Genesis and the Flood: Finding Harmony between Word and World


(system) #1
When it comes to the Flood story, we need to look beyond the narrow categories of “literal history” and “myth”.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/genesis-and-the-flood-finding-harmony-between-word-and-world

Evolution and the Bible, Incompatible?
(Roger A. Sawtelle) #2

This statement is true. Fortunately we do have a name for this genera which is “salvation history.” Salvation History fits well with Natural History, esp. with the Big Bang and evolution, but less well with philosophy and myth.


(Lynn Munter) #3

I just read the case for how the English translation is biased in favor of the worldwide interpretation, and I was quite shocked to discover how threadbare the Biblical case for a worldwide catastrophe is, considering all the nonsense that’s been trumpeted about it. It’s not only the decision to translate the hebrew word into ‘earth’ instead of ‘land,’ which is the more common and more justified meaning, but also using the word ‘mountain’ instead of ‘hill,’ ‘heavens’ instead of ‘sky,’ as in “all life under the sky” and most subtly but crucially, ‘higher’ instead of ‘upwards’ in this sentence: “Then the waters prevailed fifteen cubits upwards, and the hills were covered.”

So the Hebrew is saying that the flood was 20-30 feet above normal water levels: more than devastating enough to local farmers, to be sure! And it covered ‘all the land,’ which was (and is) a very common phrase that usually means everywhere within the protagonist’s awareness, but usually does not indicate the entire planet. It’s used in lots of other places in the bible where it clearly doesn’t mean literally the whole world!

I have to admit, knowing that the flood story was never meant to indicate a global catastrophe makes me respect it more, and Ken Ham and his ilk even less. This article explains the whole thing very well: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/localflood.html


(Wookin Panub) #4

Harmonize this for me (Genesis 9:11) "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Have we had floods since then, have people died and damage occurred. So what I God saying here? :slight_smile:


(Wookin Panub) #5

You mean, that we need to judge the word of God, because God couldn’t make it clear what He actually meant, right :slight_smile:


(Lynn Munter) #6

The explanation I’ve seen is that God is promising no flood in the future will destroy “all life,” i.e. there will always be survivors because future floods will be mere natural phenomena rather than weapons of God’s wrath.

I would add that again, the last word in your quote is that same ‘earth’ which we know might as well be ‘land.’ If this story did take place in Mesopotamia, well - chances are good it’s currently a desert.

“You mean, that we need to judge the word of God, because God couldn’t make it clear what He actually meant, right”

Judging by the number of people in the past few millennia who have sincerely and emphatically disagreed with each other about what God “actually meant,” apparently, yes.


(Wookin Panub) #7

What?!! There is nothing in the bible that indicates what you just rationalized. Are we assuming what is and what isn’t God’s wrath. How do we know that every flood that occurred since Noah’s time was not the wrath of God? We can’t interpret scripture like that. ‘solas scriptura’ Scripture alone interprets scripture. We do not add to the text or assume what God does. Either the flood was local or global, and that verse is attached to Noah’s flood. If the flood was local, then God lies every time a flood occurs. “…and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” :slight_smile:


(Lynn Munter) #8

The text says never again will the waters destroy ALL life, and never again will there be a flood TO DESTROY (ie whose purpose is destructive) the land. These are very specific promises; one guarantees survivors of all future floods, while the second — well, either He promises that future floods are not sent by Him for destructive purposes, or He’s simply guaranteeing the safety (from flooding) of that particular land.

If you choose to read more into it than God actually said, that, of course, is between you and God.

P.S. Note that if the Hebrew writer had wanted to use a word to indicate the whole world (or the whole inhabited world) there was such a word, tebel, but it is never used in the flood story, only erets (land) and adamah (ground).


(Wookin Panub) #9

You never answered my question. You merely reworded and gave it more depth than what you originally said. You said, and I quote: “because future floods will be mere natural phenomena rather than weapons of God’s wrath.” for which I asked, “Are we assuming what is and what isn’t God’s wrath. How do we know that any flood that occurred since Noah’s time was not the wrath of God?” :slight_smile:


(Lynn Munter) #10

The answer would be because God promised. You might just as well ask, how do know that there is not a world-destroying cataclysmic flood in our future?

You could also ask, well, have any of those floods left no survivors, no life behind them? And that would be an answer too.

And finally, if I wasn’t clear before: I prefer the second explanation, which is sufficient in my opinion.


(Wookin Panub) #11

I don’t think you are understand me. Let’s try it this way. I have noticed you placed a qualifier “all” i.e. “all flesh”. Explain this verse to me as well please :slight_smile: (Genesis 7:19-23) 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits 4 deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land bin whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.


(Lynn Munter) #12

Gladly! This goes back to my original comment, where I talked about how a word in Hebrew can be translated into different English words depending on context. See how the meaning becomes less certain if your passage is translated so: “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the land that all the high hills under the whole sky were covered. 20 The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, covering the hills. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the land, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the land, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the sky. They were blotted out from the land. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.”


