Noah’s Flood: Global or Local?
I come to my sixth review of Hugh Ross’s book, Navigating Genesis, and specifically to his study of Noah’s flood.
Ross spends four chapters, 15-18, laying out his apologetic for a local flood, while at the same time debunking the idea of a worldwide flood. It is imperative for him to demonstrate that the text of Genesis 6-8 is recording the history of a local flood because he must sustain his commitment to a deep time reading of the creation narrative. If the fossil record, along with all the major, geological formations found all over the earth, can be explained by a year long, worldwide flood as recorded in Genesis, that presents a severe problem to a ministry whose sole endeavor is to harmonize the Bible to the secular, evolutionary interpretative time frames of earth’s history.
Ross is insistent that the Bible requires us to believe that Genesis teaches a local flood. The whole point of Genesis 6-8, he suggests, is to give us a theological picture of the wickedness of man’s sin and God’s grace containing sin in one geographical area. God sent a localized flood thus preventing man from spreading his corruption to the whole globe.
His position hinges on what he believes are the limits of sin and the boundaries of God’s judgment [see chapter 15]. God only judges man’s sin and what it has defiled. Ross writes, “The extent of the Genesis flood, according to the principle laid out in Scripture, would have been determined by the spread of human sin,” . In his view, ancient, antediluvian men never traveled outside the immediate vicinity of Mesopotamia. So, if for example man never reached Antarctica, there would be no need for God to send a flood there and no need for penguins to travel to Noah for preservation on the ark, [ibid].
In order to prove his local flood theory, Ross employees one chapter worth of strained and out of context grammatical exegesis that revises the plain meaning of the text. A second chapter is selected appeals to dated scientific research that he believes discounts the common, worldwide flood view.
I’ll spend the bulk of my review addressing the exegetical and theological arguments. The so-called scientific arguments he raises are many, and beyond what I can cover in one review article. They are dealt with in detail in such works by Andrew Snelling, Kurt Wise, Jonathan Sarfati, and John Whitmore, so I would refer readers to their material.
Two things disappointed me with Ross’s discussion of Noah’s flood. First, as I have already mentioned in previous reviews, he doesn’t bother engaging any dissenting works that would refute his views. That is also true in these sections on Noah’s flood. There is no real engagement with proponents of a worldwide flood. What passing references he does make with any detractor is shallow (no pun intended), never truly interacting with any published books or technical research that would answer his challenges.
Secondly, a number of his criticisms against a worldwide flood also come from the play books of atheists and amateur internet skeptics. In fact, there are times he sounds just like the nay-saying atheist critics attacking Answers in Genesis. For example, opening chapter 18 that discusses the passengers on the ark, Ross lays out four bullet points against the ark that swirl around in the fever swamps of online atheist forums. For example, “How could eight people possibly care for all the ark’s animals?” and “How could a wooden ship of the dimensions outlined in Genesis possibly be seaworthy?” One is left wondering if he actually wants to defend the testimony of Scripture or just ridicule young earth Creationists.
The Exegesis of Genesis 6-8
Ross devotes chapter 16 at attempting to explain away the biblical language affirming a global flood. In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, he writes that the wording of Genesis 6-8 describes how the flood impacted all humans, all animals, and all the mountains. Additionally, he notes, the words “all,” “every,” and “everything,” appear more than 40 times in the three chapters recording Noah’s flood, . He then makes the astonishing comment, “On this basis, it seems no wonder belief in biblical truth demands belief in a global deluge,” [ibid]. In other words, I know the Bible clearly says the flood was global, but don’t believe your lying eyes!
The rest of the chapter is Ross redefining the clear, universal language employed by the text and reinterpreting Noah’s flood as regional, not global. I’ll consider just a few of his more prominent examples.
The use of universal language
As he noted in his introduction, the Genesis record of the flood uses a number of words that speak of the universality of the event. Such words as all, every, and everything. Ross presupposes, without any serious warrant, that modern readers need to frame the narrative in the mind of ancient man. Rather than thinking the whole earth, as in a spherical, blue globe, because our modern space age has taught us to think that way, ancient man thought of the whole earth as being what he could immediately see. From the mountains on the horizon to the visible boundary of the desert meeting the sky, that was the “whole earth” as far as ancient man was concerned.
Ross then provides some examples from Scripture when regional events like the famine in Egypt (Genesis 42:5-6) and Caesar Augustus’s taxation decree (Luke 2:1) were described as “worldwide” or the “entire earth,” [146-147]. We know from the facts of geography, he argues, that the famine was only Egypt and the surrounding nations and Rome’s world was the Mediterranean nations they conquered. Those events could hardly be called the whole world in the sense of the entire, global earth. Likewise when we understand the use of universal terms in Genesis 6-8.
There are some significant major flaws with his argument, however. One of the first questions I think Ross should consider is simply this: How exactly would the Bible convey the idea of a flood covering the entire globe if not for the use of universal terms? That is a question he seems to ignore.
