Genesis 6-8 Crucial Question: Was Noah’s Flood Real?

Posted on December 20, 2008. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School: Genesis Class

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Crucial Question: Do You Really Believe in a Flood?

Genesis 6-8 “The Flood part 2”


Read Matthew 24:36-44

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,  but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Introduction: Last week we examined chapters 6-8 in both its literary context and in its theological meaning. We looked at the flood as the judgment of God against sin and the Ark as the type of Christ, the means that God used to preserve Noah and his family. We looked at the Ark as having several analogies to our faith in Christ, considering everything from its having one door and Christ being the only way to the Father, to God shutting the door and sealing in Noah and his family and how the Holy Spirit seals us in Christ. We even looked at the day the Ark came to rest and saw that relates to Passover and the Resurrection of Christ.


Today we shall continue with the flood story because we did not look at the problems the text presents, nor did we look at how it relates to the pagan literature of the day in any detail. Today’s lesson, then, will be a bit more challenging than most. For me personally, the Flood story is the most challenging portion in all of Scripture. The obvious major issues are: 1) was there a real Noah, Ark and Flood? 2) Was the Flood worldwide or local? 3) Do all humans, then, descend from Noah’s family?


Why do we need to take time to look at these hard questions? Because we need to know and understand the Word of God first and foremost and that involves asking hard questions and seeking the truth fearlessly. Secondly, the world asks some pretty tough questions about this very passage and we need to always be ready to give a response that is biblical, reasonable and coherent. We do not back down from the world’s tough questions in this class, nor do we compromise with the world. So let us begin!


I.                   Flood Stories of the Day

The word for flood used throughout this narrative is mabbul which is very similar to the Akkadian abubu. In the Akkadian the word is used to indicate a flood of cosmic proportions sent by the gods to destroy man, much as the Hebrew word is used. Psalm 29:10

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

And in the Akkadian use the god Nergal is “lord of the Deluge”.


In the Atrahasis the animals are caught and put on board to be preserved, and in some versions of the story, the animals are sent to Atrahasis which more closely aligns with Gen. 6:20.


The pagan flood stories seem to have the rain lasting 7 days while the biblical account has 40 days of rain. The Gilgamesh Epic has the ark stopping on Mt. Nimush in southern Kurdistan instead of Ararat in Turkey. In Gilgamesh, birds are used as in Genesis to determine the state of the land after the flood. Gilgamesh has a dove, a swallow and a raven while Noah uses a raven and a dove (3 times). The Gilgamesh Epic and other Sumerian flood stories have the hero making a sacrifice to the gods after the flood, as does Noah. However, the nature of the sacrifices is different. The Sumerian accounts have the sacrifice more to appease the wrath of the gods while Noah’s sacrifice is more of a seeking for God’s blessing.


While many cultures have flood stories, not all do. The Middle East, Australia, native Americans and Polynesians have the most flood stories while Europe only a few do and Asia has a few, but Africa has almost none, with the notable exception of Egypt.


John H. Walton, writing in the NIV Application Commentary on Genesis, Zondervan, 2001 (pp.318-19), “What is the significance of extrabiblical Flood stories for our understanding of the biblical text?…1) We do not read these stories as having equal credibility as the biblical account…. 2) Given the relatively sparse amount of literary information we possess, it is fruitless to discuss which account came first. It is true that Mesopotamian culture preceded Israelite culture, and generally the flow of culture was from the former to the latter. But it is also true that Abraham came out of Mesopotamia. While the literary documents we have from Mesopotamia are older than the book of Genesis as a work of Moses, Moses likely used older literary sources when compiling the book. If the book of Genesis is arguing against some of the points in the ancient Near East material or trying to set the record straight, it would have had to come after them in time. Yet the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Genesis account is a pristine record of the event as passed down from Noah, which suffered corruption when transmitted in the hands of other cultures.”


II.                The Flood and Science

A.                          In archeology there is some evidence for floods in many of the cities of Mesopotamia at various times in the 3rd and 4th centuries BC. This kind of evidence might be of some help for those who take the Local Flood position. In regards to the Ark itself, there have been scores, likely hundreds, maybe thousands of searches for the Ark around Mt. Ararat in Turkey. Anecdotal stories abound from simple herdsmen to former US Astronauts of finding the remains of the Ark. The bottom line there is that no reputable school’s archeology team has ever found anything to prove Noah’s Arks remains remain intact to this day. I have seen many peculiar photographs and read many of the stories, but nothing substantial has ever been produced. That being said, the fact that so many stories like this abound might be some evidence that the Ark was real and should cause a real scientific search to be conducted.


