A Universal or Regional Flood?

Question
Was Noah's Flood universal or only regional?
Answer
I personally believe the Bible teaches a world-wide or universal Flood, not a regional one. Though written years after, the only eyewitness account that accurately depicts Creation is the Bible. It also accurately describes what we normally refer to as Noah's Flood.

Noah's Flood: Briefly Evaluating Science

By the grace of God, science has made numerous, and at times incredible, contributions to mankind. However, when it comes to theology and science many times it violates the truth of Scripture; especially on issues such as Creation and Noah's Flood. Often it is dogmatic about a theory only to discover later that it is incorrect. For instance, Carl Sagan's Nuclear Winter. Segan co-authored an article in Science magazine in 1983 essentially stating that a nuclear war would send so many dust particles into the atmosphere of our planet that it would cause climatic change, similar to that which may have ended the existence of dinosaurs. However, seven years later in an 1990 edition of Science magazine, Sagan and his co-authors admitted that their temperature estimates were incorrect. So nuclear winter turned into nuclear autumn.

In addition, we could mention numerous failures, including, but certainly not limited to: Challenger (1986), Chernobyl (1986), the missing computer code that caused Mars Climate Orbiter plunged to oblivion after entering Mars' atmosphere (1999), Y2K (2000), and MTBE (late 70's) which was touted to save the planet from pollution, only to find out that it is one of the worst polluters in our time.

So, while I'm sure the majority of the time they mean well, science can make mistakes, at times even costing lives.

BioLogos states that as an organization it upholds the Christian Faith, however it maintains a heretical view of Creation - evolutionary creation. When evaluating Noah's Flood, they emphatically state:

When discoveries in God's world conflict with interpretations of God's Word, Christians have three options:

  • (1) Abandon our faith in order to accept the results of science
  • (2) Deny the scientific evidence to maintain our interpretations of Scripture
  • (3) Reconsider our interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God's creation [1]

Did you notice the bait and switch? BioLogos places science - though its theories are constantly changing - on the same level as Scripture, which is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8)! Why didn't BioLogos, who claims to uphold the Christian Faith, list all the Christian's options? For instance:

  • (4) The Bible is true and accurate. Science is still learning and fallible. Therefore, the Christian should only consider Science when it does not violate the infallible evidence we know from the inerrant Word of God

BioLogos essentially wages war against the Genesis account of creation. Their motivation is clear. Darrel Falk, the president of BioLogos, wrote, "BioLogos exists in no small part to marginalize this view, the belief in the historicity of the Genesis account. ... A fundamental part of our mission is to show that the Genesis account of Adam is not tenable." [2] So, BioLogos does not include getting to the truth concerning issues as part of their mission; just the destruction of the fundamentals of Christianity - the integrity of the very Word of God itself. If truth is not the goal of BioLogos this also discredits those in the scientific community. BioLogos is not a Christian organization, it's a cult; a wolf in sheep's clothing (Matt 7:15).

So, some material from so-called Science + Christian organizations are not credible. They don't even attempt to deal ethically with the issues at hand.

On the other hand, most of the scientific community begin with a wrong premise; they view the world's processes as "primary" causes, not as the "secondary" causes they in fact are. A "second cause" is simply a cause caused by something, rather Someone, else. The Westminster Confession of Faith (5.2, 3) makes this point vividly clear:

ii. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

iii. God, in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.

Science as a whole doesn't understand that while God can make use of "means," that he literally created; he is also "free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure." In other words, God is not restricted to mere scientific theories. God is not even restricted to time and space - as science is! Science is of course free to examine God's "means," but they also need to recognize that God is not governed by his means; rather he is their Governor.

Because of the Fall, one cause of Noah's Flood, only tainted remnants at best are left of the original creation (Rom 8:20-22). In addition, scientists don't understand what the meaning of "very good" (Gen 1:31) in scientific terms even fully means - no one but God fully does. What God states was "very good" may not appear as such to science, as it is still in its infancy in understanding how all the processes of life relate to one another. Many scientists don't understand God's ways (Isa 55:8-9) and providence (Gen 50:20; Psa 103:19; Matt 5:45; Luke 1:42; Gal 1:15, etc.), therefore making their view of Creation, Noah's Flood, etc. at least somewhat skewed. While science has a lofty goal, and they should be commended for the truths they have shown us, they are a long way from even fully understanding their own science. Creation to most seems to contain an almost endless web of interconnecting pieces of data; so to truly know and fully and properly apply science, one must first know God, the Creator of all the data and how it all relates, et. al.