(Wookin Panub) #13

No, it does not appear less certain. Looks straightforward to me. What becomes less certain? and how does it? :slight_smile:


(Lynn Munter) #14

Okay, let’s try it again. The third way erets is translated, although not as common as ‘land’ or ‘earth,’ is ‘country’ ie a particular area. Since this is a less than ideal word, it may sound rough, but it should make the idea clear: “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the country that all the high hills under the whole sky were covered. 20 The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, covering the hills. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the country, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the country, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry country in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the sky. They were blotted out from the country. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.”

So it can clearly be read as all the living things in that area were killed by the flood. The link in my first comment contains many, many Biblical examples of ‘erets’ meaning a particular area; I suggest you read it if you haven’t already, as it goes through it all at much greater length than I can!


(Lynn Munter) #15

I would also add: would Noah have known what the highest mountains on Earth were, their location, or whether they were under water or not, since the ark was not designed to sail all over the world, even in a year’s time? Even if he drifted from Mesopotamia to the Himalayas, and took a sounding (measurement) right over the peak of Everest, how could he know that there were no higher mountains elsewhere on the planet? The only way that your interpretation of the statement could be made would be if God directly told Noah that the waters were 15 cubits over the highest mountains (and there’s another snag: were multiple mountains really close enough in height that 15 cubits is a meaningful number in this context? Why pluralize mountains?) but the text clearly indicates when God is talking to Noah and what he says, so I don’t think that the above explanation is very satisfying.

Far more likely is that the flood covered all the hills within sight of Noah and that the water was fifteen cubits deep.


(Wookin Panub) #16

“In that area” So you are saying, that all the mountains on the planet were only in that area? How do you know this? or was the bible not speaking of all the mountains, when it says, “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” or does “whole heaven” not mean whole heaven :slight_smile:


(Mazrocon) #17

@Wookin_Panub
@Lynn_Munter

I believe Lynn’s argument is that the Hebrew word “Eretz” is in the vast majority of places in the Bible, understood to be a ‘region’, ‘territory’ or ‘country’, rather than understood as a ‘planet’…

For instance in Genesis 1:10 we read, “And God called the dry land earth (eretz)” not “earth the planet revolving in space” but “earth the dry ground” …

Here’s a quote from an article by Carol Hill titled “The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?” …

“An excellent example of how a universal
“Bible-speak” is used in Genesis to describe
a non-universal, regional event is Gen. 41:46:
“And the famine was over all the face of the
earth.” This is the exact same language as
used in Gen. 6:7, 7:3, 7:4, 8:9 and elsewhere
when describing the Genesis Flood. “All
(kowl) the face of the earth” has the same
meaning as the “face of the whole (also kowl)
earth.” So was Moses claiming that the
whole planet Earth (North America, Australia,
etc.) was experiencing famine? No, the
universality of this verse applied only to the
lands of the Near East (Egypt, Palestine,
Mesopotamia), and perhaps even the Mediterranean
area; i.e., the whole known world
at that time.”

I’m not sure where you get the idea that he’s saying “all the high mountains are in that one area” … his argument is only referring to a region so “all the high mountains” refers to what Noah can see. If I was in a forest outside and I said, “Look! All the trees are burning up!” … would someone automatically assume that I’m referring to ALL the trees on the WHOLE planet are burning? No. It would just be from my perspective.

Likewise, “whole heaven” … Hebrew, “kol shamayim”, could just be referring to what Noah can see, with his bodily eyes, from horizon to horizon. The human eye can only see so many miles before reaching the curvature of the earth.

The question then is, “Is Noah perceiving the earth as a globe??”


(Wookin Panub) #18

Seriuosly…I mean if that is the case, why didn’t he and the animals just migrate? Why build an ark? They had 100 years. And yet I would never make an argument like that. That is just speculative at best, leaning on my own understanding. I trust what the bible plainly states. I will not add to it. Thank you for the civil dialogue, my friend :slight_smile:


(Lynn Munter) #19

Thank you, Mazrocon, you’re very good at clarifying!

(Although I am a ‘she.’) :wink:


(Lynn Munter) #20

“Why build an ark? They had 100 years.” Again, this is addressed in the article. God often tells people to do things whose sense is not immediately apparent.

It also looks to me as though the precise warning was only seven days; if the water stretched from horizon to horizon (a river floodplain, perhaps) that probably wouldn’t be enough time to get that many people and their livestock (their ‘wealth’ if you will) through crowds of fleeing refugees to someplace safe from the waters and not already occupied with other people. Even if Noah could have made it out, he wouldn’t have been able to maintain his position as someone with land and livestock and dependents.

But I am concerned for you that you say you should not lean on your own understanding. While it is good to consult people who are older, wiser, and who have studied a subject more than you have, in the end our own understanding is all we have to make decisions with. Our free will is the most precious gift we have; I would hate to see anyone’s wasted on a false path. If nothing else, I hope to point out that the Bible often ‘plainly states’ less than we think it does.

Nevertheless I, too, have enjoyed our conversation, thanks for keeping it good! :slight_smile: