The Flood: was it really Global?

I came across this very well done post by Nick Norelli from Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.  In it, he discusses the Flood from the Old Testament, and why Fundamentalists/non-believers have had trouble with his perspective.  I really enjoyed this post, I hope you do as well.


Last night while speaking with a skeptic I was asked if I believed in the flood as recorded in the book of Genesis — of course I said yes — but I qualified the statement by saying that I am open to the possibility that it could have been either local or global. Well this statement drew a funny reaction from the skeptic — in fact his reaction was the same as the fundamentalists in the room. He began to argue for a global flood because then and only then upon getting me to accept a global flood could he argue for the absurdity of the account and accuse the Bible is being fiction (at least in that part).

You see he wasn’t prepared for me to be open to different interpretations or for me to say that I genuinely don’t know — he (being a fundamentalist himself [of the skeptic persuasion]) had a cookie cutter argument that he wanted to use but couldn’t because I didn’t immediately jump on board with a global flood interpretation. He actually had to argue in favor of a position that he really wanted to refute! Such is the irrationality of radical skepticism.

Likewise, the fundamentalist Christians in the room had cookie cutter arguments of basically the same variety that the skeptic was using. But my reluctance to accept them on their face drew charges of heresy and not being a Bible believer, etc. It was even enough to draw a series of emails from a group that shall remain nameless but seem to love talking about me. Here is an example:

the flood could have been global,or it could have not….thank you,oh thank you,mr prophet for that incredible superfluity….i could not in my mind have ever reasoned a conclusion as such…i am glad such prophets exist to open the doors of truth to us….looking at the context of the dialogue,it shows once again the error of latching on to one word,and running with the words meaning to prove a point….so,roofer,in this dialogue,”world” doesn’t mean world,it means…uhhh..local?…

I don’t know what the reference to ‘roofer’ means and all the ad hominem aside – yes… the flood could have been local. This is a distinct possibility. I’m not sure exactly what word this individual feels I ‘latched onto’ or what meaning I have ignored, but I can say this — hyperbole is very common in Ancient Near Eastern literature (to include the Bible) and I can see no reason that would exclude the possibility of it being used here. There are plenty of examples in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures of ‘world/earth’ having reference to local regions and not the entire planet (e.g. Gen. 41:56-57; 1Ki. 10:24). But again — I don’t know if the flood was local or global. I’m open to either possibility — I’ll go where the evidence leads.

Another email in response to this one said:

There is evidence of a global flood everywhere you go. I sit in Capetown South Africa and there is a big mountain twenty minutes from here. On the top of the mountain …and it is way up there….you can see what looks like a beautiful beach….the mountain looks strange… did all that white sand get on that mountain way up there and it is covered in twenty to thirty feet deep of brilliant white sand.

I mean white sand on a mountain top in South Africa must mean that the flood was global, right? There are no other explanations for how such a thing could possible be, right? It seems to me that fundamentalists have their answers before they ask their questions and this is something that led me away from fundamentalism — it dishonors God in not seeking the truth — I genuinely question whether these men (or women) have wrestled with the alternatives to their theories — I seriously doubt that they have.

In any event, you’ll have to forgive me for not placing the flood as a doctrinal priority and for admittedly not knowing whether it was local or global. You’ll have to forgive me for not accepting cookie cutter arguments that only make sense to young earth creationists (such as sand on mountains or claimed ‘literal’ readings) — but I stand here as a man whose theology is shaped by his Trinitarianism first and foremost — and my Trinitarianism doesn’t demand a global or a local flood. It can go either way.



9 Responses

  1. Nice discourse. Sounds like you had a hoot with the skeptic and fundies. People always try to pigeonhole a believer. They did the same thing with Jesus. People love confrontation and dispuation. But rarely do you find an ardent seeker of the Lord who keeps deep in the Word and led by the Spirit. Keep seeking the face.

  2. good pts about seeking God and not blindly believing a literal interp of the Scriptures. bc hyperbole was common.

    with that said, i havent seen a good argument vs the flood, but maybe bc i havent searched. i guess i need to do some more looking.


  3. I agree with the larger point that we shouldn’t be constrained by arguing over things that wouldn’t matter. I think the flood was global, but even if I had misread the Bible that wouldn’t change the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I’d rather save my energy for arguing the latter points.

  4. Unfortunately Neil, there is far more evidence of catastrophic floods across the globe than there is of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, of which there is none; though it is not hard to find where the latter’s biography was plagerised from, if one is willing to look.
    I ponder what evidence you bring to the table when you set out to prove him/his life true. In fact it would take far less energy, actualy none, to exhaust the evidence of Jesus than to sift through the thousands of facts attesting to global catastrophy and flooding.

