The original question was:
I read on the BioLogos website that Noah’s flood was only a local event, and is really a theological story. I have also heard the claim that the Flood was a local event from other sources, including those who claim to be evangelical Christians. Why do you claim it was world-wide?
Answer by Diane Eager
Let’s state five reasons we can be certain Noah’s Flood was a world-wide event, and then justify them. The first three relate to the Genesis text and the last two concern extra-Biblical evidence.
- Genesis clearly states the Flood was world-wide.
- The story becomes foolish and inconsistent if the Flood was really local.
- The Testimony of Jesus and the Apostles refers to a global event.
- The testimony of world-wide cultures.
- The evidence from the earth
Now let’s look at these more closely.
1.What does Genesis state about the Flood?
Genesis chapters 6 to 9 reveal a detailed narrative including the names the people involved, their relationships, morality and judgements involved, and is filled with specific dates, facts and figures. It is definitely written as a plain historical narrative that has no resemblance to a mythical tale with vague statements such as “once upon a time.” Whilst it is certainly an epic story, there is nothing fanciful or symbolic about it. If you have never read the whole story, we suggest you read Genesis chapters 6 to 9 straight through now.
Anyone who thinks the Bible translators have not interpreted the original Hebrew correctly should take note of what a leading Hebrew scholar wrote:
“… so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: a. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience b. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story c. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”
James Barr, Oriel Professor of the interpretation of the Holy Scripture, Oxford University, England, letter to David C.C. Watson, 23 April 1984.
Genesis specifically reports what God the Creator said and did, and why. This is important to us in the present world because we can only trust God to tell the truth about our future judgement and salvation if He has an unblemished record of telling the truth on judgement and salvation in the past.
Genesis declares that God clearly stated He was going to send a flood that would destroy all people and all land dwelling, air breathing animals and birds. He told Noah: “I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.” (Genesis 6:17) He also said he was going to destroy the earth as well: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13)
Later in chapter 7 Genesis tells us this is exactly what happened. The flood wiped out all human beings and land dwelling animals except for those on the Ark, as described here: “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 7:21-23)
Finally, the geographical extent of the flood could not be made any clearer, where it says: “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” (Genesis 7:19) If all the mountains were covered with water, there could be no land surface that wasn’t under water. Also, there is not a spot anywhere on the face of the earth that is not “under the whole heaven”, i.e. under the sky. Therefore, a flood that covered all the land under the sky had to cover the entire planet.
2. What happens to the narrative if the Flood was really local?
For a start, there was actually no need for an Ark if the Flood involved only one geographic region. Noah and his family could have migrated to higher ground or to the next valley, followed by some local animals and birds. Yet God’s purpose in getting Noah to build an Ark of Biblical proportions was to enable Noah’s family and at least two of every kind of land creatures to survive the coming flood. Obviously, any God who was communicative and caring enough to inform Noah to build an Ark, could much more easily tell Noah and his family to move over the hill and far away, or at least to the next valley. He did that when He told Lot and his family to leave Sodom, and not to stay and build a bomb shelter, in order to survive a localised catastrophic judgement on Sodom and the other cities of the plain. Furthermore, it was God who sent the animals and birds to the Ark, when He could just as easily caused them to migrate to a place of safety away from the site of a local flood. There would be no need for only two by two then, so more animals could have been saved that way as well.
If an Ark was needed, the one described in Genesis is far too big to simply preserve a regional fauna. The dimensions of the Ark are specifically stated: 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. (Genesis 6:15) Even using a conservative measurement for a cubit of approximately 18 inches, the Ark was an enormous vessel: 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high (approx. 140m x 23m x 14m). This is not the cute little boat pictured in children’s story books with the giraffe’s neck sticking out the top and the elephant’s trunk hanging over the side.
As an aside, we must also remember, the Ark only had to shelter the separate Kinds, not species, of air breathing land animals and birds. A Kind is usually the equivalent of a Genus in the modern classification system. In fact, the Greek translation of Genesis 1 uses the same root word that we get the word Genus from, and the inventor of the classification system borrowed the idea of Genus from his Latin Bible. One river valley or coastline would not have many unique Kinds of reptiles, mammals and birds confined to a single region. Any that were not unique to that region, would not need to be on the Ark for their Kind to be preserved after a local flood. Again the story falls apart. Those who try to say it makes a moral point should note it only makes for a stupid story-teller who won’t impress anyone in today world.
The duration of the Flood far exceeds any known regional event in all other history records. Most people only remember the 40 days and nights of rain, but the water also came from “the fountains of the great deep”, i.e. water from under the earth. Genesis clearly states the waters prevailed on the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:24), and this was less than half the time Noah and family and the animals spent in the Ark. The Ark became grounded on the mountains of Ararat on the 17th day of the seventh month, and it was another three months before ground even looked like drying out, and they still had to wait for God’s instructions to leave the Ark. Only God knew when the earth was sufficiently dry and revegetated to provide enough food and habitat for animals and birds as well as for Noah and family.
The duration of Noah’s flood is the most meticulously documented year in the Bible. Genesis tells us the flood began on the 600th year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month. (Genesis 7:11) Noah was instructed to leave the Ark on the twenty-seventh day of the second moth of his 601st year. (Genesis 8:14) This makes a total time for the flood to rise and recede of one year and ten days.
