In Defense of...the Genesis Flood [Part I]
A careful study of biblical history reveals that God always has provided man with the information required for both his physical and spiritual well-being. In every age, God ensured that men possessed the rules, regulations, guidelines, and injunctions necessary for happiness and success in their earthly pilgrimage. At the same time, however, He endowed mankind with a precious gift. Men were not created as robots to serve God slavishly without any personal volition. Rather, they were created as free moral agents who possessed the ability to choose the path they would follow, and the eternity they would inhabit.
Throughout the ages, human responses to God’s gift of personal volition have been many and varied. Some—humbly desiring to comply with God’s directives—have accommodated their lives to His wishes, and have done their best to live as He had instructed. Others—thumbing their nose at their Creator—have ignored His commands, and have lived in stubborn rebellion to divine law.
Sadly, mankind has not been content merely to disobey God. Along the way, the tenets of God’s law systems (Patriarchal, Mosaical, and Christian) not only were indifferently ignored, but vigorously ridiculed as well. The precepts that composed those law systems have been denigrated, vilified, and attacked. No divine concept escaped unscathed. Great spiritual truths such as God’s infinite nature, His workings in His creation, the inspiration of His written Word, His mercy and grace as extended through the virgin-born, crucified, and resurrected second member of the Godhead, and many more, were broadsided by infidelity. None was immune to man’s desecration and disobedience. Humankind, so it seems, resolved with a vengeance to set its face against God.
MANKIND’S RESPONSE TO THE GENESIS FLOOD
One example of man’s determination to oppose that which God has decreed can be seen in the variety of responses pertaining to the Great Flood of Genesis 6-8. It would be difficult to find an account from any period of biblical history that has been ridiculed more frequently, or with greater derisiveness, than the story of the Flood. Such a response from those who do not believe in God hardly is surprising, since by all accounts the concept of a recent global Flood is incompatible with the naturalistic system of origins espoused by unbelievers. For more than a hundred years the Flood has been under accelerated attack by infidels within the scientific community who have chosen to support such concepts as uniformitarianism and organic evolution. In fact, atheistic writers have admitted that one of the main forces behind the rise of uniformitarianism was the desire to eliminate God as Creator, and as Initiator of the Great Flood (see Gould, 1965, 1987).
In the case of the Flood, however, it is not just unbelievers who fervently have opposed the biblical account. Some who claim to profess a belief in God likewise have attacked—in a similarly vitriolic fashion—the concept of a universal Flood. Harold W. Clark has observed:
The period from the Reformation to the middle of the 19th century has been called the “Golden Age of Creationism.” Many fundamental discoveries in science were made, and there was a genuine spirit of recognition of the validity of the Genesis story of creation and the Flood as a background for science. However, as geological knowledge grew rapidly in the 18th century, theologians found it increasingly difficult to adjust the new knowledge to the short chronology of Genesis. With increasing favor they began to turn to notions that were being propounded by scientists, not all of whom were sympathetic toward the Scriptural account of the past (1968, pp. 17-18).
Religionists of both the past and the present have compromised, or attacked, the global nature of the Flood. Among those of the past, several prominent writers spring to mind. In the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (1870), Robert Jamieson presented a lengthy defense of the local Flood theory. John Pye Smith, in his work, The Relation Between the Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Science (1854), strongly advocated a limited, local Flood. Edward Hitchcock, in his text, The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences (1852), and Hugh Miller in his work, The Testimony of the Rocks (1875), also defended the local Flood theory, asserting that the biblical account of a global Flood simply was not acceptable.
Within the past several decades, a number of prominent religionists also have opposed a global Flood. In the 1950s, evangelical theologian Bernard Ramm championed the view of a local Flood in his book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1954), as did anthropologist Arthur C. Custance in The Extent of the Flood: Doorway Papers No. 41 (1958; see also Custance’s 1979 book, The Flood: Local or Global?).
In the late 1960s, John N. Clayton of South Bend, Indiana, a frequent lecturer on Christian evidences, made his views known regarding the unlikely possibility of a universal Flood when he said:
There is no way geologically of supporting the idea that there was a worldwide flood.... On the North American continent, for example, there is no place, no real conclusive evidence that there has ever been a flood over this continent.... You cannot go to geology and find evidence to support the idea of the worldwide flood.... The Bible does not maintain positively that this was a worldwide flood.... It seems to me plausible that possibly the flood was confined to the known earth at that time (1969).
In the 1970s, John Warwick Montgomery defended a local Flood in his book, The Quest for Noah’s Ark (1972). That same decade, Davis A. Young (who at the time was serving as a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington) authored Creation and the Flood, in which he espoused the view that “arguments can be adduced to suggest that the flood was a gigantic local deluge.... The flood was fundamentally a judgment of God and not a major geological event, certainly not an event which reshaped the globe” (1977, p. 212). Later, as a professor of geology at Calvin College, Young would reiterate and expand his views on a local Flood in a 1995 volume, The Biblical Flood (pp. 309-310).
In the early 1980s, Neal D. Buffaloe, a biology professor at the University of Central Arkansas, and N. Patrick Murray, an Episcopalian minister, authored Creationism and Evolution, in which they wrote: “By contrast [to the literal, historical view of Genesis—BT], the mainstream of Biblical scholarship rejects the literal historicity of the Genesis stories prior to Chapter 12, and finds the literature of parable and symbol in the early chapters of Genesis.” Later, in referring to the events of these chapters, including the Flood, the authors stated that “these things never were...” (1981, pp. 5,8).
In the 1990s, perhaps the most outspoken defender of a local Flood is progressive creationist Hugh Ross, who has commented regarding Genesis 6-8:
I kind of read through the text and it seemed obvious to me that it had to be a local flood, not a global flood, and I was shocked to discover that there are all these Christians, and even Christian scholars, that held to a global flood. And I wanted to figure out, you know, how did this happen? You know, how did people get off track like this? (1990).
Ross repeated these sentiments regarding his belief that the Genesis Flood was local, rather than universal, in his 1994 book, Creation and Time.
Why has the Flood become such a lightning rod for controversy? And why do those who profess to believe other areas of Scripture oppose so vehemently the concept of a global Flood? In short, the answer is this. Those who oppose a worldwide Flood (like the writers referenced above) have defended publicly the standard geologic timetable inherent in the evolutionary model of origins. They understand all too well that they cannot advocate an ancient Earth based upon that timetable, and consistently maintain a belief in a universal Flood. Prominent creationist Henry Morris addressed this point when he wrote:
The Biblical Flood in the days of Noah has become a great divide between two watersheds of belief. On the one hand there are those who say it is either a purely mythological event or else possibly a local or regional flood. This group includes practically all evolutionists, but it also includes the “old-earth creationists.”
These all accept the so-called geological ages as the approved record of Earth history, recognizing that a global hydraulic cataclysm would have destroyed any evidence for such geological ages. The geological ages concept and a worldwide devastating Flood logically cannot coexist.
On the other hand, “young-earth creationists” accept the Biblical record of the Flood as a literal record of a tremendous cataclysm involving not only a worldwide Flood, but also great tectonic upheavals and volcanic outpourings that completely changed the crust of the earth and its topography in the days of Noah.
Those of us who hold this view are commonly ridiculed as unscientific and worse, so it would be more comfortable and financially rewarding if we would just go along with the evolutionist establishment, downgrade the Flood, and accept the geological ages (1998, p. a, emp. added).
Dr. Morris is correct in his assessment. The simple truth of the matter is that the Genesis account of the Great Flood has been, and is being, attacked because it provides a formidable obstacle to a comfortable belief in the geologic timetable espoused by evolutionists and those sympathetic with them. Rehwinkel has remarked:
Every student of the Bible and of geology knows there exists today a seemingly irreconcilable conflict between Genesis and geology. This conflict dates back about 125 years and had its origin in the rise of evolutionary geology. Up to that time, theologians and scientists were generally in agreement with the Biblical teachings concerning creation and the Flood. But that is no longer the case.... Now and then there are still those who try to harmonize Genesis and the theories of geology by juggling language and extending the six days of creation into six periods of unlimited time, each measured by millions, or possibly billions, of years. Still others preserve an outward reverence for the Bible and speak of Genesis patronizingly as a beautiful but poetical conception of the origin of things (1951, pp. xvi, xvii).
Theodore Epp stated concerning the local Flood view: “This concept seems to have gotten its greatest support from Christians attempting to harmonize the Bible with science. For the most part, the result has been a compromise between the Bible and historical geology, which is based on evolutionary thinking” (1972, p. 138). In the final analysis, however, the central issue is not what current “evolutionary geology” decrees. It is not what “modern science” mandates. Nor is it what those intent on compromising the Bible “wish” God’s Word has to say. Rather, the issue is what the Bible actually says. As Edwin Jones has written:
...the account of the flood that we have does not contain all of the details necessary for a full understanding of how things were done. To judge a general account by rules governing a specific, detailed explanation is simply not fair. There is nothing that cannot be accounted for by plausible argumentation in defending the concept of a universal flood. The main concern, as always, should be what do the Scriptures teach? (1996, pp. 60-61, emp. added).
Since it is the biblical Flood that is under consideration, it is appropriate, in mounting a defense of the Flood, to consider first and foremost the Bible’s position on this topic.
IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE GLOBAL FLOOD
Even its detractors admit (albeit begrudgingly) that the subject of the Flood is a prominent story in the Bible, with more attention being given to it than even Creation. Four of the first eleven chapters of Genesis are devoted to the record of the great Flood. In fact, next to Creation, the Flood of Noah’s day is the greatest single physical event in the history of our Earth; nothing comparable to it has happened since, nor will anything comparable happen again—until the final destruction of this Universe in the fiery judgment yet to come (2 Peter 3). There are repeated references to the Flood account in numerous books within the Old Testament. Further, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament often alluded to Noah and the Flood as if both were historical in nature (cf. Matthew 24:36-39; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 3:5-7). Alfred Rehwinkel wrote that:
The flood marks the end of a world of transcendent beauty, created by God as a perfect abode for man, and the beginning of a new world, a mere shadowy replica of its original glory. In all recorded history there is no other event except the Fall which has had such a revolutionary effect upon the topography and condition of this Earth and which has so profoundly affected human history and every phase of life as it now exists in its manifold forms in the world. No geologist, biologist, or student of history can afford to ignore this great catastrophe (1951, p. xv).
Truth be told, many of the great scientists of the past firmly believed in, and accepted as factual, the biblical account of a universal Flood. Oard has suggested: “More than 150 years ago, many scientists believed the rocks on the earth’s surface were laid down and fashioned by the Genesis Flood” (1990, p. 24). Robert L. Whitelaw has commented: “Long before anyone knew of the carbon 14 clock and up until Darwin’s day, the scientific world recognized the abundant evidence of a worldwide watery catastrophe such as the Genesis Flood” (1975, p. 41). Indeed, in previous centuries both scientists and theologians attributed many of the Earth’s features to the Flood of Noah, and generally were in agreement with the Bible’s teachings on Creation and the Flood. Now, however, that no longer is the case. In our day and age, young people often are subjected to what may well represent one of the greatest possible threats to their faith—the challenge of the conflict between evolutionary geology and the Word of God. The simple fact of the matter is that it is impossible to correlate the Bible with evolutionary geology (see Jackson, 1984, pp. 296-297; 1990), even though there have been those who have attempted such a compromise (Clayton, 1976; Ross, 1994; Young, 1982, 1995; see Jackson and Thompson, 1992, for documentation and refutation of this kind of compromise). As our youngsters study under those who delight in ridiculing the Flood account, or who attempt to effect a compromise of evolutionary thinking with the biblical record, this challenge to their faith will become all the more real. As Rehwinkel stated:
The shock received by the inexperienced young student is therefore overwhelming when he enters the classroom of such teachers and suddenly discovers to his great bewilderment that these men and women of acclaimed learning do not believe the views taught him in his early childhood days; and since the student sits at their feet day after day, it usually does not require a great deal of time until the foundation of his faith begins to crumble as stone upon stone is being removed from it by these unbelieving teachers. Only too often the results are disastrous. The young Christian becomes disturbed, confused, and bewildered. Social pressure and the weight of authority add to his difficulties. First he begins to doubt the infallibility of the Bible in matters of geology, but he will not stop there. Other difficulties arise, and before long skepticism and unbelief have taken the place of his childhood faith, and the saddest of all tragedies has happened. Once more a pious Christian youth has gained a glittering world of pseudo-learning but has lost his own immortal soul (1951, p. xvii).
