Gerhard F. Hasel
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology
Origins 2(2):77-95 (1975).
Was the flood a local or a world-wide event? What does an analytical study of the Genesis account of the flood reveal?
PLEASE NOTE: Unfortunately, we are unable to reproduce all of the special accent marks that were present in our printed version of the Hebrew transliteration. Our apologies for any inconvenience this might cause.
The Biblical flood narrative represents the story of the greatest incision in world history. The events described in Genesis 6:5-9:17 are reported in the same matter-of-fact language as the remainder of the book of Genesis (1) and thus claim to be understood in its plain and literal sense. The Genesis flood story is neither legend (2) nor myth (3) and neither parable, allegory nor symbol (4). It is written in the straightforward genre of historical narrative in prose style (5). For the purpose of the following discussion the entire flood narrative of Genesis 6:5-9:17 is considered as a literary unity (6) of a single account of the flood (7).
I. THE ISSUE
There are two conflicting schools of interpretation regarding the
extent of the Genesis flood. Traditionally the Biblical flood narrative has been
understood to refer to a universal catastrophe of world-wide dimensions (8). The rise of
uniformitarian evolutionism has been a primary catalyst in challenging the traditional
position. On the basis of considerations from the natural sciences, commentators and
interpreters began to seek for a limited flood theory or a relative view of the Genesis
flood. H. E. Ryle in his commentary on Genesis written in 1914 states forthrightly,
"Geology has shown that no such universal Deluge has ever occurred" (9).
Significant in this assessment is the acknowledgment that on the one hand the Biblical
picture portrays a "universal Deluge" which is not denied and on the other hand
"geological science has demonstrated that a Flood has never simultaneously covered
the whole surface of the globe . . ." (10). Ryle resolves this
conflict by suggesting that the Genesis flood should be understood as a
"symbol," (11) i.e. as a non-historical event which teaches a great theological
truth without being rooted in an actual universal event.
From our own time comes the approach of the liberal Catholic scholar C. Schedl who has just published a multivolume History of the Old Testament (1973). His discussion of the extent of the flood is primarily concerned with "the geographical extent of the flood" which in the view of the writer of Genesis must be understood in terms of "the geographical universality of the flood" (12). Schedl quickly points out that "particularly with the paleontological investigation of the earth's crust, a growing tide of reflection has been mounting against the geographical universality of the flood" (13). On the basis of the evidences from the natural sciences, Schedl argues that the Biblical narrator formulated "the flood narrative, just as the creation narrative, [from] the Ancient Near Eastern picture of the world . . ." (14). What he means to say is that since the "picture of the world" was limited in its geographical scope, the geographical universality of the flood is limited to that same picture of the world. Since Schedl argues for the limited geographical picture of the world for the flood on the basis of that of creation, a logical conclusion would be that there was also a geographically limited creation described in the creation account (15). This is, however, what neither Schedl nor other critical scholars think is conceivable. The approach outlined in this paragraph considers the Genesis flood story limited in geographical scope on the basis of the historically conditioned limitation of the world view of ancient Near Eastern man. Biblical writers are considered to reflect the limitations of their pagan predecessors and contemporaries.
The majority of scholars of the liberal critical school maintain however that Genesis indeed described a flood of world-wide dimensions, one that is to be understood in terms of global geographical extent (16). This should, of course, not be understood to imply that they actually accept as historical fact the Genesis description. Although liberal critical scholars in general recognize that the Genesis picture is that of a universal flood of global scope, they are also united in their view that this picture can no longer be understood in a literal sense. The non-literal (mythic, legendary, parabolical, symbolic, theological) understanding is based almost exclusively upon geological and anthropological consideration of modern times. The recent article in the well-known Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states, "The belief in a deluge covering the whole earth and destroying all men and animals except those preserved in an ark has largely been given up" (17). Scholars of the liberal critical school readily point out that the narrator of the universal flood picture indeed believed what he wrote.
The problem accordingly is not one primarily of the Biblical text but one of critical and liberal scholarship. Langdon B. Gilkey, himself belonging to the liberal school of scholars, writes incisively of modern scholarship that it is "half liberal and modern on the one hand, and half Biblical and orthodox on the other, i.e. its world view or cosmology is modern while its theological language is Biblical and orthodox" (18). He states "What has happened is clear: because of our modern cosmology, we have stripped what we regard as 'the Biblical point of view' of all its wonders and voices . . . we have rejected as invalid all the innumerable cases of God's acting and speaking" (19). This is a most revealing self-analysis. He also uncovers why the liberal critical school arrives at its understanding of the Biblical text. "First there is the job of stating what the Biblical writers meant to say, a statement couched in the Bible's own terms, cosmological, historical, and theological" (20). Often critical scholars seek to understand Bible writers on their own terms; if the Biblical picture is in conflict with the modern understanding of the world and man, then the Biblical view is reinterpreted in such a way so as to remove its conflict with that of the modern conception.
There is a great number of scholars who do not follow the hermeneutical categories of critical Biblical scholarship. A common feature of those who are conservative or evangelical in their theological outlook is their high esteem of Biblical authority and inspiration. This does not allow them to treat lightly the point of view of the Biblical writer because he reveals divine truth and not just ancient religious points of view. Biblical statements are authoritative and binding for faith. On the basis of this common starting-point two avenues are open when there is a conflict between a modern understanding of natural phenomena and a Biblical truth. Let us consider the two avenues of conservative/evangelical scholars.
