Which biblical verse was used against Galileo by the Church to punish him for his blasphemy? Which biblical doctrine was erroneously interpreted by Galileo for such a punitive action by the Church?

  • While not directly addressing the question, the following is relevant: newadvent.org/cathen/06342b.htm. Apr 14, 2016 at 20:53
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    You are misunderstanding the way theological reasoning works. Even today competent theologians do not say "You are wrong because of this one verse". A whole argument needs to be produced. Jul 1, 2019 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


Centuries earlier, Aristotle had refuted heliocentricity, and by Galileo’s time, nearly every major thinker subscribed to a geocentric view. Many people believe wrongly that Galileo proved the heliocentricity. Galileo could not answer the strongest argument against the heliocentric theory, which was made nearly two thousand years earlier by Aristotle: i.e. if heliocentricity were true then there would be observable parallax shifts in stars’ positions as the earth, moved in its orbit around the sun. In absence of a valid argument even Copernicus refrained from publishing his heliocentric theory for some time out of fear of ridicule from his colleagues. However given the technology of Galileo’s time, no such shifts in their positions could be observed. It would require more sensitive measuring equipments than was available in Galileo’s day to document the existence of shifts, given the stars’ great distance. Until then the available evidence suggested that the stars were fixed in their positions relative to the earth, and, thus, that the earth and the stars were not moving in space ---only the sun, moon and planets were.

Galileo could have safely proposed heliocentricity as a theory or a method to more simply account for the planets’ motions. His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as a truth. Even so Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology. But, despite his friends warnings, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

So yes. The verses quoted by David in his answer were used against Galileo precisely because of his inability to answer the strongest argument against the heliocentricity and because he attempt to move the debate onto theological grounds.

Unfortunately throughout the Church history there have been those who insist on reading the Bible in a more literal sense than it was intended. They fail to appreciate, for example, instances in which Scripture uses what is called “phenomenological” language---that is, the language of appearances. Just as we today speak of the sun rising and setting to cause day and night, rather than the earth turning, so did the ancients. From an earthbound perspective, the sun does appear to rise and set, and the earth appears to be immobile. When we describe these things according to their appearances, we are using phenomenological language. The phenomenological language concerning motions of the heavens and the non-motion of the earth is obvious to us today but was less so in previous centuries when the scientific discoveries were primitive.

Contrary to general belief, Church has supported scientific endeavours for centuries. During Galileo’s time, the Jesuits had a highly respected group of astronomers and scientist in Rome. Many of the scientific advances during this period were made either by clerics or as a result of Church funding. Ten years prior to Galileo. Johannes Kepler published a heliocentric work that expanded on Copernicus’ work and found a welcome reception among some Jesuits who were known for their scientific achievements.

Scripture scholars of the past were willing to consider whether particular statements were to be taken literally or phenomenologically, but they did not like being told by a non-Scriptural scholar such as Galileo, that the words of the sacred page must be taken in a particular sense.

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    Fine but some of your sentences are problematic: "His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as a truth. Even so Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology." The first sentence implies that science isn't true. The second sentence implies that theology isn't science. I see no disadvantage in being more general. Maybe a divisioning into secular and non secular truths and sciences could help. Oct 18, 2021 at 0:11
  • @DavidJonsson what precisely is meant by science? Science, if it refers to the scientific method of inquiry, isn't "true." It's not a proposition at all. Galileo didn't have evidence that his theory was true. He had an experiment he could not perform because of technical limitations, and he just decided that the one hypothesis was true because he liked the fact that the one being true meant the planets orbit in straight lines. Neither theology nor science are "true." They are methods of investigation. Facts uncovered by them are equivocally "theology" and "science" and can be true or false.
    – jaredad7
    Oct 6, 2022 at 15:09

I assume you're talking specifically about his conflict with the Catholic Church over his support of Copernican astronomy. If that's the case, there were several verses.

These are all verses that, taken out of context, seem to indicate that the earth is stationary. However, this isn't the view that is adhered to by anyone other than a fringe minority.

A typical clarification from an apologetic standpoint can be found here: http://rkbentley.blogspot.com/2012/06/1-chronicles-1630-does-bible-say-earth.html

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    catholic church was certainly not a fringe minority back then, nor is now , it reflected their accumulated scholarship as to how they understood these verses the modern interpretation was done after the whistle blowing i wont disagree with someones personal interpretation but one should not claim others to be fringe without proper citation Mar 3, 2013 at 3:39

It must be mentioned that Galilei worked under a license from the Roman Inquisition. Thus the Roman Inquisition owns the case, and does not need not be outwardly explicit on its judgment.

Given this background it doesn't seem necessary for a heresy trial to give any specific reference to a Bible verse. It is sufficient to show that publishing of a licensed scripture had been done contrary to the license. Neither is any specific Bible reference given in the sentence as translated and published in

Bethune, John Elliot Drinkwater
The life of Galileo Galilei, with illustrations of the advancement of experimental philosophy ; Life of Kepler, page 59-61

The only scriptural references are repeatedly mentioned as "Divine Scripture", "Holy Scripture" and "Holy and Divine Scripture". There is no verse specificity in the sentence of the Roman Inquisition.

The case against Galilei seems like a classification issue on a high level more than anything else. The other chief world system that Galilei referred to in his writing Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems fits with Buddhism. The similarity is mentioned by prof. Laurent Nottale in

Bulletin of Tibetology
2011 Volume 47, Number 1-2
Laurent Nottale
Remarks concerning possible relationship between science and Buddhism on two levels: I. fundamental principles, and II. method (141 kb)

Nottale writes on page 32

It is remarkable that some of Nagarjuna’s writings from around 2,000 years ago anticipated Galileo’s statements almost word for word: “motion, its beginning and its cessation are analogue to motion”; “the agent of motion, the motion and the place of motion do not exist [according to their proper nature]”.

The two quotes from Nāgārjuna are form the Root Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikāḥ in Sanskrit, abbreviated MMK). Nottale quotes the translation

Kalupahana DJ. (trad), Nagarjuna: The Philosophy of the Middle Way
State University Press of New York 1986.

Nottale is not specific about which verses from MMK that applies but they seems to be from chapter 2: Examination of Motion, the second halves of 2.17 and 2.25. The original Sanskrit and 16 translation variants are mentioned in full in Venerable Korin's Mūlamadhyamakakārikāḥ Study page 293 and 310. (Many more translations exist elsewhere.)

These are the verses that could have been held against Galilei.

Galilei is thus a suspect of heresy in a sense of plagiarism or referencing a foreign doctrine. A remedy is to reference to Nāgārjuna instead where possible.

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