An in-depth study of the Flood is essential if we wish to prepare our children, and ourselves, to deal with these conflicts. Generally, it is not a matter of if such conflicts will arise; it is only a matter of when.
THE REASON FOR THE FLOOD
According to the Bible, God created the Universe in six literal days of approximately 24 hours each. After that Creation (and the seventh-day rest), mankind was given three positive commands and one negative command. The three positive commands were: (1) be fruitful and multiply—fill the Earth (Genesis 1:28); (2) subdue the Earth and have dominion over it (Genesis 1:28); and (3) tend the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). The one negative command was to avoid eating the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). As every student of Bible history knows, however, Adam and Eve transgressed the law of God and ate the forbidden fruit. For this sin, they were evicted from their garden paradise, and a curse was placed upon them (Genesis 3:16-19; cf. Romans 8:20-22).
Outside the garden, Adam and Eve began their family. The first two sons they named Cain and Abel. Cain murdered Abel, and eventually went into exile, separating himself from the main family group (Genesis 4:16ff.). Like two distinct streams, the two family groups flowed side-by-side, and for somewhat more than a thousand years apparently remained separate. Eventually, however, the righteous began to commingle with the unrighteous. The Bible observes “that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all that they chose” (Genesis 6:2). Out of these intermarriages came a generation of men and women in almost total rebellion against God. Genesis 6:5-7 states:
And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And Jehovah said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the ground; both man, and beast, and creeping things, and birds of the heavens; for it repenteth me that I have made them (emp. added).
That these unions resulted in such a shameful condition should not be all that surprising. Paul spoke of the evil consequences of such in 1 Corinthians 15:33 when he said, “Be not deceived: evil companionships corrupt good morals.”
At this point, it might be prudent to point out that the period from Creation to the Flood was not merely “a few short years.” In fact, the time span was approximately 1,656 years (see Rehwinkel, 1951, pp. 24-25). A millennium and a half represents a long span in human history. During that time, people (especially those who lived to the advanced ages of most of the patriarchs—see Thompson, 1992) would have proliferated, and spread to many areas around the globe. Man was endowed with far greater vitality of body and mind than he is now (a point that may be inferred from the great ages to which he lived), and inhabited a pristine world of almost unlimited, unspoiled natural resources. Living longer under such conditions, of course, also would mean that man was much more prolific than he now is. Yet even in our age, when life spans are shortened considerably, 1,656 years would be enough time to grow an enormous population. Between 1830 and 1930, for example, the world population doubled in number (i.e., it increased by about 850 million people within a single century). Imagine—given the proposed antediluvian setting of a mild climate worldwide, improved vitality, longer life spans, and impressive resources—the potential increase in global population that could occur, not in 100 years, but in 1,656 years.
The stage, then, was set for God’s wrath upon a sin-sick world. His decree was that He would destroy man, beast, and bird from the face of the Earth. There was, however, something that prevented God from carrying out that decree immediately. It was the fact that a man named Noah had remained faithful to God. Noah, the text makes clear, was an island of righteousness in a sea of iniquity. His character is described in Genesis 6:9 by three expressions. (1) “Noah was a just man” (i.e., honest—likely an unusual trait in day). (2) Noah was “perfect in his generations.” Edwin Jones has suggested that “Noah’s being perfect refers to his being blameless because of his wholehearted, complete loyalty to God. Noah did what was right because he had a complete, well-rounded relationship with God” (1996, p. 58). (3) Noah “walked with God” (cf. James 2:23, where this same phrase is applied to Abraham).
Because of Noah’s faithfulness, a “probationary period” of a maximum of 120 years was established by God (Genesis 6:3). During that time, Noah preached to the people of his generation (1 Peter 3:18-20), all the while carrying out the commands of God regarding the building of the ark (Genesis 6). After approximately 100 years, Noah’s work was completed (Genesis 5:32 indicates that Noah was 500 years old prior to the events of Genesis 6-8; Genesis 7:6 indicates that Noah was 600 years old when he entered the ark. It appears from a straightforward reading of the text that, of the probationary period of 120 years imposed by God, Noah used 100 years or less). However, for all his preaching Noah’s only “converts” were members of his own family group. People no doubt grew accustomed to the large hulk of the great ark, and at the same time grew apathetic to Noah’s message of salvation from impending doom. Sin continued as the probationary period drew to a close. The decree had been made; the grace of God had been extended; the time for action was at hand. Mankind’s sin now would result in God sending a worldwide Flood.
IN DEFENSE OF...THE GENESIS FLOOD
Was the Flood universal in scope, or was it merely a local, Mesopotamian inundation limited to the then-known world? Is the account in Genesis 6-9 of the Flood the record of an actual historical event, or is it simply an allegory, myth, or legend? The answers to these questions form an important part of the defense of the biblical record of the Flood.
The Extent and Duration of the Flood
Genesis 7:11 provides a clear indication of the devastating nature of the Genesis Flood when it states that “all the fountains of the great deep [were] broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” This was no gentle afternoon shower. Rather, it was the final judgment of an angry God on a sin-sick, destined-to-die world. Water came down (“the windows of heaven were opened”) and water rose up (“all the fountains of the great deep were broken up”), until finally Genesis 7:19-20 records: “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.” In assessing these passages, Whitcomb and Morris have written: “One need not be a professional scientist to realize the tremendous implications of these Biblical statements. If only one (to say nothing of all) of the high mountains had been covered with water, the Flood would have been absolutely universal; for water must seek its own level—and must do so quickly!” (1961, pp. 1-2, emp. in orig.).
Critics, however, have argued that the phrase “all the high mountains” need not necessarily mean all high mountains, for the word “all” can be used in a relative or distributive sense. H.C. Leupold, however, has dealt a deathblow to that argument.
A measure of the waters is now made by comparison with the only available standard for such waters—the mountains. They are said to have been “covered.” Not merely a few but “all the high mountains under all the heavens.” One of these expressions alone would almost necessitate the impression that the author intends to convey the idea of the absolute universality of the Flood, e.g., “all the high mountains.” Yet since “all” is known to be used in a relative sense, the writer removes all possible ambiguity by adding the phrase “under all the heavens.” A double “all” (kol) cannot allow for so relative a sense. It almost constitutes a Hebrew superlative. So we believe that the text disposes of the question of the universality of the Flood (1942, p. 301).
