The Noachian Deluge: Does Scripture Say Global, or Local?

Sep 25, 2018 | Apologetics, Article, Creation

Noah’s Flood is an interesting topic; however, some are not so convinced. For example, popular Christian apologist Greg Koukl has a video where he argues that the size of the Flood really doesn’t matter—put another way, he just doesn’t care. But Koukl misses the point! He may or may not care, but it certainly does matter because our view of Noah’s Flood has much more significant implications than many—including Koukl—seem to realize.

This article intends to argue based on those implications.

We’ll first attempt to uncover the assumptions that are made when accepting either view. Then we’ll examine why I believe Scripture unquestionably teaches a global deluge. The bulk of our time will then be spent considering inconsistencies that inevitably arise—both scientifically and Scripturally—on the local view. Finally, we’ll look at some potential problems with current thought on the global view, and consider whether those problems tell us we need to do more research or reconsider the view entirely.


Uncovering Assumptions


It is impossible when considering the features of the world around us, to avoid making certain assumptions. Now, these assumptions can be later bolstered or undermined upon the discovery of new evidence, but this is not usually the case. One’s assumptions will drive the majority of his thinking on a certain area, and often these assumptions are hard to break free from.

Really, there are only two options: Admit our axioms (assumptions) up front, or deny that we operate within them. The latter is intellectually dishonest, which most would agree with. In practice, however, folks often want to claim they are a neutral observer of the evidence. I have elsewhere argued that this is impossible. Therefore the Flood described in Scripture is an event that will—as with most other things—be interpreted based on what assumptions we make going into our investigation.

Lest I purport to have room for a more full discussion of Flood Geology, I will refer you to the resources here and here. Upon listening to those resources you should come away with a better understanding of the two major assumptions that drive interpretation of the Flood: Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism.

The former teaches that “the past is the key to the present,” and the latter teaches that “the present is the key to the past.”

In more applicable terms, the former teaches that present-day rates and processes are not necessarily consistent throughout all of history, and the latter teaches that they essentially are.1 This all sounds sort of esoteric, though. After all, why does it matter?

Simply, it matters because the entire “age” debate centers around it. I’ve recently argued from the teaching of Jesus why the “age” issue is important. And from a scientific standpoint, the sheer reality is that geology makes no room for long ages and a global flood.2 It is one or the other. If I’m right that there are deep theological issues on the old age view, then the connection should be obvious. The local flood view necessitates an old earth, which I believe is theologically untenable. A further question, then, is why does the “age” debate center around these particular assumptions?

Because uniformitarianism necessarily entails acceptance of a local flood theory! Of course, this means that anyone who accepts the uniformitarian assumptions a priori must interpret Scripture accordingly. This does not necessarily mean that someone is consciously placing science on the same level as Scripture—but it does mean one may be unaware of the extent to which their view of Scripture is being influenced by an assumption rather than the actual evidence.

Of course, there are a number of other assumptions that go into the local vs. global flood understanding. For example, one may claim that he has already considered this underlying philosophy and is still convinced by the scientific evidence which shows that rock layers are millions and billions of years old, rather than the thousands we argue for on the young age view. However, this too requires further assumptions!

When conducting radiometric dating, one must assume that:

  1. There was zero trace of the daughter element at the time of formation.
  2. There was zero contamination in the rock sample, which is unlikely because even rocks are porous, and therefore, gas can move slowly through the rocks and could possibly diffuse into the rock.
  3. There was zero fluctuation in the rate of the decay throughout history.

Now, a point that I think many creationists fail to make (whether intentionally or unintentionally) is that we do have reason to believe that at least assumptions one and two above are accurate in some cases.3 I would be remiss not to say that some of these methods are, in fact, dubious, but I think assumption number three is the biggest issue and deserves the most attention. The reason I think this is because this dating assumption, even if we are convinced that it is mathematically correct in a given scenario, must fall subject to our interpretive grid; that is, our deeper philosophical axioms about the past.

