(Popular image of the flood account)
First I need to apologize to my readers for not having made a post in a while. So, I decided to make a post that is going to be really controversial, especially among Christians, who often accuse me of apostasy because I take a very unique perspective on the issue of Noah’s Flood, as it is recorded in Scripture.
I necessarily have to lay out some backstory here that begins back in Sunday School as a child. Something always smelled fishy in the presentation of the flood account that was given in Sunday School. The presentation was somewhat simplistic, given the audience to whom it was being presented, and there was a lot there that, at the time, just didn’t make sense, just basic facts that jumped out to me as a reader that flew in the face of the interpretation that was being presented: that the flood of Noah was “global” in its effect.
The problem with the assertion of a “global” flood is that the text, in my opinion, and the evidence simply doesn’t support a indundation on such a scale. There’s a few reasons for this:
- Limitations in the text itself
- Expectations of the writers to the readers
- Point-of-view of the writers
1.Limitations of the text itself
There often seems to be a blindness, because of tradition, to words or phrases that limit the text of Scripture. This is often seen in other texts as well, when ruling assumptions are placed over the reading of the text. The specific text of the account, Genesis chapters 6 thru 9, begins with a limitation meant to be carried throughout the text.
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4 ESV, emphasis added)
Now, there’s a debate over how to interpret exactly what the “sons of God” and the “Nephilim” are, whether the later is a derivative of the former or if these are separate, but the phrase rendered in English as “and also afterward” is what needs to be focused on. The reason for this focus is because the only “afterward” that is in view is the flood.
2. Expectation of the writer to the readers
The writers expect their readers (or hearers, given that the story comes from a oral tradition) would recognize certain facts laid up in the retelling. The writers, being careful in their presentation of the story were careful to include variations in the story that represented unique traditions, such as the differences in the number of animals allowed on the ark and the birds sent to test the receding of the water. They also included testable facts, like the dimensions of the ark itself, as discussed here. Most people get hung up on the numbers, or the location of the landing of the ark. While these are important, there can be an over-emphasis that refuses to weed out the facts and consider them in context.
3. Point-of-view of the writers
When approaching the text the point-of-view of the author has to be established, this includes how the writer conceived of his or her environment so that wrong assumptions are avoided. We have to keep in mind that the writers of the books that comprise the Bible saw the world as it stretched from horizon to horizon, that it was about borders and the inhabitants of those lands that comprised their concept.
These are just a few of the things that readers of Scripture need to keep in mind as they are considering the account of Noah and the flood that I believe was world-wide, affecting the people of the earth in Noah’s time, a flood that affected a large, but localized region of the world, namely the Mesopotamian basin. Reasons to Believe, a Christian apologetics ministry that focuses on bridging the divide between science and the faith, has a mini-site established to deal with these questions, which arose out the 2014 film Noah.
image credit: noahs-ark.jpg