How deep, then, was this water that covered “all the high mountains”? The text says it was “fifteen cubits upward” that the water “prevailed.” This phrase obviously cannot mean that the waters went only fifteen cubits (approximately 22½ feet) high, for the phrase is qualified by the one that immediately follows: “and the mountains were covered.” The true meaning of the phrase is to be found in comparing Genesis 7:19-20 with Genesis 6:15, where the statement is made that the ark was thirty cubits high. The phrase “fifteen cubits” must refer to the draught of the ark which, in a boat like the ark, generally is half the height (i.e., when fully loaded it sinks in the water to a depth equal to half its height). If the ark were thirty cubits high, and sank half of that, it would sink fifteen cubits. If the waters then prevailed upward “fifteen cubits,” such a depth would be adequate to protect the ark as it floated on the waters all over the Earth for a little more than a year. Therefore the ark would not hit any mountaintops during its journey. [Since Psalm 104:8 speaks of God “raising up new mountains” after the Flood, it is likely that the mountains of Noah’s day were not nearly as high as the mountains that exist today.] A careful reading of the Genesis text indicates that the Flood lasted approximately a year. By way of summary, Whitcomb and Morris have written:
The order of events as set forth in the first part of the eighth chapter of Genesis would seem, then, to be as follows; (1) After the waters had “prevailed upon the earth” 150 days, the waters began to assuage. (2) The Ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat the same day that the waters began to assuage, for the 17th day of the 7th month was exactly 150 days after the Flood began. (3) The waters continued to subside, so that by the 1st day of the 10th month (74 days later), the tops of various mountains could be seen. This would suggest a drop of perhaps fifteen or twenty feet a day, at least during the initial phase of this assuaging period. (4) The Flood level continued to fall for forty more days, so that Noah, no longer fearing that the Flood would return, sent forth a raven to investigate the conditions outside the Ark (1961, p. 7).
The Testimony of the Apostle Peter
One of the most important, and most convincing, passages relating to the magnitude and significance of the Genesis Flood is found in 2 Peter 3:3-7:
...knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they wilfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
In this stirring passage, Peter speaks of some who—because of a fatal adherence to uniformitarianism—did not take seriously Heaven’s promise of the Second Coming of Christ. Nor did they seem to understand that His return would be a cataclysmic, universal intervention by God in the affairs of men. These “mockers” lamented that all things were continuing as they had “from the beginning of the creation.” In response, Peter discussed two events that simply cannot be explained on the basis of uniformitarianism, and in so doing he destroyed forever infidelity’s arguments.
The first of these events was the creation of the world: “there were heavens from of old, and an earth...by the word of God.” The second of these events was the Great Flood of Noah: “The world (Greek, kosmos) that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” Peter used the account of the Noahic Flood to draw a comparison with Christ’s Second Coming and the subsequent destruction of the world. For, said Peter, as “the world that then was” perished by water, so the “heavens that now are, and the earth” have been “stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” From Peter’s straightforward language, it is impossible logically for men to suggest that Peter meant a coming destruction by fire of only part of the Earth. Peter’s terms—“the heavens that now are, and the earth”—obviously are universal in nature. Peter portrayed one event that brought about a transformation not just of the Earth, but also of the heavens as well. That event, according to the inspired apostle, was the Noahic Flood!
It was the Flood that constituted the line of demarcation between “the heavens from of old” and “the heavens that now are” in the thinking of the apostle Peter. It was the Flood that utilized the vast oceans of water out of which and amidst which the ancient Earth was “compacted,” unto the utter destruction of the kosmos “that then was.” It was the Flood to which Peter appealed as his final and incontrovertible answer to those who chose to remain in willful ignorance of the fact that God had at one time in the past demonstrated His holy wrath and omnipotence by subjecting “all things” to an overwhelming, cosmic catastrophe that was on an absolute par with the final day of judgment, in which God will yet consume the earth with fire and cause the very elements to dissolve with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10) [Whitcomb, 1973, pp. 57-58].
British scholar Derek Kidner has observed that
...we should be careful to read the [Flood—BT] account wholeheartedly in its own terms, which depict a total judgment on the ungodly world already set before us in Genesis—not an event of debatable dimensions in a world we may try to reconstruct. The whole living scene is blotted out, and the New Testament makes us learn from it the greater judgment that awaits not only our entire globe but the universe itself (II Peter 3:5-7) [1967, p. 95].
If the New Testament “makes us learn” from the Noahic flood account that the coming judgment of which Peter spoke so eloquently will involve “not only our entire globe but the universe itself,” how can this lesson be learned from a Flood that was merely local in extent? There can be no doubt that Peter’s argument (that there is a coming universal destruction awaiting this world—an argument framed from the fact of the Flood of Noah) provides inspired testimony as to the universal destruction of the Genesis Flood.
[to be continued]
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