What the Bible says
Having looked at what science says, we now need to consider what the Bible says. For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, and if science presents a different story then it is science that is ignored. At such times it is worth reconsidering our interpretation of the Bible, to ask if it is not science but rather our interpretation of the Bible that is at fault.
This does not mean twisting the Bible to fit a particular view. Rather this should mean that we try to remove all preconceptions of what the Bible ‘should’ say and come afresh to ask what it does say.
Several words and phrases in the Noah story can be interpreted in different ways. How we interpret them has a large influence on whether we believe the Bible to be describing a regional or a global flood. These are:
- the word erets (אֶרֶץ) translated earth could equally mean land, and refer not to the entire planet but to a geographical region such as the Tigris/Euphrates basin (and in fact, the concept of ‘planet’ or ‘whole earth’ in our sense is arguably anachronistic for the period of the text’s inception)
- phrases containing the word all (qol, קֹל) would then naturally be understood as relative to the region under discussion
- har (הַר) translated mountain could equally mean hill or (as in Har Megiddon/ מְגִדּוֹ הַר/ Armageddon) city mound
- ‘Mt. Ararat’ is a KJV mistranslation of hare Ararat (הָרֵי אֲרָרָט) which means the hills (pl.) of Urartu, and refers not to a 16,000 ft.+ peak in the Caucasus, but to foothills just north of the Iraqi plain
Other Biblical evidence comes from the use of this account by later writers of the Bible.
- 2 Peter 2v5 [and] if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness and seven others…
The phrase ‘ancient world’ (kosmos palaio; κοσμος παλαιος) could as well be translated ‘ancient order of things.’ It need not mean the entire earth, any more than it means the entire universe.
- 1 Peter 3:18-21a — For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that saves you also…
The universality of God saving mankind through Jesus does not depend on the universality of the flood, as some have interpreted this passage to mean. The principle is the saving through water, and the universality of death applied to everyone in the area of the flood who was not in the ark.
- Luke 17:26-29 — “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.”
The ‘all’ may mean those in Noah’s area, just as with Lot the ‘all’ meant those in Sodom.
- Isaiah 54:9 — “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
God is speaking here to his people, Noah’s descendants, and thus the point made is not lost if the word erets is translated as land. Given that as Gentiles we have been grafted into Abraham’s line, strict physical descendance is not necessary for us.
The existence of a global flood is possible on theological and textural grounds, but so is the possibility that it was a regional event. Given that the scientific and historical evidence is firmly against a global flood, it makes sense to choose the interpretation that fits with other sources.