Board index Noah's Ark & the Flood

Problems with the regional flood theory

Postby Jimmer Swimmer » Sun Jan 22, 2017 3:26 pm

This post doesn't concern any scientific /geological claims, just the theology behind God flooding the earth in Genesis 6. The older posts I found seemed to skip over this essential aspect of the whole story: God intended the flood to wipe out the entire human race (except for Noah and his family, of course).

The language at the beginning of the chapter heavily mirrors and contrasts the language used in Genesis 1, when God first created the earth. Where everything at first was deemed "good," the earth had now become utterly wicked.

Verse 6 clearly states that God regretted putting humans on earth, and in verse 7, he says, "I will completely wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created... etc." No matter how you slice this, or regardless of what language you read this in, the theological message is that humans were wicked and God wanted to end what he started.

This seems completely contradictory to the theory of the biblical flood being regional. If the flood only occurred in the ancient Near East, God's purpose would be completely moot. Even if you date Noah's story back as Scripture can allow (maybe 7,000 years ago), human beings were spread across the entire globe well before then (reaching the Americas around 13,000 years ago). A regional flood wouldn't wipe the earth of humanity for good, and instead would suggest only humans within the region were wicked enough to destroy, which Scripture does not say.

I really don't think there is any Scriptural support for anything other than total global annihilation. I don't see how Christians can interpret a regional flood theory and still maintain the purpose of the story. The only argument I can think of is the increasingly modern and popular idea that "yes the flood was just regional, and God knew it was regional, but he spoke of it as if it were global so that the Israelites would understand, because to them the middle east was the whole world." If that argument helps you sleep at night, fine. But the incredibly broad, global, "human race" language used by God contradicts this. I think the regional flood theory is noble in its intent, but it doesn't line up theologically (which is the most important part of every Biblical passage) and is ultimately a cop-out.
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Re: Problems with the regional flood theory

Postby jimwalton » Sun Jan 22, 2017 4:31 pm

First of all, there is NOTHING that says the flood had to have been "maybe 7,000 years ago," which is "back as far as Scripture will allow." Not so. The genealogies of Genesis never claim to be all-inclusive. None of the genealogies of the ancient world are all-inclusive, as ours are. Genealogies were kept for political or religious reasons, and including every generation in sequence was immaterial. We have to perceive the genealogies of Genesis in the same cultural context, so to say that Scripture only allows a young earth that was created in 4004 BC is incorrect.

Secondly, since we don't know when the flood was (some biblical scholars place it even before 20,000 BC), we don't know how many humans we're talking about. Since most paleo-anthropologists put the origin of humanity in eastern Africa and then spreading eastward to the middle east, and since available scientific evidence says that homo sapiens didn't cross the Bering Straight into the Americas until between 20,000-10,000 BC, a large regional flood of the Middle East and Eastern Africa could, truly and effectively, wipe out most of humanity.

As far as the "all" language of Genesis, consider these facts:

What does "all" mean? In Gn. 41.57 (same book, same author), we read that "all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the world." Was Brazil experiencing famine? Did the Australians come to Joseph? No. "All" means the countries of the immediate vicinity in the ancient Near East.

Also, Deut. 2.25 (same author): "I will put the...fear of you on all the nations under heaven." Did that include the Mayans? The people of Madagascar? I don't think anyone would argue that this refers to more than the nations of Canaan, and perhaps a few others.

There are plenty of other references like this throughout the Bible (Acts 17.6; 19.35; 24.5; Rom. 1.8). We have to give serious consideration that quite possibly "all" doesn't mean "global".

Also, the flood didn't have to be global to accomplish God's purposes. God was dealing with Canaan and the surrounding neighbors. God was dealing with Noah's context. A flood in South America would be totally inexplicable to the people there, as well as patently unfair (which the Bible teaches that God is not). Noah was a preacher of righteousness, but not to the people of Africa, China, Australia, and the Americas. The language of the Noah story is normal for Scripture, describing everyday matters from the narrator's vantage point and within the customary frame of reference of his readers.

But what about "covering the mountains"? Again, a little detective work (rather than superficial reading) can be of value. First of all, the high mountains were not generally considered mountains, but pillars holding up the firmament. When they talk about mountains, they are referring to the local geological shapes, not the Alps and Himalayas. And what does "cover" mean? The Hebrew root is *ksh*, and is used in a wide variety of nuances:

- A people so vast they "cover" the land (Num. 22.11)
- Weeds "cover" the land (Prov. 24.31)
- clothing (1 Ki. 1.1)
- Overshadowed (2 Chr. 5.8; Ps. 147.8)

In Job 38.34; Jer. 46.8; Mal. 2.13, "covered" is figurative. If Gn. 7.19 is read in the same way, it suggests that the mountains were drenched with water or coursing with flash floods, but it doesn't demand they were submerged.

What about "15 cubits above" (Gn. 7.20)? The Hebrew reads "15 cubits *from above* (*milme'la*) rose the waters, and the mountains were covered." It is therefore not at all clear that it is suggesting the waters rose 15 cubits higher than the mountains. It can mean "above"; it can mean "upward" or “upstream". If this were the case in Genesis, it would suggest that the water reached 15 cubits upward from the plain, covering at least some part of the mountains.

What about all the animals dying? Again, we have to define "all", but based on what I previously said, it could easily refer to "all" the ones within the scope of the flood, not necessarily global destruction. Again, look at Gn. 2.13, where the river "winds through all (same word as Gn. 7.21) the land of Cush." Does it mean every square inch of it? Not likely.