One school of thought more or less accepts the uniformitarian interpretation of geological and other natural phenomena (21) and the modern evolutionary concept of anthropology (22) seeking a harmonization by interpreting the flood narrative in Genesis in non-universal terms (23). In other words this school of thought more or less shares with liberal critical scholarship the modern, evolutionary interpretation of natural phenomena. This pre-understanding leads them to read the Biblical writer in such a way that any conflict with their preconceived ideas is avoided. From the hermeneutical perspective it is evident that the modern pre-understanding serves as a key for the interpretation of Biblical data. This approach operates obviously with an external key which is designed to unlock Scripture. The question of what the Biblical writer actually meant to say recedes into the background if it is not indeed completely disregarded in order to establish harmony between the modern pre-understanding and the Biblical data. This approach implies that contextual and internal considerations are submerged or even sacrificed (24). In the final analysis this approach does not allow that the inspired revelation of Scripture has any formative function in the interpretation of the book of nature.
The other school of thought among conservative/evangelical scholars maintains that an external principle and approach to Biblical interpretation built on modern pre-understanding robs the Biblical data of being interpreted objectively. It seeks to be as sensitive as possible to both the issues for faith in the area of nature and its interpretation and the area of Biblical revelation and its own interpretation. It attempts to control external influences on Biblical interpretation and seeks to operate in terms of the Biblical context. The modern pre-understanding is thus opened to questions concerning its premises and a prioris. A new interpretation of natural data is sought on the basis of Biblical creationism and catastrophism which is in conflict with scientific uniformitarianism (25).
In one aspect this approach is akin to that of the critical school's attempt to grasp what the Bible writer meant to say. This is done by paying most careful attention to the terms, phrases, idioms, expressions, etc., which the writers employed and to understand these within their own linguistic and contextual connections. This means to refuse to let external notions influence what a Bible writer actually meant to say. He is allowed to speak for himself which means that although he is a man of his own time, culture, and language, he nevertheless was able to express correctly and authoritatively the divinely revealed truth committed to him. No Bible writer must be interpreted by means of an ancient or modern world view. He must be allowed to speak for himself. The unique nature of the inspired Biblical testimony makes it imperative that only other inspired writings can have a determinative bearing on Biblical truth.
The discussion of these basic issues has set the stage for our inquiry with regard to the Biblical evidence for the question of the extent of the flood in the witness of the Bible. This investigation is carried out in order to determine on the basis of the witness of the Bible whether or not the flood is depicted as a world-wide catastrophe or whether it is of limited geographical extent.
II. THE BIBLICAL WITNESS
A. The Matter of Terminology
1. The Term "Earth." In the announcement
of the flood it is stated "God saw the earth" (Genesis 6:12) and the "earth
was corrupt in God's sight" (6:11), the "earth was filled with violence"
(6:11, 13). God decreed to "destroy them [all flesh] with the earth" (6:13) by
bringing a flood of waters "upon the earth" (6:17). The aim of the flood is that
"everything that is on earth shall die" (6:17). The term "earth"
occurs by itself or in the phrases "upon the face of all the earth" (7:3; 8:9) a
total of 46 times (26) in Genesis 6:5-9:17. The Hebrew term employed in all of these
instances is Éeres.The
Septuagint translates this term consistently with the Greek equivalent ge, "earth" (27). The English
authorized versions (English Revised Version, American Revised Version, Revised Standard
Version, New Jewish Version, Jerusalem Bible, New English Bible, New American Bible)
translated the Hebrew term consistently with "earth" with the exception of the
New English Bible which renders Éeres
in two instances with "world" (6:11, 12). It is recognized that the term
"earth" gives the flood narrative a universal outlook.
Supporters of the local flood theory have pointed out that the Hebrew term Éeres can mean "land" so that we should read "land" and "all the land" respectively instead of "earth" (28). It is entirely correct to recognize that the term Éeres does not always or even in the majority of its 2504 usages (29) in the Old Testament mean "earth" in a global or world-wide sense. Space does not permit a detailed investigation of the ranges of meaning of Éeres, the noun which ranks as number four in frequency of usage in the Old Testament.
The formula "heaven and earth" which is employed 41 times in the Old Testament (30) and the sequence "earth and heaven" (6 times ) is the standard Hebrew expression for the totality of the world made up of the globe ("earth") and the surrounding atmospheric heavens ("heaven"). It is the Hebrew surrogate for the term "world" (Greek kosmos) for which the Hebrew had no single expression.
It is by no means clear why the translation "land" with its geographical and political limitations should be the meaning in the flood narrative. Why could it not be the physical usage of Éeres in the sense of "ground" upon which man stands (Genesis 24:52; Exodus 8:12, 13; Amos 3:5; 9:9; Ezekiel 28:17; Psalm 147:6; etc.) or the "dry land" in contrast to the water (Genesis 1:10)? Is it because the former is too narrow for a local flood theory and the latter too broad? Is the choice made on the basis of what fits best a given preconceived hypothesis? We agree whole-heartedly with F. A. Filby, who strongly supports a local flood theory, in his emphasis "that the meaning [of Éeres] must be determined by the context" (32). Indeed we firmly support the notion that in understanding correctly the terminology of the Genesis flood narrative one must pay most careful attention to the context and situation of the narrative within the framework of Genesis and the whole Bible. Of equal importance are grammatical and syntactical relationships. If the context is considered in determining the meaning of the terminology in the Genesis flood narrative, then it does not matter whether Éeres "has more often a limited meaning than a universal one" (33). The quantitative argument has no force because each usage is determined by its own context. Let us proceed on the basis of contextual considerations which permits the text to speak for itself and guards against uncontrolled and arbitrary interpretations.
Proof-texts cited in support of the local flood theory such as "the land of Shinar" (Genesis 10:10) (34), "the whole land of Havilah" (Genesis 2:11), "the whole land of Cush" (Genesis 2:13), "the land of Nod" (Genesis 4:16), "the land of Canaan" (Genesis 11:31), Egypt (Genesis 13:10), Philistia (Genesis 21:34), Moriah (Genesis 22:2) (35), have in each case the term Éeres employed in a limited geographical or political sense. That these texts have no bearing whatever on the meaning of the term Éeres in the Genesis flood narrative is evident from the following consideration: In each of these examples (and they could be multiplied many times over) the term Éeres is followed by a genitive which contextually limits Éeres to a geographical area or political territory. None of the 46 usages of Éeres in the Genesis flood narrative is ever followed by a genitive and thus is not parallel or analogous to the usage of Éeres in the texts cited by supporters of the local flood theory. In other words, the context of each of the above examples cited in support of the local flood theory indicates without doubt that Éeres has a limited meaning. This kind of contextual indication must always be present for a limited geographical meaning of Éeres (36). Since it is absent from the usages in the flood story the universal meaning of Éeres remains firmly supported.
2. The Phrase "the Face of all the Earth." In two instances the flood story adds the adjective "all" (kol) to the noun "earth" (Éeres). Noah is commanded to take seven pairs of all clean animals and birds and a pair of unclean animals into the ark "to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth" (Genesis 7:3; cf. 8:9). The idea of "all the earth" (kol-haÉares) is undoubtedly universalistic. It is argued that "all the earth" need not be understood in a strictly literal sense because there are passages in which "a universal meaning . . . is modified by the context" (37). Among the texts cited in favor of a limited interpretation of "all the earth" are Exodus 10:5, 15; Numbers 22:5, 11; 1 Kings 4:34; 10:24; 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Genesis 41:57: "Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth" (Revised Standard Version). Do these texts, which employ according to their context the phrase "all the earth" (kol-haÉares) in the sense of "the whole land," imply that this limited idea must be the meaning of this phrase in the flood story or other parts of Scripture? If "all the earth" should always mean "the whole land," then the Lord's claim that "all the earth is mine" (Exodus 19:5) would mean not more than merely a local deity's claim of possession of only "the whole land" as pagan gods claimed. Obviously the context of Exodus 19:5 demands the universal meaning of "all the earth" which is God's. When the Lord says "there is none like me in all the earth" (Exodus 9:16), He means the entire globe and not a local country (38). Again we must affirm that the context must be allowed to determine the meaning of "all the earth" each time it appears. It is unsound hermeneutically to read indiscriminately from one context to another. Furthermore, the actual phrase in Genesis 7:3 and 8:9 is "the face of all the earth." This is the phrase that needs further attention.
What is the contextual meaning of "all the earth" in the flood story? At the opening of the Genesis flood narrative the impending destruction is linked explicitly to the sinfulness of man whom the Lord had "made" (Genesis 6:5) and "created" (v. 6). "The connection between Creation and the Flood is a very real one . . ." (39). God made man sinless but now he is so sinful that he must be destroyed. Man was created to have dominion over all creatures and "over all the earth" (kol-haÉares, Genesis 1:26) which is the entire globe and, not just the "dry land" (Genesis 1:10), because his dominion includes the creatures on land and "the fish of the sea" (Genesis 1:26). Man and beast have become so corrupt that the appointed survivor Noah is instructed to take a limited number of land creatures and birds on board the ark "to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth" (Genesis 7:3). This explicit contextual link between creation and flood is a clear indication that "all the earth" in Genesis 7:3 and 8:9 has more than a local and limited meaning (40).
Inasmuch as the phrase in Genesis 7:3 and 8:9 is "the face of all the earth" it appears that there is a further qualification through the addition of the expression "the face of" (penê). It is striking that the identical Hebrew phrase rendered in English as "the face of all the earth" is used for the first time in the creation narrative. In Genesis 1:29 God informs man, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth . . . ." Here "the face of all the earth," with "the face of" clearly being a metaphorical expression (41), refers to the "surface" (42) of the "dry land" (Genesis 7:22). After the two instances in the flood narrative, the same phrase appears for the last time in Genesis in the story of the Tower of Babel (43) where man is dispersed by God "upon the face of all the earth" (Genesis 11:4, 8, 9) which is a scattering over the whole world (44). The evident universal usage of this phrase in the book of Genesis supports the universal view of this phrase in the Genesis flood story. "Earth" or "the face of all the earth" in the flood story is in each instance universal in meaning.
It may be parenthetically inserted that the non-universal phrase concerning the famine which was spread "over all the face of the earth" (Genesis 41:56) has a subtle difference in word order and is thus not identical in meaning to the phrase used in Genesis 1:29; 7:3; 8:9; 11:4, 8 , 9 as linguistic usage and context indicate. On the basis of context and style Genesis 41:56 does not do away with the universal meaning (45) of the phrase "the face of all the earth" in the flood narrative (Genesis 7:3; 8:9) (46).
The question has been raised why the Genesis flood story does not employ the Hebrew term tebel (47) which means "dry land" (48) or "world" (49) in the sense of "continents" (50). This term appears 39 times in the Old Testament (51) but never in Genesis or the other books of Moses. The reason why this term is not employed lies in the fact that tebel appears only in poetic texts whereas the flood narrative is prose. Therefore the lack of this universalistic term of the flood narrative does in no sense imply a non-universalistic meaning for the term "earth." This argument from silence which does not even consider the contextual and poetic usage of a term is best to be dispensed with.
3. The Phrase "Face of the Ground." The phrase "face of the ground" (penê haÉadamah) appears five times in the Genesis flood story in a variety of connections. God "will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground" (Genesis 7:4). After "everything on the dry land (52) in whose nostrils was the breath of life died" (Genesis 7:22), it is stated that "he blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth" (v. 23). It should be observed that in verse 23 the phrase "face of the ground" is parallel in thought to "the earth" in the same passage. Another parallelism is found between "the waters had subsided from the face of the ground" (Genesis 8:8) and "the waters were still on the face of all the earth" (v. 9). The third parallelism appears between the phrase "the waters were dried from off the earth" (v. 13b) and the statement "the face of the ground was dry" (v. 13c). These usages and their parallelism indicate that "face of the ground" is an expression which means the surface of the dry land in its most universal sense.
