Learning Activity 42

The Use of “Earth” and “Land” in the Scriptures


As helpful as Bible translation scholarship has been, there are occasions where personal doctrine has colored and masked scholarship work and resulted in Bible translations that are less than accurate and honest to the original text and its language. One such word is the Greek word “ge” which has been poorly translated in the KJV and other Bible translations.

The Greek word “ge” may be translated “land” or “earth” depending upon the sense in which it is being used (what it is referring to). Translators have rendered this word as “land” in one verse only to switch to “earth” two verses later where the context and setting is still the same.

One example of poor translation is found in Luke 21:23 where “land” is used, and in Luke 21:25 where “earth” is the translators choice (KJV). Luke 21:24 indicates that it is the Jewish people and their city of Jerusalem that is the context for the use of the word “ge” in both verse twenty-three and twenty-five, therefore, “land” should be used in both instances. The use of the word “land” is to be taken in the Scriptures as referring to Judea, or the land of Israel, and has nothing to do with a larger context such as the earth or the world.

The word meanings of “ge” are: (1) soil, earth; (2) ground; (3) land (as opposed to sea) (4) earth (in contrast to heaven, e.g. Rev.21); (5) inhabitants of the earth. The Hebrew word most frequently used in the Old Testament for earth is “eretz,” which can be translated (1) earth (opposite to heaven); (2) inhabitants of the earth; (3) land, territory; (4) specifically, land of Canaan or Israel, especially in “possess the land;” (5) inhabitants of the land; (6) used even of Sheol; (7) ground; (8) soil; (9) in phrases “people of the land,” “land of the plain,” “land of the living.” “end(s) of the earth.” The plural form denotes lands or countries, often in contrast to Canaan. The English language, unlike the Hebrew and Greek, distinguishes among the various meanings, and it is the translator’s judgment as to which of these possible meanings is appropriate to the text.

In the book of Revelation, as in the teachings of Jesus and in the epistles, “ge” is usually translated “earth” and the modern reader, having studied geography when the ancient man had not, assumes that the text refers to the entire globe. If, however, one changes the translation to “land” rather than “earth,” an entirely different meaning emerges in many cases. Revelation 7:1, for instance, would have the four messengers standing at the four corners of the “land,” holding back the four winds; Revelation 8:7 would have a third of the “land” burned up, etc. I think you can readily see how this would change many of the “end times” theories that are so prevalent in the church today.

This is particularly significant when one discovers that the phrase “the land,” as used by the writers of the Scriptures and especially the prophets, often refers to the promised land; i.e., the land of Palestine. Ezekiel, for example, refers to the four corners of the “land:” “And you, son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel, An end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land” (Ezek.7:2). It is clear from the preceding verse that the land being spoken of is the land of Israel and has nothing to do with the whole earth!

1. Isaiah 1:19 _________________________________________________________________________

2. In the verse above, what “land” do you think is being spoken of?

3. Isaiah 6:11–12 ____________________________________________________________________

4. In the passage above, what “land” do you think is being spoken of?

There are many examples of this usage in the Scriptures. See Lev.26:6; Isa.7:22; Ezek.20:40; 37:22; Hosea 4:1; Zech.11:16 and Luke 21:23.

John’s beast of Revelation 13:11 (not to be confused with the beast of Rev.13:1), can just as easily, and more accurately, be called “the beast who comes up from the land,” meaning the land of Israel; symbolically, then, he represents Judaism, persecutor of the church. This beast has horns like a lamb, a symbol of Israel’s sacrificial religious system, but he speaks as a dragon because Satan indwells and uses him. In the presence of the beast from the sea he exercises all the authority of the creature, and he deceives those who dwell on the land and causes them to worship that beast (Rev.13:11–15). In Revelation 16, 19 and 20 this beast is known as the “false prophet,” a title which indicates that he represents a religious entity.

It is clear that in the book of Revelation John intends to identify Judaism as a persecutor of the chosen ones of God by his description of Jerusalem as the “great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8). Throughout the Old Testament writings Jerusalem is known as the holy city, and John does not call her “Sodom and Egypt” without basis for the terminology. Jerusalem had not only become pagan and corrupt like Sodom; she had also become the counterpart of Egypt, the persecutor of God’s people. The city of Jerusalem, since it was the spiritual center of the Jewish nation and its religion, is often used by biblical writers to refer to the entire Judaistic system. Also, it should be understood that the term “Jerusalem” sometimes stands for the Temple and all its associations rather than the city as a whole, because the city and the Temple were inseparable in the minds of the people of Israel; therefore, the terms are used interchangeably, just as Americans might say “Washington” when they mean the federal government.

I think from the above material you can see that whether the word “ge” is translated as “land” (of Israel) or “earth” meaning the entire earth, is quite important in how we understand what it is the Scriptures are saying.

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