Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Ecclesiastes

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? Eccl. 1:2-3

For thousands of years people thought that the universe revolved around the earth. Ptolemy, a Roman citizen who lived in Egypt in the first and second century, A.D., believed in a geocentric solar system. It was the best system of its time and allowed for charting the heavens, but it was wrong. Time and study showed that this system didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance period, in the 1500’s, that Copernicus published his revolutionary book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, and theories about the solar system began to change because of this “Copernican” revolution. The earth is not the center of the universe, the sun is.

James Montgomery Boice uses this illustration and applies it to our lives. As I begin blogging through the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, this illustration seems very appropriate. The Preacher, as he calls himself, has made a quest of studying life “under the sun”, by which he means looking at life on the horizontal plane, without reference to God, to see what life has to offer. He gives his answer to his quest at the beginning of the book. Absurdity of absurdity, he writes, it’s all absurd!

It’s a shocking opening statement, isn’t it? But just as the Ptolemaic understanding of the solar system looked good but was later discovered to be wrong, so life lived with you or me at the center of our universe is wrong to the point of being absurd. There is no meaning in life without God, like the sun, at the center of our personal solar system. It’s wildly unreasonable, illogical, and ridiculous.

As I begin blogging through this book keep this in mind as you consider what the Preacher wants to teach us, so that together we can hope in God.


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