So, from the outset, when we study Noah's Flood, we understand that science doesn't have all the facts and at times are even mistaken in some of their theories; they are diagnosing the patient of Creation and 're-creation' (Noah's Flood) with incomplete and often erroneous data. While we should accept that which does not violate Scripture and has withstood the test of time, the other junk is not even worthy of mentioning.

I would rather rest my faith in a more sure word of testimony (2 Pet 1:19). Scripture is infallible (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). Though it too doesn't tell us all the facts, it is inspired by the One that created all the real facts, including the truthful ones from science, in the first place. Scripture is without error. In interpreting it we need to compare Scripture with Scripture (scriptura sui ipsius interpres, scripture interprets itself), not the ever changing fields of science.

Noah's Flood: A Historic Event

Noah was a real person (Gen 5:30-32). Noah's Flood is a factual event (Gen. 6:1-9:28). During his time upon earth, Jesus - God in the flesh - discussed Noah and did not correct anything in the biblical record (Matt 24:37-41; Luke 17:26-30); as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). Peter also viewed the events with historic accuracy (1 Pet 3:19-20; 1 Pet 4:6; 2 Pet 2:5). The writer of Hebrews confirms Noah's Flood (Heb 11:7). So, Noah's Flood is definitely a part of redemptive history.

Noah's Flood: God's Purpose

What was God's purpose in the Flood? Mankind was in sin (Gen 6:5-6). God justly punishes sin (Rom 3:23; 6:23). So, Moses under inspiration of the Holy Spirit says:

Genesis 6:7, 11-13 So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them." ... Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

It is difficult to not see the Holy Spirit's emphasis in this text; "I have determined to make an end of all flesh ... "Behold, I will destroy them with the earth" (Gen 6:13). Note in particular his emphasis on "all flesh," and "the earth," not just some flesh or part of the earth. Mankind was living out much of their depravity. It was not pleasing to God (Gen 6:5-6). So, God replies. He is very clear here. He is speaking of destroying everyone and every animal ("the world," Heb 11:7), save those upon the Ark.

Then just before the Flood, God told Noah and his family to take specific animals and get onboard the Ark (Gen 7:1-3). Why? God said, "For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground" (Gen 7:4). What does "every living thing" mean? God is the creator of all life upon this earth. God is the creator of all men and women. God is the creator of all animals (Gen 1:1-2:3; 4:1, 25; Exod 20:11; Psa 8:1-9; 33:6-9; 102:25-28; 104:1-35; 136:4-9; 148:1-14; Isa 45:7-9, 11-12, 18; Acts 17:26, et. al.). So, the text is clear, God would destroy every living thing that he made - every man, woman, child, and animal - except Noah, his family, and the chosen animals; all of whom he shut (sealed) in the Ark, (Gen 7:16). This is not just some mere regional flood.

As the universal wording continues, we are told in Genesis 7:11-12 that "all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights." In context with the remainder of the Genesis 6:1-9:28 narrative, the words "all" and "the earth" can't refer to a mere regional flood. The historic narrative continues and we observe that the destruction rises to its crescendo in Genesis 7:18-24:

The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

While the Hebrew term eretz translated "earth" can be rendered as merely "land," the phrase "all the hills under the whole heaven" (Gen 7:19) definitely carries a universal sense to it. So, since in context determines the meaning of terms, "earth" is referring to the "entire world" (i.e. Gen 1:2; 18:18, 25; 22:18; Jer 25:26, 29, 30; 26:6; Isa 37:16, 20; 2 Kings 19:19; Zech 4:10, 14, etc.). "The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth." "The waters prevailed above the mountains." "All flesh," "all animals," "all mankind," "everything," that had breath in its nostrils, "every living thing," on "the earth" was blotted out from "the earth." What devastating destruction!

By now it should be clear that there is not just one verse in the Flood account that points to a universal catastrophe; there are many (Gen 6:12, 13, 17, 20; 7:4, 11, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24; 8:5, 14, 21; 9:11, 19). The Holy Spirit goes to enormous lengths here to make his point - everything would be destroyed in the Flood, except those God shut in the Ark. He repeats himself over and over again using related phrases, not to bore us, but so we would have absolutely no doubt what he is saying; this was a world-wide Flood.