The observation that the extent of "ground" (Éadamah) would be determined by the term "earth" (Éeres), which is made by some supporters of the local flood theory (53), is entirely correct. The explicit parallelism ("face of the ground" = "earth" 7:23; 8:8f.; 8:13) demands such an interpretation. We have already seen that "earth" and "face of all the earth" points into a single direction, namely the entire surface of the global mass of land.
It is again striking that the expression "face of the ground" is employed for the first time in the creation narrative which has an undeniable universal emphasis. According to Genesis 2:6 "a mist (54) went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground." The "face of the ground" is the "surface" (55) (so also New American Bible, New English Bible, Anchor Bible) of the dry land or ground (56). The Hebrew term translated "ground" (Éadamah) appears in the Old Testament 225 times (57) with the basic meaning of "ground, soil" (58). The most universal usage of Éadamah is "earth" (59). It can also mean the "ground" upon which man stands (60) which can separate (61) and which carries the creeping things (Genesis 1:25; 2:6) and as the term "earth" and "face of all the earth" (Genesis 7:23; 8:8-9, 13). There is no contextual indication whatever for a limited usage (64). We must "read the [flood] account whole-heartedly in its own terms" (65).
4. The Phrase "All Flesh." The 13 usages of the expression "all flesh" in the flood story (66) with the express notation that God will "make an end of all flesh" (6:13), "destroy all flesh" (6:17), and the statement of the subsequent fact that "all flesh died" (7:21f.) gives the unmistakable impression of universal destruction. B. Ramm has suggested that "all does not mean every last one in all of its usages" (67). It is entirely correct that "all" (kol) which is employed in the Hebrew Old Testament 5404 times (68) does not always express totality. But it should be remembered that its basic meaning is "totality" (69) and that it is always expressive of totality with rare exceptions where the individual context provides a clear indication. If this were not so, then grand confusion would result because the word "all" would then never mean "all" but something less than "all," something less than totality.
With regard to the formula "all flesh" a syntactical consideration does not even leave it an "open question" (70) whether it is "all" in a restrictive sense or in the sense of totality. The formula "all flesh" in the Hebrew appears as a genitival construction kol-basar. If kol ("all") appears in construction before an indeterminate (i.e. without article or possessive suffix) noun (in our case "flesh"), then the meaning is totality (71), i.e. "all flesh" in the sense of "all men or all living creatures" (72). In one of the 13 usages in the flood narrative the kol appears before a determinate noun, i.e. kol-habasar "all the flesh" . (7:15) (73). In such a case "kol . . . expresses unity" (74) and "entirety" (75). This same rule of Hebrew syntax applies to the determinate genitival construction "all the earth" (kol-haÉares) in Genesis 7:3 and 8:9 which means "the whole earth" (76) in its entirety. Inasmuch as "all (the) flesh" in the Genesis flood story includes both man and animals (77) as has been shown in detail above, there can be no doubt about the fact that the destruction of "all (the) flesh" refers to the destruction of men and animals on land and in the air in their totality and entirety. This fact is underlined by the explicit statement that "only Noah was left, and those [members of his family and land animals and birds] that were with him in the ark" (7:23). "These alone were left after the universal destruction," states U. Cassuto (78) quite appropriately.
5. The Phrase "Every Living Thing." Another expression of totality is "every living thing" (kol-hahay) which appears in Genesis 6:19 where "every living thing of all flesh" is to be brought into the ark by pairs (79). This expression encompasses birds, animals, and creeping things (v. 20). Here again kol ("all") is followed by a determinate noun which indicates that kol "has the meaning of the entirety, i.e. all, the whole" (80).
The translation "every living thing" in the text of Genesis 7:23, "He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air," is expressive of the same threefold division of creatures as in 6:9 but also includes man. The Hebrew phrase, however, is not identical to the one in 6:19 but to the one in 7:4: "and I will blot out every living thing that I have made from the face of the ground." In 7:4, 23 the phrase is kol-hayecûm. The term yeqûm is used aside from the two usages here only once more in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 11:6). Its meaning is "existence," (81) "living being" (82) or "what is living" (83). Since kol ("all") is again determinate the idea expressed is that God blotted out "all existence" in their entirety of what was living of living beings from the face of the whole earth with the flood waters. There is hardly any stronger way in the Hebrew to emphasize total destruction of "all existence" of human and animal life on earth than the way it has been expressed. The writer of the Genesis flood story employed terminology, formulae, and syntactical structures of the type that could not be more emphatic and explicit in expressing his concept of a universal, world-wide flood.
6. The Phrase "Under the Whole Heaven." The phrase "under the whole heaven" (tahat kol-haamayim) in Genesis 7:19, "and the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered," "may not be so easily disposed of" (84), says G. L. Archer, a supporter of the local flood theory. The famous commentator F. Delitzsch has stated, "But if the water covered 'all the high hills under the whole heaven,' this clearly indicates the universality of the flood" (85). The critical scholar J. Skinner comments that "7:19, 20 not only asserts its [the flood's] universality, but so to speak proves it, by giving the exact height of the waters above the highest mountains" (86).
Most supporters of the local flood theory do not discuss the phrase "under the whole heaven." But those who attempt to come to grips with this serious difficulty for their hypothesis point out that "heaven" (amayim) "can mean 'sky', or the visible part of heaven within the horizon (e.g. 1 Kings xviii.45)" (87). 1 Kings 18:45 reads, "And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." The context here clearly indicates that "heavens" means sky. But the context of Genesis 7:19 is entirely different! In addition the syntactical usage of "heaven" in both passages is entirely different. Dare we neglect the specific usage of a term? Certainly not. While in 1 Kings 18:45 (amayim ("heavens") appears by itself, in Genesis 7:19 kol ("all") is in construct state to the determinate (i.e. with article) noun amayim. It has been shown several times before that this syntactical relationship expresses totality and entirety. This is to say that the waters submerged all the high mountains of the totality and in the entirety under the atmospheric heavens. The way it is written in the Hebrew excludes any local or limited concept of "heavens." The phrase "under the whole heaven" indeed clearly asserts the universality of the flood.
It has been objected that if we understand the phrase that "all the high mountains" were covered with the flood waters at elevations above that of Mt. Everest that the "rarified atmosphere" would "render all but a few creatures insensible in a very few moments for lack of oxygen" (89). To this it has been responded that "all such concerns are misplaced, for it is an elementary fact that atmospheric pressure depends on elevation relative to sea level" (90). On the other hand, there is no Biblical evidence for Mt. Everest or other high mountains to have existed at the time of the flood and consequently it is not necessary to "assert that the waters mounted to a depth of six miles" (91).
Let us briefly summarize. The Genesis flood narrative provides ample evidence of being an account which is to be understood as a historical narrative in prose style. It expects to be taken literally. There is a consistent and overwhelming amount of terminology and formulae such as the frequent usages of "earth" and "all the earth," "the face of the ground," "the dry land," "all flesh," "under the whole heaven," which on the basis of context and syntax has uniformly indicated that the flood story wants to be understood in a universal sense: the waters destroyed all human and animal plus bird life on the entire land mass of the globe. To read it otherwise means to force a meaning on the carefully written and specific syntactical constructions of the original language which the text itself rejects. This universal emphasis with its picture of a world-wide flood finds additional supports from other considerations.
B. The Flood and the History of Beginnings
1. Genealogies. The universality of the flood is to
be inferred also from the parallelism of antediluvian and postdiluvian genealogical lines.
The whole antediluvian world is populated from the offspring of Adam, namely Cain (Genesis
4:17-24) and Seth (4:25-26) in the great genealogical list of Genesis 5:1-31. As Adam is
in the Bible's view the father of pre-flood man, so Noah is the father of post-flood man.
As from Adam's sons the whole world was populated, so from Noah's sons the entire earth is
once more populated. This is the clear claim of the postdiluvian genealogical list called
the Table of Nations of Genesis 10:1-32. From Noah's sons arose the nations of the world:
". . . and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the
flood" (Genesis 10:32). The experience of the Tower of Babel spreads them across the
entire globe (Genesis 11:1-9).
2. Blessings. We have noted frequent allusions in terminology and thought to the creation story. Another important aspect indicating the universality of the flood from which Noah and his family are the only human survivors (Genesis 7:23) concerns the blessing. After man had been created as male and female, as the pinnacle of creation, God bestows His divine blessing upon him by saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . ." (Genesis 1:28). On the basis of this charge the antediluvian world is populated with human beings (92). These very words are spoken also to the survivors of the destructive flood: "And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth'" (Genesis 9:1). As prediluvian man "had" his beginning with Adam, so postdiluvian man has his beginning with Noah. Man after creation and after the flood receives the same divine blessing. With both there is a new beginning. The corollary of the fact that with first man the prediluvian world is populated is the fact that with man surviving the flood the postdiluvian world is populated anew. In this example of blessing we note again that the focus of the first eleven chapters of Genesis including the flood story is the entire world in its global dimension and not a limited geographical area.
3. Covenant. In making a covenant with Noah, "your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you" (Genesis 9:9-10), God pledges unconditionally 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" (v. 11). Not only is the covenant itself of a universal nature valid in perpetuity for "all flesh" saved in the ark, but the covenant sign in the form of the rainbow is universal (v. 12-17). It is a world-wide witness to the world-wide flood and a world-wide witness that "the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh" (v. 15). If there had been a limited flood, then there would have had to be a limited covenant and covenant sign. The universality of both the covenant and the rainbow witnesses to the universality of the flood.
Our investigation of the term "earth" and the phrases
"the face of all the earth," "face of the ground," "all
flesh," "every living thing," and "under the whole heaven" has
consistently shown that this is universalistic language pointing into a single direction
of a flood of global scope. Indeed the writer of the Genesis flood story had no means at
his disposal to make this more explicit than he actually did. Context and syntax uniformly
indicated that the writer wished to convey the picture of a world-wide flood which covered
the entire antediluvian land masses which destroyed all human, animal and bird life that
existed on them.
Additional supports for the universal concept of the flood offered themselves in the parallelism of antediluvian and postdiluvian genealogies, in the blessings spoken by God over first man on earth and over man surviving the flood, and in the universal covenant and the world-wide covenant sign in the form of the rainbow.
In conclusion we cannot refrain from referring to the typological analogy of a world-wide flood of which the apostle Peter spoke. His inspired words build on the world-wide destruction of the antediluvian world by water. The next universal destruction of the world will be by fire. "The world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and the earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:6-7). God will again interrupt the steady rhythm of the world; He will again carry out what He has foretold.
- W. C. Kaiser, 1970, The literary form of Genesis 1-11, in New Perspective on the Old Testament, ed. J. B. Payne (Waco, Texas), pp. 59-60, sums up his study as follows. "Genesis 1-11 is prose and not poetry. The use of waw consecutive with the verb to describe sequential acts, the frequent use of the direct object sign and the so-called relative pronoun, the stress on definitions, and the spreading out of the events in a sequential order indicates that we are in prose and not in poetry. Say what we will, the author plainly intends to doing the same thing in these chapters that he is doing in chapters 12-50."
- Since H. Gunkel in 1901 applied the form-critical method to the book of Genesis (1901, Genesis [Göttingen, 1901]) and concluded that the narratives of Genesis are Sagen (sagas, legends; see his 1964, The Legends of Genesis: The Biblical Saga and History, trans. W. H. Corruth [New York], which is a translation of the first part of his famous 1901 commentary) many have followed his distinction. Cf. J. Skinner, 1930, Genesis (International Critical Commentary, 2nd ed.; Edinburgh) pp. iii-xxiv.
- See A. Öhler, 1969, Mythologische Elemente in Alten Testament (Stuttgart), pp. 85-101; J. Morgenstern, 1965, The Book of Genesis (New York), p. 80.
- See H. E. Ryle, 1914, The Book of Genesis (The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; Cambridge), p. xxxix: "The Deluge . . . is related as a symbol of Divine judgment upon sin, and as a typical example of Divine deliverance: while the description of its physical characteristics follows the exaggerated account of popular tradition."
- O. Eissfeldt, 1965, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. P. R. Ackroyd (New York), pp. 12-56, distinguishes among the prose types those of (1) "speeches, sermons, prayers," (2) "records" and (3) "narratives" of a poetic and historical nature. According to the intention of the author of Genesis 6:5-9:17 the proper category should be historical narrative written in prose style.
- The source division of the Genesis flood narrative began with J. Astruc in 1753 who was followed by J. G. Eichhorn, 1779, Urgeschichte, I. Since K. Budde, 1883, Die biblische Urgeschichte (Gen. 1-12, 5) untersucht (Leipzig), the source division of the flood story in a J and P strand has become an accepted norm of critical scholarship, see C. Westermann, 1973, Genesis (Neukirchen-Vluyn), I, 66-73; N. C. Habel, 1971, Literary Criticism of the Old Testament (Philadelphia), pp. 28-42, and many others. For those opposing this source division, see the following note.
- There is a growing number of scholars of differing schools of research that oppose the source division of the Genesis flood story. Among the most incisive studies are the following: B. Jacob, 1930, Die biblische Sintfluterzählung, ihre literarische Einheit (Berlin); K. Frühstorfer, 1945, Die noachische Sintflut (Linz); K. H. Rabast, 1951, Die Genesis (Berlin), pp. 162-164; E. Nielsen, 1954, Oral Tradition (London), pp. 93-103; U. Cassuto, 1934, La Questione della Genesi (Florence); D. Kidner, 1967, Genesis (Chicago), pp. 97-100. These studies have indicated that the prevailing theory of a source division of Genesis 6-9 is wholly unsatisfactory and gives rise to insolvable problems which are avoided if the story in its present form is considered a literary unity (cf. H. C. Thomson, 1909, The assured results of modern criticism tested by the flood narrative, in Biblische Studien (Neukirchen), pp. 178-183, 245-254.
- See the surveys by J. P. Lewis, 1968, A Study of the Interpretation of Noah and the Flood in Jewish and Christian Literature (Leiden); St. Lach, 1961, Die biblische Sintflut in der gegenwartigen Exegese, pp. 5-60.
- Ryle, The Book of Genesis, p. 109.
- Ibid., p. xxxiv.
- Claus Schedl, 1973, History of the Old Testament. The Ancient Orient and Ancient Biblical History (Staten Island, New York), I, 397.
- Ibid., I, 398.
- Ibid., I, 397.
- It is of interest that Schedl considers the creation account as a "grandiose religious poem" (ibid., I, 248) which is to be understood as "theology" (ibid., I, 237ff .).
- It is not necessary to provide an exhaustive list. The following are representative. O. Procksch, 1950, Theologie des Alten Testaments (Gütersloh), p. 145; Skinner, Genesis, p. 165: "[the narrator] not only asserts its universality, but so to speak proves it, by giving the exact height of the waters above the highest mountains." G. von Rad, 1965, Old Testament Theology (Edinburgh), I, 156: ". . . it represents the Flood as a calamity which affected the whole world." Idem, 1961, Genesis. A Commentary (Philadelphia), p. 124: ". . . we must understand the Flood, therefore, as a catastrophe involving the entire cosmos." E. A. Speiser, 1964, Genesis (Anchor Bible; Garden City, New York), p. 55, speaks of a "universal catastrophe" with the "annihilation of all life outside the ark." N. M. Sarna, 1966, Understanding Genesis (New York), p. 55: "In the Bible, the Flood is a cosmic catastrophe." L. Köhler, 1957, Old Testament Theology (Philadelphia), p. 178; Th. C. Vriezen, 1970, An Outline of Old Testament Theology (2nd ed.; Newton, Massachusetts), p. 397; M. Noth, 1972, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), p. 237; O. Keel and M. Kuchler, 1971, Synoptische Texte aus der Genesis (Freiburg), II, 117, 122; E. H. Manly, 1968, Genesis, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), p. 16: "The cosmic nature of the flood is stressed, just as creation had involved a cosmic ordering." G. Fohrer, 1972, Theologische Grundstrukturen des Alten Testaments (Berlin), p. 201: "The flood is a destruction of the world, the first world is inundated through it!" W. Zimmerli, 1972, Grundriss der Alttestamentlichen Theologie (Stuttgart), p. 151, speaks of "a world-wide flood catastrophe."
- J. H. Marks, 1962, Flood (Genesis), in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville), II, 283.
- L. B. Gilkey, 1962, Cosmology, ontology, and the travail of Biblical language, in Concordia Theological Monthly 33 (1962):143.
- Ibid., p. 152.
- Ibid., p. 153.
- E. J. Carnell, 1959, The Case for Orthodox Theology (Philadelphia), p. 96: "The prima-facie meaning of the Flood is that the entire earth was submerged. But geological evidence fails to verify a universal flood." See the recent essays by Davis A. Young, 1973, Some practical geological problems in the application of a mature creation doctrine, in Westminster Theological Journal 35 (1973):268-280, and the response by J. C. Whitcomb, Jr., 1973, The science of historical geology in the light of the Biblical doctrine of a mature creation, in Westminster Theological Journal 36 (1973):65-77.
- On this point, see J. C. Whitcomb, Jr. and H. M. Morris, 1971, The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids, Michigan), pp. 36-54.
- An outstanding proponent of this approach is Bernard Ramm, 1954, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan), pp, 229-249. Among those who follow it of recent date are George S. Cansdale, 1970, A universal flood: some practical difficulties, in Faith and Thought 98 (1970):61-68; F. A. Filby, 1971, The Flood Reconsidered (Grand Rapids, Michigan), pp. 81ff.; D. Patton, 1966, The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch (Seattle), p. 64; T. C. Mitchell, 1962, Flood, in The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan), pp. 427f.; M. E. L. Mallowan, 1964, Noah's flood reconsidered, in Iraq 26(1964):62-82; L. R. Raikes, 1966, The physical evidence of Noah's flood, in Iraq 28 (1966):62-63.
- Although it is evident that a subconscious influence of modern scientific opinion is at the root of the motivation to interpret the Biblical flood narrative as a local event (W. S. LaSor of Fuller Theological Seminary fears that Biblical catastrophism "will fail to impress the secular scientific mind" in Eternity [August 1961], p. 43) together with the acceptance of interpretation of scientific data from various fields, very few interpreters of an earlier era held that Genesis did not necessitate a belief in a world-wide flood (so Matthew Poole, 1670, Synopsis, and Bishop Edward Stillingfleet, 1662, Origines Sacra).
- Among the writers who attempted to use this approach with more or less consistency are: H. W. Clark, 1966. The New Diluvialism (Angwin, California); A. M. Rehwinckel, 1951, The Flood in the Light of the Bible, Geology and Archaeology (St. Louis); Whitcomb and Morris, The Genesis Flood; H. G. Coffin, 1969, Creation. Accident or Design? (Washington, D.C.); F. A. Schaeffer, 1972, Genesis in Space and Time (Downers Grove, Illinois), pp. 133f; J. C. Whitcomb, Jr., 1973, The World That Perished (Grand Rapids, Michigan) in which he also gives a careful refutation of the critique of The Genesis Flood by J. R. von de Fliert (pp. 111-128).
- Genesis 6:5, 6, 11, 11, 12, 12, 13, 13, 17, 17; 7:3, 4, 6, 10, 12, 14, 17, 17, 18, 19, 21, 21, 23, 24; 8:1, 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 17, 17, 19, 22; 9:1, 2, 7, 10, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17.
- The only difference is in Genesis 8:17 where in the LXX omits one usage of the three. For the New Testament usage of ge with the meaning of "earth," "land" as a dwelling-place of man, "land" as distinct from water, "ground" in the sense of that upon which man stands or which is fruitful, see H. Sasse, 1964, ge, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1 (1964):667-681.
- So especially Filby, The Flood Reconstructed, pp. 82f. Cf. Mitchell, The New Bible Dictionary, p. 427: "ÉEres can mean 'land' (eg. Genesis x .10), . . . " G. L. Archer, Jn., 1964, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago), p. 194.
- H. H. Schmid, 1971, Éeres Erde, Land, in Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, ed. E. Jenni and C. Westermann (Zürich), I, 229.
- Genesis 1:1; 2:4; 24:3; Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Deuteronomy 3:24; 4:26, 39; 30:19; 31:28; Isaiah 37:17; Jeremiah 10:11; 23:24; 32:17; Ezekiel 8:3; Psalm 113:6; 115:5; 121:12; 124:8; 134:3; 135:6; 146:6; etc. Cf. B. Hartmann, 1960, Himmel und Erde im Alten Testament, in Schweizer Theologische Umschau 30 (1960):221-224.
- Genesis 2:46; Ezekiel 8:3; Zechariah 5:9; Psalm 148:13; 1 Chronicles 21:16; Jeremiah 10:11b.
- Filby, The Flood Reconsidered, p. 82.
- Mitchell, New Bible Dictionary, p. 427.
- Filby, The Flood Reconsidered, p. 82; cf. Archer, Survey of OT Introduction, p. 194.
- Schmidt, Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, I, 232f.
- Filby, The Flood Reconsidered, p. 83.
- Among the many indisputable texts that use "all the earth" in a universalistic sense are Genesis 1:26, 27; 2 Kings 5:15; Isaiah 13:9, 11; 6:3; 10:14; 12:5; 14:7, 26; 25:8; 54:5; Jeremiah 45:4; 50:23; 51:7; Zephaniah 1:8; Habakkuk 2:20; Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8, 19; Zechariah 1:10, 11; 14:9; Psalm 8:2, 10; 57:6, 12; 66:1, 4; 96:1, 9; 82:1; 100:1; 108:6; etc.
- Sarna, Understanding Genesis, p. 56.
- M. Ottosson, 1973, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum AT, 2 (1973):523, a critical scholar points out that this is the meaning in both Genesis 1:26, 29 and 7:3; 8:9 plus in many other Old Testament texts.
- W. L. Holladay, 1971, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan), p. 293.
- L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, 1958, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros (Leiden), p. 766; G. Fohrer, ed., 1973, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (New York), p. 223.
- It may be noted that a recently discovered Sumerian tablet contains a Sumerian story which recalls the time when all spoke the same language. See S. N. Kramer, 1968, The Babel of tongues: a Sumerian version, in Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968):l08-111. Note also the discussion by Sarna, Understanding Genesis, pp. 63-80, who wrote before this recent discovery.
- Ryle, Genesis, p. 147.
- This has been argued by some, see Kinder, Genesis, p. 94, note 1; Kline, New Bible Commentary, p. 88.
- The only other instance of the phrase "the face of all the earth" in the Pentateuch is found in Deuteronomy 11:25: "no man shall be able to stand against you; the Lord your God will lay the fear of you upon the face of all the earth which you shall tread, as he promised you." Most English versions (Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, New American Bible, New Jewish Version, New American Standard Bible) abbreviated the phrase upon contextual grounds to "upon all the land" which is the meaning provided by the context.
- Archer, Survey of OT Introduction, p. 194.
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, pp. 1017f.
- Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 386.
- Fohrer, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, p. 386.
- F. Stolz, Ébl trauern, in Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, I, 28.
- The Hebrew term for "dry land" is harabah, used seven times in the Old Testament (Genesis 7:22; Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:17; 4:18; 2 Kings 2, 8; Ezekiel 30:12; Haggai 2:6, cf. Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 330) and rendered by the lexicons as "dry ground" (Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 330), "dry land" (Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 115), or "that which is dry" (Fohrer, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, p. 91). This term is not identical to the one for "dry land" in Genesis 1:9f. which is yabbaah, used 13 times in the Old Testament (Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 310).
- Mitchell, New Bible Dictionary, p. 427; cf. Archer, Survey of OT Introduction, p. 194.
- The Hebrew term Éed which appears only here and in Job 36:27 is variously interpreted, i.e. either as "mist" (Luther, Delitzsch, Budde, and many others), "source, well" (Holzinger), "underground water" (Dillmann, Speiser), or "stream" (Albright, Cassuto, W. G. Lambert, H. Renckens).
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 766; Fohrer, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, p. 223.
- For penê haÉadamah, see Exodus 32:12; 33:16; Numbers 12:3; Deuteronomy 6:15; 7:6; 14:2; 1 Samuel 20:15; 2 Samuel 14:7; 1 Kings 13:34; Isaiah 23:17; Jeremiah 25:26; 28:16; Ezekiel 38:20; Amos 9:8; Zephaniah 1:2f. with the meaning "upon the surface (face) of the ground (earth)."
- H. H. Schmid, Éadama Erdboden, Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, I, 57.
- Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 4; Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, pp. 13f. For the various shades of meaning, see J. G. Plöger, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum AT, I, 95-105.
- Genesis 12:3; 28:14; Amos 3:2; 9:8; Deuteronomy 6:15; 1 Kings 13:34; etc.
- Exodus 3:5; 8:17.
- Numbers 16:30f.
- Leviticus 25:20; Ezekiel 38:20; Hosea 2:20.
- For more restrictive usages, see Plöger, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum AT, I, 57-60.
- Against those who would seek to restrict the explicit universal meaning and import of these terms, cf. above note 53.
- Kidner, Genesis, p. 95.
- Genesis 6:12, 13, 17, 19; 7:15, 16, 21; 8:17; 9:11, 15a, 16, 17.
- Ramm, Christian View of Science and Scripture, p. 241, refers in support of his claim to Psalm 22:17, John 4:39, and Matthew 3:5.
- G. Sauer, kol Gesamtheit, in Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, I, 829.
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 435; Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 156; Fohrer, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, p. 122.
- Kidner, Genesis, p. 94, is more cautious than Ramm in leaving it an "open question."
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 435; Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 157.
- E. Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley, 1970, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar (2nd ed.; Oxford), p. 41, para. 127c. Cf. R. Meyer, 1969, Hebräische Grammatik (3rd ed.; Berlin), II, 17, par. 4c.
- Among the 46 Old Testament usages of "all flesh" (see Mandelkern, Concordantiae, p. 241) there is only one other example which is determinate (Isaiah 40:6).
- Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 157.
- Kautzsch-Cowley, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, p. 411, par. 127b.
- Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 157; Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 435.
- It is used in this total sense of man and animals also in Numbers 16:22; 18:15; 27:16; Deuteronomy 5:26; Job 34:15; Psalm 136:25; Jeremiah 12:12; 25:27, 31; 45:5; Daniel 4:12 ; Isaiah 66:16.
- Cassuto, Commentary on Genesis, II, 97.
- The translation of "two of every sort" for enayim in 6:19, 20 is impressive, because this dual has a collective force which ought to be rendered into English by "in pairs" with 7:2, 3 specifying the exact number. Cf. K. A. Kitchen, 1966, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago), p. 120; W. J. Martin, 1955, Stylistic Criteria and the Analysis of the Pentateuch (London), pp. 15f.
- Kautzsch-Cowley, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, p. 411, par. 127b. Cf. C. Brockelmann, 1956, Hebräische Syntax (Neukirchen), par. 73c, 124a.
- Fohrer, Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, p. 113.
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteri Testamenti Libros, p. 398.
- Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 141.
- Archer, Survey of OT Introduction, p. 194.
- F. Delitzsch, 1949, Genesis, in Commentary on the Old Testament (reprint; Grand Rapids, Michigan), p. 146.
- Skinner, Genesis, p. 165.
- Mitchell, New Bible Dictionary, p. 427. Filby, The Flood Reconsidered, p. 83, and Ramm, Christian View of Science and Scripture, p. 241, also refer to Deuteronomy 2:25, "the peoples that are under the whole heaven" in a local sense. We must point out that in this instance "the peoples" are contextually qualified and limited to those "who shall hear the report of thee." In Deuteronomy 11:25 the phrase is even further limited to mean "all the land that you shall tread." It should be noted that there is a textual problem in Deuteronomy 2:25 where the word "heaven" is omitted in Hebrew manuscripts, the Lucianic recension, Origen, and the Syriac.
- See above notes 72 and 80.
- So Arthur Custance, 1958, The Extent of the Flood, p. 9, as cited by Whitcomb, The World That Perished, p. 45.
- Whitcomb, The World That Perished, p. 45.
- Ramm, Christian View of Science and Scripture, p. 242.
- Fohrer, Theologische Grundstrukturen des AT, p. 202: "The first world has disappeared, a new world has begun. This is the reason why the narrator repeats the words of creation for animals and a little later for man: 'Be fruitful and multiply.' This is the reason for him giving in Genesis 9:1-17 the new charter for life for the new Noahite world."