  5. Well, I just reviewed some of the verses that describe the flood and they state all life was to be destroyed and the water covered all of the high mountains. I believe we should stick with the Bible. The account is recorded in the Bible and if someone thinks it is not correct it should be up to them to prove it inaccurate, not up to us to prove it true. The truth is neither I nor you were witness to the flood. There is evidence of the flood, but if one doesn’t want to interpret it as such, no amount of argument will change their mind. My theology is shaped by the Bible, not by trinitarianism. The Trinity is a concept derived from the Bible, not the other way around. If one accepts the Biblical account all of the earth was covered. If we don’t defend the Bible who will? By the way, if you have not visited Dr. Walt Brown’s web site it is worth the look. (

  6. Hi John,
    evidence pointing to Jesus can be found in Josephus (the unaltered version), the Babylonian Talmud, letters from Pliny the Younger, Tactius, among others

  7. John,

    If you are really interested, I recommend “Can we trust the Gospels?” by Mark D. Roberts. I’m in the middle of it and it is quite readable yet thorough.

    Then again, you’ve already come to the conclusion that there is no evidence, so it might not be a good use of your time.

    Justin – good points. It is amazing how seldom people point out the extra-Biblical sources that refer to Jesus.

  8. by the way, i reread genesis account of the flood. and there is no indication at all that it was a worldwide flood. so there is no reason for christians (even literalists) to be dogmatic about a worldwide flood. however, it does say that all creatures were destroyed except for those on the ark, which means it could have been localized and yet killed all because they lived in a smal proximity.

    another interesting thing i noticed was that peleg wasnt born until after the flood. it was, according to genesis, in his lifetime that the earth split apart, ie many people think that is when the continents divided. so if noah lived in a one piece earth, then it could have been local and entire. also, the “flood” evidence in the world could just as much be a splitting of the continents evidence too. anyway, interesting stuff i think.


  9. John,

    While this is certainly off topic for the post, I’d ask where you got the idea that there is no evidence for Jesus. I can think of only 2 scholars (neither of which is a scholar in historical or biblical fields, i.e. G.A. Wells and Earl Doherty) that would make the claim that Jesus never existed.

    Justin gave you some extra-biblical sources (Josephus – Antiquities 18.3.3; Pliny the Younger – Epistles X.96; Tacitus – Annals 15.44; B. Talmud – Sanhedrin 43a). In addition to these sources I’d add:

    Suetonius – Life of Caludius 25.4

    Julias Africanus in 221 A.D. quotes the historian Thallus (52 A.D.) as saying in the third book of his histories that:

    it was the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died

    But more importantly than these extra-biblical sources are the epistles of Paul and the 4 Gospels. These are historical evidences for the existence of Jesus. Scholars (even radical skeptic scholars) concede that much.

    As far as Jesus’ biography being plagiarized I can only imagine that you have some fanciful ideas about pagan parallels and have concluded that these alleged parallels mean that Christians stole their concept of Jesus from them — if this is in fact your belief then I can assure you this is not the case. No plagiarism necessary and truth be told it is ludicrous to think that the authors of the Gospels would have had any interaction with these pagan sources.



    I understand where you are coming from but no matter how you slice it, God is a Tri-Unity of persons and God certainly preceded the Bible (as well as everything else that exists).

    The Trinity existed before it was revealed in Scripture so I disagree that the Trinity is a concept derived from the Bible, not the other way around. The Triune God is the breather of Scripture. Certainly the Bible expresses who and what God is and I definitely consider the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek Scriptures to be God’s revelation to man — it is through this medium that he has revealed himself to us as Triune (and I thank God that he has!).

    By way of analogy I wish to show you the error of the type of reasoning you have employed here. As a child I learned from a math textbook that 1+1=2. Without a doubt this textbook informed me of this mathematical certainty — but this certainty pre-existed the textbook it was recorded in. Now I could argue that the sum (2) of those two numbers (1 + 1) was a concept derived from my math book, but I would argue in vain. The math book merely acted as the medium by which I obtained my knowledge of this pre-existent truth.

    Words exist in thoughts and are communicated in speech before they are ever recorded on paper (or whatever surface you prefer) — my point being that people thought and spoke about the material recorded in the Bible before it was ever recorded on material (pun intended).

    My Trinitarianism is certainly informed by the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek Scriptures, but my theology is shaped by my Trinitarianism. I cannot even begin to speak about what God does and how God acts until I have settled who God is. So while I understand that you are Biblio-centric, I am not. I am first and foremost theocentric and that demands that I be a Trinitarian. I let all else flow from that fountain.

    In regard to the Biblical account concerning the flood, I DO accept it — but the point of this post was that I am not certain of what that means exactly. There are good arguments in favor of both a local or a global flood! I don’t believe that defending the Bible means defending the fundamentalist view or any other certain view of the Bible (and I’m not arguing that all views are equal or equally valid) — I believe that defending the Bible means defending the veracity of the accounts recorded therein — the question then becomes What is the most veracious interpretation of said claims? If it turns out that the a local flood makes the best sense of the text and the evidence then we would of necessity have to defend that interpretation to truly defend the Bible, would we not?

    Something to think about…


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