More to the point, the Genesis record is emphatically clear with the use of repetitive universal terms that the flood was covering the entire world, not just a regional location. Genesis 7:19 specifically states that the flood waters increased upon the earth so that “all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered.” It is one thing to say all the high hills were covered, but to couple that phrase with “under the whole heaven” is exactly the language we would expect if God wants to convey the global extent of the flood.
Additionally, in Genesis 7:20ff. we find the same use of all to describe the extent of the destruction killing all life on the earth. Everything that breathed, man, woman, child, animals, swarming things, etc. Only Noah, his family, and everything on the ark was left alive. How else is one to understand such concise language? Even Ross acknowledges that, “the text would appear” to have universal extent , but of course he rejects that appearance.
One final note. The Apostle Peter uses the flood as an illustration of the coming judgment on the earth when Christ returns. In fact, Peter employs the word kataklusmos in 2 Peter 3, which translates the Hebrew word mabbul in Genesis 6:17. If the flood was a local, regional flood, does that mean Christ’s judgment is limited to Israel and the surrounding nations where the climatic battle of Armageddon takes place before His return? It would be an odd illustration if the flood only covered one small portion of the world, whereas the final judgment is the whole world.
The permanence of dry land
Ross claims that Psalm 104, along with a number of other passages, like Job 38 and Proverbs 8, teach that God declared during the creation of the land that it will never be covered in water again. In other words, when God brought dry land out of the waters, He Himself precluded the notion of a worldwide, earth destroying flood. The oceans had a set boundary and their waters will never cross over on to dry land, .
The problem, however, is that none of the passages he cites supporting his notion teach what he claims. All of them are either recounting God’s general care for His creation with really no mention of the permanence of dry land. Psalm 104:6-9 comes the closest, but those verses speak to the certainty of God’s post flood promise not to flood the earth again. Psalm 104:6-9, in fact, parallels the flood narrative: Genesis 7:19,20 (Psalm 104:6), Genesis 8:1, 3, (Psalm 104:7), Genesis 8:5 (Psalm 104:8), and Genesis 9:11 (Psalm 104:9).
The failure of mankind
One of Ross’s major presuppositions for his view of the local flood is the idea that mankind never dispersed upon the earth. As I noted above, Ross teaches that the flood was sent to judge man’s sin and everything he defiled. Because man never spread out from the Mesopotamian valley, there was no need to flood the entire world. He bases that presupposition upon God’s command to Adam to multiply and fill the earth, and then His command to Noah to multiply and fill the earth after the flood. By the time we come to Genesis 11, man is still disobeying God’s command, and so God confuses the languages at Babel, and only then did man disperse like he was supposed to.
There are some significant problems with his assumption. First, is Ross limiting God’s command to “fill the earth” to only Mesopotamia? Or does he believe God meant the whole earth, as in the entire world? Put another way, is the phrase “fill the earth” universal in scope? If that is the case, then why isn’t the universal description of earth in God’s command the same as with God flooding the earth? Distinguishing between a universal use of fill the earth to mean a global dispersion, with a supposed local flood that is described as covering all the earth, makes Ross’s view wildly inconsistent with itself.
Second, he assumes that man didn’t disperse when God initially commanded them to do so. Ross is suggesting that Adam’s progeny remained in the Mesopotamia region from the time of creation to the time of the flood. According to Ross’s own calculations, Adam and Eve lived anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 years ago, and Noah’s flood was some 40,000 years ago, . That is at least 60 to 20 thousand years between Adam’s creation and God’s command to fill the earth and the flood of Noah. Ross would have us believe that mankind only remained in Mesopotamia for that length of time. Considering the spread and advancement of culture just from the time of Egypt to our present day, roughly four to five thousand years, insisting that all of mankind remained in one small location on earth for at least 20 thousand years, is rather incredible.
One last problem. Secular anthropologists date several cultures older than Ross’s date for Noah’s flood at 40,000 years ago. For instance, the Aboriginal culture is considered the oldest, dated at 50,000 years ago. Some even date them older than that.
The key, theological component to Ross’s local flood view is that man did not disperse beyond the boundaries of Mesopotamia from the time of Adam’s creation to Noah. God judges man’s sin and what it was he defiled with his sin, and so the flood could not be global because man had not yet defiled other parts of the earth with his sin. If the flood of Noah happened 40,000 years ago according to Ross’s calculations, where exactly do the Aboriginal peoples fit in? Are they sinless? They obviously pre-date Noah’s flood according to secular anthropologists.
Here is another clear example of how Ross’s dependence upon the claims of secularists severely conflict with Scripture. God’s “truth” revealed in the 67th book of nature, as Ross affirms, creates a massive problem with God’s truth as revealed in Scripture. Regrettably, the truth of Scripture gives way to the so-called “truth” of the 67th book of nature in Ross’s apologetic.