In part 2 of my Genesis Controversy series, we will be addressing the Flood Narrative. A surface reading of the Flood narrative has led many to the conclusion of a catastrophic global flood that topped the highest mountain in the world by about 25 feet (15 cubits). For centuries, many have held this to be an accurately detailed historical account. Many have produced efforts to prove a global flood through scientific means as a way to defend the word of Scripture. However, in this account, geological science is not on the side of the Genesis account. That is a hard pill to swallow if we desire to be faithful to the Scriptures as well as to what can really be scientifically proven. So in this post, we will look at 3 reasons why the Flood in Genesis may not have been a global flood, and how to read the account in light of that. (To read my previous blog posts on Genesis, go here).
1.Geologically Impossible to Flood Everest in 40 Days
As I mentioned earlier, Genesis’ flood account says that the waters covered the highest mountain by 15 cubits (25 feet). To date, Mt. Everest holds the highest altitude at just over 29,000 feet (8800 meters) above sea level. On a scientific level, there is no way the world could be flooded to 25 above the peak of Mt. Everest with the water we have in our ecosystem. In addition to that, it is unlikely that 40 days would be enough time to unleash that much water. We have mentioned in a previous post, that the number 40 doesn’t always refer to the literal number 40. The Ancient Near Eastern mind understood the symbolic use of the number 40 to mean “and extended period of time.” How long was the flood? 40 days. How long was Moses on the mountain? 40 days. How long was the reign of most kings? 40 years. How many years constituted a generation? 40 years. Not all mentions of the number 40 are literal in the Bible. Given what we know of both science and the symbolic use of numbers in the Bible, it is likely the flood account didn’t last for an exact 40 days.
Not all mentions of the number 40 are literal in the Bible. Given what we know of both science and the symbolic use of numbers in the Bible, it is likely the flood account didn’t last for an exact 40 days.
2. A Massive Flood Makes it Unlikely Noah’s Ark Would Land Close to Home
A raging flood that covered the globe would be full of thrashing winds and turbulent waters. From what we know of seafaring, Noah would have had to drop anchor to stay in the general vicinity of his starting point. However, had he dropped anchor in such turbulence, his ship would have definitely capsized. That means, it would have been impossible for the ark to have run aground in the same geographical region.
3. Author Likely Used Hyperbolic Language To Connect A Historical Event To His Theological Point
It is important for us to realize Biblical writers didn’t write historical accounts the way we do. Agreed there are some chronological pieces found in the Old Testament in the History section. However, most accounts in the Bible are organized for either a theological or political purpose. That doesn’t take away the divine inspiration of the text. It does take away the divine inspiration of how modern readings interpret the text. That is a huge difference. We must not forget that the way we read historical accounts was by in large formed by the “Peloponnesian War” written by Thucydides (460B.C.-400B.C.). Before then, there was very little interested in detailed chronological events for the sake of detailed chronological events. Most of the Bible is organized thematically. What is listed first isn’t always what was chronologically first. Primacy of listing meant there was greater significance to it, thus it is listed first. A classic New Testament example brought forth in Lee Strobel’s “Case for Christ,” is the crucifixion. In John’s Gospel, he mentions when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, “blood and water” flowed out. However, one of Strobel’s interviewees said that it was the reverse. Clear liquid came out first, then blood. The clear liquid was pericardial fluid. But more blood than water came out, so John placed a primary emphasis on the blood and mentioned the water (clear fluid) second. Sequential order was not significant.
The instance of Blood and Water at the crucifixion is a great example of what we’re discussing. Understanding how the ancient world arranged information and used literary devices should cue us into a better reading of the texts. With that in mind, we can see that John Walton is in line with ancient textual readings when he says that Genesis 1-11 frequently uses rhetorical devices to drive home theological points. A very common rhetorical device used in the Bible is hyperbole. From some of Jesus’ teachings to the spies’ reports about Canaan’s inhabitants, hyperbole is frequently used. The Flood narrative most likely also used hyperbolic language to drive home a theological point. The flood didn’t have to be global catastrophe to communicate the truth of God unleashing the watery deep (chaos) to prompt a recreation. If we look at the Flood in sight of theological themes and in context of other Ancient Near Eastern accounts of the Flood, two things come to the surface. 1. The Flood narrative in all accounts of the ANE serve as a breaking point between primordial life and modern life. (i.e. longer life spans, vegetarianism, harmony with the animals, etc.). 2. The Flood narrative shows the first instance of a covenant between a human and God. The Flood account is the first time the word “Covenant” (Barit) occurs. This then sets the stage for Covenant relationships between God and selected persons.
The Flood narrative in all accounts of the ANE serve as a breaking point between primordial life and modern life
So in the end, the theological point the Flood account is making has less to do with a global flood and more to do with delineating a primordial past with a modern present-equipped with Covenant relationships. These covenant relationships further solidify special relationships with God that will culminate in a humanity-wide redemption.
So these are a few controversial reflections on reading the Flood narrative in light of the author(s)’ use of hyperbole to get at a theological point.
How do you find yourself reacting this this post? Does it give you something to think about? Does it undermine the way you understand Genesis? Let me know in the comments below.
Whatever your response, I hope this post has helped you
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