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 earth’s shape. Its mass is nearly six sextillion five hundred eighty-eight quintillion U.S. short tons (5.976 [± .005] x 1021 metric tons or 5.88 x 1021 British tons). Its area is 196,951,072 square miles (510,103,276 square kilometers). Earth’s measurements are (approximately): circumference at the equator, 24,902.4 miles (40,068 kilometers); diameter at the equator, 7,927 miles (12,755 kilometers). Oceans and seas cover approximately 71 percent of its surface, leaving about 57.5 million square miles (148.9 million square kilometers) of land surface.
The earth rotates on its axis, bringing about day and night. (Gen. 1:4, 5) A solar day or an apparent day is a period of twenty-four 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 the same direction relative to the stars regardless of its location in its orbit around the sun (with only a slight eccentricity). This brings about the seasons.
The earth’s atmosphere, composed principally of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor and other gases, extends over 600 miles (966 kilometers) 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, sky (Gen. 1:2), (2) land, country, territory (Gen. 10:10), (3) ground, surface of the ground (Gen. 1:26), (4) people of all the globe (Gen. 18:25), (5) people of the land, natives.—Gen. 23:7.
The word ʼadha·mahʹ is also translated “earth,” and sometimes “ground” or “land.” ʼAdha·mahʹ means (1) ground as tilled, yielding sustenance (Gen. 3:23), (2) piece of ground, landed property (Gen. 47:18), (3) earth as material substance, soil, dirt (Jer. 14:4; 1 Sam. 4:12), (4) ground as earth’s visible surface (Gen. 1:25), (5) land, territory, country (Lev. 20:24), (6) whole earth, inhabited earth. (Gen. 12:3) ʼAdha·mahʹ seems to be related etymologically to the word ʽa·dhamʹ, the first man Adam having been made from the dust of the ground.—Gen. 2:7.
In the Greek Scriptures ge denotes earth as arable land or soil. (Matt. 13:5, 8) It is used to designate the material from which Adam was made, the earth (1 Cor. 15:47); the earthly globe (Matt. 5:18, 35; 6:19); earth as a habitation for human creatures and animals (Luke 21:35; Acts 1:8; 8:33; 10:12; 11:6; 17:26); land, country, territory (Luke 4:25; John 3:22); ground (Matt. 10:29; Mark 4:26); land, shore, as contrasted with seas or waters. (John 21:8, 9, 11; Mark 4:1) Oi·kou·meʹne, translated “world” in the Authorized Version, denotes “inhabited earth.” (Matt. 24:14; Luke 2:1; Acts 17:6; Rev. 12:9) 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” (1 Chron. 4:39), “behind” or “back” meaning “west,” “the right hand” denoting “south” (Ex. 40:24) and “the left hand,” “north.” (Job 23:8, 9; compare Ro, NW.) East was also (in the Hebrew) sometimes called the sunrising, as for example, at Joshua 4:19, “the eastern border.” West (in the Hebrew) was the setting of the sun. (2 Chronicles 32:30: “the west.”) Also, physical characteristics were used. Being almost the total western boundary of Palestine, “the sea” (the Mediterranean) was sometimes used for west.—Num. 34:6.
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.” (Gen. 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 earth’s rock-mass. Scientists variously estimate the age of the rocks as three and a half to four thousand million 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.
Like all other created things, the earth was brought into existence because of Jehovah’s will (“pleasure,” AV). (Rev. 4:11) It was created to remain forever. (Ps. 78:69; 104:5; 119:90; Eccl. 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.” (Gen. 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.—Gen. 1:31–2:2.
Man’s habitation on earth is also permanent. When God gave man the law regarding the tree of knowledge of good and bad, he implied that man could live on earth forever. (Gen. 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” (Gen. 8:22), and that He will never destroy all flesh again by a flood. (Gen. 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; Rev. 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.” (Gen. 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 inviolate; it would be fully accomplished during that day, with no necessity of further creative works toward the earth during that time.
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 due to the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force. These forces, of course, are invisible. Therefore the earth, as other heavenly bodies, is suspended in space as if hanging on nothing. Speaking from Jehovah’s viewpoint, the prophet Isaiah says: “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.—Gen. 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.” (Num. 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 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.” (Rev. 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 an] sometimes employ the expressions “to the ends of the earth,” “to the four quarters of the earth” in the sense of embracing all the earth.—Compare Ezekiel 1:15-17; Luke 13:29.
The Bible describes the earth as having an expanse or firmament, an atmosphere, and indicates that prior to the Flood there was a heavy canopy of water vapor above the expanse. (Gen. 1:6-8) The expanse was an air-filled space between the earth and these waters above. The apostle Peter therefore describes the situation as “an earth standing compactly out of water and in the midst of water.” (2 Pet. 3:5) It seems that, because of such an arrangement, the ground was watered by a mist rather than a direct rain. (Gen. 2:5, 6) Peter says that it was by “those means” (the arrangement of the waters above described) that the world of that time, the people, suffered destruction when the earth was deluged with water.—2 Pet. 3:6.
Geologists have uncovered evidence that the now-frozen wastes of the Arctic and even of ice-covered Antarctica enjoyed a temperate climate in the past. Even frozen mammals of tropical habitat have been found in far-northern areas. McReady Price states the following in his book The New Geology: “There is but one climate known to the ancient fossil world, as revealed by the plants and animals entombed in the rocks; and that climate was a mantle of springlike loveliness which seems to have prevailed continuously over the whole globe. Just how the world could have been thus warmed all over may be a matter of conjecture; that it was so warmed effectively and continuously is a matter of fact.” And George Gamow, in his book Biography of the Earth, 1948, writes: “While the areas now covered by temperate vegetation were occupied by tropical jungles, such ordinary trees as oak, chestnut, and maple were growing in Alaska, Greenland, Spitsbergen, and Northern Asia. Finally, the typical boreal plants, such as dwarf birch and dwarf willow, were very common in regions which are so far north that no vegetation at all can grow there today. Data concerning the Southern Hemisphere are again rather meagre, but the finding of coal deposits in several places along the shore of Antarctica indisputably proves that there were times when this continent, at present almost completely glaciated, was covered by rich vegetation.” These facts would support the above-mentioned vapor-canopy arrangement, which could bring about the conditions Biblically described and scientifically discovered.
FIGURATIVE AND SYMBOLIC EXPRESSIONS
The earth is spoken of figuratively in several instances. At Job 38:4-6 it is likened to a building, when Jehovah asks Job questions that he obviously cannot answer, concerning earth’s creation and Jehovah’s management of it. 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 38:13, 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; Matt. 5:35; Acts 7:49) Those who are in Sheol or Hades, the common grave of mankind, are considered as being under the earth.—Rev. 5:3.
The apostle Peter compares the literal heavens and earth (2 Pet. 3:5) with the symbolic heavens and earth (vs. 7). The “heavens” of verse seven 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. (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 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.
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 Revelation 12:16; 20:11; 21:1.
At John 3:31 Jesus 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. (2 Cor. 5:1; compare 1 Corinthians 15:46-49.) Nevertheless, he can please God by living a “spiritual” life, a life directed by God’s Word and spirit. (1 Cor. 2:12, 15, 16; Heb. 12:9) Due to mankind’s fall into sin and their tendency toward material things to the neglect or exclusion of spiritual things (Gen. 8:21; 1 Cor. 2:14), “earthly” can have an undesirable connotation, meaning corrupt, or in opposition to the spirit.—Phil. 3:19; Jas. 3:15.