Does 2 Peter 2:5 give support for a local flood?

(Dark X Studios) #1

I am trying to find out if 2 Peter 2:5 gives support and evidence for a local flood within scripture. It uses the Greek word Kosmos which normally refers to a physical world. Can Kosmos mean a region, land, or even inhabitants?

(Jay Nelsestuen) #2

Last I checked, κόσμος has about 6 or 7 different meanings depending on the context. Once I get back to my computer I’ll link an article or two. But yeah, one meaning is the “world” of people; such seems to be the sense in John 3:16. In John 2:2, it cannot mean the created order, because the created order cannot sin; he died for the sins of people and propitiated God’s wrath. John is the prime example of someone who used κόσμος to mean different things in different places.

(Dark X Studios) #3

alright thanks! thanks for sending the articles (when you do send them)

(Jay Nelsestuen) #4

This resource lists 8 different nuanced meanings:

This resource lists 3 different meanings, which can be considered distillations of the 8 listed in the previous article; similar meanings are subsumed into one category:

Note especially this:

Dr. Merrill Unger made note of the fact that “In more than thirty important passages the Greek word ‘kosmos’…is employed in the New Testament to portray the whole mass of unregenerate men alienated from God, hostile to Christ, and organized governmentally as a system or federation under Satan (John 7:7; 14:27; I Cor. 1:21; 11:32; 1 Pet. 5:9; I John 3:1, 13; et al.).

If this is the case, then that could very well be the sense in which Peter is using the word, to describe the organized system or order of ungodly men that existed prior to the flood, compared with the world of ungodly men that exists now and at the end times, when that world (and the physical universe, denoted by the Greek word γή) will be burned up (which Peter describes in the next chapter).

@Socratic.Fanatic, you were the one who made the distinction between γή and κόσμος, weren’t you? Perhaps you could shed some light on the subject.

My theory about the Flood
(Christy Hemphill) #5

It’s good to read commentaries on a verse by people who know what they are talking about, but to do some quick research on your own, you can look at and click on the interlinear option. Here is your verse. If you click on any word in the top line, you can see the other contexts it occurs in, for example here. From that page, if you click on the Strong’s Greek link in the upper right, you’ll get a variety of English translations of the word.

Another helpful thing to do to get an idea of the range of meanings of a particular word is to look at a verse in many different translations on a site like or Not every possible meaning of a word applies in a given context, so by looking at lots of different translations you are tapping into the consensus and scholarship of many different Greek experts.

(Lynn Munter) #6

Thanks for the links, @AdCaelumEo! I spent a little too long fruitlessly googling for references on this question earlier, happy to read them now!


I wish I could reference my original post on that. (I have dexterity limitations related to health problems. Perhaps someone knows of a quick way to find my post on this topic on another thread.) To me the 2Peter 3 context uses KOSMOS in the same way as John 3:16. Moreover, I’ve always wondered why Young Earth Creationists assume Adam’s descendants would have spread throughout the planet in just a few centuries. Why would people disburse quickly? Indeed, in Genesis that seems to be an ongoing issue: people NOT scattering widely. To me it is obvious that the Adamic Image of God people would tend to be concentrated in one region.

I don’t believe God tries to deceive us by planting evidence or erasing evidence of what happened in the past. So the fact that there is zero evidence of a recent global flood is not something I easily ignore.

(Brad Kramer) #8

Whenever we talk about the “local flood,” I feel like we need to decide what we mean by that term. Do you mean:

  1. That the flood story in the Bible was based on a smaller, regional flood, but is described as “world-wide” because the writers of Scripture did not understand the extent of the earth, and were working with an oral tradition of a Flood event that placed it in primeval history and greatly embellished it. (This is the official BioLogos position, more or less.)

  2. That the writers of the Bible knew consciously that the Flood did not cover the world as they knew it, and if you really look at the Hebrew/Greek upside down and backwards, you can see this, even though most people throughout church history thought these passages are describing a world-wide flood.

  3. That the writers of the Bible thought the Flood was world-wide but God inspired them to use ambiguous language so that people in modern scientific times could maintain their conceptions of biblical authority.

@DarkX_Studios which of the three are you referring to here? I would ask the same question of @AdCaelumEo @Socratic.Fanatic.

(Jon) #9

I wasn’t asked, but there are good indications that the text itself was written to be understood as geographically and anthropologically local, even though it was written in “cosmic” language.

Firstly there’s the very obvious survival of the Nephilim, which the text itself explicitly draws attention to. The text literally tells us that the Nephilim survived the flood. Historically this has been as much a crux for “global flood” interpreters as Cain’s wife has been for literal interpreters of Genesis 1-4. This means that for a very long time, even “global flood” interpreters have recognized that their interpretation has a serious and extremely difficult problem. The exegetical contortions of the rabbis to try and reconcile the text with a global flood are utterly tortuous, and only highlight the fact that the text doesn’t say what they wanted it to say.