Finally, God promised He will not destroy the earth by sending another flood like the one Noah’s family and the Ark animals survived. God made a covenant with Noah and the animals: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 8:11-17) If the Flood was a merely a local event this promise would have been broken many times. Serious regional floods and tsunamis have happened many times since, and still happen today.
Therefore, if we try to make the Flood merely a regional event, involving one river valley or one coastline, the story goes from being a logical consistent narrative to a foolish inconsistent story that is no better than a fairy tale or fantasy, and therefore has no theological significance. Only reality has any authority, or any effect on people’s lives now, and for their future. God is the God of the real world, and the Bible is the real history of the real world.
3. What do Jesus and the Apostles say about the Flood?
Jesus refers to Noah’s Flood not as a moral story with a point, but as real history. He links the reality of the Flood as a world-wide judgement, to the reality of His return to judge the whole world. He warned the disciples and anyone else who was listening: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17 26-27, also Matthew 24:37-38)
The writer to Hebrews includes Noah among the list of real historical people who had faith in God and acted on it, where he states: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:6-8)
In both his letters the Apostle Peter refers to Noah and the Ark when teaching the church about God’s judgement. Peter’s teaching also builds on the teaching of Jesus about the coming judgement of the whole world. (1 Peter 3:19-20, 2 Peter 2:5)
Both Jesus and Peter make it clear there will be no escaping this final judgement for anyone, just as happened in Noah’s time. Such warnings about a world-wide judgment and the end of the world have no meaning, if Noah’s Flood was not a world-wide judgement. It also means sceptics have no excuse for ignoring the warnings. Peter warns that “scoffers will come” and taunt Christians by claiming the warnings that Jesus will come again in judgement are foolish. After all, if the first world-wide judgement was not true, why should anyone fear warnings of another world-wide judgement? However, as Peter warns, these sceptics are being “deliberately ignorant” of God’s works of Creation and Judgement in the past, and will be held accountable for suppressing the truth. (2 Peter 3:1-7) Make sure you are not among those who deliberately suppress the truth about Noah’s flood.
4. What do other cultures say?
Nearly all cultures in the world have a story of a catastrophic flood sent by some kind of supreme being as a judgement on all mankind, where a chosen few are saved. These stories vary in the details, and some are quite fanciful. Sceptics and liberal theologians claim that the Biblical account of Noah’s Flood is just another one of these. However, it makes more sense if Genesis, with all its facts and figures, is the original historical narrative, and after the people were scattered from the Tower of Babel and turned away from the one true God they forgot many of the details, and their stories became corrupted and embellished.
5. What is the evidence in the earth?
A world-wide catastrophic flood must have left evidence on the earth, and the early pioneers of the science of geology recognised this as they studied enormous rock layers containing millions fossilised remains of living creatures that had to be buried deeply and rapidly.
It was only in the mid 1800’s after Charles Lyell and other 19th century sceptics who were determined the “free the science from Moses,” (Letter to George Scrope, 14 June 1830) that geologists started to explain the massive layers of sedimentary fossil-containing rocks as being laid down slowly and gradually over vast ages. Modern geologists have clung to Lyell’s uniformitarian geology, in spite of the abundant and widespread evidence of rapid catastrophic processes, because they want to avoid having to deal with the reason Noah’s Flood was sent, i.e. judgment on sin. By freeing science from Moses the sceptics are really trying to free themselves from the One whom Moses wrote about – the Creator and Judge who became flesh in Jesus Christ.
Sadly this “freedom” means they also deny the free gift of salvation that only Christ offers, because, as Christ Himself warned, “if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”(John 5:46-47) Sceptics and so-called evangelical Christian groups should take warning, and repent, because one day in the real future of the real world it will be too late, and they will have to face Christ as Judge.
Genesis clearly states Noah’s Flood was a world-wide catastrophic event sent in judgement of human sin. This is affirmed by Jesus and the Apostles. Unless it happened as described in Genesis, and as affirmed by Jesus, it is merely a fanciful story with no theological significance. By claiming Noah’s Flood was only a local event organisations like BioLogos are doing the sceptics’ work for them, and undermining the essential truth that Christ is Creator and Judge of all mankind, who has told the truth about the past, and will fulfil the warnings and promises He has made about the future. Being a Christian is not about theological theory. It is about receiving real salvation from a truthful, righteous and loving Creator and Saviour who will judge the whole earth, just as He did in Noah’s time.
For more information
Read about the influence of Charles Lyell on Charles Darwin in the article The Descent of a Man. PDF here.
Watch John Mackay’s lecture The Day the Word Washed Away, video here.
More questions on Noah’s Flood:
NOAH’S ARK: How did Noah fit all the animals on the ark? Answer here.
NOAH’S FLOOD: Where did the water come from, and where did it go? Answer here.
NOAH’S FLOOD? How can you recognize rocks that have been laid down by a flood? Answer here.
SNAILS: How did snails survive Noah’s flood. How did all the species spread around the world? Answer here.
MOUNTAINS? Are the high hills and mountains in Genesis 7 the same? Answer here.
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