2 Peter 3 and Creationism

(Jay Nelsestuen) #1

Alright, this has been bugging me for a while, so I thought I’d finally ask.

Many creationists (YEC or otherwise) quote the first part of 2 Peter 3 in support of their position, as it seems to them that the “scoffers” mentioned are those gosh-darned atheists and their evolutionary worldview. But what gets tricky for me is that Peter directly mentions the creation and the flood in relation to these scoffers, making it seem as though Peter were condemning those who would take a position on origins contra his own. Here is the passage in question:

Peter quotes the scoffers as saying that “things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Or in other words (according to the YEC), uniformitarianism. Peter’s reply is basically catastrophism, that no, things have not been continuing in the same manner since the beginning, because of the flood. His theological point is that these scoffers are going to be judged in a similar manner, but this time by fire.

But what do you make of this? Was the earth formed out of water, or is Peter simply misinformed scientifically and is rather making a connection to Genesis to prove a point? Similarly, was the world [Greek kosmos] that then was deluged, or was it merely a local flood that destroyed the Mesopotamian river valley, or is Peter again simply misinformed and merely drawing upon Genesis to prove a point?

So far I have not managed to find many resources from an EC perspective that attempt to deal with this text at length. Commentaries are up next on my list to consult, but I’m curious about what y’all think.

It is possible for the earth to appear old to science without it actually being old and without God being deceitful?
(James McKay) #2

A couple of observations here.

First of all, this passage is followed immediately by verse 8, which, of course, says that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. When OECs/ECs quote this verse, YECs hotly deny that the entire passage has anything to do with creation. It seems they’re trying to have it both ways here.

I’m not well versed in New Testament Greek, but judging by the different translations, the “out of water and through water” bit seems to be a bit ambiguous. The KJV translated it as “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water.” It sounds like there are several possible interpretations of that one, but they all have one thing in common: that they point to creation having happened by the Word of God.

One other point I would make is that the kind of uniformitarianism that YECs describe went out with the dinosaurs—literally. Luis and Walter Alvarez broke with that one when they proposed an asteroid impact as the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs, and since then scientists have been taking the possibility of future asteroid strikes very seriously. Hence all the money that’s being spent on trying to track down all the near earth objects that we can.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #3

I intentionally left that off to see if anyone would mention it. :slight_smile: I don’t think verse 8 has anything to do with the creation days. But it can be noted that at first glance, verse 8 seems to begin a separate (but certainly related) discourse. Peter moves from the scoffers to God’s promise to patiently wait until all of the church has come to repentance. The point of the 1,000 years, then, is to demonstrate God’s patience.

Your uniformitarianism remark is interesting. I hadn’t thought about how the asteroid impacts (pun intended) geological uniformity. Food for thought.

(Casper Hesp) #4

Hi Jay,
What helps me to understand such passages is to keep in mind the Scriptural theme of water as an image of chaos being subjugated by God to produce order. This theme is introduced in Genesis 1:

“(…) darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”.

God separated the waters of heaven from the waters of earth (second day). Then He gathered the waters of earth together to clear the land (third day). It is continued in the story of Noach in Genesis 7, when God returns all of the (known) world to the watery chaos:

“(…) - on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.”

This theme of water being subjugated by God was also used to indicate Jesus’ divinity when He calmed the storm:

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
[see also this BioLogos article on Jesus and the Sea]

It is completed in Revelation 21, when it’s said that there will be no sea anymore, indicating the absence of destructive chaos:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

With this theme in mind, it’s useful to read again what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:

“3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”

So here’s my take on this passage. The scoffers take for granted that “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of Creation”, but Peter points out that this is false because it all began in chaos. Peter emphasizes that our earth was formed out of complete chaos (water) by the power of the word of God, and His word is what keeps this world from perishing (being deluged with water). The scoffers deny the reality of God’s promise for the end of times. However, in doing this, they deliberately overlook the fact that the order of the existing world is being kept from descending into chaos by the word of God.

Then, Peter goes on to point out that by the same word of God, everything that exists “is stored up for fire and being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” So the scoffers overlook that God’s word is actually what is maintaining the existence of heavens and earth until the day of judgment. Another interesting theme here is of course the reference to fire, associated with sanctification (as in the act of refining gold) and judgment (destruction of the ungodly).

In conclusion, I don’t see anything warranting the kind of argument that those particular YECs are making regarding uniformitarianism. Peter is dealing here exclusively with those who are sceptical of God’s promises regarding the end of times. Those “scoffers” overlook the fact that the earth arose from chaos and is being kept from descending into chaos by God’s word. In principle these ideas fit together well with the natural sciences, which hold that the earth as we know it arose from formless chaos (but don’t lean too much on that correspondence).