Kurt Wise is quite instructive on this point, but I’d like to spend some time on it in this discussion.


One Assumption to Rule Them All


As mentioned above, I think the notion that “there was zero fluctuation in the rate of the decay throughout history” is unable to proved by science. This is a question of philosophy no matter which way you look at it. A comparative example might be evolution theory. The theory of biological evolution is computationally correct (more on that here). Nevertheless, that certainly does not mean it is actually correct, nor does it mean that it’s the only explanation or even the best explanation! Many old earth advocates would agree with me on this point, but fail to consider that the same might be true about the dating method issue.

You see, if our underlying assumption of catastrophism—the idea that certain rates and processes could have been different in the past—is correct, then we’ve no need to conduct dating according to the standard assumptions; number three above, in particular. At this point the discussion must turn toward the Bible. Is there any reason to think the Bible teaches that things may have been different in the past?

Well, I think this case could be made simply on the basis that Scripture teaches what I am convinced is a global flood. If we’re right on that point, then it necessitates a catastrophist philosophy.

Fortunately, I think our Scriptural case can be made much, much stronger.

Dr. Hugh Ross (founder and leader of RTB) is probably the foremost advocate of the old age creationist view, at least with respect to some traditional form of special creationism. In his debates and writings, he often makes the point that a short passage found in Jeremiah directly teaches uniformitarian philosophy. Let’s look at that now:

Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them. (Jeremiah 33:25-26)

Ross writes, “This is just one of several Scripture passages demonstrating that for thousands of years the Bible has been on record as stating that the laws of physics do not vary.”

If you watched the above-referenced video of Kurt Wise, you will have heard that the kind of flexibility we’re talking about to accomplish the “different rates and processes” needed in the past just may require slight adjustments to the laws of physics. Make no mistake—this is no small suggestion. At first glance, Ross’ view seems justified! The problem is that Ross uses this passage to accomplish way more than is plausibly intended by its author.

First, there are those who would take issue with Ross’ application of this passage to the laws of physics. As a concordist myself, I can appreciate this interpretation, and I certainly want to affirm that it is speaking about God’s providence over the “natural order” of things. Whether we can plausibly say the actual laws of physics are in view, I don’t know, but I’ll grant for the sake of this discussion.

Second, and more importantly, Ross’ paraphrase of this passage almost always includes a detail that the passage itself does not include: namely, that the laws of physics have never changed in the past. Notice, this is nowhere in the text, yet it is simply assumed that Ross has the correct understanding of this. After hearing this line a few times from Ross, I thought I would take a stroll through Scripture and see if there was a passage which indicated when this “covenant” was established. While we understand that God had finished his creative work at the end of Genesis 1, I see no “covenant” made there with heaven and earth, day and night, etc.

To my surprise, I found that there was, indeed, a verse in which such a covenant was established. Even further to my surprise was that this covenant was established immediately after the Flood, in Genesis 8:22! The verse reads like this:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.

Even the most amateur of readers can see the parallel between the language used here and in Jeremiah 33:25-26, and some Bible’s actually include this as a cross reference, suggesting I am not the first person to make this connection. Ross will sometimes mention other verses to bolster his case (such as Romans 8:20-21, etc.), but each of these passages is just as dubious a proof text with respect to his point. The Jeremiah passage is certainly his best chance (as confirmed by his frequent citing of it), but Scripture seems to place this covenant as having effect only after the Flood.

This is very, very significant. This gives us not only Scriptural warrant for our assumption of catastrophism, but seems a direct hit to the idea of interpreting the Bible under the assumption of uniformitarianism. Let me be clear: I think Genesis 8:22 gives clear indication that rates of decay, natural processes, and yes—even the laws of physics—may have operated slightly differently during and prior to Flood Year. And if this is correct, we have the philosophical firepower we need to argue unencumbered for a global flood; both from the perspectives of science and Scripture.


Scripture: It Means What it Says!


Since our concern in this article is primarily with Scripture,4 let’s give some evidence that the Bible means to communicate this flood was global. We’ll deal with some of the intricacies and challenges below, but for now, let’s just state the case:

First, the language seems to be unequivocally teaching a global event.

I think this can be seen most easily in Genesis 7:17-23:

And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. (Emphasis mine.)

Perspicuity requires us to consider how unnatural it would be to read this account with a regional locale in mind. Although there are clear instances in Scripture where the words “every” and “all” are used to speak of localized events, we’re hard-pressed to claim this is one of them. This theme continues across the entire narrative.

The above narrative makes context use of the Hebrew term erets. On interpreting the meaning of this word, Smith writes the following:

The word אֶרֶץ (erets) occurs in the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [erets] (Genesis 1:1).

God uses the term erets here in reference to the entire dry land mass of the planet: “And God called the dry land Earth [erets], and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas (Genesis 1:10).”

In the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which cover the first two millennia (one third of earth’s history), erets occurs 96 times. In 84 occurrences (87.5 percent) the context is global, implying any or every part of the entire land mass of the planet: “and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth [erets]” (Genesis 1:15) or “. . . let them have dominion . . . over all the earth [erets] and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth [erets]” (Genesis 1:26).

On 12 occasions (12.5 percent) the context is localized, clearly referring to a particular restricted portion of the land mass, and is usually translated as “land”: Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land [erets] of Nod on the east of Eden (Genesis 4:16).

It is probably with reference to this second, localized context that some got the idea of erets meaning “a block of land.” But the primary, or default, meaning of erets in Genesis 1–11 is the entire land mass of the planet. […] making it an entirely suitable choice for Moses to use in describing a flood of global proportions.

Second, the rainbow covenant seems meaningless on a local interpretation.

Due to the necessarily subjective nature of the local view (discussed more fully below), it seems that we’re left wondering what the rainbow covenant meant. Traditionally, this has been thought to mean that it was a reminder of God’s promise never to destroy the world and its inhabitants again via the mechanism of water. Of course, if the Flood was global, this has not happened—which renders God’s promise in-tact.

Conversely, on the local view, God does not speak to the geographic extent of the flood. This leaves the reader to wonder where one can draw the line. We may say that God has kept his promise because God does not break his promises, but this is circular reasoning. The simple fact is that many local floods of enormous disaster and destruction of life have been observed throughout the centuries. If God’s promise is to mean anything significant, we should be able to clearly identify it. This is possible on the global view, but the local view faces many difficulties on this point.

Third, the original configuration of the Garden of Eden had four rivers flowing out of the one. No such place on earth exists, suggesting that this topography was altered during the flood. A local flood may not have been able to accomplish this.

In order to posit that a local flood could accomplish this, one would have to suppose that the extent was such that it would. While this is superficially plausible, it must be arbitrary since there is no geographical extent mentioned on the local view. This problem gets even worse since there are those who also argue for a local flood with an extent that would not accomplish this. This suggests, once again, circular reasoning. One may observe this problem and posit a flood large enough to alleviate it, but the problem (along with the Garden!) disappears if the Flood is global, which Scripture does seem to indicate. We’ll revisit this below more fully as well.

Fourth, Jesus references the Flood, and compares it to a worldwide event:

Consider Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:37-39:

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Though not the point of his teaching, an important “incidental” to observe is that Jesus thought of this Flood in the same manner as he thought of his return. If the coming of the Son of man is meant to be a worldwide event (which I don’t think any rational Christian would disagree with), then it seems we have good reason to think the global Flood was also a worldwide event.

Fifth, Peter juxtaposes the flood against two other worldwide events: The creation, and the coming judgment.

The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:3-7:

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

The above places the Flood right in between two events of undisputed global extent. Though I’m not necessarily willing to die on this hill, I think it is interesting that Peter uses the Greek word kosmos to reference “the world that then was.” Certainly, this word has a variety of meanings—one of which is simply all of mankind. However, that hardly appears to be the correct usage here since the creation of the world is not dealing with mankind, and even Peter’s reference to the judgment concerns not individual people, but “the heavens and the earth.”

Further, I think one can make the case that the vast majority of NT usage for the word kosmos concerns the entire world, and there are other words (used in this very passage!) that would seem to more accurately teach a localized extent.

Although we must value the exegetical enterprise in an attempt to better understand what the biblical authors intend, I want to stress the importance of taking the plain meaning of Scripture at face value. By using spurious hermeneutics, one could make the Bible say whatever they wanted! Indeed, many do. But in this case, the clear communication from Scripture seems to support the global view.


Scriptural Inconsistencies on the Local View


It seems clear the Bible is meaning to teach a global event; but what happens when pressing some of these passages into service for a local view?

We’ll now further examine some biblical data to consider if the local view can stand up to scrutiny.

First, we find an inconsistent quantity of humans and animals.

Recall that in the above passage we found extensive use of words such as “all” and “every.” These terms are used, for example, to speak of “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life” and “every living substance.” Of course, it is obvious this references both humans and animals, and in fact, these categories are explicitly mentioned. However, an uncomfortable problem arises for the Christian who wants to claim that all humans died (save Noah and family).

For if this is only a local flood, the text cannot be talking about all animal life. We must force some other interpretation on the text, say, that only the animals which God intended to save were on the Ark. But the text does not say that, and why should we think it, considering we agree that literally all humans died? In order to make this work we’d have to submit that the author used the word “all” in two fundamentally different ways not only in the same context, but in the very same verses!

It seems the only rational escape from such a view the old ager could appeal to would be to assert–along with evolutionary interpreters–that not all humans actually died. But of course, this makes a mockery of the text. If we say that all humans died, we must logically conclude that all animals died as well. But if all animals died, it’s impossible that this flood was local.

The second inconsistency we find is the unfortunate practice of one using poetic passages to interpret historical passages.

Commentators throughout the millennia have agreed that the flood narrative was intended to be a historical account. This has been contested by some modern liberal and evangelical scholars, but not on the basis of any new information.5

For example, many have attempted to discredit the global flood interpretation using an appeal to Psalm 104:6-9. It reads as follows:

Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.

Many have referred to this passage as a rendering of the creation account, because it appears to have elements which parallel Genesis 1. This is fair; however, one must also consider elements (particular those starting at verse six) which seem to more accurately depict the Flood account, rather than the creation event. The person who wishes to pine for a local flood may claim that verse nine specifically precludes this notion with the phrase “that they turn not again to cover the earth.” Actually, in a recent paper, Barrick argues convincingly for the “flood interpretation” of this passage, but the Bible itself seems to offer the solution:

Above we saw language from Genesis 7 which seems to strongly suggest a global flood interpretation. Following the tumultuous deluge, the Lord establishes the following covenant with Noah in chapter eight:

And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:20-22).

The logical conclusion here is that God will never send another global deluge capable of destroying all life. This in turn suggests that the waters which God promised would never again cover the earth must have been the waters of Noah. This follows from the information found in the historical account. Now, the claim of the poetic interpreter is that Psalm 104:9 says the creation waters would never again cover the earth, therefore, precluding the notion of a global flood. But the only way to make this work is to interpret the clear meaning of the historical passage based on a spurious reading of the poetic one!

Of course, to expose the error in this reasoning one must look no further than Scripture, which is always its own best interpreter. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord himself, with crystal clarity, clears up any confusion:

For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee (Isaiah 54:9).

Therefore, the Bible makes clear which “waters” are associated with God’s covenant to never again flood the earth. This could be contrasted with Proverbs 8:29, which does seem to be teaching about the waters at the time of creation. These waters do, in fact, “stay put” under the commandment of God–but there is nothing stopping God from manipulating these waters with a new commandment. This is a clear example of how we certainly can use a poetic passage to bolster our understanding of a historical one, while at the same time realizing that magisterial weight should be placed on the historical account if we’re to arrive at the proper interpretation.

Third, I find the size of the Ark to be inconsistent on the local view.

One must wonder what the point was of having Noah build a vessel capable of supporting thousands and thousands of animals if the Flood were only local. The majority of current creationist thought on the Genesis “kinds” is that there may have been as few as 2,000 actual animals on the Ark, even though some creationists hold this number might be closer to 7,000.

Nevertheless, Woodmorrappe uncovered the following:

According to the Bible, the ark had three decks (floors). It is not difficult to show that there was plenty of room for 16,000 animals, assuming they required approximately the same floor space as animals in typical farm enclosures and laboratories today. The vast majority of the creatures (birds, reptiles, and mammals) are small. The largest animals were probably only a few hundred pounds of body weight.

It is still necessary to take account of the floor spaces required by large animals, such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and some dinosaurs. But even these, collectively, do not require a large area. God would likely have sent to Noah young (and therefore small, but not newborn) representatives of these kinds so that they would have a full reproductive potential for life after the Flood to repopulate the earth (Genesis 7:1–3). Even the largest dinosaurs were relatively small when only a few years old.

Without tiering of cages, only 47 percent of the ark floor would have been necessary. What’s more, many could have been housed in groups, which would have further reduced the required space.

What about the provisions for the animals? It can be shown that the food would have filled only 6 to 12 percent of the volume of the ark, and the potable water only an additional 9 percent of the same.

Common sense requires us to ask why Noah build a boat capable of housing so many animals, especially if the animals which needed to be on the Ark were those arbitrarily considered “important” by God (a necessity of the local view). Certainly we don’t want to say that every kind was represented in the Mesopotamian Valley! Noah could have gotten by with a much smaller vessel were the goal to only save Noah’s family and the representatives needed to repopulate the locally flooded region.

Fourth and finally, we must consider the special word for the flood of Noah, Mabbuwl.

There are many Hebrew words which could be used to describe a local flooding event, a few of which even appear in Scripture.

On this point Lisle and Chaffey write:

Our English word “flood” translates several different Hebrew words. However, whenever the flood of Noah’s day is described, it uses the word mabbuwl (מבול). This word occurs 13 times in the Old Testament, and every time it appears it refers specifically to the Genesis flood. The Hebrew language has other words, such as nachal (נחל) or mayim (מים), to describe the kinds of local floods we see today. It is as if the Hebrew writers were making it very clear that the flood of Noah’s day was entirely unique.

This is not an argument per se, but it’s a significant point worth noting. The biblical writers obviously see a need to refer to this flood as a unique event, and if that was their goal, they seemed to have accomplished it perfectly.

The above list is nowhere near exhaustive, but gives definitive evidence that Scripture must be inconsistent for the local flood view to stand.


Scientific Inconsistencies on the Local View


Having considered the Scriptural problems, we must now observe the scientific issues which arise if Genesis is merely describing a local deluge.

First, we see the necessary assumption of human geographic isolation.

In order to have a local flood theory which affirms the complete annihilation all of humans save eight aboard the Ark, one must assume that the entire antediluvian population was contained to one geographic area. But I’m unaware of actual evidence in support of this claim, and cannot find a clear statement on this from the folks at RTB who most prominently promote this view.

An inescapable feature of this assumption, however, is a denial of Neanderthal humanity. This is quite problematic from a scientific perspective, due to the increasing evidence that Neanderthals and many of their fossil “relatives” were simply human beings much like you and I, albeit with marked differences.6

Current evolutionary thought on this subject is that our first human ancestors diverged around seven million years ago. Quite obviously, there is no workable model which can incorporate a total destruction of humanity in a local flood theory if evolutionary conclusions are correct. It’s for this reason that most Christian evolutionists interpret the Flood passages as a sort of allegory; they teach a spiritual truth, but say nothing of actual earth history.

