“All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”-Ecclesiastes 1:7
Is the Bible describing the hydrological (water) cycle in the passage above? It certainly does seem that way. This raises much debate among Bible critics. Is God revealing knowledge that man has yet to discover? Or is man simply observing what happens around him?
What Is The Hydrological Cycle?
The hydrological cycle, or water cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. Here is an example of our current understanding of the process:
Basically, water from the surface of the earth evaporates and condenses on dust particles in the sky and falls back to the surface of the earth as rain. This produces runoff that gathers into lakes and rivers. There is much more to the process, but that is the basic principle.
Ancient societies believed that land floated on the water and this was the source of water for rivers. It was observed that rain would run into rivers as well and it was thought that this only supplemented the river water. It was not until the 1500s that Bernard Palissey became the first published thinker to determine that precipitation alone would be sufficient to maintain river water. This theory is more inline with what is described in Ecclesiastes as well as the following verses:
When he uttereth his voice, [there is] a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.-Jeremiah 10:13
This verse from Jeremiah indicates that rainstorms are the result of evaporation.
[It is] he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD [is] his name.-Amos 9:6
The book of Amos indicates it as well.
For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: Which the clouds do drop [and] distil upon man abundantly.-Job 36:27
As well as Job.
He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries.-Psalms 135:7
Psalms, being a bit more poetic, indicates it as well.
Critics of this idea state that the Bible also has verses which contradict this knowledge and thus, the idea that the Bible is accurately portraying “undiscovered” knowledge must be false. Here are a few examples of verses used for this argument and some counterpoints:
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?-Job 38:22-27
The argument here is that this verse in Job refers to storehouses for snow and hail, but if we read through the chapter we begin to see even more knowledge regarding weather patterns and the evolution of terrain over time. Additionally, Job is a poetic book by nature making a literal translation a bit more difficult to achieve. Could you imagine someone prior to 600 B.C. referring to clouds as storehouses as a method to convey the idea that God controlled the release of precipitation?
Now no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth, nor had any plant of the field sprouted; for the LORD God had not yet sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.-Genesis 2:5
This verse is used by critics to indicate that the Bible claims that God sends rain to the earth, thus contradicting the idea of a water cycle. In context, this verse is describing creation. Depending on how we interpret Genesis, the discussion could go several ways. If we presume a literal truth, then how long would it take for surface water to evaporate, condense, and then fall as rain if all of the earth’s water had only been created days earlier? Or if we assume that Genesis is a bit more poetic in nature, then please consider that we are also talking about a very specific place on the surface of the planet, the Garden of Eden where man is first created.
There is obviously quite a lot to consider about whether or not the Bible indicated modern scientific theory in these passages, but I certainly believe that as time goes on and we gain more knowledge about both the earth and the Bible that we will inevitably confirm the inerrancy of the original text.