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The question of the nature of Noah’s Flood, particularly its geographical extent (global or limited to the area around the Mesopotamian Valley), is critical to the question of the age of the earth. Young-earth creationists believe it was global, while most old-earth creationists apparently believe it was localized in the Middle East. Is the Bible clear on this point? Does it really matter? Do we decide by treating the Bible as the final authority or by using the majority view in geology to determine the meaning of the biblical text? In addressing this issue, we examine some of the thinking of Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Walter Kaiser as expressed in their debate with Ken Ham and Dr. Jason Lisle on the John Ankerberg Show in 2006 (see The Great Debate, program 8. All quotes by Drs. Ross and Kaiser in this article are from this TV program). Their claims are examined here in light of Scripture—something professing Christians should always do. The conclusion is that the Bible clearly teaches that Noah’s Flood was global and catastrophic, and the cause of much of the geological record. Those Christians who reject the global Flood and accept the millions of years are undermining the clear teaching and authority of the Word of God, regardless of any sincere intentions to the contrary.
The question of the nature of the Flood account found in Genesis 6–9 is ultimately a question of biblical authority. It all goes back to starting points. Are we to start with the Bible as our absolute source of truth, or are we to take man’s fallible ideas and try to force them into the Bible? As we will demonstrate, when we read the text for what it says, we must conclude that the Flood was in fact a global flood.
The purpose of the Flood was to destroy not just all people, but also all land animals and birds and the surface of the earth itself. “
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. … I will destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:7, (13)). Only a global Flood would accomplish that purpose, for a local Flood in the Mesopotamian valley would not affect any animals or birds in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Russia, India, China, or Australia.
The purpose of the Ark also points to a global Flood. If the Flood was just in the Mesopotamian Valley, there would be no need to take two of every kind of land animal and bird (and seven, or seven pairs, of the clean kinds) onto the ark, as Genesis 7:1–3 states, to keep offspring “
alive on the face of all the earth.” Animals and birds outside the flood-zone wouldn’t have needed to be saved. And animals and birds in the flood-zone could have easily escaped before the waters reached their highest level. As for Noah, God could have simply told him to go on a long vacation to Europe or Africa. Only a global Flood fits with the purpose of the Ark.
Over 60 times in Genesis 6–9 we see the universal terms “all,” “every,” “under heaven,” “in which is the breath of life,” etc. The word translated “all” or “every” is the Hebrew word col. Certainly, the Old Testament does contain examples where col does not mean literally all, as the context in each case makes perfectly clear.1 But very often it does mean literally all (e.g., Isaiah 53:6). As always, context must determine the meaning. We can’t just decide that the “all” here is figurative because it fits with a pre-conceived idea influenced by the majority view among geologists. Rather, the extreme repetition of these universal terms in the Flood account makes it clear that God was being emphatic about the global extent of the Flood.
The Bible also tells us that the Ark landed very near the top of one of the highest mountains in the mountain range of Ararat at that time,2 and that the floodwaters receded for 74 days before Noah could see any other peaks. Only a global flood could lift the Ark to that many thousands of feet above sea level and take that long to recede before other peaks were visible. Genesis 7:19 tells us that the Flood covered “
all the high hills under the whole heaven.” Since water seeks the lowest level plane, this clearly indicates a global Flood. But a flood that covered all the mountains of Ararat and yet extended no further than the Mesopotamian Valley would require a miraculous intervention of God for which no biblical basis is found in Genesis 6–9 or any other passage of the Bible referring to the Flood.
In Genesis 9, we are given a further evidence of the global extent of the Flood, with the covenant and the sign of the rainbow. God promised to Noah and his descendants, to the animals and their offspring, and to the earth itself that He would never again send a Flood to destroy the earth. If the Flood was local, then God has broken his covenant countless times. There have been many local floods that killed some humans, killed some animals, and destroyed some of the earth. In this case the rainbow would be no sign at all. Much more evidence could be cited from these chapters and elsewhere in Scripture. But these evidences alone demonstrate that Genesis is unequivocal about the global extent of the Flood.
