Many times, it is just naturally assumed that everyone believes the same thing in the Church. You sit beside the same people, hug the same elderly ladies, and hear the same “standard” sayings of your preacher every Sunday. It becomes a shock to you when you learn that someone right beside you believes something completely opposite of you. I have found this to be the case with the extent of Noah’s flood. Many thoughtful Christians have found good reason to think Noah’s flood was intended to destroy all that Noah knew, his homeland instead of the whole earth. Below I will list reasons why seeing the flood as local is a viable option for interpreters of Scripture. Not only is it a viable option, it probably is the best. BTW-I think this topic is a secondary issue at best. No one’s salvation is wrapped up in whether or not the flood covered just Israel or made its way to the highest peak in Alaska. Viewing the extent of the flood as local does not change any theological teachings or make anyone a heretic. This is most certainly not a test for faith or fellowship. I have mentioned global flood arguments alongside their defeaters.
The language used is universal. Defeater: The account is from the viewpoint of the narrator, and from his perspective, it is total. “All” doesn’t always mean “all” (Gen. 41:57; Deut. 2:25; 1 Kings 18:10). The writer would then be seen as speaking phenomenologically (as he sees it from his own personal perspective). Furthermore, certain words do not have to be translated as they are within the passage. The word for earth (eretz) can mean and does mean just the land (ha eretz) in other parts of Genesis. The same word is used when Genesis 41:57 says “all the land came to Egypt.” The translation of this word as “earth” or “world” biases the reader to understand this as the “globe” or “planet,” but this meaning is not in the original text. Did everyone on the entire globe go to Egypt? The Hebrew phrase whole (kol) earth (eretz) does not mean the whole earth in other passages within the Hebrew bible (Gen. 13:9; Exo. 34:10; Lev. 25:9, 25:24; Jud. 6:37; 1 Sam. 13:3; 2 Sam. 18:8; 1 Kings 10:24, ect.) . Two examples would be Gen. 2:11 and 2:13. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole [kol] land [eretz] of Havilah, where there is gold. (Gen. 2:11) And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole [kol] land [eretz] of Cush. (Gen. 2:13) Obviously, the description of kol erezs is modified by the name of the land, indicating a local area from the context. In fact, the term kol erezs is nearly always used in the Old Testament to describe a local area of land, instead of our entire planet. Furthermore, possible other translations of the phrases within the text exist (e.g. “The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep” could be as the NIV says “rose more than 20 feet, and the mountains/hills were covered).
The size of the Ark indicates that this was no local flood. Defeater: A large Ark was needed because of the number of animals it had to house; the size is not related to the extent of the flood.
If the flood was only local, why was the Ark necessary at all? Defeater: That is the way God chose to save. Building the Ark gave Noah an opportunity to preach. It may seem unnecessary or unconventional but who are you to judge the intentions and plans of God?
The purpose of the flood was the punishment of worldwide sin. A local flood would not do. Some could have escaped. Defeater: God could have made certain all flesh was destroyed without flooding the entire globe (Local flood advocates believe he did). The cataclysmic, local flood would fulfill its purpose of killing every human, not every rabbit on the top of the Alps.
There are universal traditions of people with accounts of a flood. Defeater: Many cultures don’t have a tradition (e.g. Egypt).Many accounts do not claim the flood is global and universal. Lastly, there are many discrepancies between the accounts.
There are worldwide traces of the flood. A universal flood is geologically supportable. Defeater: Evidence is scattered, inconsistent, and unsubstantial. There is no conclusive geologic evidence for such a catastrophe. Flood geology has fallen on hard times (For more scientific and biblical evidence against a global flood, go here, here, here, and here. I met the two writers of those posts at ETS in Atlanta. They are godly men who care about both of God’s books where he reveals himself, the Bible and nature)
A universal flood is the clearest meaning of the text and has priority. Defeater: Scientific evidence against universal flood is of such an extent that a secondary reading of the text is necessary. Furthermore, science has changed the interpretations of “clear” verses in the past before (Heliocentricism and Geocentrism).
Ending ice ages, dissolving canopies, continental drifting, and/or changes in the angle of the earth were used to create the necessary conditions. Defeater: This argument is too theoretical and perhaps these phenomena would still be insufficient. They’re not based in the text and require extracurricular findings. Also, they do not explain everything. To flood the entire globe would need eight times the amount of water now available in our system. No miracle is mentioned when it comes to the water.