Genesis 7.22 says, "Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died." I know this could have been expressed in multiple ways, but I don't fault the writer to choosing what he did. "All" not only denotes the scope of the physical flood for the intended population, but it can also connote the completeness of the judgment. If he had said something like "as far as the eye could see" it might be assumed that the judgment was less than accomplished. That wording would have been less adequate for the situation, in my opinion. to point was to express the completeness of the judgment on the target audience, and "all" expresses that, though it obviously leads to other misunderstandings as well. We do have to entertain the thought that the ancients understood quite well the intent of the text, but through the millennia it got lost in "Enlightenment literalism", and we are the victims of the misunderstanding. It's time to get back to seeing the event through ancient eyes.

Besides, we have to look at a few other things.

1. A global flood is totally out of character with all of God's other miracles in the Bible. It's not His m.o.. It's not the way he does things, and it doesn't fit His pattern of working.

2. A global flood is unjust, and God is not unjust. What fits the Biblical description of God is that God judged the people who were worthy of judgment, who had been warned, and who had adequate opportunities to change their ways. A global flood doesn't fit this picture.

I hope that helps.
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Re: Problems with the regional flood theory

Postby Jimmer Swimmer » Mon Jan 23, 2017 12:51 pm

I think you actually make good points and I wouldn't argue with many of them, such as the year discrepancies or when humans could have possibly migrated out of East Africa / the Middle East. That is all fair and you're right. I learned a lot from John H. Walton, a Christian writer/prof who writes a lot about this stuff and a more ANE perspective on scripture, and I think you'd enjoy that.

I still don't, however, buy the hyperbolic use of "all" in other parts of Scripture as a cop-out for the extremely specific, damning language of the "entire human race" in the flood story. Maybe it's because I don't believe in the Biblical flood account at all, so the amount of evidence that would make me respect this view is incredibly high.

I might be repeating myself, but I think this will explain my problem better. Most of your examples of hyperbole used in Scripture relates to use of the words "all" or "everything." I would argue that those words are a lot more understandably used as exaggerating than the words in Genesis 6 are. For example, Genesis 6:5 says God saw the wickedness of the "entire human race." God regretted "that he had ever made human beings on the earth." He says he'll wipe from the face of the earth "the human race I have created." Basically, my argument would be that this language is a lot stronger and clearer than merely using "all." God is targeting the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE. The HUMAN RACE is wicked in his eyes. Tell me again how his purpose of flooding and wiping out the human race would be accomplished by a flood in the Middle East? I can understand you still thinking this is hyperbolic, but I don't see it that way. To me, the point of the story is that the human race was completely and utterly wicked (probably because of infestation by the Nephilim).

Your last two points at the end also aren't very convincing. I don't think a global flood is totally out of character with God's nature or unjust, and I think that you should have more evidence to make that claim. To me, this is very similar to saying "I think God sending billions of humans to hell would be totally out of his character."

It's not. In fact, it's biblical. The typical Christian answer would be that there is some justifiable reason, perhaps beyond our comprehension, for God to want to destroy all of humanity. We give God the benefit of the doubt so often in Scripture, why can't we do that with the flood story? Maybe humans really were that sinful and a lost cause.
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Re: Problems with the regional flood theory

Postby jimwalton » Tue Feb 14, 2017 8:16 pm

I'm quite familiar with John Walton's work, and a substantial part of my argument comes from his writings and from conversations with him.

I don't regard the hyperbolic use of "all" as a cop-out. We're talking about an era about which we have extremely little information. Not even the scientists have a good grip on where humanity was located at the time, but it seems that much of it was in northeastern Africa and the Middle East. You can't even mount a convincing argument that there was substantially more homo sapiens population elsewhere in the world. The language may not be as hyperbolic as I even imagine. My point (and John's) is that the Bible obviously uses "all" figuratively even when populations are much higher and knowledge of those populations is greater. John is soon coming out with a book on Noah's flood. I'm pretty anxious to get my hands on it and see what he's got.

As far as Genesis 6.5 and the corruption of the entire human race, we know about the Bible's take on the total depravity of humanity, so such a statement is not only theologically coherent but very possibly an actual assessment. As humanity evolved from various strains of australopithecus, Neanderthal, and other branches of the human tree, we have no clue what their moral framework was and how conscience may have acted to generate a social consciousness of mutual kindness and tolerance between clans. Or how violent, corrupt, and wicked humans were. Personal righteousness was admitted by the Bible to be possible, as is claimed in Gn. 4.25 and 6.9. But getting a grip on a real picture is almost impossible, and science has been little help in the regard of telling us about the moral condition of these people.

I agree with you that the English (based on the Hebrew) makes it sound like the entire human race but, as I said, it could easily be referring to the entire human population that was the moral problem in Noah's world. How would God's purposes be accomplished by a massively regional flood? Because it would judge the offending population without judging populations who had no warning about the judgment and no clue about what was happening, which wouldn't seem fair to me. The population around Noah would know of this ark construction; Peter says Noah was a preacher of righteousness to his generation. It makes sense that the judgment of God was of the offending population. The animals of the continent were spared as not only a practical measure but also a theological point.

The other point of the flood story which is valid even if the flood is continental in scope (rather than global) is the salvation imagery that trickles down to the New Testament. The flood was a parable of salvation and judgment within the same action, a theology which is also true of Christ's atoning death on the cross. The flood is also a figure of baptism—death and resurrection. Even a continental flood could express these theological concepts. And, in my opinion, a continental flood makes God a moral judge and not a moral monster.

The other piece of this pie, however, is not a biblical but a scientific one. I believe that science and the Bible are concordant: they are both God's truth and therefore don't contradict. And yet the global flood has absolutely no scientific evidence in its favor and has much to tell us that it's absolutely scientifically impossible unless God does a string of hundreds of miracles, which is out of character with the rest of the biblical revelation of him. It's not the way God works.

Again, I'm looking forward to Walton's book on "The Lost World of the Flood." I think it should be coming out fairly soon. I can ask him.


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