Noah's Ark: Worldwide, regional, or symbolical?

I personally think it was regional, but given that there isn’t much evidence scientifically for a flood in the Middle East, and that Noah’s sons “repopulated” the Middle East (genetically impossible? I think it is, I don’t know for sure).

Here’s the verse on repopulation,

8 Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

So what’s your take on the flood?

I wonder if anyone’s ever tried to track down a “Y-chromosomal Noah.” :slight_smile:

There’s probably many of us who would say: Worldwide? Yes. Global? No. Indeed, it is doubtful that anybody thought in terms of a globe/sphere at that time. “The heavens and the land/ERETZ” was a cosmology of its own at that time. For most if not all at that time, their world extended to the horizon. That’s it. If the story dates from a later era, then they knew that there were additional lands beyond the horizon.

Perhaps there were other non-Adamic hominids outside of the Noahic Flood ERETZ. Perhaps their intermarriage with Adamic people after the flood spread the Imago Dei to all Homo sapiens after sufficient generations and perhaps that also explains why there is no genetic bottleneck left from the flood.

Of course, Genesis doesn’t state the name of the ERETZ (land) that flooded. We don’t know where Noah was when the flood started, nor where he was when he left the ark. (Nobody knows where the “mountains of Ararat”/“hill country of Ararat” was located. The ancients had close to a half dozen tradition-based location. Grad school was a long time ago but I think I recall Egypt, Arabian peninsula, India, and, of course, the Fertile Crescent.)

Obviously, because the Genesis account and the Gilgamesh Epic are texts of the ancient Near East, we do associate the flood with the Middle East. But the story could have traveled with the cultures, from wherever they originated, to their eventual home in the Near East.

I don’t claim any final answers. I just try to separate tradition from what the text does and does not state.

1 Like

Words and phrases have more than one definition. The phrases people see as planetary include:

  • all flesh
  • all under heaven
  • all the high mountains and hills
  • face of the earth
  • whole world

But if you look up all the phrases in a concordance, you’ll see other places they are used where they are NOT planetary, but confined to the area around the person in the story.

For example, here’s Cain complaining about being driven from the face of the earth. Was he driven off the planet? In the same sentence, he states that there are people who who will find and slay him who live outside of the face of the earth:

Genesis 4:14
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

So we see that the face of the earth can mean “the planet” or it can mean “our territory.”

Repeat the study for all the phrases. We are guilty of defining them in a narrow way to which the Bible is not limited.

1 Like

16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:

Here the phrase “all flesh” is fulfilled by meaning all in the area around the pentecost scene, without distinction for prophets, children, etc.

5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

Here come the locusts, covering Egypt only.

Exodus 10:5
5 And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth:

We’ve got to let the Bible define itself by comparing unclear verses with clear ones.

So you think “the whole earth” meant they just repopulated their region? Is that possible, though, if they only had themselves and their wives? If everyone in that region was destroyed by the flood, they’d have no one else to reproduce with.

It depends what you mean by ‘possible.’ It would at the very least involve several generations of cousin-marriage, but marrying first cousins is not necessarily forbidden, depending on culture. That much of it would be pretty bad for the gene pool, but not bad enough to doom the population.

However, if there was a massive modern population which was descended primarily from such a tiny group of ancestors, we would almost certainly be able to tell. Population bottlenecks are one thing which genetic research is actually quite good at picking out of the data. And we don’t see that kind of bottleneck effect. So there must have been significant mixing with humans other than Noah’s descendants between now and then.

Given that that’s about 4,000 years in which to mix it up, it really doesn’t put much of a constraint on how long such a population could have grown on its own before running into neighbors, though.

And come to think of it, saying Noah’s descendants filled the land doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have other ancestors, too.

Genesis 9-11 gives the detailed record of where the family spread. It didn’t say they only married within their family, they likely married with the other people living in those areas in which they traveled.

my only concern is that it says that his three sons “populated the world (region)”, which seems, at least to me, hard to believe.

KJV says “overspread” which means the family spread out and filled the area. Even “populated” does not require that they are the sole family populating the area. If I said my three sons “populated California” it would be correct even if there were other families also populating the same area.

1 Like

Unfortunately, that isn’t how language works all the time because the same word can have multiple senses or a much wider or narrower semantic domain than we presume from a single corresponding English word. Take the NT sarx for example. You aren’t going to get any clarity on a verse about the sinful nature by comparing it to a verse about meat or a verse about bodies. I understand you are using this mainly as an argument strategy, but it’s not a good exegetical strategy. Better to consult several good lexicons and commentaries about the word’s use in the verse in question.