Some who deny the global Flood, such as Dr. Hugh Ross, suggest that the Flood could not have been global due to boundaries God set on the oceans. This argument is built on the assumption that passages such as Job 38, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8 are creation accounts. However, the idea that these are creation accounts does not stand up to scrutiny.
Psalm 104:9 states, “
You have set a boundary that they [the waters] may not pass over, that they may not return to cover the earth.” However, this cannot be referring to the third day of Creation Week, because that would mean that God lied. In order to cover “
all the high hills under the whole heaven,” as the Genesis Flood did, the sea would have to transgress the boundary set by God. Rather, when we look at the context, we see that the psalmist was alluding to the Flood itself. Never again will the waters “
return to cover the earth,” a promise reminiscent of God’s covenant in Genesis 9:11 and 15.
Although Proverbs 8:22–31 does speak of creation, it is not a creation account. The chapter does not mention the creation of plants, sea creatures, birds, or land creatures; the creation of the sun, moon, and stars; or the creation of man. If we take the order of appearance in this passage, then we would contradict the order in Genesis 1 and even defy logic, for the mountains and hills are mentioned before the dust of the earth and before the heavens and sky, or before God set the boundary of the seas. Unlike Genesis 1, this chapter also has no time indicators, such as the word for day (Hebrew: yom) and it has no numbered sequence of events (first day, second day, etc.).
Proverbs 8:29 refers to the time “
when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters would not transgress His command.” This does not rule out a global flood. The boundary God set on Day 3 of Creation Week was that the sea would not transgress “His command.” But during the Flood, the sea was obeying His command by crossing the boundary of the land. The language of the Flood account makes it clear that the Flood was the result of God’s command. He said, “
I will blot out” (Genesis 6:7, (NASB)), “
I will destroy” (Genesis 6:13), “
I Myself am bringing floodwaters” (Genesis 6:17), and “
I will cause it to rain” (Genesis 7:4).
Job 38:10–11 similarly refers to the boundary that God set. “
I fixed My limit for it, and set bars and doors; when I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!’” Thus only God has the authority to command the sea to cross the boundary that He set. And Job 38 mentions wicked people (v. 13, 15), death (v. 17), snow (v. 22), hail (v. 22), rain (v. 26), war and battle (v. 23), clouds (v.37) and lightning (v. 35). There is no basis in Genesis 1 for thinking that Creation Week had snow, hail, rain, clouds or lightening. And both the Old and New Testaments would testify that the wicked, death, and war were not in the “very good” creation of Genesis 1. Job 38–41 is not a creation account, as Genesis 1 is. Certainly, there are a few verses where God refers to His acts in Creation Week (Job 38:4–7), but most of these chapters recount God’s questions about the creatures and man-made things that Job saw in his day.
So the Flood did cross the boundaries set in the Creation Week, not by accident but by the command of God. Notice also that Genesis 1 records no promise that God would never again send the waters and allow them to cover the earth. That promise is made in Genesis 9 after the Flood. It is later repeated in Isaiah 54:9, where it again refers back to Noah, not to Day 3 of the Creation Week.
Dr. Ross also asserts that the Flood only wiped out man and “all the nephesh creatures, the soulish creatures associated with humanity.” But that is not what we are told in Genesis. The Flood wiped out all land animals and birds (all creatures in whose nostrils was the breath of life, Genesis 7:21–23), whether they lived in close proximity to humans or not. Given the violence of the Flood and the resulting massive erosion, the sediment-choked floodwaters would have also killed billions of sea creatures (though there would have also been plenty of clean water for the survival of sea creatures too).
It is important to note that in Genesis 1:20–24 and Genesis 2:19 we are told that the sea creatures, birds, and land animals are all “living creatures” or “living souls.” The original Hebrew words used there are nephesh chayyah—nephesh meaning “creature” or “soul” and chayyah meaning “living.” The same words are used to describe all kinds of land animals and birds in Genesis 9:9–17, which also refers to them as “
all flesh in which is the breath of life” (Genesis 9:11, 15–17; also Genesis 6:7). So, contrary to Dr. Ross’s thinking, it is not just creatures associated with man (that is, in close proximity to man), that are called nephesh in the Bible.