Secondly there’s the fact that the cosmic language used of the flood is used elsewhere in passages which are explicitly describing local events; no different to all the talk of the stars falling and the moon turning to blood when various nations are thrown down (Edom, Egypt, Babylon). If we’re serious about reading Genesis 1-11 in its original socio-historical context, we should also be aware of the fact that Israel’s ANE neighbours also used cosmic and apparently universal language to describe areas or events which they knew full well were not local.

When the cuneiform scribes described the Sumerian kingdom as “the entire universe”, despite being fully aware of nations outside Sumeria, they weren’t relying on oral traditions of the Sumerian kingdom which they had simply embellished to cosmic proportions. They were simply using a standard stylistic convention. The writers of the Bible certainly had no concept of the earth as a planet, still less any concept of the real scope of the entire earth, but since the Genesis flood narrative was written in a Mesopotamian context during the exilic or at least early post-exilic era, it was written using at least the knowledge of the Babylonians, and using some of the same stylistic conventions.

Thirdly there’s the fact that some of the earliest Jewish expositors on record (including Philo and Josephus in the first century), interpreted the flood as local, as did a number of the early Christian writers (up to around the fourth century). Although it’s true that they were a minority, this early witness should not be dismissed. After all, the number of early Jewish and Christian expositors who interpreted Genesis 1-3 anything like the way Biologos does, is practically zero.


I’m probably not entirely in sync with any of the three choices. Just as I don’t think Genesis 1 was focused on exact chronology, I don’t think the author of the flood pericope gave much thought to exact geography. Our cultural biases make it very difficult for us to imagine NOT thinking about geography and chronological details—yet Hebrew doesn’t even have verbal tenses like we would expect and think essential. (Of course, we don’t know what language(s) may have preceded the Hebrew text. The oral traditions may have gone through several languages before reaching the author of the first written text. We don’t even know if the Hebrew text of Genesis was the first time the oral tradition was written down.)

As a linguist, I’m not comfortable with “God inspired them to use ambiguous language”. What defines “ambiguous”? The fact that Hebrew uses one word that can be considered to cover the same semantic domain territory as “mountain” and “hill” doesn’t necessarily mean it is “ambiguous”. It just means that Hebrew cultural didn’t necessarily consider the distinction important. We could say the same about the English word “love”. Does the fact that Koine Greek had more verbs for “love” mean that the English language is ambiguous about love?

I have tended to use the term “regional flood” rather than “local flood” simply because most people think of “local” as very limited in scope. (If the entire state of Texas flooded, would that be a local flood? Regional would seem more appropriate.)

I also don’t look at the Noah pericope as necessarily “embellishing” the flood. They simply used the story as it was passed down. I doubt that they gave the geography much thought. Their cultural mindset just didn’t demand a focus on such details. However, I would assume that they had no concept of “globality” because I doubt that they knew anything about planet earth being a sphere or any good grasp of its size.

How Christians have regarded the geography of the flood over these past 20 centuries doesn’t really matter to me. I have no reason to assign any authority to their geographical notions. I do wish ERETZ had always been translated into English as “land” instead of “earth” because it more faithfully preserves the semantics of the Hebrew text. It helps protect us from anachronistic thinking.

I like to focus on what Genesis states rather than doesn’t state. Noah’s world/land was devastated and all other Adamic descendants were destroyed in God’s judgment. We know of various major floods in that era, including rapid devastations of what had been a dry Mediterranean basin (which may also explain the Atlantis legend) and similar floodings which became the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. (All of those floods can make sense within the context of retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age.) There is zero evidence of a recent global flood and that can’t be completely ignored. So I can’t find anything but TRADITION pointing to a recent global flood. Therefore, I have no reason to impose something on the Hebrew text which just isn’t there. When I add to that the 1Peter 3 passage which seems to carefully distinguish between KOSMOS and GE as the extents of those “world-wide” judgments, I’m comfortable staying within the limitations of what the Bible actually states.

If we could go back in time and ask the author of Genesis “What was the geographic extent of the flood?”, I think the reaction would be similar to asking Aesop “What color were the grapes in the Fox & the Grapes story?” If answered at all, perhaps the author(s) would say that “the flood was big enough to kill off all of the Adamic sinners.” Why would it need to be any more extensive than where the sinners lived? The Adamic population couldn’t have been all that large in so few centuries. And people find safety in not scattering too widely.

