This is the seventh post in an extended series on Noah and the Flood (Gen 6-9). For the first six posts, click here for a discussion on:
1) The Nephilim and sons of God in Gen 6:1-4
2) The New Testament View of the Nephilim and sons of God in Gen 6:1-4
3) The Causes of the Flood in Gen 6:5-8
4) God repenting and the animals being wiped out in the Flood
5) The Mesopotamian precedents to the Flood narrative
6) The JEPD/Documentary hypothesis and why it’s a weak theory for the Flood narrative
7) The meaning, appearance, and scientific nature of the Ark
This series is a summary series that focusses on broad findings. For details, nuances, and debate, see the “geeky version” of this series over here.
Let’s start with the passage of Gen 7:11-24:
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month – on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And the rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On that very day Noah entered the ark, accompanied by his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, along with his wife and his sons’ three wives. 14 They entered, along with every living creature after its kind, every animal after its kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life came into the ark to Noah. 16 Those that entered were male and female, just as God commanded him. Then the
17 The flood engulfed the earth for forty days. As the waters increased, they lifted the ark and raised it above the earth. 18 The waters completely overwhelmed the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the waters. 19 The waters completely inundated the earth so that even all the high mountains under the entire sky were covered. 20 The waters rose more than twenty feet above the mountains. 21 And all living things that moved on the earth died, including the birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all humankind.22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 So the
Understanding the difference between Biblical and scientific world views
The Flood is intimately intertwined with the Biblical conception of Creation. As discussed in previous posts in this series, the Flood is about the ‘un-Creation’ of ‘Creation’. As such, we need to understand the Biblical worldview of Creation, as opposed to the modern conception. In doing so, we’ll match the majority (but not all) modern commentators and theologians in viewing an impenetrable divide between the two world views, that can’t be melded together. In case this makes you feel uncomfortable (if you are a Christian who is being exposed to this concept first on this site), we need to first understand the difference between the Biblical worldview and Biblical theological truths, so that it becomes understandable that we can reject the Biblical worldview without rejecting the Bible itself.
Examples of Biblical worldview that not even modern Christians accept:
The organ of intelligence and thought is the heart. The Bible says this countless times, and not ‘metaphorically’. Just like it’s surrounding cultures, the Bible has no knowledge that the brain is the organ of intelligence and thought. This was not known until only several hundred years ago, so it is not just the Bible that holds this view, but all ancient, pre-scientific cultures. To apply the same reasoning to all of the hundreds of passages that speak of the heart as the organ of intelligence, as some do to Gen 1 and it’s view of Creation, is to inevitably tie yourself into rejecting the function of the brain. This is of course impossible. We have to reject the Biblical worldview of the heart as the organ of thinking–but this has no effect on the Bible’s infallibility.
Slavery and living a Godly life within it. Both the OT and the NT are full of passages that accept slavery as a given, without any knowledge of the possibility of creating a world without this institution. The Biblical worldview is saturated with the institution of slavery. In order to apply all of it’s statutes, slavery must exist. Since slavery is now eradicated in some parts of the world, we now know that this Biblical worldview can be rejected, without throwing out the Bible itself.
A solid dome separating waters below from waters above. One of the many crippling things that makes modern Creationism an impossible concept to uphold, is the clear Biblical worldview that there is a solid dome or firmament in the sky, separating waters above this dome from the waters below earth. Attempts to pretend this ‘firmament’ is not solid by modern Creationist apologists fall flat, since the word used for ‘dome’ is directly related to solid substance, and more importantly since every use of this word in context in the Bible is of a solid dome holding back the waters above. As we all know, we now travel to the room and satellites we make have even now travelled outside our solar system. There is simply no solid dome. This is a false and incorrect worldview. It is not just a Biblical worldview, however, but one held by all pre-scientific cultures. With a couple exceptions, everyone thought this was the state of the universe until about 500 years ago when Copernicus gave us the concept that we live on a planet, and that we are not at the centre of the universe. Attempts to meld this worldview with a scientific one are doomed to failure, which means any attempts at Creationism are too.
Let’s quickly cover the ancient (i.e. Biblical) worldview of the universe, and then relate how it matters to our conception of the Flood, and why the Bible is incapable–since it lacks the vocabulary, the idioms, and the worldview, of claiming there was a ‘global Flood’. And just to clarify, this view is not some ‘liberal Christian theory’, but a mainstay of modern evangelical scholarship. It’s failure to be communicated to the ‘pop Christianity’ that rules the media side of Christianity is upsetting, but most (by no means all) translators, scholars, and commentators agree with the below description.
The Bible’s view of the earth/cosmos
(1) Pre-Copernican (pre-1500 AD) and Biblical cosmic geography
For an understanding of why the Bible has the following worldview, see the geeky version of this post here. Take a look at the below image, if it happens to be your first glimpse at this ancient image of the universe. Google images (type in ‘Hebrew cosmology’) will give you dozens more variations on this image, if you need a different type of map from the one below.
This characterization is simplistic, but in the geeky version of this post, we use the academic term for the observations that led to this worldview (phenomenology) and go into more nuances that are less simplistic than this graph imply.
Structuralism vs. functionalism
Before I repeat the same image above with the Biblical quotes to back it up, we need to correct an atheist understanding of the above map that has led to some Christian scholars rejecting it (unfairly).
As nearly all scholars agree (secular and Christian), the worldview of the ancient near east and Bible is very different from the worldview we have today. Today, we think something is ‘real’ if we can describe it’s structure. In the Biblical worldview, something is real if we can describe it’s function.
The brain, for the ancients, doesn’t exist (there’s no known term for it), because it had no known function1. Instead, the ‘mind’, or ‘soul’ was real, because it had a function, even if there was no structural component to it. Today, scientists reject the terms ‘mind and soul’ because they have no structural component, and prefer ‘brain’ instead.
One of the first nuances in understanding the Biblical map of the universe above, is that no Biblical people actually pictured such a structure in their mind. Rather, they pictured the function that each component had, such as the firmament holding up the waters from drowning the earth, or Sheol (the netherworld) as the place where people’s spirits went after death, or the waters below as the source of irrigation for watering crops and wells for drinking in dry climates. While it’s a challenging exercise to participate in, you will mimic the thinking of the ancient near east (actually all pre-Copernican thought), including the people of the Bible, if you modify the image of the structure of the universe above, to rather a series of ideas about the functions of the individual parts. It is a fundamentally different way of thinking, but it is testified to time and again in Scriptural verses.
An example of this can be seen in Egypt’s versions of these maps, of which there are many. Rather than the structure of the ‘firmament’ or ‘dome’ that had stars fixed to it’s belly and held back the waters above, Egypt cared about the function of the firmament, which was that it was the goddess Nut. Her belly was blue (hence the sky being blue), and she had stars on her. Her back held back the primordial waters, on which sailed the sun god’s barge as the sun sailed on these waters through the sky every day. She was in turn held up by the god of air (Shu), who in turn stood on the god of the ground, Geb. The map, and that is exactly what it is, is the same as the image above, but it corrects the modern structuralist emphasis by instead emphasizing that it is the function (that they are gods) that matters.
One example (among many) of this in the Bible is the word for rain. In modern terms, we care that rain comes from the clouds, so whether it waters our plants or lands in the ocean, whether it floods our ground or drains away right away, we still call it rain. This is why the word ‘rain’ covers all these functions, because it is structurally identical in all of these functional situations.
For the Biblical worldview, however, the structure of the rain was irrelevant, and what was relevant was whether this rain watered crops (thus giving us food), or caused floods and devastation. Since these are entirely different functions (some against us, some for us), Hebrew uses different words for ‘rain’, since they are functionally different. The word used for rain in the Flood narrative (Gen 7:10) or Ps 29:10, for example, where it describes God’s control over the primordial waters of Creation, is a different one from that used in Ps 104:13 or Ps 148:4, where it fertilizes the ground and provides for humanity.
(2) The geography of the earth/universe in Ancient Near Eastern thinking
In the below image I have placed Scriptural references over all of the ‘structures’ seen in the Biblical view of the universe. What is important is that these Scriptures care only about the function of these things we moderns see as structures. Atheists that use these maps of the universe to ‘prove’ that the Bible is wrong and should be discarded, misread ancient Scripture and ancient near east sources because they view it through the prism of modern structuralist thinking. Conservative apologists that reject this Biblical worldview do likewise, by rejecting the cosmology for the same reason that it is too structuralist. Both are wrong.
The resulting perception of the cosmic geography had variations in each culture (of course), but we can very legitimately speak of a near-universal ANE (ancient near east) cosmic geography template, that nearly all cultures agreed upon, and that includes the following variation specifically tied to the Bible.
The universe was tiered into three major divisions2. In the middle is the land, called earth, including valleys and mountains. Below is the netherworld, including Sheol, the realm of the dead, the deep abyss, and the waters below. Above is the sky, called the heaven(s), including the firmament/dome/expanse (Gen 1:6-8) over which rests the ‘waters above’, from which rain comes.
(a) The heavens
The heavens contained arguably the most internal details and variations of all the three tiers in the Biblical system. In Gen 1:6-8, when they are first created, the heavens are used to separate the cosmic waters which covered the entire universe (that is, earth, not as a planet but as the land on which you stood). It is not surprising therefore that in Hebrew heavens is derived from waters (מַ֫יִם becomes שׁמים) 3.
We can see the functional shifting of meanings at play in Gen 1:6-8. The Bible first uses a distinct word translated ‘firmament’ to describe what God used to separate the cosmic waters. But in Gen 1:8, he then calls the product or function of this separation ‘heavens’. The word for the ‘firmament’ explicitly contains the concept of solid material, described as solid in both Gen 1:6-8 and Ezk 1:25-26.
The Egyptians even attributed meteors falling to the ground as the material of the dome itself. It was often described as solid materials that were blue in colour, most commonly lapis lazuli, but in the Bible in Ex 24:10 most explicitly as sapphire.
Hebrew, or rather OT Hebrew, doesn’t have a specific word for ‘air’, but it nevertheless uses idioms, including the word for wind/spirit/breath, but also the phrase ‘between heaven and earth’ (i.e. 2 Sam 18:9). As such, the OT is capable of distinguishing between the empty space where birds can fly, and the solid dome of the sky when it needs to, but since it rarely ever has occasion to discuss flying birds, the majority of the time it sees no functional need to distinguish between air and the dome, and so simply refers to both interchangeably as ‘heavens’.
Like air, the OT rarely has a need to discuss clouds distinct from the sky, but when it does it again describes them in solid terms (‘molten metal’ (Job 37:15-18 and Prov 8:27-28)4. Most of the time, however, clouds, like air, are simply referred to interchangeably with the word ‘heavens’.
Coming to the dome itself, then, not only is it consistently described as blue, but the Bible also adheres to most other ANE cultures in seeing the stars as being fixed to the underbelly of the dome, and moving along pre-ordained tracks. The Shamash plaque pictured below shows this concept. The stars must be understood in functional terms, defined in Gen 1:14-15 as signs for festivals and omens of the future (a view both supported by and criticized by the OT). As little lights with predictable rotations, they were viewed as being fixed to the underbelly of the dome5.
Above the firmament lay the primordial waters that covered the universe/earth before Creation, and are now held back by the firmament. The OT describes ‘floodgates’, often translated as ‘windows’ but actually more specifically meaning ‘sluices’–an ancient system for controlling how much water was let into a field for irrigation (watering crops). God is described as being able to open and close these to allow rain and, in the case of the Flood, ‘floodwaters’ (a specific functional word distinct from ‘rain’).
The final layer above the primordial waters is the actual home of the gods (or in the Bible, God alone). This is what we use the word ‘heaven’ for today, but in Hebrew ‘heavens’ means everything we’ve discussed so far.
All of this view of the top tier of the universe, the ‘heavens’ or ‘sky’, can be seen in the above tablet from Babylon. At the bottom (directly above the writing), there is a single line (the firmament), to which are fixed stars (the circles with internal star designs). Above this are wavy lines (the cosmic ‘waters above’). Finally, above this is the domain of the gods, in this case Shamash, a Mesopotamian god, seated on a heavenly throne, attended by the equivalent of the ‘sons of God’ in Gen 6:1-4 and Job 1-2.
So too we see this map of the heavens portrayed in Egyptian images, where the functional nature is portrayed directly as gods.
For the Biblical worldview matching this description, see the Scriptural passages listed in the graphic above.
(b) The earth
Hebrew uses one word for what in English is translated either ‘earth’ or ‘land’, depending on context. Another word, the feminine form of ‘Adam’, means ‘ground’. Hebrew has no word for ‘Earth’, meaning the planet Earth, since in Hebrew as in most pre-Copernican models of the universe the earth, the heavens, and the netherworld were the entire universe. There were only 9 planets (not billions), and earth (not ‘Earth’), was not one of them, since planets were fixed to the firmament. It’s important not to confuse Hebrew ‘earth’ with our modern planet Earth. The concept is even clearer in Greek, where the word for ‘world’ and ‘cosmos/universe’ is the same.
Most ANE cultures viewed the land as (including mountains, valleys, etc.) as being a disc that floated on the primordial ‘waters below’, and was surrounded by them. Pillars are viewed in many cultures as supporting both the earth itself, as well as mountains as pillars supporting the firmament itself. The Bible includes such views, but also includes internally different metaphors, such as the land floating on ‘nothing’ (see for example Ps 104:5 vs. Job 26:7). This shifting (contradictory) understanding of what the earth rested on in the Bible stems from the functional view of the Biblical worldview, which could shift the ‘structure’ of the earth depending on what it needed to functionally describe. Today, we can’t think this way, but in the Bible it is all-encompassing.
The cosmic sea encircled the disc of earth/land. Indeed, the waters below, waters around, and waters above, were not considered distinct from each other but were all cosmic, primordial, chaotic waters. That is indeed the point, since their separation in both Egyptian and Biblical creation is an act of ordering, or creation. The sea was ‘kept under guard’ from overwhelming the land/cosmos by a number of different symbolisms, including locks, bolts, bars, and nets, all maintained by gods.
For the proof that the Biblical worldview matched this conception, again see the graph above.
(c) The netherworld
The netherworld contained two elements: Sheol or the pit/grave where spirits went after death, and the ‘waters below’ or deep abyss.
The entryway to Sheol was through the grave or pit, the place where the spirits of the dead live. Sheol itself is mentioned 65 times, but the synonyms used for it bring it’s reference up to hundreds of times in the OT. It is replaced altogether with ‘heaven and hell’ between the OT and NT, so that the NT has the ‘fully formed’ theology of heaven and hell in it, but in the OT, especially the pre-Persian books, Sheol was described as the place where all dead people’s spirits went after death–no matter what kind of life they lived.
The ‘lowest abyss’ or ‘deep’ of Gen 7:11 is the same as that of Gen 1:2. It is a technical description of the ‘cosmic ocean’, on which the earth floats and which surrounds the land as well (Gen 1:6-7, Ps 24:1-2). ‘Springs’ are the ‘windows’ for the watery depths to inundate and irrigate the world. The function of the deep abyss is both as the source of the Floodwaters and of the irrigation of crops and water of wells, but also as the domain of Leviathan/Rahab, the chaos monster of Job and the Psalms (as well as other books in the OT).
The ‘waters below’ or ‘great abyss’ are described in Ps 36:6, Ps 78:15, Isa 51:10, and Amos 7:4, all of which tend to be ‘poetically paraphrased’ in English translations so that English readers likely won’t know that the same ‘great abyss’ of Creation (Gen 1:6-7) and the Flood (Gen 7:11) are being referenced in the four passages.
Ps 74:13-17 directly mirrors the words used for the ‘splitting of the great abyss’ in Gen 7:11. Ps 74 refers to the splitting of the ‘cosmic ocean’, not the Red Sea of the Exodus as might be accidentally guessed. We also see in God’s control over the splitting of the great abyss his control over chaos. The parallel in the Mesopotamian Flood myths (Enuma elish), is one where the gods split Tiamat (the cosmic primordial waters or ‘Chaos’ personified) in two in order to create order. Moses flips this on its head by seeing the splitting of the cosmic chaotic ocean not as a means to defeat chaos and create order, but rather as God’s dominion over all of chaos itself.
For further Biblical passages on this view of the heavens, the earth, and the netherworld, see Job 9:6-7; 22:14; 26:7; 26:10; 36:27; 38:4-6; 38:19; 38:22, Ex 24:10, Deut 32:22, Ps 8:3; 24:2; 104:3; Prov 3:19-20; 8:27, Isa 40:22, Ez 1:22.
This view of the geography of the cosmos persisted after the period of the ANE all the way through the medieval ages–at least in popular perception (in scholarly circles, different views were given). It was not until the Copernican revolution only 500 years ago that this view shifted, and the beginnings of our modern understanding of the earth as a planetary body that is a sphere, emerged. See the image below for just some of the Scriptural verses that speak to each of the areas discussed above. There are far to many verses to cite. These are just a sample.
(3) Controversies of this view of the ancient universe
For controversies surrounding this model of the Biblical worldview, see extended discussion in the geeky version of this post.
To sum up the criticisms of this view:
1) My understanding is that the majority of conservative scholars accept this view, though a strong minority do oppose it. Their opposition seems to be based on the secular understanding of this ancient map of the universe, which fails to see the functionalist view of it.
2) The misuse of this view by secularists/atheists who fail to understand the functional psychology of the ancient worldview, is irrelevant to the ‘proper’ understanding of it, as depicted on ancient drawings themselves. A constant attack against this Biblical worldview by apologists is that this map is a fiction of modern scholarship. As has been shown by all of the pictures in this post, this is simply wrong.
3) Importantly, while there are a handful of contradictions and exceptions, there is a vast array, hundreds in fact, of verses in the Bible that uphold the above view of ancient functional cosmic geography. Those verses that contradict it are verses that are contradictions anyway. That is, any model of how the ancients viewed the world would still deal with the same contradictory verses. It is the verses that contradict each other–not that the verses contradict this model. See for example Ps 104:5 vs. Job 26:7.
4) Also importantly, the Biblical verses mentioned in this post in no way come anywhere close to our modern scientific understanding of the Earth.
5) I know of no scholar who rejects this ‘ancient map of the universe’, who has proposed any alternative model accounting for all of the Biblical verses that support it (to say nothing of the non-Biblical sources). That is, I’m aware of theories and people who disagree with this theory–but I know of no alternative theory to take seriously. The scholars stop with their criticism, but have no alternative explanations for the mystifying descriptions of the world described in the Bible.
There are clumsy attempts at small parts of the theory, such as TWOT’s awkward denial that the ‘expanse’ is physical, but is instead just ‘air pressure’ holding the waters up. All of these attempts appeal to a modern scientific view of the earth as a globe moving around the Sun, and try to make the Biblical view a modern scientific one. Such approaches not only fail to convince, but I should also point out that most (all?) of the commentaries I’ve read don’t even mention such theories. The integration of ‘earth as a globe’ and the Biblical worldview appears to be so impossible that most commentators don’t even give the notion the time of day in their detailed explanations of the Biblical text.
The Bible’s view of the Flood as local or global
The irrelevancy of the question
There are numerous points we can make that tell us that the Flood was not global according to the Bible (for example, that Ps 104:7-9, which is universally understood to refer to Creation–not the Flood–states that never again after Creation did waters cover all of the earth). However, despite the many points by which we can conclude that the Bible never refers to a ‘global Flood’, only a local one, to even address these points is to ignore that the concept itself is impossible. Hebrew not only lacks words and idioms for a ‘global Flood’, but it’s worldview and thinking are entirely incompatible with our modern view of the globe.
1) The term ‘earth’ in Greek especially, but to a less clear degree also in Hebrew, refers to ‘cosmos’ (universe). That is, in Biblical language, ‘earth/land’ and ‘universe’ are synonymous. The Biblical worldview, like all pre-scientific world views, viewed the stars as ‘lights in the sky’. In modern scientific language, the earth is a planetary body, within a solar system, which has one star, the Sun. This solar system is within a galaxy that contains billions of stars/suns, and this galaxy is one of billions in the universe. In other words, ‘earth’ means ‘universe’ in the Bible, an earth-centric view that is impossible to maintain today.
2) The term translated ‘earth’ is also translated ‘land’ in other passages. The Bible does not use ‘earth’ in the sense we use it as, as a planetary body (Earth), spherical, floating in space around the sun. Rather, it uses it as in the diagrams above, with a netherworld below and heavens above. In other words, Biblical ‘earth’ does not equal ‘Earth’. The term means ‘land’, as in ‘holy land’, not ‘holy Earth’. The interpretation of ‘earth/land’ as meaning the globe that the Bible does not know of in Gen 6-9 is entirely unjustified.
3) The extent of the Bible’s knowledge of the ‘world’, if we are to pretend that the term doesn’t also mean ‘universe’, is akin, give or take a couple thousand kilometres at most, to the extent of Alexander the Great’s empire, seen here.
4) In the context of the globe, this area takes up a small portion of the globe, seen above.
5) The phrase ‘all the earth’ and variations on it is a flexible phrase that is largely context-dependent. In numerous passages the phrase ‘all the earth’ refers to smaller regions, and in many other passages it refers to people, not places. To apply it to a globe that the Bible shows no knowledge of is bad exegesis. I include here only Scriptural verses that use ‘all the earth’ to apply to local regions only up to the arbitrary cut of Gen 20. There are hundreds of such examples6. Gen 2:11; 2:13; 13:15; 17:8; 19:28.
Most importantly, to make the case that the Flood of Gen 6-9 was global, you would have to establish based on the Scriptural verses cited in this post that the Bible was capable of discriminating between ‘global’ and ‘local’, and that it makes it ‘global’. This entails conceiving of a world without ‘pillars of the earth’, a ‘dome in the sky’ (that somehow our satellites and spaceships don’t hit), ‘waters above’ (that somehow our spaceships don’t ‘dive into’ when they leave our planet. It is simply impossible to take the Biblical view of the geography of the ‘land’ and gel it with what we now know to be true about our planet Earth. As such, to state that the Bible claims a global Flood in Gen 6-9 is not false, so much as it is impossible and irrelevant. The claim itself is nonsense, and has no potential for being made or proved, because the universe it is made in is not the universe it claims to be in.
The Bible not only makes clear statements about the ‘universe/earth’ that are impossible to maintain with our current knowledge, but it also clearly shows no knowledge of the Earth outside the boundaries of the Near East. A ‘global Flood’ is an impossible claim to state that the Bible makes. Even if you reject the view of the Biblical universe as described here, as in most scholarly resources (conservative evangelical ones included), you still have to replace it with another model that accounts for all of the Scriptural verses dealt with here. No one has done such a thing. Certainly no one has done such a thing, linking it with our modern understanding of planet Earth7.
A ‘Global Flood’ can’t be debated, because it can’t even be entertained. It’s a ‘ghost claim’.
With that being said, however, let’s close this post with a summary of what conservative Evangelical scholarly sources–which hold to an infallible, high view of Scripture (2 Tim 3:15), actually say about ‘Global Flood’ claims.
‘Pop’ or ‘media’ Christianity has introduced the concept–utterly foreign to evangelical scholarly understanding of the Bible–that the Bible is internally consistent and unchanging (thus confusing the Bible for God). As has been pointed out multiple times by multiple conservative scholars who view the Bible as infallible, this notion is nonsense. The examples are innumerable, but here are just a few:
The very concept of an ‘Old’ Covenant and a ‘New’ Covenant testifies to the Biblical rejection and modification of earlier theologies for newer ones.
‘Sheol’, the OT understanding of the afterlife, is replaced by ‘heaven and hell’ in the NT.
Jesus speaks directly to reasons why Moses’ law is being modified, especially when he says that ‘Moses gave you this law because your hearts were hard’ (Mt 19:8)
The tabernacle, and the Temple, being replaced or fulfilled by Jesus, is the entire point of the sermon in the letter to the Hebrews in the NT.
The addition of the Word into the Creation account in Jn 1
As one of the more famous modern theologians, N.T. Wright puts it:
“Some Christians seem to regard the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as equally authoritative and valid— even though Jesus himself, according to the gospels themselves, seems to have set aside the food laws and posed severe questions about the observance of the sabbath; even though Paul is shrill in his insistence that the ancient command to circumcise male children is no longer relevant for followers of Jesus; and even though the Letter to the Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that the detailed regulations about the Temple and the sacrificial system have been made redundant by the single sacrifice of Christ, the great High Priest.” (Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, preface).
