A study of the Genesis Flood account and related questions. From the Dec 2009 Creation Answers Newsletter.
This will be the first in a series of articles about the global Flood of Noah’s day that is described in chapters 6-9 of Genesis. There are many questions people have about the Flood account. Many of the attempts of skeptics to challenge the Bible over the Flood account come from a lack of familiarity with what Genesis actually says. This series of articles will seek to answer what you could call “standard questions” about the Flood. Hopefully this will help Christians understand Genesis as well as what current creationist thinking is to some degree.
Few things in the Bible have been challenged and criticized as much as the account from Genesis of the Flood of Noah. It is interesting that over the years it has come to be known as “Noah’s Flood.” It was actually more God’s Flood. It was a way of judging the violence and evil that had become prevalent in the preflood world, and starting over with a righteous man named Noah. Noah was willing to live a righteous life in an ungodly society. Noah believed God’s word saying there would be a Flood, and Noah obeyed in constructing the Ark and preparing to save his family and land animals from complete destruction.
There is significant information in Genesis in chapters 6-9 about the Flood. It is also mentioned a number of times elsewhere in the Bible as an example of God’s judgement. Jesus himself mentions Noah and the Flood in passages in the Gospels (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-30), indicating that Jesus considered it an historic event. II Peter 3:3-7 is also a very significant passage regarding the Flood and how it relates to unbelief. The above passages from the gospels make clear that God did not warn everyone about the judgement that was coming. God does not “owe it to” people to warn them all of impending judgement (see Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 2:11-16). God would not be cruel or unjust to wipe out all life on Earth at any time, and then start all over, for instance. All of us deserve to be judged for our sin, but thanks to God’s mercy people are given time to turn to faith in Christ and in God’s grace those who believe are forgiven and given God’s Spirit to help them live for him in this life.
In Noah’s day, Noah did not experience the presence of the Holy Spirit the way a Christian does today. But on the other hand, God spoke directly to Noah, at least on certain occasions. Why did God not just take Noah off the Earth up to heaven and wipe out all life on Earth, then start over with creation again? Rather than wiping out Noah, along with the rest, God chose to give Noah a job of building a huge barge to save all the land animals. It seems God prefers to get man involved in His plan rather than doing it all Himself.
Noah was counted righteous because of his faith (Hebrews 11:7); Noah believed God and constructed the Ark, though Noah could not have imagined the awesome destruction that was about to come upon the world. How odd he must have seemed to his contemporaries! Noah had to figure out how to build the Ark as God had described it. We should give Noah some credit for being a pretty good enginner and builder. From Genesis it is clear God gave Noah specific overall dimensions to use for the Ark and told him to make it with 3 decks. He also described some sort of door and a window or skylight. But if there were more directions we don’t have any indication of it. He did not have to gather the animals, since they came to him (Gen. 6:20). Noah also did not have to act as Judge by closing the door to the Ark, Scripture indicates God did that (Gen. 7:16). But Noah’s obedience paid off for all of us. If the world was that wicked at that time, what would have happened later in history if God had not stepped in?
In children’s Sunday School lessons the story of the Flood is often taught along with other Bible stories. There are aspects of the Flood account that should be made clear to children and often aren’t. The Flood account is also something that should be studied seriously by adults, it is not just for children. In children’s Sunday School curriculum, the main application of the Flood story is often that God keeps his promises, since God kept his promise to Noah and God protected them through the Flood. This is true of course, but it is far from the main point of the Flood account.
The most important point about the Flood is that God is a holy God who does something about evil in the world! Why is this point so seldom mentioned among Christians? Many people today think God is irrelevant to their personal lives and that God has no involvement in the world. But, God judged the world once and he says that in the future He will judge it again. There are limits to God’s tolerance and God does not just allow evil to continue forever. The first judgement was by water but the second global judgement of the world will be by fire (II Peter 3:7).
There are other important lessons from the Flood account that are often taken for granted. Yet these points are very relevant to the thinking of people today, both to the public and to Christians. The Flood judgement story shows that God is completely sovereign or in control both of nature and of mankind. God holds our lives in His hands, individually and collectively. Secondly, the Flood demonstrates forcefully that the God of the Bible is the God of all people, whether they believe in Him or not. Did all people of Noah’s day believe Noah’s God existed? Unlikely. Yet, that did not make it less true. Jesus commented in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 that the people of Noah’s time had no warning that the Flood was coming. We are created to live by the moral principles God has set down and people have to answer to the Creator-God for their actions.
If the Noahic Flood really occurred in history as the Bible says, then it would surely have drastically changed planet Earth in many ways. I believe there are many indications from geological evidence of a powerful global Flood in the past. Thus, confirmations of the global Flood described in Genesis are quite literally right under our feet, in the rocks and fossils. Thus the Flood is not just a story, it is part of our history. It is the most severe catastrophic event in nature to ever occur on the Earth. More than a natural disaster, the global Flood was a divinely appointed judgement that was important in a Biblical view of history.