If YECs really espouse a high view of the Scriptures, you would expect them to be more eager to understand such passages in terms of the intended message of the author, taking into account the appropriate scriptural context.



Seeing how this thread is just getting started, I’ll go ahead and make the most obvious exegetical point about 2Peter 3:5-8, which further explains why it is evident in both the Hebrew and Greek texts of scripture that there is no GLOBAL flood in the Bible:

The author of 2Peter carefully distinguishes two words for “world” (or “earth”, if one prefers, those “earth” is more easily misunderstood and that is why I prefer to translate KOSMOS if not also GE as “world.”) When referring to the Noahic Flood, the passage uses the Greek word KOSMOS, because it is referring to “the world of people”. (KOSMOS also appears in John 3:16, because Jesus Christ did not die to save “planet earth”, a big rock hurling through space. No, Christ died for “the world of people.”) But when the 2Peter text refers to the future judgment by fire, we see the word GE, “the world of continents and rocks”, as my professor used to say.

It could hardly be more clear in the context of the 2Peter passage. And from the perspective of the Genesis text, Noah lived just a few generations after Adam, so the Adamic population of sinners was restricted in number and geography. There was no need to destroy life on the entire planet. Instead, the Hebrew text describes the judgement and deluge of Noah’s ERETZ (his land, country, nation, region.) I can’t find anything in the Hebrew Bible pointing to the entire planet being flooded in Noah’s day, and there is no evidence that ancient culture had any concept of living on a “planet earth”. To them, their world was simply SHAMAYIM and ERETZ, “the heavens and the earth.” Indeed, had the Genesis author wanted to emphasize that EVERY ERETZ was flooded, the plural of ERETZ could have been used.

The author of 2Peter could have stated that God judged the GE world in Noah’s day by means of water and the God was eventually going to judge the GE world again by means of fire. But that is not what the 2Peter text states. No, it says that the world (KOSMOS) that Noah knew was destroyed by water—but the future judgment by fire would involve the entire GE, the Greek’s concept of a world that was far large than Noah’s ERETZ. Indeed, 2Peter prophesies that that the very elements of the GE would be involved. The Noahic KOSMOS judgment was about water killing all life on that ERETZ and then the water drained away, the ERETZ dried out, and life multiplied again. But the future judgment of the GE world would involve the very fundamental elements of the GE melting in a fervent heat. This strikes me as a very emphatic way to contrast the Noahic “local flood” judgment versus the future “global fire” judgment.

Both before and after the flood, the Adamic world’s populations naturally tended to stay in one geographic area. That’s why the Babel account was necessary to disburse them. 2Peter reiterates that “local” nature of Noah’s “world” and a flood which deluged that one ERETZ. The Noahic flood in judgment of that KOSMOS world (a world of Adamic people) would be dwarfed in scope by the future fiery judgment of the entire GE world of planet earth.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #6

Now there is something I’ve never heard before. I didn’t realize different words had been used. That’s a very good point.

Thank you.


While on this local vs. global flood topic, I should also mention that the Creation Psalm, in Psalm 104:9, says:

Now you have set boundaries,
so that the water will never
flood the earth again.

Obviously, it is referring to Genesis 1 where God caused dry land to appear out of the waters. We would describe it as continents appearing where there had once been open ocean. So the Psalmists says that God created permanent boundaries for the waters, the oceans. That promise doesn’t mean that Egypt’s Nile river would not experience its annual flooding which refreshes the land’s fertility. No, relatively brief periods of seasonal flooding or major rainstorms wouldn’t change the fact that the world would consist of land and seas. The Psalm indicates that the fundamental land vs. sea dichotomy God created in Genesis 1 would always remain. (Obviously, the YEC tradition of so very much water that somehow Mt. Everest and all other mountains on the planet would be covered would defy the promise of Psalm 104:9.)

I’ve had Young Earth Creationists tell me that my no longer affirming a GLOBAL flood makes me in defiance of God’s Word and therefore the subject of all of the grave warnings of scripture against those who question what God has said–and therefore I’m going to hell. I would think that having a different opinion on the exact scope of the Noahic flood waters would be a minor issue, because I still maintain that all 100% of the Adamic descendants were living in the “Noahic flood zone” and that God said whoever did not repent was promised destruction in the watery judgment. Even so, I’ve been told that that is not enough and that my rejection of the GLOBAL aspect of the account guarantee’s my roasting forever. Eternal torment strikes me as a pretty severe punishment for making a mistake on a Hebrew exegesis exam and on my understanding of the Greek text of 2Peter 3. I guess the pass/fail requirements for escaping hell show no mercy on the linguistically-challenged among us. (When I was six years old and memorized John 3:16, I had no idea how much scope was wrapped into the words “whosoever believeth in him” and that I had to get all of my hermeneutics perfectly right. I guess escaping hellfire is really really hard!)