The mountains of Ararat are high and since water seeks its own level and the Ark came to rest there, they must have been covered. Defeater: the Ark did not land on a peak of a mountain, but somewhere in that chain. Noah and his family could not possibly have gotten down from a peak.
God’s promises to never flood the earth like he did during the time of Noah would be a lie because local floods happen all the time (Gen. 9:11,15). Defeater: The flood, although local in extent, was global in judgment, since all humanity lived in the same locale. God’s promise is true that universal judgment via a cataclysmic flood would not happen again. One may say that I’m playing fast and loose with the text. He says “neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” A quick survey of other texts illuminates the meaning of the “earth” (eretz) within this passage. Numerous times in other places within Scripture the term earth is used meaning people (Gen. 18:25; Jos. 23:14; 1 Sam. 14:25; 1 Kings 2:2; Psa. 33:8, 66:1, 4, 96:9; Isa. 14:7). Eretz within the passage would then serve as some sort of parallelism where God repeats himself in his covenantal promise to Noah. “I won’t destroy all flesh…I won’t destroy all the earth…I won’t destroy people.” He will not go about judgment the same way as before.
If it was a local flood, why would God send animals to the ark to begin with? Defeater: Some animals are indigenous only to the Mesopotamian area.
The flood waters are said to rise 15 cubits above the highest mountains. Defeater: The Hebrew term for mountains (har) occurs numerous times within Scripture and many times is translated “hills” or “hill country.” It is likely that the highest mountains Noah sees that are covered are the large hills around his homeland.
Genesis 1-11 concerns itself with global culture and people groups before it moves on to Abraham and his descendents. Defeater: The biblical record concerns itself only with those people interacting with Israel. Other lands are not involved. The text does not know of people outside of itself. Furthermore, the tone of Noah’s preaching is local. He did not go to Africa, China, or Australia to preach repentance.
There are miracles that are necessary for a global flood that the text does not mention. I’m not denying the omnipotence of God. I’m merely pointing out that there are some things a global flood demands that are not listed within the text itself. David Snoke lists the following miracles in his book A Biblical Case for an Old Earth:
- The miracle of the transportation of millions of animals to the Ark from Australia, the Americas, Antarctica, and the islands. Some species of small animals that exist only in small niches in the ecology could never have made it to the Middle East.
- The miracles of the compression of the animals in the Ark. The described volume of the Ark is not large enough for all of the millions of animal species plus the food and fresh water they would need for 150 days at sea.
- The miracle of the feeding of the carnivorous animals on the Ark. If carnivorous animals came along, then many extra animals of other types had to come for food, unless meat was miraculously refrigerated.
- The miracle of the caretaking of millions of animals by just eight people, including tons of dung production per day.
- The miracle of the survival of the occupants of the Ark despite the huge heat production in a closed space. Rough calculations give temperatures of hundreds of degrees for so many millions of animals in a windowless box.
- The miracle of the survival of special-climate animals (e.g. polar bears and penguins) on the Ark.
- The miracle of the feeding of special diet animals (e.g. the Koala) on the Ark.
- The miracle of the creation of water out of nowhere and the destruction of water afterwards. In a normal flood, water moves from one place to another, but in a global flood, new water would have to be created.
- The miracle of the preservation of the land under the weight of all that water. Six miles of water would create pressures thousands of times atmospheric pressure.
- The miracle of the survival of trees and plants underwater. Plants normally suffocate after just a short time underwater.
- The miracle of the survival of fresh water fish in salt water. Unless God miraculously kept the water from mixing, half of the species of fish would have died.
- The miracles of the survival of amphibious and tidal pool creatures on the Ark. Certain species need specific conditions of water environment. In addition to bringing food and water to drink for the regular animals, Noah would have had to set up special aquariums that changed the type of water at different times of the days.
- The miracles of the survival of worms, insects, ect. underwater (unless they came to the Ark also which would then require necessary ingredients for termite hills, ant colonies, ect.).
- The miracle of the sorting of fossils under water into layers.
- The miracle of the upright trees underwater.
The extent of the flood seems to be local and can be supported from the biblical text itself and current geological findings. Peter Enns gives a wonderful exposition here on how we should interpret the Genesis flood.