Those who wish to hold both to long-age assumptions and a flood theory which incorporates the death of all human life must find a solution to this insurmountable difficulty, but I’ve yet to find one even remotely convincing.

Furthermore, this serves to underscore the problem mentioned above; namely, that it is inconsistent to say that all human life was destroyed while only some animal life was destroyed by interpreting the same word, used in the same way, in the same context, found in the same verse to have two completely different meanings.

Second, we must again consider the location of the Garden of Eden.

Since I’ve just very recently written some commentary on this as part of another article, I’ll not reinvent the wheel:

The biblical account found in Genesis 2 suggests that mankind was placed in a physical geographic location known as the Garden of Eden. The Bible claims that a river exits this garden which flows into four separate rivers—the Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and the Euphrates—which, in turn, water four separate geographic locations. However, there is no place on the earth’s present configuration which matches this description.

This suggests that either the account is incorrect (which would be problematic since Jesus affirmed the truthfulness of events regarding mankind in Genesis 2), or something must have happened which would reconfigure the earth so drastically that it would erase all evidence of such a place.

A global flood as described in Genesis 6-9 would accomplish this nicely, but this solution must be false on old age chronology due to geological considerations, rendering a massive contradiction (or inconsistency, if we’re very generous) between such chronology and the teachings of Jesus. One could certainly posit an extent for a “local” flood which would accomplish this reconfiguration; but such a supposition would have to be arbitrary since the Bible gives no clear understanding of the geographical extent of this deluge, if not global.

Third, it seems to me that the animals on the Ark could have simply escaped or moved locations.

With no clear guidelines as to the extent of this local if it were local, it seems that all any organism would have to do to escape this flood would be to change locations. It’s clear from the text that God had a part in commanding the animals to go to Noah and board on the Ark. Why did God not simply have these animals to change locations?

A common strawman of the young age position is that, were the Flood global, we’d have to expect penguins, polar bears, etc. on the Ark. Of course, young age creationists do not teach this! Based on the text, we’d conclude that the continents were all together in one landmass (see Genesis 1:9-10) prior to the Flood, and that the created kinds bore little resemblance to the diverse groups of species we see today.

Therefore, the young age position is consistent. On the old age local interpretation, however, a version of this problem arises. For if the flood were only local, and we take the text seriously when it says that all land animals (and some others) had representatives on the Ark, we’re forced to consider the strenuous reality that these animals must have migrated across tremendous distances to reserve their place.

Of course, then, two further difficulties arise: First, that the Ark would not have had the capacity to hold a representative of each animal group at this time on old age chronology, and second, that the fossil record shows around 250,000 species which were already extinct at the time of the Flood.

It’s clear that, from both a Scriptural and scientific perspective, figuring out what animals could and/or should have been on the Ark is a near-insurmountable task on the local flood theory.

Fourth and finally, we find the problem of “all the high hills” being covered by this Flood.

The Genesis 7 narrative states that “all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.”

In their commentary of the Old Testament, Keil and Delitzsch illustrate and expound upon this problem with candor and clarity:

Genesis 7:17-24 contain a description of the flood: how the water increased more and more, till it was 15 cubits above all the lofty mountains of the earth, and how, on the one hand, it raised the ark above the earth and above the mountains, and, on the other, destroyed every living being upon the dry land, from man to cattle, creeping things, and birds.

“The description is simple and majestic; the almighty judgment of God, and the love manifest in the midst of the wrath, hold the historian fast. The tautologies depict the fearful monotony of the immeasurable expanse of water: omnia pontus erant et deerant litera ponto.” The words of Genesis 7:17, “and the flood was (came) upon the earth for forty days,” relate to the 40 days’ rain combined with the bursting forth of the foundations beneath the earth. By these the water was eventually raised to the height given, at which it remained 150 days (Genesis 7:24).