(George Brooks) #8


Why would you think they have nothing to do with it?

How else are we to understand 3 different days of creation … marked as “days” … and yet no Sun yet exists to actually mark the days.

Literally, the only way to make that work is for days and years to be rather interchangeable from God’s view…

(James McKay) #9

On a personal note here, it was reading 2 Peter 3:8—as an all-guns-blazing YEC myself—that first made me realise that young earth creationism wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

(Jay Johnson) #10

Always amazed when I run across this.

In any case, @Casper_Hesp has noted the connection between Gen. 1:9, where dry land appears, and Gen. 8, where the dry land reappears after the flood. We should also note the “wind” of Gen. 8:1 and the parallel to Gen. 1:2 and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. Many commentators have remarked on the parallels between Gen. 1 and the flood story, leading them to conclude that Noah is pictured as a “second Adam” and the aftermath of the flood as a “re-creation” of the earth. All of these factors make it difficult, in my mind, to sustain the “local/regional flood” exegesis.

While the ancient author of Genesis did not have a Greek conception of the size and scope of the entire world, and neither did they have the Greek word/concept “kosmos” to describe the whole of creation, they nevertheless had other ways to express the idea. One was through listing the parts, known as “merism.” Thus, when Jesus refers to all the righteous blood spilled “from Abel to Zechariah,” he is using merism, and when the writer of Genesis says “God created the heavens and the earth,” he is using merism to indicate all that exists. It was also Semitic style to use repetition for emphasis and to indicate fullness/completion, as in Gen. 1:27:

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

I go into this for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t think your analysis of 2 Peter 3 and kosmos/ge works in the context of the passage. Note that verse 5 uses merism to refer to the entirety of creation by “heavens” and the “earth,” verse 6 uses “kosmos” to describe the same concept, and verse 7 returns to “heavens” and “earth” in the context of the day of judgment. Basically, Peter uses the terms as synonyms here, so I don’t think you can sustain the idea that Peter had in mind a local judgement in verse 6 sandwiched between references to universal creation and universal judgment.

Second, I realize that I am cutting against the grain here, but I do not think that the “local flood” interpretation stands up to scrutiny. Far more weight is thrown upon that one word, eretz, than it can bear. The overwhelming thrust of the Noah passage is upon the universality of God’s judgment. For example, note the repetition in Gen. 7:21-23, and then the contrast:

21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

The only reason to argue that the flood was local instead of global is to remove the conflict with science, which finds no evidence of a global flood, and retain some nugget of historicity in the story. In my opinion, restricting the flood to a local/regional event ignores the obvious universal implications of the text, which is the use that Peter made of it in 2 Peter 3.

My 2c


Assigning motive to others is always risky. And after all, a local flood does NOTHING to “remove the conflict with science” of countless practical aspects of the ark, the very heart of the flood pericope. To reduce a great many exegetical scholars’ readings of the Hebrew text to a desire to harmonize with science sounds a lot like Ken Ham’s compliant that everybody at Biologos just wants to win the respect of “secular scientists.” I could just as easily say that those who want to read globality into the Noahic Flood passages are trying to stay on the good side of traditionalists who was ostracize them if they didn’t affirm a global flood.

By the way, the fact that absolute 100% scope references like “every living thing” and “everything with the breath of life” appear in the text is irrelevant to the scope of the geography. That is like arguing that because there are lots of “all” and “every” words telling of how the entire world journeyed to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph and every nation was present in Jerusalem when Peter preached on Pentecost, the entire planet earth of nations participated in those events, including the Japanese and the Hawaiians. One of John Whitcomb’s faculty colleagues at the time he published The Genesis Flood with Henry Morris was famous for constantly emphasizing to his students and readers of his books that “When the Bible says ALL, you can’t bet that the word ALL means ALL and that’s ALL that ALL means.” No, words like “all” and “every” are always governed by context. I don’t want to identify him by name, but his belief in the popular mantra was absurd and I know of few NT scholars today who would agree with him. But in the 1960’s, that kind of slogan was extremely popular among American fundamentalists. It had a nice reassuring, 100% absolute sound to it.