(Brad Kramer) #11

This is a super interesting point, and I’m glad you’re bringing it up. I honestly had never noticed this detail until just recently, when working on the BioLogos page on the Flood. I really like the treatment of the issues in Reading Genesis After Darwin, in a chapter by Walter Moberly. He basically traces the issue to “chronological transposition,” where a story in one context is transposed into primeval history and mythologized. This, combined with the fairly obvious cut-and-paste job of multiple textual traditions in Genesis 6-8, means that there are some “plot holes” that the final text is comfortable with leaving unsolved.

In other words, I think it’s entirely possible that the Flood story kills everybody and mostly everybody, and these two traditions are overlaid in the final text. This points to a higher tolerance for narrative dissonance (if such a term exists) for the original writers, which I think is a striking insight that greatly helps us understand the tough and seemingly contradictory parts of Scripture.

I’d humbly submit that your hermeneutic is tangling you up here. I think the Bible presents a flood that is universal in extent, whatever the understanding of “universal” at the time (and whatever the caveats brought in by the polyphony of the text). So it seems a little artificial to separate the tradition from the text.

So the incessant use of superlative adjectives in the text (“all”, “everything”, etc.) doesn’t mean anything?

I suppose I’m picky about this point because I think it’s crucially important for us to deal head-on with the fact that the Bible is not an accurate guide to primeval history. Only then can we do the harder work of relating biblical myth (in the positive sense of the word) to reality as we know it.

Does 'All' usually mean 'All'?
(Jon) #12

The reference to the Nephilim is just three verses before the passage in which God says He will destroy all humans. Positing a local flood narrative and a global flood narrative which have become combined, isn’t a particularly efficient explanation for the survival of the Nephilim. It’s not exactly Occham compliant, if I may coin a phrase. Additionally it doesn’t really solve the initial issue raised, because you’re still acknowledging the preservation of a local flood narrative, and in that case where’s the problem with interpreting the Genesis flood as local? It would still be what the text actually says.

(George Brooks) #13


You say that Meaning (1) is the official BioLogos position? But doesn’t Meaning (1) essentially recognize error in the Old Testament?

Isn’t (2) and (3) the only choices if someone wants to interpret the Flood story as an inerrant text?

Unintentionally describing a local flood as a global one seems to be the one position which, if I stated was the “BioLogos Position”, would get me into a heap of trouble with you!

(George Brooks) #14

@Jonathan, don’t we have to somehow acknowledge two versions of the story based on remaining oddities?

I would count them as:

  1. a one year voyage would be pretty odd for a local flood;

  2. the return of released birds during that whole time would also be pretty odd for a regional flood.

  3. and Genesis 10 does a terrible job of tracing the descent of all humanity from Noah, unless you intend to present the gaps of coverage to mean the Nephilium are the Common Ancestors of all the people missing from the Table of Nations.

(Christy Hemphill) #15

When I was in a Bible translation class, we had to do some practice work on an origins text from a people group in Papua New Guinea. In the narrative, a woman married a water spirit and went with him to his home at the bottom of the river. She got very homesick there and devised a plan that resulted in the whole underwater water spirit village being burnt down so she could escape. The professor who had elicited this narrative asked the storytellers how it was possible that an underwater village could burn down. They looked at him like he was an idiot and said something like, “So you didn’t understand the story. We’ll tell it to you again.” And they repeated it with the exact same “impossible” details. These were not dumb people. They understood how fire behaved in the presence of water. The “error” in the story was not a concern to them, nor did it affect how their cultural audience understood the message of the story, or whether they evaluated it as true or not.

I remind myself of this story when people are all hung up on some detail that doesn’t seem to add up to us in the OT texts. People had different hang-ups than we do. So I really don’t think there is necessarily all this conflict in what Brad is describing of a universal flood that killed the whole world and didn’t kill everyone. I think if we pointed this glaring problem out to the original story-tellers, they might look at us like we were idiots and say, “Are you kidding me? You weren’t paying attention to the story, let me tell you again so you actually understand the point.”

(Jay Nelsestuen) #16

That is an interesting example! Do you perhaps have a source or two where I could read this tale?

(Lynn Munter) #17

I must admit, I’m currently picturing @GJDS telling us not to focus on the materialistic details in exactly this tone!

I think maybe for a culture that relies on oral history to pass things down and get them right generation after generation, you have to develop a certain ability to take the story as it is, not as you think it would make sense.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

I PMed you the story.

(Jon) #19

But the evidence we have from the earliest Jewish expositors is that these details really did matter. So the expositors either read the flood as local (Philo and Josephus, and some of the Talmudic commentary), or they read it as global (some of the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and Talmudic commentary), and invented clumsy ways to try and reconcile the survival of the Nephilm by arguing they were so tall that the flood waters didn’t drown them, or that they survived by clinging to the outside of the Ark, or through some other awkward work around.

(Christy Hemphill) #20

But weren’t these people far removed from the original narratives and their audience in time and culture? Abraham didn’t even speak Hebrew.