But if the water covered “all the high hills under the whole heaven,” this clearly indicates the universality of the flood. The statement, indeed, that it rose 15 cubits above the mountains, is probably founded upon the fact, that the ark drew 15 feet of water, and that when the waters subsided, it rested upon the top of Ararat, from which the conclusion would very naturally be drawn as to the greatest height attained. Now as Ararat, according to the measurement of Perrot, is only 16,254 feet high, whereas the loftiest peaks of the Himalaya and Cordilleras are as much as 26,843, the submersion of these mountains has been thought impossible, and the statement in Genesis 7:19 has been regarded as a rhetorical expression, like Deuteronomy 2:25 and Deuteronomy 4:19, which is not of universal application.

But even if those peaks, which are higher than Ararat, were not covered by water, we cannot therefore pronounce the flood merely partial in its extent, but must regard it as universal, as extending over every part of the world, since the few peaks uncovered would not only sink into vanishing points in comparison with the surface covered, but would form an exception not worth mentioning, for the simple reason that no living beings could exist upon these mountains, covered with perpetual snow and ice; so that everything that lived upon the dry land, in whose nostrils there was a breath of life, would inevitably die, and, with the exception of those shut up in the ark, neither man nor beast would be able to rescue itself, and escape destruction.

A flood which rose 15 cubits above the top of Ararat could not remain partial, if it only continued a few days, to say nothing of the fact that the water was rising for 40 days, and remained at the highest elevation for 150 days. To speak of such a flood as partial is absurd, even if it broke out at only one spot, it would spread over the earth from one end to the other, and reach everywhere to the same elevation. However impossible, therefore, scientific men may declare it to be for them to conceive of a universal flood of such a height and duration in accordance with the known laws of nature, this inability on their part does not justify any one in questioning the possibility of such an event being produced by the omnipotence of God.

The above treatment highlights the fact that water seeks its own level, rendering any local flood matching the biblical description an impossible contradiction. However, more recent creationist work has shed new light which Keil and Delitzsch could not have been aware of. I am speaking of the general agreement among creationist geologists and geophysicists that the global cataclysm actually caused the arising of many of today’s mountains and mountain ranges.

So while Ross et al. have, in the past, straw-manned creationists by claiming that we require Everest and other super-tall mountains to have been covered, nothing could be further from the truth! We actually take these formations to be further confirmation that the global flood theory as stated plainly in Genesis is, in fact, scientifically correct.

In concluding our scientific and Scriptural critique of the local view, we find it is enormously untenable for a variety of important reasons. However, there are some legitimate difficulties which arise on the global interpretation, and we’ll now take a few moments to provide some commentary around those.


Potential Problems for the Global View


While it is my conviction that the Bible obviously teaches a global flood, there are many who’d disagree for a variety of reasons. And while I think I’ve shown pretty definitively that a local view faces very difficult issues, that does not mean the global view doesn’t face a few of its own.

One important caveat here is that there does not seem to be any problem Scripturally speaking. Thus far I’ve not encountered a legitimate interpretation of Scripture which would prove difficult for this view. In any apparent cases, we must be sure that we are not making the error above of interpreting a historical event using poetic hermeneutics. As we’ve already demonstrated, this is fallacious exegesis.

Perhaps a second important caveat is that we must avoid placing our understanding of Scripture on par with a particular scientific model. All science–creation science included–is malleable. The Bible is a book of history, but science changes all of the time! If a scientific model proves to be untenable, that does not discount the teaching of the historical record. In that sense, they are unrelated. Many flood models have come and gone over the years, and better ones advanced. This is how science works, and creationists need not fear this process.

The above two “caveats” will actually help to fend off most objections to this view.

Nevertheless, over the years, many more objections to the global flood narrative have been raised. It is not my intent to course through these again, since there is a plethora of information available covering the basics. Although I am not really a fan of the “Answers Book” series, this article, derived from one of the books, does a fairly good job addressing the most common objections.

