Monday, March 19, 2012

The Extent Of Noah's Flood

My guess is that anyone who is in any way familiar with the Bible understands that the account of Noah’s flood entails that the entire Earth was engulfed in the deluge. This is the default position, so familiar that it is even familiar to non-Christians. It has become a part of our culture. One defense of the catastrophic nature of the event is that it appears within all kinds of differing cultures throughout history and around the world. This provides a powerful external (outside the Bible) argument in favor of the biblical story.

The YE view includes the global flood as part of its paradigm. In fact, it demands that the flood be global as a way of both accounting for every major geological feature on the earth (mountains, canyons etc.) and of bearing responsibility for all fossil evidence. This Global Inundation view is primarily based on a single Bible verse: Genesis 7:19 -- "[The waters] rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains (Hebrew: har) under the entire heavens (Hebrew: shamayim) were covered …"

Before I offer an alternate view, let me say that, unlike the YE view that requires adherence to this Global Inundation Model, there is no such monolithic demand for "orthodoxy" among OE supporters. The OE view is certainly consistent with it, but it also allows for evidence from science and from Scripture that goes against the Global Inundation Model. There are several points that seem to buttress the idea that the flood could have been a more localized event. Let me explain ...

There are actually four models for the flood that have been proposed
  • Global Inundation
  • Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Persian Gulf
  • Mesopotamian Plain
  • Black Sea Overflow
Though the last two seem to lack much support, it is important to realize why some have proposed them. The simple answer is that scientific models almost unanimously lack any explanation for not only where the amount of water required to cover the entire Earth could have come from, but where it could have gone. No one that I have ever heard address this problem has offered what I would consider a sufficient explanation. While YE proponents used to invoke some sort of "water canopy" that collapsed from above the earth, they seem to have abandoned that bizarre idea. And while they rightly propose that a majority of the water burst forth from below, I have yet to see a plausible solution for a source vast enough to cover the entire globe.

It is not just scientific doubt about the model that weighs against it. There is also positive evidence that the Global Inundation Model does not hold water (pun intended). The geological record gives us ice cores in northern Greenland and central Antartic as well as sediment cores in New Zealand, that reveal annual layers of deposits of sediment and ice stretching back several hundred thousand years. The age of the layers in these cores is not "assumed," we can count them. Not only that, we can check them against one another by locating global impact events such as the volcanic eruptions of Krakatoa and Vesuvius, along with elliptical variations in the Earth’s orbit. These kinds of events are recorded in the layers and thereby allow us to calibrate them with one another. If there was a global flood, the evidence for such an event would show up in each of these, yet, in those hundreds of thousands of years of calibrated evidence, there is no evidence for it.

That said, scientific skepticism can never be allowed to stand alone. As always, it must be weighed in conjunction with what the Bible has to say about it. In fact, the debate about this topic is not primarily scientific. It is biblical. And, once again, what the Bible has to say is debatable.

First, the Bible gives us ample evidence of "worldwide" events that we know were not global. Examples of this type of hyperbole include:
  • Genesis 41:56-57 (Joseph and Egypt's famine)
  • 1 Kings 4:34, 10:24 (“the whole world” visited Solomon)
  • Acts 2:5 (“Men [were present] from every nation under heaven")
  • Romans 1:8 (“your faith is proclaimed in all the world")
  • Colossians 1:6 (“…as indeed in the whole world is bearing fruit”)
Second, the Hebrew words used in Genesis 7:19 are once again capable of carrying more than one meaning.
har: hill, mountain, hill country, mount
shamayim: heaven, heavens, sky, visible heavens

These obviously support the Global Inundation Model but, when considered from the point of view of Noah, this can also be a description of the hills under the visible sky surrounding the ark being covered by water. In other words, it could be taken to say that the earth was covered "as far as the eye could see." This is especially true given the other biblical passages that touch on the issue. For instance, each of the following are included in passages that refer to God's creation of a world that was originally covered by water (Genesis 1:2) but then separated from the land:
  • Job 38:8-11 -- "[God] shut the sea behind doors… fixed limits for it … [and said] this far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt.")
  • Psalm 104:9 -- "…[God] set a boundary [the waters] cannot cross; never again will they cover the Earth."
  • 2 Peter 2:5 -- "… [God] brought the flood on its ungodly people …"
Concerning the first two of these, there are a couple of points to bring up. First, YE proponents have dismissed them (Job 38 and Psalm 104) because they are drawn from poetic literature and should not be allowed to override the "reinterpreting the clear meaning" of Genesis 7:19. But no one said these verses should "reinterpret" anything. Those who bring them up are simply offering these verses as part of the body of evidence from Scripture. This is not be a radical idea. The fact that this goes against the YE paradigm is not a reason to dismiss it.

Also, the authors of Old Earth Creationism on Trial want to claim that Psalm 104 cannot be referring to the originally created water world, but to the waters of the flood. They defend this idea by invoking Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible and Dr. John Whitcomb's, The World That Perished, claiming in part that this is the proper hermeneutic to use because "Psalm 104 was written long after the flood." The fact that the entire book of Genesis was written "long after the flood" or that the book of Job was most likely written before Genesis does not seem to have any bearing on the issue.

YE proponent like to refer to alternate views as "local flood" models. This suggests that the extent of the flood was small, not unusual, and therefore not in keeping with the obvious catastrophic nature of the biblical account. But this is a gross mischaracterization of alternate views. No "local flood" proponent believes that the flood was not a massive, one-of-a-kind event. But a more accurate description might be "regional." But this type of flood would be catastrophic and would also include the complete destruction of mankind (except for the 8 members of Noah's family on the Ark). Why do I say that? Because mankind had not yet spread over the entire Earth. In fact, that was part of the problem with man's disobedience.

Concerning the third passage (above: 2 Peter 2:5), we know from Scripture that God’s judgment is always limited to the extent of man's reprobation. Therefore, it would be perfectly within the bounds of interpretation to say that the flood, even if it were regional, would be capable of destroying all humanity  and every living thing that had been affected by human sin. But it also reveals the fact that all animals would not have to be destroyed simply because all animals had not had contact with humanity and were thereby unaffected by sin. There would be no moral reason, for instance, to destroy penguins in Antartica, polar bears in Canada, Chinese pandas, or kangaroos in Australia.

Here, another agonizing problem with the YE paradigm comes to light. YE scholars themselves have estimated the ark could have held about 30,000 pairs of animals. Yet the record shows that since the time of the flood there have been more than 7 million species of animals identified as having lived on the Earth. Today, we still know of about 5 million different species. We also know that God rested from the work of His creating after the 6th creation day. In other words, an unintended consequence of the YE view entails not just evolution, but some kind of hyper-evolution beyond anything Darwin could have ever imagined to account for the number of species of animal we find on the Earth today.

More educated men than I have debated this for a long time. Whether it was a regional or a worldwide flood is still up for debate, but I am prepared to announce that I can state unequivocally here on the True Horizon blog that I know the precise extent of Noah’s Flood. Here it is:

The Flood covered exactly as much of the Earth as it needed to cover to achieve God’s purposes.

That is one thing we know for sure. Again, the OE view does not depend on either model. I only offer these points to demonstrate that there are other ways to understand the flood that are biblically based … even if they do not fit the paradigm we all grew up with.

Update to this topic ... 

One question that came up during the Q&A to challenge the idea of a regional flood model, was to say a regional flood removes the need for Noah to build an ark. If the flood was only regional, Noah and his family would not have had to spend so many years wasting their time with such an project. They could have just moved out of the area the flood was meant to destroy. I thought it was a good point ... until a friend of mine (Procter and Gamble scientist, Greg Miracle, PhD, who is obviously wiser than me) made the following points (which I will provide here as a quote from an email instead of trying to improve upon):
As for why Noah didn't just move, the basic thoughts I had were: (1) Because his presence among the people over the span of years was a continual witness that increased their eventual culpability at the point that the judgment (flood) came, and, (2) it also aligns with God being merciful and giving the unrepentant every opportunity, over the span of many years, to respond to His warning issued through Noah. 
In many ways this models our own opportunity to respond to the gospel, which is frequently received as an unwelcome/ridiculed message presented to us more or less continually over a period of many years. Just like the flood, which came without warning, so it is with our final breath. We don't know when it will come, but it eventually does. And at that point the opportunity to repent is removed. He who stands firm to the end (Noah, for example in this narrative) will be saved.
Well said, Greg. Thank you. I wish I would have thought of that myself. In the future, however, I will blatantly steal this response and pretend it is my own. :-)


  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm surprised I've never heard the local flood theory... I guess Noah's ark is not a big topic in the church after grade school. anyway you said you have not heard a reasonable explanation from YE people on where the water came from or where the water went. Well it came from the Earth, and is still here... According to this link:

    Disclaimer: haha I can easily see you calling this guy a nut job, he's got some views that are out there. But take it for what it's worth, he claims it's just a theory. I wonder if you've heard of him before. Oh and the video is very long but the official description of his theory starts at 59 min and ends at 1:57 or so, give or take..

    This video gives some other good logical reasons for the flood and a lot of background information that (I think) is true, either way.

    Does that count of species you gave include fish (just checking, even though u did say lived "on earth")? More importantly, and one thing the video did not mention (cause he loves to) is that God did not say to bring 2 of every "species" on the Ark. He said two of every kind. And it's not unreasonable to assume every species of dog, wolf, and coyote that exists today all had a common acestor.. a dog. And that through "micro evolution" all the different types of dogs are here today. And you know what I mean by that: A very large gene pool combined with different habitats and different mates eventually creates all the dogs (Still a dog, so it's not evolution, just a dispersion of already existing information). And that's not hyper evolution... just look at how many different type of people came out of the one family from the flood. Even just adding two or three different kinds of dogs would make it much more likely. I don't have actual numbers on that though, but then again neither do you.

    Other points:
    Does what you said about penguins mean that they only came under the "curse" of sin once humans went to antarctica and interacted with them? Or is there no such thing as a curse on animals because death was already a part of life before the Fall? In which case, if there is no curse on animals, the logic doesn't follow why this is even worth mentioning. Yes, God still could've left them alive, but then, what's the point of saving all those animals on the ark if the world was fully populated already? just a thought.. I feel like this is a strawman arguement. Either way certain animals on the ark who were "tainted" by sin still lived. I don't feel like sin has anything to do with animals, it was just God preserving them. Or do I need to check that with what the Bible says?


  3. Hey Brad,
    Oh yes, good old Kent Hovind. Last I heard he was on his way to jail for some kind of tax thing but that was a long time ago. I watched the part of the video about the giant icy comet(s) impacting the Earth and causing the ice age AND the flood simultaneously ... but I just couldn't take too much of it.

    YEs insist (because they have no choice) that every fossil, and every geological feature on the Earth are the result of the Flood. The problem is that we can look at calibrated ice core samples, tree ring data, sediment layers etc. going back 100,000+ years that show no sign of this catastrophic, worldwide event they claim caused all these things.

    They insist that geological theories that allow for gradually produced features on the Earth must be false (can't have that much time to work) and that the Grand Canyon etc. could only be caused by cataclysmic events. To them it's an either or choice about the cause. For the life of me, I can't understand why they won't accept that both kinds of events happen. Gradual change goes on all the time, and cataclysmic events (like Mt. St. Helens or the Japanese earthquake/tsunami) make rapid change happen too.

    They want me to believe that all the mountains on the Earth were formed at the same time (during the flood). I see no evidence for it and I don't believe it. It's just another way they try to make EVERYTHING fit the YE paradigm.

  4. The P and G scientist you quoted still does not convince me that Noah could not have simply moved out of the area where the flood occurred. Noah would have been able to preach his message, warning of the impending doom and left at an appointed time , much like Lot who left and was told not to look back. God still would have been able to show His mercy for a long time. Don't have to have an ark to end the time of mercy and pronounce judgment. But because there was an ark that God directed Noah to build and fill it with animals to replenish the earth leads me to believe the flood was world wide..

    1. You and a lot of other people, Rebecca. Obviously, your take is possible and probably the most widely accepted view. The point of the regional flood model is to try to explain why General Revelation does not seem to match Special Revelation on this point.

    2. I mean that the "global" flood view that many claim is demanded by a "correct" biblical interpretation (Special Revelation) does not seem to match the scientific/geological data (General Revelation). This does not mean that the view I'm proposing here is correct. All I'm saying is that one of them is being interpreted incorrectly. They can't both be right.

    3. The scientific data you refer to is based on what we observe now. The earth and its atmosphere were so different that man lived to be hundreds of years old. I cannot assume the laws of nature were the same now as they were when Adam lived.

    4. ... and I cannot assume that there was some catastrophic change in the laws of physics that would explain all the variables that would have to be different to support a young universe, or the fact that there is no hint of it in the record of nature.

      It just seems more reasonable to assume that the young universe interpretation may be incorrect, when doing so makes everything else in question fit.

    5. Well. I guess we will agree to disagree on this topic. It was very a interesting conversation. I enjoyed sharing ideas. All the best to you.

    6. I guess we will. But please know a few things:

      1) As I said in the original post, I am not "married" to the regional flood model. I think it is the most consistent with all the evidence, but it is not a hill on which I am willing to die. I fully admit that the global view has a lot of textual support. I surely would never fault someone from defending it.

      2) This issue, an the old universe/young universe debate of which it is a part, should never become some kind of "text of orthodoxy" or salvation between us. Some (on both sides) make it that and do more harm than good as a result.

      3) We are on the same team.

      Thanks for the conversation and for engaging in it respectfully. That is the only way any of us will encourage one another toward pursuing the Truth. All the best to you too, Rebecca.

  5. In 2 Peter 3:6 it sounds like the flood was indeed a global catastrophe because the later destruction will be with fire and that fire was not regional but global. God promised Noah the earth would not be destroyed with water again and the sign was a rainbow. If the flood was regional it would seem that the rainbow would only appear in that region where the flood occurred,

    1. It seems that you (and many others, including me for quite some time) believe that God made the rainbow as a sign. But all the Scripture tells us is that He made it a SIGN of his promise. In other words, given the makeup of the atmosphere and the constancy of the laws of physics, it is perfectly acceptable to see that there were always rainbows in the sky after a rain, but that, from this point forward, mankind was to see those rainbows as a reminder of God's promise. It wouldn't really make sense to me to suggest that God could have made rainbows only appear in the region of the flood.

    2. Would the fire that will destroy the earth be regional as well? It sounds like the earth being destroyed by fire is a global catastrophe. There is a comparison of destruction, first one is the flood, the next one is by fire. This leads me to believe that all flesh was destroyed the first time as it will be the second time. I think the atmosphere did change after the flood all over the world which is why we see rainbows wherever rain occurs. This convinces me along with the world wide destruction of fire in the future the flood was world wide. As I read Genesis, I just do not see the flood being regional. God made only exception which was Noah and his family to have survived. No other man (or family) were named as survivors.

    3. Rebecca: "I think the atmosphere did change after the flood all over the world which is why we see rainbows wherever rain occurs."

      Fair enough ... but my question is, on what basis do you make the claim that the atmosphere changed? How?

      Rainbows are caused by sunlight refracting through water droplets in the atmosphere. What about that do you think changed because of the flood? Was there no water vapor? No sunlight? No refraction? Please explain.

      Rebecca: "God made only exception which was Noah and his family to have survived. No other man (or family) were named as survivors."

      I agree. But (if you read the entire post) that does not do anything to undermine the regional flood theory. The entire point of it is that mankind had not yet migrated across the entire earth. All humanity was destroyed by the flood except Noah and his family but all humanity lived in the region where the flood occurred.

  6. I understand how rainbows are formed. It just seems that when the rainbow is described in Genesis 9:14, it is something new that has not been done before by God. It did not sound like a conversation about an phenomenon that already existed. I do not know what the atmosphere was like but seemed as though a rainbow did not exist in it.
    You are right, Noah's survival does not prove or disprove the regional flood idea, but nothing survived other than Noah, which includes men and animals. I think the main point of my post how the flood was compared to the global fire that is to take place. If the fire will be global, it seems that the flood was too.

    1. Rebecca, I was not being snarky when I described how rainbows are formed. My point is simply that, "It doesn't seem like ..." is not a very effective way to defend your (or any) position.

      My questions remain the same: What changed? The atmosphere? Water vapor? Sunlight? Refraction?

      If you re-read the passages in question and try to remove the preconceived slant that God is creating something new, it is a very straightforward take -- that God is simply pointing to the rainbow as having a new significance. It doesn't seem that far-fetched to me. It certainly doesn't do anything to undermine the point of this post.

    2. I did not think you were being snarky. I do not have a problem using the phrase it does not seem like...I am very honest in my replies. I do not have to win an argument here. I am trying to be as objective as I can. Truth is very important to me as I am sure it is important to you. If I find that my opinion or perspective fall on the incorrect side, I do not have a problem with that. When I read the passages, the rainbow was a sign, or token of the covenant between man and God, I do not think I have a preconceived slant on the passages that indicate the rainbow being a new phenomenon. I was not there so I do not know exactly what the difference was. But, again, I do not think rainbows existed before. There is no proof they existed. There is no proof that the laws of nature were the same then as they are now. Definitely something caused mankind's life span to significantly decrease. For some reason, man was given permission to eat meat. Even though I cannot tell you at this point what the change was in the earth, I think certain laws we are accustomed to presently, were different during the time before the flood.

  7. Dear Christian,

    I challenge you to watch this short, but very provocative video clip regarding the morality of your God's act of killing so many little children in Noah's Flood. If after watching this video clip you can still assert that your God and your belief system is good and moral, I will strongly and sincerely recommend that you see a mental health professional.


Though I do not moderate comments, I reserve the right to delete any comment that I deem inappropriate. You don't have to agree with me, but I don't tolerate abusive or objectionable language of any kind.