The Genesis Flood:
There are some who insist that the account of Noah and the Flood is an exaggeration at best, and a downright myth at worst. Unfortunately, there are even some who claim to believe the Bible who insist that the Flood was a local phenomenon. They claim that the Flood was limited to the region of Mesopotamia, a region prone to flooding. In this article, we will examine this claim from two distinct angles. First, we will see what the Bible says about the Flood. Then, we will see whether there is any external evidence to support the Bible's account.
I. Is It Possible To Interpret The Flood Described In Genesis As A Regional Flood?
Those who support the idea that the Flood was confined to Mesopotamia point out that the word "all" is not always used literally. For example, Mark 1:5 tells us that "all the land of Judea" were baptized by John in the wilderness. Of course, we understand from the context that this does not literally mean every single human in the land of Judea. So, it is reasoned, the word "all" does not need to be taken literally in Genesis 6-9, either. The claim is made that the word is used in an accommodative sense, and that only the "inhabited portion" of the earth was in view. The assumption is then made that only the region of Mesopotamia was inhabited, and the conclusion is drawn that the Flood of Noah's time was confined to this region.
This is the same kind of reasoning that the "Jehovah's Witnesses" use to justify their translation of John 1:1, which says "the Word was a god." They justify it by appealing to Acts 28:6, where the same Greek expression is used, and is translated "a god." The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it completely ignores one of the most important factors in the proper understanding of the Bible or any other document: context.
In Acts 28:6, it is clear from the context that the meaning is "a god", because Luke is describing the reasoning of the natives of Malta, who were quite obviously superstitious, and believed in a multitude of "gods." Similarly, it is clear from the context that John 1:1 is saying that the Word was God (not a god), because John is talking about the one true God - not the pagans' misconceptions. Likewise, in Mark 1:5, the context tells us that the word "all" is not being used in the literal sense of "every single one without exception." Now then, the question is whether there is anything in the context of Genesis 6-9 to suggest that the words "all" and "earth" are being used in an accommodative sense, or whether it is being used literally.
In point of fact, we have abundant contextual evidence to show that the Flood covered the entire globe, and not just a region. Let us look at some of this evidence.
1. The Need for the Ark
Imagine building a wooden boat with nothing but hand tools. Clearly, that would be quite a large undertaking. Now, imagine that the boat you are building is 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high (Genesis 6:15). This is an enormous amount of work.
If the flood were merely a regional phenomenon, Noah and his family would have been able to move to higher ground. This would have been much easier, and more sensible, than building such a huge boat. But even if God wanted Noah to build a boat as an act of faith, why bother with all of those animals? Clearly, even if only Mesopotamia were inhabited by man (which is by no means certain or even likely), there must have been animals in other parts of the world. Why would Noah have to bring all of those animals with him?
It seems quite evident that when God said, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth" (Gen. 6:13), He meant it quite literally. It is precisely because He intended to destroy the entire earth, along with all of the animals and birds, that Noah needed to build the ark.
2. The Duration of the Flood
Anyone who has studied Genesis knows that many details are left out of the various accounts that we would normally expect to be included. For example, we are not told how Cain killed Abel (Gen. 4:8). This is exactly the kind of detail that most writers would be sure to include, but the Author of Genesis saw fit to leave it out. And there are many other examples of this phenomenon: we are not told what Noah looked like, we are not told about his relationship with his wife, we are not told what he did for a living, etc. However, some pains are taken to tell us precisely how long Noah and his family were on the ark. And this detail gives us some insight into the extent of the Flood:
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. (Gen. 7:11)
And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry. And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dried. Then God spoke to Noah, saying, "Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you." (Gen. 8:13-16)
The Flood lasted for a full year. Noah and his family were on the ark for a year and ten days. Would a regional flood last a year? In recent years, the Midwestern portion of our country has suffered tremendously from severe regional floods. Yet, no one has floated on the waters of these floods for anything like a year. We can imagine a flood lasting for weeks, or perhaps even a couple of months if it is particularly severe. But can we really imagine a local, regional flood lasting for a full year?
Once again, the context clearly tells us that this was no regional flood. When the Bible says that the Flood covered "the earth" (e.g. Gen. 7:17), it means the entire earth. Otherwise, the time span given is absurd, and the account is no more than a fairy tale.
3. The Language of the Passage
Finally, let us examine the use of language throughout Genesis 6-9. Is there anything in the language of this passage to suggest a regional flood, or does it indicate a global flood? Consider the following:
So the LORD said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." (Gen. 6:7)
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (6:11-13)
"And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. (6:17)
"For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made." (7:4)
The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. (7:20-23)
But the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, and she returned into the ark to him, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. (8:9)
"Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." (9:11)
The language is far more than clear. It is emphatic. The Flood was a global phenomenon. The entire planet was covered with water. To put it another way, "all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered" (Gen. 7:19).
are other valid arguments that could be made from the context to show the same conclusion, but by now the point is clear. The Bible clearly and emphatically tells us that the Flood was a global phenomenon. If we have any respect for the integrity of the Bible, or if we have any regard for the meaning of words, we cannot see a regional flood in Genesis 6-9. Therefore, if the historical Flood was truly a localized event, then the account in Genesis is nothing but a myth, and the Bible is discredited.
II. Is There Any Evidence Apart From The Bible That A Global Flood Ever Occurred?
It is essential to recognize first of all that a flood of the magnitude described in Genesis would be an event of almost unimaginable power. The quantity of water involved, and the force of that water's movement, would have an enormous impact on the surface of the earth. That being the case, we would expect to be able to find some evidence of such a cataclysm in the physical world. And, in fact, such evidence does indeed exist. Let us look at just a few examples of this evidence.
1. Sedimentary Strata
In many places on earth, it is possible to see a cross-section of sedimentary rock. The layers, or strata, of different sediments are easily seen. Moreover, many fossils can be found within the rock. The fossils are arranged in horizontal layers much like the rock itself, in that certain kinds of fossils will be in one layer, different kinds in the next layer, and so forth. Geologists assume that these strata were formed gradually over millions of years, because they assume that they were formed by the same ordinary processes that go on today.
However, the strata could much more easily have been formed by one catastrophic event, such as the Flood of the Bible. This is because a flood of that magnitude would pick up and move enormous quantities of sediment. Of course, the sediment would be made up of many different materials of varying density. The sediments with the greatest density would settle to the bottom, followed by the next densest, and so on, such that distinct layers would form. Over time, as the sediment hardened, it would become rock, like the sedimentary rock layers visible today.
Of course, if the Flood of the Bible had occurred, some other things would get trapped in the layers of sediment. Plants and animals, overcome by the deluge, would be swept up in the muddy water. As the mineral sediments settled, the plant and animal matter would do likewise. The different organisms would settle in layers, according to each one's individual density and mass. Over time, as the sediments hardened, chemical changes would take place in the organic matter, and the remains of the animals and plants would become what we know as fossils. The end result would be fossils of a wide variety of species, sorted in horizontal layers according to their individual physical characteristics. And that is exactly what is found in the strata of sedimentary rock, as we have already noted.
If the layers of rock had formed over millions of years by ordinary ongoing processes, as the geologists assume, then it is difficult to see how so many specimens would resist decay long enough to become fossilized. As we observe natural processes today, dead plants and animals begin to decompose long before they are covered with natural sediments. That being the case, it is highly unlikely - and perhaps even impossible - that the vast numbers of fossils available for study could have been formed gradually.
On the other hand, as has already been alluded to above, plants and animals trapped in underwater sediment do not decompose as quickly. Quite the contrary, such conditions are perfect for the formation of fossils in a relatively short period of time. It does not take millions or even thousands of years for fossils to form under such conditions. So, the available evidence within the sedimentary rock strata fits perfectly with the biblical account of the Flood.
2. Low Fossils in High Places
Mount Everest, the highest known mountain in the world, rises approximately 5 miles above sea level. Yet, the topmost portion of this mountain is made up of sedimentary materials, including fossils, that are consistent with deposits left by flowing water. In other words, it looks like it was once covered with water. Moreover, fossil remains of sea organisms have been found on every major mountain range. How did the sea creatures get up there? Whereas these facts are difficult to explain any other way, they fit quite nicely with the Flood of the Bible.
3. Antarctic Coal and Trees
Geologists will tell you that coal forms from decomposing vegetable matter. That being the case, you would not expect to find coal in Antarctica, where it is too cold for plants to grow. And yet, veins of coal have indeed been found there. In one location, 30 layers of coal, each one 3-4 feet thick, have been found. Moreover, fossilized tree trunks have been found near the South Pole itself. Trees do not grow there, because it is too cold. It is nighttime for 6 months out of every year. These things can't be explained in terms of ordinary ongoing processes. However, such could easily be explained by a global Flood, which could easily have carried the materials and deposited them in their current location.
The Bible very clearly tells us that the Flood of Noah's time covered the entire planet Earth. Moreover, there is ample evidence in nature to suggest that just such a global flood did indeed occur. Therefore, we have no rational reason to doubt that the Flood was indeed global. Thus, the moral lessons of the Flood account in Genesis 6-9; Hebrews 11:7; 1Peter 3:20-21; 2Peter 2:4-9; etc., remain intact and are applicable to us today.
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