In Joshua 10:12-13, did the sun stop for a day? Some argue that the Bible cannot be inerrant because it says that the sun stopped for a day, which is impossible. However, there are several possible explanations that would resolve this alleged problem in the Bible.
12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” 13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.Joshua 10:12-13
Below are several possibilities for interpreting Joshua 10:12-13.
When Joshua cited the book of Jashar, it is possible that he was simply asking God for help, not asking God to literally cause the sun to stop.
Here are quotes from two commentaries:
The passage, which is parenthetical, contains a poetical description of the victory which was miraculously gained by the help of God, and forms an extract from “the book of Jasher,” that is, “the upright”—an anthology, or collection of national songs, in honor of renowned and eminently pious heroes. The language of a poem is not to be literally interpreted; and therefore, when the sun and moon are personified, addressed as intelligent beings, and represented as standing still, the explanation is that the light of the sun and moon was supernaturally prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection that ordinarily cause the sun to appear above the horizon, when it is in reality below it [Keil, Bush].Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. ”Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
Sun, stand thou still. The poetic form of this passage is clear to every one who has the smallest acquaintance with the laws of Hebrew poetry. For the Book of Jasher, from which it is apparently a quotation (see Introduction, Sec. 2). Stand thou still. This is not the literal rendering of the original. In no other passage has the verb דָמַם this sense. The sense “stand still” here would seem to be an inference from ver. 14. The literal rendering is, “be dumb.” Hence in Exod. 15:16, and in Lam 2:10, it signifies to be dumb with amazement or terror. In 1 Sam. 14:9 it seems to mean, “stay your advance” (“tarry,” Authorised Version), and the word rendered “stand still” in the last part of the verse is עמד. See also Psa. 4:5 (Heb.), where it is rendered “be still,” i.e., “be silent;” and Job 30:27, and Lam. 2:18. The word must not therefore be pressed to mean that the sun’s course was completely arrested in the heavens. All that can be assumed is that it did not set until the people were avenged of their enemies. The passage is evidently part of a triumphal song, like that recorded in Judges 5, where in ver. 20 there is a very similar thought, which no one ever thinks of interpreting literally. Upon Gibeon. Beth-horon was north-west of Gibeon. The meaning of the phrase would perhaps be, “Sun, rest thou (i.e., cease not to shine) in (or upon) Gibeon.” In the valley of Ajalon. The valley of the deer, according to the Hebrew.Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. Joshua. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.
Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington suggest this:
Modern English translations of this passage, such as the NRSV quoted above, have all followed the King James Authorized Version (KJAV) of The Bible, translated in 1611, and assumed that the Hebrew text means that the Sun and Moon stopped moving. However, a plausible alternative meaning is that the Sun and Moon stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining. In other words the text is referring to a solar eclipse, when the Sun stops shining. As a solar eclipse can only occur when the Moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun, the Moon itself is not visible and so it is not reflecting sunlight to the Earth – like the Sun, it has “stopped shining” as well…From our calculations we find that the only annular eclipse visible from Gibeon between 1500 and 1050 BC (using the same generous limits to the possible dates of entry of Joshua into Canaan as did Sawyer ) was on 30 October 1207 BC, in the afternoon.[Humphreys, Colin and Graeme Waddington, ”Oxford Academic”, https://academic.oup.com/astrogeo/article/58/5/5.39/4159289.
The claim that it is impossible for the sun to stop for a day precludes the possibility of the supernatural. However, if it is true that God created the universe, then God would be completely able to supernaturally cause the sun to stop for a day. We do not need to know the exact mechanics of how God did this to understand that he would be capable of doing this.
There are some foundational principles that apply to all alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible. To read more, see Bible Difficulties: Foundational Principles.
To read more answers to alleged and apparent contradictions in the Bible, see “Contradictions” in the Bible Answered.
These books are also excellent resources: