Why is the story of the Flood so detailed?

Hi there!

This is my first post here and I need some help.

In a really positive and open discussion with a YECist and he stumped me. In a conversation about the flood, I was saying something to the effect of “Couldn’t it just a metaphorical?” And he said, “Then why is it so detailed?” I told him I would need to study and get back to him, but I can’t find a good answer.

Looking at Gen 6-8, it IS really detailed. From the directions for building the ark, to the descriptions of dates and elapsed time…

Is it that the numbers themselves are clues? 7 and 40 and 600 are all important numbers in Hebrew right? Or is there something about the other ancient flood accounts that would make these details make sense in contrast?

Looking forward to being a part of this forum now that I’ve found it. Thanks in advance!


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Hi, Dave, and welcome to the forum! That’s a good question, and worth considering if you hold the position that the flood was not an actual historical event. Personally I don’t have a problem seeing the flood as both a metaphor and a real historical event, just not a global event. But you’re right that some of the numbers in the story are seen in other stories (7 days in creation, 40 days in Jesus’s temptation), and I know there is a lot more to Hebrew numerology that I don’t understand, and possibly meanings that have been lost to history.

So I can see how giving dimensions of large boat is an odd detail to share in a story if it was meant to be purely metaphorical, but again, I lack knowledge of the writing practices of the day.


Thanks Laura!

But what about the detail of the water going fifteen cubits above the tops of the mountains? The author doesn’t seem to be describing a local flood there. There’s a blog post on here that attributes that detail to hyperbole, which is fine for me, but probably not for someone raised YEC.

That verse is sometimes rendered:

The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.

So it’s not necessarily saying that it’s that much higher than the actual height of the mountains. Blue Letter Bible tells me that’s about 23 feet.

I’m not putting this forward as a good answer, Dave, but your question did make me briefly chuckle over the thought of a scenario (maybe a few thousand years from now) - let’s pretend there are still people around musing over such things. Maybe we have “young earthers” (now not quite so young, earth would be about 9000 years old by then), old earthers, and a new group … “Middle earthers!” The last group has taken up with some ancient holy writ they found in various land-fill strata and discovered a sacred writing called “Lord of the Rings”. Some say it’s fiction and symbolic - others say it’s real. And exhibit “A” for its historicity is … “Just look at the detail!” Languages exposition and everything! No way this wasn’t real.

Okay - that isn’t a good answer to your question. But maybe some Hebrew scholar around here can weigh in on ancient narratives and story-telling practices. My own speculation is that “literal” or not, our stories do tend to accrue more details over time because, well, it’s a better story to listen to that way!


Has anyone read “The Lost World of the Flood” by John Walton? Wonder what his impression is.

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  1. Do any of these details demonstrate that this is actually a planet wide flood? Do these details include all the species of animals on the earth or only those which would be found in a small area? Do any of these details provide ANY support to the arguments of creationists?

  2. People write fictional novels with much much greater detail than is supplied in the flood story.


Apparently, Mount Ararat is 16000 Feet in height.




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That’s a great point, Mervin! I might just use the Lord of the Rings part some day.

You’ve heard my question better than I phrased it in your second paragraph. I would love to know more Hebrew scholarship/ancient narrative stuff. If I could show him “This is just what the genre was like” then maybe it wouldn’t hurt him as much as “stories like this get embellished over time”. That wouldn’t respect where he is at.

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you usually are ahead of me, so I’m sure you’ll teach me out of this. My understanding was, according to what Denis Lamoureux says, that a height of 16000 feet implied most of the Earth was covered. Maybe I’m missing something. Thanks

That’s a hard call, that - because no matter how winsomely and diplomatically you gift-wrap it, the fact would probably remain that you’re toying with the idea that planet earth as we now know it to be, was not all covered with water any time in recent enough history. And if somebody insists that biblical inerrancy (of their own sort and on their terms) is an all-or-nothing commitment, then they will probably feel you are a tainted compromiser, at least with regard to your doctrines if not your salvation.

But you know your friend better than I do, and so you have a better shot at knowing what may be wise to pursue, what may be wise to drop, and how much he (and you) value your relationship.

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It seems like you are confusing “metaphor” with “fiction”.

The question is whether or not the Flood narrative should be taken as a factual historical account, or as a story that is mostly intended to teach a theological truth.

It is also not true that narratives always fit into nice fiction/non-fiction binaries, where in the former category everything is objective fact and in the latter category everything is pure imagination. Authors embellish narratives and re-frame actual people and events to fit their story-telling purposes all the time. It’s like asking if the movie Apollo 13 is true or false, fiction or non-fiction.

We need to think about what the story intended to communicate. When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, no one was confused and thought he was teaching them “literal history,” even though there are plenty of details. Most Christians reading the account of the anointing of David by Samuel on the other hand, assume it is an account of what really happened to a historical figure. So we need to figure out whether the point of the account of Noah was to record facts about history, or something else.

The fact that very parallel accounts of a great Flood exist in the ancient near East cultural milieu, the fact that science clearly indicates we did not all descend from 8 people a few thousand years ago and there is no geological evidence of a worldwide flood, and the fact that the themes of the story (impending judgment, people who won’t repent, God providing a means of salvation, God (re-)creating a world out of watery chaos) are important theological themes might be clues that the main point was to teach theological lessons, even if some of the people really lived and even if there was a real flood that inspired the story.


That’s an awesome response, Christy. Thank you for taking the time to write it. The theme of Genesis 1-11 repeating over and over is a really important point.

Ah yes in Genesis 8:4 it mentions a range of mountains it calls Ararat. I don’t think we have any good reason to identify this with the mountain you talk about let alone use the full height of any peak to measure the height of the waters in the flood. Anyway the debate about the location referred to seem to be endless.

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Because it was a local event that happened long ago as the Gibraltar Breach Flood and early humans lived in that region and Noah was ordered to build an ark to preserve himself, his family and the few animals that he could get on the ark. The large scale destruction that took place from that event matches with the events of Noah’s Flood. There is no need to doubt the historical Noah or Flood but understand that it was local but large and destructive.

I have. My overly simplistic summary of his take is that it is an intentionally hyperbolic account to emphasize theological truths. And I believe he suggests that the original audience would have recognized it as hyperbolic. Definitely worth a read.

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I think I was the first person to suggest that the flood was in the Mediterranean about 5.5 million years ago. I put all the evidence out there on my blog with a series of posts leading up to http://themigrantmind.blogspot.com/2019/06/eden-and-flood-historical-reading-of.html

The posts earlier than this discuss all the data which requires Adam and Eve to be that long ago if we are to have a single pair as the Bible describes. I know most on the list don’t really care for a historical Bible, and that is a real shame, because people with the view that the Bible can be factually false but still believed, don’t treat any other area of their intellectual life similarly. We don’t say of some theory, that it is not meant to be factually correct! We don’t say of the activities of Julius Caesar in Gall that his account is not meant to be historically accurate. Nor do we say Quantum theory is false but still to be believed (a real internal contradiction has been found in Quantum theory coming out of the work of Frauchiger and Renner). )Why? Because every scientific and historical theory is meant to be correct. If a theory or historical narrative is found to not match the facts, we simply say it is false. But here, on Biologos, the Bible can be proclaimed historically false but still to be believed. This means no matter what nonsense the Bible might teach, it can never be false. And that means, the Bible can’t be true.

Because of that, I wanted a historically correct interpretation of Genesis 1 through Genesis 9. My view of Genesis 1 can be found at: http://themigrantmind.blogspot.com/2019/06/days-of-proclamation-historical-reading.html

One person here thinks this is all science fiction, but this view does what historical narratives are supposed to do—MATCH THE KNOWN DATA OF HISTORY, THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE, AND SCIENCE.

And the big assumption in from of all those caps is Genesis 1-11 is supposed to be taken as historical narrative. Remove that assumption and you remove the need to shoe horn science into the Bible.

Does everyone here know the difference between fact and fiction? Just because people state a few facts such as…

Some say it’s fiction and symbolic - others say it’s real.

People write fictional novels with much much greater detail than is supplied in the flood story.

It doesn’t follow that they think that the flood story was fictional. It could only mean that they know that the details of the story doesn’t prove anything.

The fact is, that I think it is very clear that Genesis has an historical intent. So I think the flood did really happen and I don’t think there are good reasons to think that it was planet-wide or millions of years ago.

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