The rationale for the Flood was to judge evil in the world and start civilization over again. The means used to cause the Flood are not clear from Scripture. I personally believe that somehow God must have intervened in a supernatural way to cause the Flood to occur. This miraculous intervention could have taken many forms. Some believers have suggested various natural processes that could cause or initiate the Flood, though at the time God chose during Noah’s life. Scientists want very much to know details of how things took place. Indeed a global Flood in Earth history is very significant for understanding the geology of our planet. Some details can be discerned from scientific evidence through scientific methods. Creationist scientists have been researching various issues about the Flood and geology for years.
Creationists have a variety of theories to attempt to fill in detail on how the Flood took place so that we can relate it the Earth’s rocks, fossils, and natural resources. It is important to not let go of clear Biblical teachings as the science of the Flood is investigated. Scripture actually only gives us what could be called a sketchy outline, it takes science to fill in some of the details of the nature of the event. Once the Flood was started, much of what happened in terms of its effects can be described by known physical processes such as erosion, volcanism, sedimentation, etc. In my technical papers presented at the International Conference on Creationism in 1998 I argued that impacts from space could have caused some of (not all of) the Flood’s processes. This does not limit God’s involvement in an inappropriate way. I have never intended to put forward a complete Flood model to scientificially explain everything about the Flood. It is my conclusion that impacts could start at approximately the beginning of the Flood and continue for some period of time. I think this is a possibility within the framework of what Genesis tells us of the Flood. The reason for suggesting impacts during the Flood is to explain the abundant geological evidence on Earth for many impacts from space. There are over a 150 remnants of craters scattered around the Earth in all types of rock, much of which formed in the Flood. A number of well-known creationists in the sciences have supported the general idea of impacts during Noah’s Flood. It is important to note that in Genesis what we have is essentially a description of the event from the point of view of Noah. Genesis does not give us a detailed technical scientific description of how the Flood took place. Genesis does not tell us many details of how it happened. But what the Bible does tell us about the Flood is important and reliable.
The Global Nature of the Flood
It should not be necessary to defend the idea that Scripture teaches Noah’s Flood was global, yet this has been questioned by many. Many Christians do question whether the Flood described in Genesis 6-9 was really a flood over the whole earth. Yet, Scripture is extremely clear on this issue.
The principles of interpretation are to be remembered and applied at this point. The meaning of individual words in Scripture is always tied to their context and Scripture is to be interpreted the way it would have been understood by those who first heard it. It is not correct to look up a list of definitions for a Biblical word, arbitrarily choose one definition you like, and then assume the passage you are studying means that particular word meaning. Rather, we must look at the surrounding sentences and paragraphs as well as the whole Bible book and other background information to properly determine the meaning of one word in its context. This can be a great deal of work, but not always. Often, people err by arbitrarily choosing the Bible dictionary definition of a term that they want to believe and then reading it into the Biblical text, rather than basing their understanding on what the passage actually says. The difference between these two approaches is subtle, but crucial, for correctly understanding Scripture.
Some will argue that in the Bible the word for “land” or “Earth” (either ‘erets’ or ‘adamah’ in the transliterated Hebrew) could mean a local region or nation or large region, and not the whole earth. Broadly speaking this is true, but this is irrelevant to the Flood account in Genesis. What matters is how the terms are used in the context of the Genesis account, especially chapter 7. The following verses (from the NIV Bible) are especially relevant to the global nature of the Flood:
“every living thing” points to a global event
“all” referring to fountains implies all of them all over the world
Use of words “all”, “every,” and “everything” in reference to living things implies creatures from all over the world
“all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens” clearly indicates a global event, not local or regional
“All flesh that moved on the earth perished...”, “and all mankind”
“all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died.”
“He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land...”, “they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.”
Verses 7:21 and 22 are very explicit. How can they mean anything but a global Flood? Other logical considerations point to the Flood being global also. For instance, why would it emphasize “all” and “every” referring to different land animals if the Flood was only local? If the Flood only covered a limited region of the planet, Noah could have led animals in that area to a different part of the world and Noah would not have had any reason to deal with animals that were not in his part of the world. Furthermore, as has been pointed out many times by creationists, there would have been no reason for Noah to build an Ark at all, if the Flood were not global, for Noah would have had plenty of time to move to any part of the world without undertaking such a large difficult project as the Ark. Another point often made is that when God gave the rainbow He promised never to send another Flood like that again, one that would “destroy all flesh” (Gen. 9:12-15). There have been many floods since the time of Noah, including regional ones. If Noah’s Flood was not global then God would have broken His promise to Noah. So, the global nature of Noah’s Flood is inescapable from Scripture.
There are many other issues people raise about the Genesis Flood account. We will continue considering these in parts 2 and 3.
Go to Part 2
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