I understand we have different views on interpretation, but forgive me if I’ve given you the impression that I came up with this method myself for argument’s sake. I have only been trying to bring to the attention of BioLogos that they are missing huge swaths of Christianity when they ignore it.

This isn’t a method I’ve dreamed up, nor is it confined to some backwoods southern hicks. It’s been the cornerstone of conservative hermeneutics for as long as there has been such a thing:

Here’s Luther:

“The safest of all methods for discerning the meaning of Scripture is to work for it by drawing together and scrutinizing passages.” “That is the true method of interpretation,” he declared elsewhere, “which puts Scripture alongside of Scripture in a right and proper way.” This comparative technique had been recommended by some of the fathers, including Origen, Jerome and Augustine. Luther acknowledged his indebtedness to the past when he wrote: “The holy fathers explained Scripture by taking the clear, lucid passages and with them shed light on obscure and doubtful passages.” “In this manner,” he declared, “Scripture is its own light. It is a fine thing when Scripture explains itself.”

The reformed folks even have a Latin name for this method, of which I will not use here lest I accidentally please a Calvinist. :wink: Suffice it to say they’re serious when they break out the Latin phrases.

Passages, yes. Individual words? I’m not so sure about that.

@Christy could you give us a simple, concise definition of what makes up a lexicon and what makes it unique as a tool for Bible study? Along with commentaries, you seem to give them a great deal of weight in exegesis.

A lexicon takes a word that occurs in Scripture and compares all the known contexts for the use of that word in Scripture and in other contemporary literature. It may trace the history of the word over time and examine how it was translated into Latin and Greek in the earliest translations. This helps us establish the range of meaning the word could have and certain connotations it had that may or may not be present with the best translations available.

So for example, Jay mentioned the word “helper” (ezer) that is used for Eve in Genesis 2. A good lexicon or commentary would establish that in the twenty-one uses of the word in the OT, two times it is used to describe the first woman, three times it is used to describe people providing aid in life threatening situations, sixteen times it is used to refer to God. A lexicon also points out related forms or derivatives of the word (‘helper’ is related to a verb form ‘help’). For example, Joshua 10:4 and 2 Sam. 8:5 use the verb form for ‘help’ and it refers to providing military reinforcements.

All of these contexts help us understand the connotations and semantic range of the word ‘helper.’ We can determine it probably did not have the connotation of subservience or inferiority that it may have in English. But it would be incorrect to say that because the people helping in Joshua and 2 Samuel were providing military aid, therefore Eve was given to Adam to help him in battle. Or that because God is a helper, Eve must be divine.

I pulled out D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, which I think is typically considered one of the gold standards of Evangelical exegetical advice (if you tell me Don Carson is “liberal” I’ll have to say you’re crazy), and the first section is on the abuse of word studies. He lists no fewer than sixteen ways people go wrong with semantics. Unwarranted limiting or expansion of the semantic range of a word, and unwarranted linking of sense and reference are three of the problems he examines that I see a lot on these boards, especially the last one.


OK, here’s what I don’t understand about the “local Flood” interpretation: Are you really saying that writer of Genesis 6-8 (Let’s call him Moses) thought of the Flood in universal terms, but God supernaturally guided him to use a word that was not universal in extent when describing the world, just so people several centuries later could more easily integrate modern science with a certain interpretation of the Bible?

1 Like

“The rain was so bad one year when I was kid, everyone’s basements flooded and all of their stuff was totally trashed. Everyone had to throw everything away and start over from scratch. Nobody even saw the sun for weeks and then, all of a sudden, it dried up overnight and that was that!”

What would you get out of the above story?

Am I thinking in universal terms, or local terms? Am I exaggerating to the point of lying*? Or am I just describing an event in casual, normal language without being particularly concerned about my listeners’ definition of “everyone?”

How much would a listener be able to conclude about the amount of stuff trashed vs. untrashed by the end of the story?

*Note: I’m totally lying, I made the whole thing up. :wink:

I had a helpful conversation recently with OT scholar John Walton about this topic. He said that if you had asked the average person in the ancient Near East about the Flood, they would have said, “everybody knows the whole world flooded. Duhhh!”

In other words, a “worldwide” flood was part of the cultural memory of that entire region, not just the Israelites. This is most likely based on a memory of a single catastrophic flood event in the Black Sea region.

So the biblical writers were not “exaggerating”, in the normal sense of that word. They were taking what was “common knowledge” back then and mythologizing it in terms of their understanding of the One True God. This is completely normal practice for history-writing in the ancient Near East.

I find it highly acrobatic to say, “if you look at the Hebrew upside down and backwards, it was really just a local flood.”