That the modern conception of the world shows the Biblical worldview to be wrong is no more damaging to the Bible than is Jesus’ and Paul’s rejection of revelation from the Old Covenant. In fact, it’s not damaging at all. Likewise, the rejection of the pre-Copernican worldview puts the infallibility of the Bible at no more risk than the Letter to the Hebrews does. The Bible lives in a different worldview than our modern understanding of a globe. It doesn’t make the claim that the Flood was global, because it can’t. This is a simple misunderstanding of the text, and one which is not present in the majority of evangelical scholarship.
The science of the Biblical Flood
Even the hyper-conservative ‘Archaeological Study Bible Notes’ states that “for various reasons, many conservative scholars defend a local flood”, as opposed to a global flood. Despite a huge amount of conservative Christian websites claiming decisive scientific evidence for a global flood, as well as high profile institutes like the ‘Answers in Genesis’ museum, the evangelical literature, which holds to a high view of Scripture, is nearly unanimous that the case for a global flood is essentially absent, if not fundamentally disproven.
Indeed, the phrase ‘If the Bible says there was a Flood over all the earth, than that means there was a global Flood’, breaks down on itself, because Hebrew has no word for Earth, or globe. Neither planet Earth nor a globe are possible views of reality with the Biblical verses mentioned here, so the question is moot before you even need to address any scientific questions about it.
Christians have every right to be confused on this matter, as the movement for seeing scientific credibility behind Noah’s Flood has a strong media presence, which exploits Christians’ need to find the Bible an infallible source of truth, but twists that into Biblical inerrancy, which needs every literal word to have truth beyond science, ignoring both the nuances lost in translation and the heavily contextual nature of Scripture.
I am not saying there is anything sinister or vindictive in their process–they have evangelization in their heart, which is a good thing, I’m just saying–and so too, are most translators of every English Bible in the last several decades, most exegetical commentators, and most overviews of the Bible’s history–that positing a global flood is a fundamental and sizeable misunderstanding of the evangelical church’s understanding of Scripture. If you hold to a vital truth that if the ‘Bible says there was a Flood over all the earth, than that means there was a global Flood’–you are almost certainly at odds with the men and women who have translated the Bible into the English version you have. That’s probably not a good thing.
Appendix: Quotes against a global flood from conservative evangelical sources
Of the following commentaries I’ve read in preparing my posts on Noah’s Flood, the ASB and IVP BBC are by far the most conservative. I’m including only there views, since all other commentaries listed here (see the footnote)8 are not so stringently conservative.
“Today, for various reasons, many conservative scholars defend a local flood. The crux of their arguments centers in the covenant relationship of God to people. Noah was not a preacher of righteousness (2Pe 2:5) to peoples of other areas but was concerned with the culture from which Abraham would eventually come. In addition, physical arguments have been raised against a universal flood:origin and disposal of the amount of water necessary to form a layer six miles (ten km) thick over the whole world; the effect on plant life of being covered for a year; the effect on fresh water life of a sea that contained salt from the ocean; and the fact that many topographical features of the earth (such as cinder cones) show no evidence of erosion by a flood and are thought to be much more ancient than the flood could possibly have been” (ASB, Gen 7:19 note).
“There is presently no convincing archaeological evidence of the biblical flood. The examination of silt levels at the Sumerian cities of Ur, Kish, Shuruppak, Lagash and Uruk (all of which have occupation levels at least as early as 2800 b. c.) are from different periods and do not reflect a single massive flood that inundated them all at the same time. Similarly, the city of Jericho, which has been continuously occupied since 7000 b. c., has no flood deposits whatsoever. Climatological studies have indicated that the period from 4500 to 3500 b. c. was significantly wetter in this region, but that offers little to go on. The search for the remains of Noah’s ark have centered on the Turkish peak of Agri Dagh (17,000 feet) near Lake Van. However, no one mountain within the Ararat range is mentioned in the biblical account, and fragments of wood that have been carbon- 14 dated from this mountain have proven to come from no earlier than the fifth century.” (IVP BBC, Gen 6:17 comment).