Put another way, since all creatures live on the earth with man, they are all associated with man, even if they live thousands of miles from man in the deep ocean. God’s Word is clear, and Dr. Ross is wrong.
While the Flood was clearly sent as a judgment on mankind, it was also intended to destroy land animals and birds “
with the earth” (Genesis 6:13). So, it would be faulty to assume that it did not affect physical aspects of geology as well. Some, such as Dr. Walter Kaiser, have said that “the Flood was not given as an illustration for geology or for arguments of dates; it was given as God’s judgment on humanity.” The reasoning is that, since the Flood was a divine judgment on humanity, it could not also be a judgment on the physical earth and therefore be relevant to geology and the age of the earth.
The Flood was both the judgment of man and of the earth with massive geological significance.Why can’t it be both? There is no biblical or logical justification for this false dichotomy. It is not a matter of being either the judgment of man or a geologically significant judgment of the earth. Rather, the Flood was both the judgment of man and of the earth with massive geological significance.
Dr. Ross and Dr. Kaiser both seem to be under the impression that the Flood was only intended to destroy man and some animals. However, as we have seen, Genesis 6:7 and 13 clearly state that the purpose of the Flood also included the destruction of the surface of the earth, which is certainly relevant to geology. Simple logic coupled with observations of local floods in our own day tells us that a year-long, judgmental Flood would cause an unbelievable amount of destructive erosion and sedimentation.
Genesis 7:11 reveals the violence of the Flood, which unquestionably implies tremendous geological effects. The global, non-stop, torrential rains would have produced massive mud slides as the soil became supersaturated with water. But this probably wasn’t the most destructive aspect of the Flood. The verse also says that “
all the fountains of the great deep burst open.” Careful attention to the use of these words in the rest of the Scriptures shows that this phrase testifies to volcanic and earthquake activity all over the earth, especially on the ocean floor, during the Flood. In the Bible, the “great deep” usually refers to the oceans, and “burst open” is a translation of one Hebrew verb which elsewhere is used to describe an earthquake and the breaking of rock (e.g., Numbers 16:31, Judges 15:19, and Zechariah 14:4). A look at a map of the present ocean floor reveals many earthquake fault-lines and volcanic cones, especially along the thousands of miles of mid-ocean ridges. Such movements of the crust of the earth would trigger many tsunamis simultaneously around the world, producing incredible erosional and sedimentary consequences, as recent tsunamis in Japan and elsewhere help us to only imagine.
Genesis 7:19–20 tells us that during the Flood, “
the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.” Were it a local flood, the water would not stand there for months as the water goes down. As earlier noted, Noah had to wait 74 days after the Ark landed before any other mountain tops were seen.
Dr. Kaiser tries to solve this problem by invoking a miracle to make the waters of the Flood stand up vertically like the waters of the Red Sea did for Moses. However, there is a vast difference between the account of the crossing of the Red Sea and the account of the Flood. Exodus 14:21–22 explicitly mentions walls of water, and then we are told in Exodus 14:26–27 that when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, the waters came back together as normal to cover the Egyptians. No such restrictive language appears in Genesis 6–9. On the contrary, the text is emphatic that the Flood covered the whole earth and that God did nothing to contain the waters of the Flood.
When interpreting the Bible, context is king, and the context of the Flood account in Genesis 6–9 leaves no question as to its global extent and catastrophic nature. Furthermore, Jesus and Peter linked the Flood to the future judgment at the second coming of Christ (cf. Matthew 24:37–39 and 2 Peter 3:3–7). Since that future event will be global in its extent, then so must have been the Flood. Nothing in the New Testament would lead us to think that Jesus and Peter believed Noah’s Flood was merely local. If we are to take the Bible for what it says, we must reject the notion of a localized Flood. We dare not place the fallible ideas of secular geologists above the authority of God’s Word.
We have a God who knows everything, who was there at the Creation and the Flood, who always tells the truth, and who inspired men to write the Scriptures without error so that we could have an accurate record of history—that God has spoken. Are His words more important to you than the words of human scientists? At whose words do you tremble (Isaiah 66:1–2)?
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.