I well remember a class field trip, in about the 5th or 6th grade, to a place in my home town of some local geographic and historical note called the Phillips Mound. At this site I found numerous tiny teeth all over the place. The teacher explained that they were shark’s teeth. When I asked how the teeth got to Oklahoma since there was no ocean around, the reply was that there used to be an ocean here! Some of my friends and I immediately assumed…Noah’s Flood!

B.                          The extent of the flood- there are five basic views of the flood. 1) There was no flood. 2) The flood covered the entire world including the tallest mountains. 3) The flood covered the biblical world, the known world, but not the whole world. Asia, Europe, the Americas and most of Africa would be exempt. 4) The flood was regional, located in the Tigris-Euphrates/Black Sea region. 5) The flood was local, covering many towns.


Problems with a world wide flood: To completely cover the tallest mountains the sea level would have to rise to a height of nearly 30, 000 feet in 150 days. For a “known world” view it would still have to rise to 17,000’ to cover Mt Ararat. This would add about 630 million cubic miles of water to the earth’s surface for the “known world” view and over 1 billion cubic miles of water to cover the whole earth using Mt Everest as the highest point at about 30, 000’. This water would weigh between 3 and 6 quintillion tons and would substantially alter the earth’s rotation, orbit and the orbit of the moon because of the extra gravity. Where did the water go? The sub-zero temps at that altitude would have frozen the water, increasing the albido effect and cooling the earth down into a vast ice cube. For the flood to achieve that height in 150 days the waters would have had to rise at 100 feet per day or 5 feet per hour. This would have created very high speed currents, whirlpools and waves that a vessel such as the Ark could not have survived. The dove would have been flying way above their normal altitude from the top of Mt Ararat. Given about 21,000 species of animals, at least, how did the 8 people on the Ark take care of that many animals? Think of all the feeding, watering, and clean up. What did the carnivores eat? What about the water? Wouldn’t a mixing of the fresh water and sea water tend to make the water unusable? How do you water the animals? How did all the kangaroos make it to Australia but none stopped in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Americas?

C.                          Specific Textual Issues- (from John H. Walton, NIV Application Commentary on Genesis).

(1) universal scope of the language in 7:21-23; the all is not always universal in Hebrew. Consider Deut.2:25. Though the word all is used it clearly is meaning the countries immediately around Canaan, not those is Europe, Africa, Asia or the Americas. The Deut.2 passage even uses “under heaven” like Gen. 7:19. In Gen. 41:57 it says that all countries came to Joseph for food because the famine was severe in all the world. Including Lapland Eskimos? The Akkadian texts use the word all similarly. This is not deceptive in the least. You see it in the New Testament as well in passages such as Matt.3:5 that says “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him.” Did every man, woman and child go hear John the Baptist preach?

(2) covering the mountains in 7:19; In Job 38:34; Jer.46:8; and Malachi 2:13 the verb means to be drenched not submerged. We use the word that way too, by telling someone who got caught out in a rain storm, “you are covered in water.” If we were to interpret Gen. 17:19 it could mean that it was raining so hard you could see the water pouring off the tallest mountains as in a flash flood.  It does not demand the mountains be submerged under the water.

(3) fifteen cubits above the mountains in 7:20; the word for above can be interpreted as an adverb meaning the waters rose 15 cubits upward toward the mountains. See  Ezekiel 1:11 and Joshua 3:13, 16.

(4) the tops of the mountains becoming visible in 8:5. Walton says this is the most difficult to explain for those who say the text does not require a truly global flood. This text implies that the tops of the mountains were submerged. But, in that day, their view of the world had the mountains of northern Turkey, the Zagros Mountains of Persia and some other mountains as being the pillars that held up the sky, the heavens. They were a place for the gods, not man. The text then is not talking about these pillars that are unassailable; the text is instead talking about the mountains that are inhabited by men. The Ark, then, comes to rest in the foothills of Ararat, not on its peak. Moses sees the tops of the mountains down below, slowly rising above the waters.