So for the purposes of this article I am going to mention two legitimate difficulties, one scientific, and one dealing with ANE mythology.

First, current flood modeling exudes heat issues which need to be reconciled.

Dr. William Worraker spent his career a professional computational physicist, and now is a part-time Research Associate for the Biblical Creation Trust in the UK. He is working on this so-called “heat problem.” Dr. Todd Wood succinctly summarizes the issue:

If plate tectonics is accelerated during the Flood (which we think it is), then it would generate an enormous amount of heat, more than 30 times as much heat as you would need to boil off the oceans! So that’s a problem.

At the recent ICC, Worraker provided some potential modeling solutions to alleviate this issue, and is likely headed in the right direction, but there is nothing definitive established yet.

This is a perfect example of a creation scientist recognizing a problem, and working toward a solution! We don’t just sweep these under the rug; rather, we evaluate them on a case by case basis and strenuously attempt to solve the problems with the model. When and if a model becomes untenable for whatever reason(s), it is discarded in the literature.

The second potential issue has to do with flood myths and other ANE cultures.

It is no secret that almost every ancient culture we know of has a flood myth, including cultures which extend past the ancient Near East. Traditionally, this has served to confirm the biblical notion of a global flood; that is, if a global flood as described in the Bible actually took place, we’d expect memory of this event to be preserved–even loosely–across ancient culture.

Also, as we actually find, we would expect the “story” to be less similar the further removed from Babel these cultures traversed. But more recent suggestions (enjoying much wider evangelical acceptance due to the work of John Walton) employ the idea that this flood might not have happened at all–not globally, or locally.

Increasingly, more evangelicals are on board with this suggestion, which is striking since Jesus himself affirmed the historicity of this event (see above)! The idea, of course, is that the Genesis Flood was simply “copied” from allegedly earlier documents–such as the Gilgamesh Epic–and is not authentic in the least.

The reason I mention this to be a “problem” is because there really is no robust treatment on this subject from a young age believing expert in print, yet new resources come available almost every day in support of this alternative view. My contention is that many creationists are dismissive of it because, starting with the Bible, there does seem to be a reasonable expectation for the similarity. But those who argue the alternative view have some pretty convincing reasons, and I think it’s time they are addressed and taken very seriously.

As someone who spends a lot of time exploring these issues, the above two difficulties are, I think, the most pressing we face at the moment. The other “classic” objections–size of the Ark, population of animals, etc.–are addressed in the above-mentioned article and are not difficult to overcome, despite how often they are repeated by critics.




In sum, believe the local flood theory faces many more practical issues than the global view, not the least of which is the lack of support from Scripture.

Any support found for the local view seems to be based on spurious hermeneutics and fallacious exegesis, and the same is true of passages leveled against the global view. Further, as we saw, the local view faces what I think to be insurmountable difficulties both Scripturally and scientifically, and the assumptions involved are the real crux of the matter.

Once we abandom uniformitarian assumptions, the global view is not only possible, but seems to best and most reasonably explain the data from science, Scripture, and even culture.

I therefore conclude that, with respect to the Noachian Deluge, Scripture emphatically says “global!”

Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!

P.S. Would you prayerfully consider becoming a Partner of our ministry?


  1. We should not think, however, that the Uniformitarian philosophy makes no room for catastrophe; it certainly does, but catastrophe has a much less significant role on this view.
  2. It’s been brought to my attention that Sailhamer’s suggestion would make room for long ages and a global flood. I have not researched his view myself, but I can think of no way for this to be possible other than some sort of “Genesis Gap,” which I believe to be untenable for hermeneutical reasons. Therefore, I still think this dichotomy is correct.
  3. This involves mathematical equations in what’s called the Isochron Method.
  4. See here for a much more robust scientific case.
  5. See Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths for more on this theme.
  6. See here and here for further discussion.

Meet Steve

Meet Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

Be sure to browse the site for faith-affirming articles, book reviews, and podcasts!

The Podcast

The Podcast