Jas 1:6; Jude 13; compare Re 12:16; 20:11; 21:1.
John 3:31 contrasts one that comes from above as being higher than one who comes from the earth (ge). The Greek word e·piʹgei·os, “earthly,” is used to denote earthly, physical things, especially as contrasted with heavenly things, and as being lower and of coarser material. Man is made of earth’s material. (2Co 5:1; compare 1Co 15:46-49.) Nevertheless, he can please God by living a “spiritual” life, a life directed by God’s Word and spirit. (1Co 2:12, 15, 16; Heb 12:9) Because of mankind’s fall into sin and their tendency toward material things to the neglect or exclusion of spiritual things (Ge 8:21; 1Co 2:14), “earthly” can have an undesirable connotation, meaning “corrupt,” or “in opposition to the spirit.”—Php 3:19; Jas 3:15.