D.                          The New Testament and the Flood- Matt.24:36-44; Lk. 17:27; mention the flood in terms of judgment but there is no definitive statement about the extent of the Flood. 2Peter 2:5 emphasizes God’s sparing of Noah and 2Peter 3:5-6 speaks of the deluge and how it destroyed the world. But how much of the world? And keep in mind Dr. John Sailhamer’s thesis that the creation account may be talking more specifically about the creation of the Promised Land than about the world at large.

E.                           Science Does Show Two Significant Regional Floods in History- At about 5.5 million years ago the straits of Gibraltar were a solid dam holding back the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Basin which was a much smaller sea and a great plain. A huge earthquake opened up the Gibraltar dam and the waters of the Atlantic rushed in, flooding the Mediterranean Basin. This would create a sudden displacement of air that would now be very humid and would rise rapidly creating huge storm systems that would have inundated the region of the Middle East with enough water to cause a regional Flood matching the Bible’s description. But that was 5.5 million years ago and science tells us that homo sapiens is nowhere near that old. Therefore, the Black Sea Flood, at about 5500 BC seems like a better plan. Science has shown that the Black Sea used to be much smaller and was a fresh water lake with a civilization on its shores. An earthquake opened up the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits and the salt water of the Mediterranean Sea poured in many times faster than what we see at Niagara Falls. This rapidly flooded the region and this is close enough to where Noah could have been to account for his flood. This deluge flooded out 60,000 square miles of previously dry ground and raised the water level of the Sea by 500’. Scientists have found fossils and the remains of a civilization under water far out into the Black Sea.


F.                          Those with a Strict World Wide Flood View- It is believed that that the geography of the earth was greatly altered by the flood. Prior to the Flood, some believe the Super-Continent, Pangaea, existed and that there were no tall mountains. After the flood and the dispersal of the animals and people to all the continents, Pangaea broke up, and the mountains grew quickly. Strict literalists believe everything we know about geology, plate tectonics and the age of the earth is wrong. Some strict literalists believe Noah included dinosaurs on the Ark. When I went to the Grand Canyon in the early 1980’s there was a booklet available for purchase that presented the case for a young earth and the Grand Canyon being created by the Flood about 5-6,000 years ago.


Conclusion: What I believe we can solidly know from Scripture about the Flood Account-(1) Noah was an historical figure whom God forewarned of a flood that judge the people of his day. (2) Noah built a real Ark and God really used it as a means of preserving Noah and family from the flood. (3) God miraculously drew the animals to Noah and they did get onto the Ark. (4) The account does not require a belief that every single animal from the earth was represented on the Ark. The volume of the Ark was nowhere near large enough to hold all those animals and their food. The humans were not enough to care for all the animals in the world. The number of miracles would have to grow rapidly to enable the family to care for the animals and for the animals to get back to their homes. (5) The Flood was so significant that many peoples around the world carry a Flood story with them. It may have killed off every one except Noah’s family. Using the current dating scheme of the spread of homo sapiens the flood may have had to have happened 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. (6) The text does not require a belief in a total world wide flood and science cannot support it. The number of miracles grows hugely with a world wide flood covering even Mt. Ararat let alone Everest in the Hindu Kush. (7) The text does point back at Creation and forward to the Exodus, the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and to a coming day of judgment/salvation. The focus in the story is God’s judgment against sin and his grace towards Noah.


Application: Simplistic answers to the toughest of the problems in the Bible do not always take the text as seriously as is claimed. Rigorous study of the text must include getting inside the worldview of those who wrote it, and those who first received it. 21st century frames of reference can lead us astray unnecessarily and do a disservice to the text. However, it is also way too easy to accept modern day skepticism and scientism and write off the text of the harder passages. Therefore, it is best to acknowledge that there is some latitude for differing interpretations and keep the key parts of the story in focus. God is holy and will judge sin but he is also loving and gracious and will preserve his own. The story is historical, a real Noah, a real Ark and a real Flood took place. God does reveal himself in nature and the methods of science and reason will not automatically contradict Scripture, even though the presuppositions of many scientists will.


Note: this lesson is heavily reliant upon John H. Walton’s NIV Application Commentary: Genesis. All the technical data and the outline came from his book.






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