The mountains, not merely some mountains, were covered (Gen 7:20). Since water always seeks its own level; it couldn't rise to cover the local mountains while leaving the rest of the world untouched! The Flood waters covered the mountains to a depth of approximately 22.5 feet (Gen 7:19-20). How could this only be regional if each mountain in that region were 22.5' under water? Did the water just stop 22.5' above each mountain and make a wall so it would not flow over them? There was a wall of water in Exodus 14:22 (concerning the Rea Sea), but not in Genesis 7:20. Why? It's not needed as this was a world-wide Flood. The Flood lasted for a year. It peaked after 150 days (Gen 7:11, 8:3-4); only then did it began to abate. This couldn't have been a mere local flood.

God accomplished his purpose!

Use of the Word "All"

While it is certainly true that universal words like "all" may be used in a limited sense at times in Scripture (Mark 1:5; John 3:26; 8:2; Acts 21:28), it is also just as true that sometimes ALL just means ALL (John 2:24; Acts 1:24; 17:25; Heb 12:23). Context is always the determining factor.

The word "all" (Hebrew: kol; at times translated "every," "everything," or "whole") is used numerous times in the Flood account - 72 times in 85 verses, (Gen 6:2, 5, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22; 7:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23; 8:1, 9, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22; 9:2, 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19). The Holy Spirit is expressing something forcibly and clearly; ALL means ALL.

Hyperbolic Text?

BioLogos and other liberals, assert the "story employs the literary device known as "hyperbole" throughout ..." [1]. In other words, either this historic event didn't really happen at all (it's a myth), or at the very best, God is purposely exaggerating Genesis 6:1-9:28, so the reader should not take the text as meaning there was a world-wide Flood, but merely a local one. However, if one asserts that this text is mere hyperbole (exaggeration, claims not meant to be taken literally) "throughout" then it would necessarily follow that Noah was never saved, as that would be hyperbole too? But Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet 2:5), was saved (Gen 6:8; 7:16; Heb 11:7). So, Genesis 6:1-9:28 is not hyperbole, but a historical record.

Neither the immediate nor the remote context of Genesis 6:1-9:28 demands a hyperbolic interpretation. Observing the preceding section on the word "all" - 72 uses in 85 verses - is conclusive evidence that the text should not be regarded as figurative.

In addition, there are literally hundreds of flood stories from other cultures; not just one, but from numerous regions around the entire world. A small sampling will suffice: (1) Epic of Gilgamesh; (2) Nuh in the Quran; (3) Manu from the Hindu Puranas; (4) Tale of the Merchants at Sea from the Buddhist Samudda-Vanija Jataka; (5) Atrahasis from various Akkadian tablets; (6) Utnapishtim from numerous Babylonian tablets; (7) the Egyptian Flood myth from the Egyptian Book of the Dead; (8) Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology; (9) Blood Flood of Ymir in Norse mythology; (10) Coxcox an Aztec myth; (11) Flood of Ife the Yoruba-Nigerian myth; (12) Fuhi Family a Chinese flood myth; (13) Ark Gumana an Australian Aborigin myth; (14) Nuu and the Flood a Hawaiian myth; (15) Choctaw Tribe Great Spirit in North American flood myth, etc.

While these and others stories are mythical rather than fact, even myths are often recounting the faded memory of an actual real event. Since so many flood stories exist in so many different regions of the world, this gives credence to a universal Flood, not merely a local one.

God has a divine purpose in his universal emphasis; he hates sin and sinners alike (Gen 6:5-6; cf. Psa 5:4-6; 11:5-7; Prov 6:16-19, etc.) and is just in his destruction of ALL of it. As in the Flood the future destruction of the world will be world-wide too (2 Pet 3:1-13). See "Does the earth abide forever?" and "A Love-Hate Thing" below.

Noah's Flood: Regional Problems

God Lied?

In Genesis 9:11-15, God made a promise. He promised to never send another event like the one Noah experienced, where we are specifically told that everyone died (Gen 7:21), except those on the Ark. Flood water would never again cover the entire earth.

However, if Noah's Flood was merely a local flood where all humanity in other regions did not die, then didn't God lie? There have been numerous local floods since Noah's Flood. Among them:

  • (1) The 1931 China Floods which killed between 1,000,000-4,000,000;

  • (2) The 1887 Yellow River Flood which had between 900,000-2,000,000 victims;

  • (3) The 1928 Yellow River Flood that took between 500,000-800,000 lives.

In each and every case these are local floods. In each and every case many people died. But God promised to never have another regional flood ...? No he didn't! God can't lie (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Psa 92:15; Tit 1:2).

Included in God's promise of Genesis 9:11-15 are rainbows, one of God's covenant signs. These are seen all over the globe. This implies that the Flood was not regional, but universal.

Peter Lied?

Did Peter lie too? If a regional flood is true, then Peter must have lied, because more than just Noah and his family lived (1 Pet 3:20). Indeed, it appears that Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, needs a geography lesson, as he thought the Flood was over the entire world too; "If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly" (2 Pet 2:5).

The Bible teaches that entire world was in darkness (Gen 6:5-7; 1 John 5:19), not just one region.

Eschatological Problems?

Eschatologically, a regional flood presents some other theological problems. It implies that:

  • (1) Jesus' Second Coming is only a regional event (Matt 24:38-39).

  • (2) Eternal judgment will only be for some unrepentant sinners, but not all of them (Luke 17:26-27).

A regional flood does not fit with the facts we know regarding the Second Coming of Christ and eternal judgment (Matt 16:27; Rev 1:7). Peter specifically compares the universal Flood (2 Pet 3:4-6) to the Second Coming and final judgment (2 Pet 3:10-13). Jesus is coming back for all his people from every region in the entire world; "from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev 7:9; 5:9). "Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left" (Matt 25:32-33). The righteous will enter "eternal life" and the others will enter "eternal judgment" (Matt 25:46, 41).

Regional Questions?

These are just some additional questions to ponder. If this was some mere regional flood:

  • (1) Why would God instruct Noah to take birds on the Ark (Gen 7:8), if they could have merely flown to another unaffected region?

  • (2) Why would God instruct Noah to place a bunch of animals in the Ark prior to the Flood (Gen 7:2-3), if they would be available in other regions after the Flood?

  • (3) Why did God tell Noah to build and enter the Ark, if he, his family, and all the animals could have just migrated to the other side of the mountain and escaped the Flood? This would have demonstrated faith as well (Heb 11:7, cf. Heb 11:8).

Someone will say, "Because God said so; God said it and so Noah should obey" (Gen 6:22; Heb 11:7). Excellent! In part, I applaud such an answer. However, the hyperbolic interpreter who states it is no longer relying upon mere science and a hyperbolic interpretation of Scripture, but on the historical interpretation of Genesis 6:1-9:28. Why are you now doubting your hyperbolic hermeneutic?

Indeed, a "double-minded man, is unstable in all his ways" (Jas 1:8). One "who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (Jas 1:6). May we "no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph 4:14). It is instructive that under inspiration of the Holy Spirit both Paul and James use words like "wave," "sea," "wind" "unstable" "driven," and "tossed" to speak about "doubt" and "false doctrine." It is almost as if the Holy Spirit was expecting someone to challenge his historical account of Noah's Flood.

After looking at these and other biblical facts, a regional flood just doesn't make any sense. It is illogical; a regional flood is fiction, not fact.

Noah's Flood: Conclusion

The Flood was "cataclysmic" (Hebrew: mabbul, translated as "the flood," Gen 6:17; 7:6, 7, 10, 17; 9:11, 15, 28; Greek: kataklusmos, translated as, "the flood," Matt 24:38, 39; Luke 17:27; 2 Pet 2:5). Noah's Flood was a world-wide universal flood over the entire earth; a momentous and violent event marked by overwhelming upheaval and demolition, never to be repeated again.

Notes:

[1] BioLogos (http://biologos.org), "How should we interpret the Genesis flood account?" Last Accessed, 07/28/2017. NOTE: IIIM does not agree with many of the doctrines promoted by BioLogos. See Eph 4:14.

[2] Pyromaniacs, Middle of the Road: RIP Kermit, June 25, 2010. http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2010/06/middle-of-road-rip-kermit.html Last Accessed, 07/28/2017.

Related Topics

Did it rain before Noah's Flood?
Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22
Why did the Ark require pitch?
The Ark and the Temple?
Did man eat meat before the Fall and the Flood?
Does the earth abide forever?
A Love-Hate Thing

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).