The same can be said of ERETZ meaning “land” and “nation”, not “planet earth.” In fact, just as in ancient times and just as today, ERETZ YISRAEL means “Land of Israel” and “Nation of Israel”. Nobody ever translates it as “Planet Israel.” That’s why “world” is often much less ambiguous than “earth”. Compounding the problem is that when the KJV translators used the word “earth”, that was at a time when very few people assumed “planet earth” as we do today. Much as in classical Hebrew, “earth” meant the opposite of the sky and the medium in which one planted seeds. Of course, by 1611, exploration had started to greatly broadened the semantic fields of “earth”. The same cannot be said of ERETZ in ancient Israel.

I understand that John Sailhamer has expanded on these concepts greatly since my retirement and they’ve become associated with him. Of course, that is not to suggest that these understandings haven’t been around for a very long time. The Jewish rabbi who taught my Torah exegesis sequence in the graduate school of a state university (that is, he wasn’t an evangelical by any means and that is a secular institution) was always quoting from obscure rabbinical sources, and from that I realized that these were very old concepts—although they only found their ways into evangelical commentaries in recent generations.)

Yes, the author of the Noahic Flood pericope likely assumed the entire “world” was flooded, but in their cosmology, that world was basically everything they saw to the horizon. It never occurred to them to imagine a greater GLOBAL planet earth. That’s why insisting on a GLOBAL flood is so utterly anachronistic. If your point is that EVERYTHING was flooded, I totally agree. But we cannot confuse everything as meaning a global geographic scope. That is imposing our modern geographical notions onto an ancient text.

(Jay Johnson) #12

True enough. Then again, the only reason to argue that Adam & Eve were not the biological progenitors of the entire human race is to remove the conflict with science, and I am earnestly engaged in that myself. So, my noting that motive doesn’t necessarily cast aspersions, and if it does, I am as guilty as anyone else.

I am also not saying that the local/geographical interpretation is baseless or grasping at straws. I am merely stating that I think it is an unattractive solution, for the simple reason that the language of Genesis emphasizes the universal nature of both the event/consequences, and the literary connections between creation/Adam and re-creation/2nd Adam demand a similar conclusion.

(George Brooks) #13


I guarantee you that as time goes on, and the Regional Flood scenario becomes more successful (in a marginal way) in challenging Evolution, more and more Evangelicals will stray from the Global Flood scenario !

(Casper Hesp) #14

I used to hang my hat on the local flood interpretation, but over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of the fact that this approach has serious shortcomings such as the ones you describe. The correspondence with Genesis 1 in which all of creation is described seems to be too strong for the author to be describing a mere local phenomenon in Genesis 7. This story seems to be written as a reversal or undoing of the third/sixth day in Genesis 1. Given that this account would remind an ANE audience strongly of Genesis 1, it seems the original audience would have understood it as describing a universal flood. If we assume that a universal flood was indeed the intended meaning in the context of the story, we might get into some problems with respect to geological and genetic evidence which clearly exclude such a devastating event of global proportions.

How does this fit together then? I think we shouldn’t expect to find definite answers here, but I can think of several complementary ways in which this could be handled… As a first qualification, the author might simply be describing a flood that engulfed the whole world as it was known to those who survived the flood and used that to make a theological point.

But even that idea might already lean too heavily on the literal-historical side of the story. A more rigorous approach would be to assume that an ancient flood story was partly mythologized and then reinterpreted to deliver the intended theological (and Spirit-breathed) message of the author(s), much like we handle the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel. Basically all of the stories from Genesis 1-11 can receive proper respect when handled with this approach. In this way, these stories can still have historical significance beyond the theological message which they were meant to transmit. However, we need to assess that significance through an appropriate exegetical lense, one that is quite different from what we’re used to when we think about history within our modern framework.

(Albert Leo) #15

Following these latest Forum threads makes me wonder if it is really important to get one’s "hermeneutics perfectly right". My experiences in life leads to to conclude that our Creator is really the Christian God of Love and “escaping hellfire” should not be our greatest concern. What should concern us is the temptation to lead a life of pleasure at the expense of trying to please our loving Creator by fulfilling the purpose he has for each of us.
Al Leo

(George Brooks) #16


Personally, I share your view! But I do think the next generation of Creationists, in their attempt to get out of the way of the “problems of a global flood” will move to the regional flood scenario out of desperation. It will be the end game of a very long game of Biblical Chess!

As @nobodyyouknow has argued, we should help creationists find scriptural reasons to move to a regional flood … and then we’ll know they are very close to running out of debating space…

(system) #17

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