The Global flood has long been subject to critique from secular scientists and religious scientists alike. I remember when I first started thinking about the flood outside of what I was taught about it, I wondered to myself “Did the underwater creatures die during the flood?” This was the beginning of the probing questions I had and led to me to research this issue further.
I want to start by saying that I don’t think either view is theologically problematic. If you believe in a global or local flood, rest assured you won’t have me angrily typing in caps lock against you. However, I am of the opinion that one of the views is better supported by the available evidence.
Here are the facts that we do know. There was a flood that covered almost 100 kilometers.[i] We know that due to increased volcanic activity, our ancestors were forced into small groups[ii], making them easy targets for a local disaster, such as a flood.
There is evidence that in Arabia, around 13,000 years ago, there was a flood that would correspond with the biblical data. In a 2014 peer-reviewed paper[iii], the authors write “The formation of several wadi canyons and funnel cuts along the entire Tuwaiq clearly suggests that the breaching of this conspicuous escarpment was sudden and rapid, as the northern outlet of this mega-lake was sufficient to discharge the water”
When I first became a Christian, I was a Neo-Ussherian. I accepted what I was told about the Earth being 6,000 years old, that Evolution was a lie and that essentially much of mainstream science was wrong. I can resonate with those still stuck in this type of mindset and I don’t seek to belittle them, because I’ve been there. Let me share with you my “wow” moment that changed the way I thought about Science and Religion and still impacts me to this day.
As I was reading science books from the library, I came to see that a lot of scientific “problems” that I thought were obvious falsehoods, were assumed in pop science books and explained by the more scholarly works. I started comparing what the Neo-Ussherians were saying with what the scientists were saying and I saw a huge difference in rhetoric and standard of evidence.
For example, I was a big fan of Kent Hovind in my early days, he used to have great rhetorical prose and he made sense to me. However, looking at his work now, I don’t know why I was thinking the way I was. When he started his doctoral dissertation with “Hi, I’m Kent Hovind.” and says he will lick a Jupiter rock (Jupiter is a gas giant) I was astonished at the lack of self-awareness that Mr. Hovind had regarding his scientific claims. In the same way, I think a lot of well-meaning Christians can fall into these anti-scientific traps.
Psalm 104:9 is an important biblical text regarding this issue. The debate is whether or not Psalm passage is referring to creation or the flood. We can deduct from the literary context what answer is more probable.
|Verse||Psalm 104||Other Creation Passages|
|2||He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
Several creation passages refer to the expansion of the heavens1
|3||and lays the beams of His upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.||The One who builds His upper chambers in the heavens, And has founded His vaulted dome over the earth, He who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth, The LORD is His name. (Amos 9:6)|
|4||He makes winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants.|
|5||He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.||In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Psalm 102:25)
My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. (Isaiah 48:13)
that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand– I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.'” (Isaiah 51:16)
he who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land– the LORD is his name. (Amos 9:6)
This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: (Zechariah 12:1)
He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Hebrews 1:10)
|6||You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.||So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. (Genesis 1:7)
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
I was there when He set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, (Proverbs 8:27-28)
Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4)
When I made a cloud its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band, (Job 38:9)
The One who builds His upper chambers in the heavens, And has founded His vaulted dome over the earth, He who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth, The LORD is His name. (Amos 9:6)
|7||But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of Your thunder they took to flight;||And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:9)
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, (2 Peter 3:5)
The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the rivers. (Psalm 24:2)
|8||they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place You assigned for them.||God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10)
To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalm 136:5-6)
|9||You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.||when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. (Proverbs 8:29)
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7)
…For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it. (Jeremiah 5:22)
“Or who enclosed the sea with doors, When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb…And I placed boundaries on it, And I set a bolt and doors, And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’? (Job 38:8-11)
Psalm 104 seems to describe the creation of the universe in the same way that Genesis 1 does. We start with a creation model similar to that of the big bang (Psalm 104:2, Genesis 1:1), a stabilized water cycle (Psalm 104:3-5, Genesis 1:6-8) and the earth is described as a place completely covered in water. (Psalm 104:6, Genesis 1:9) God causes dry land to appear (Psalm 104:7-8, Genesis 1:9-10) leading us to verse 9 where God Is said to have set a boundary at creation, that the waters would no longer cover the entire earth after God created the dry land.
The other way this can be interpreted is that while Psalm 104 does have some similarities to the creation event, it is a text about a global flood and verse 9 is simply reiterating God’s rainbow covenant promise that he won’t flood the earth again.
Both are exegetically tenable; however, I think one view stands out over the other. The Psalmist seems to use language that would indicate it is talking about creation rather than the flood. The Psalmist’s reference to “boundaries of the deep” reek of a reference to creation, since boundaries are not referred to any other flood passage, while it is referred to in other creation passages. (Proverbs 8:29, Psalm 33:6-7, Jeremiah 5:22, Job 38:8-11.) A quick note: the figure of speech where earth is referred to as being “covered in a garment” occurs in undisputed creation passages, but not undisputed flood passages.
When anyone wants to point out modern science, you might get the same old tired response that you’re just a compromiser of biblical faith and giving in to secularism. Contrary to that lazy rhetoric, there are two important things to note:
1.) There are commentaries that were written before modern scientific discovery that interpreted Psalm 104:9 as referring to creation.
2.) Many of these commentaries were written by Neo-Ussherians.
That second point is especially important. A Neo-Ussherian would have no ‘compromising’ motive to capitulate to science.
For example, John Gill states:
“for it treats of the creation of all things, of the heavens and the earth, and of all creatures in them; and of the providence of God in taking care of them.Psa 104:6 – Thou coverest it with the deep as with a garment,…. This refers not to the waters of the flood, when the earth was covered with them, even the tops of the highest mountains; but to the huge mass of waters, the abyss and depth of them, which lay upon the earth and covered it as a garment, at its first creation, as the context and the scope of it show; and which deep was covered with darkness, at which time the earth was without form, and void, Gen 1:2”
Matthew Henry in passing says “Psalm 104 – God’s majesty in the heavens, The creation of the sea, and the dry land. (1-9)”
John Wesley also acknowledged this as well as Charles Spurgeon who said:
Verse 6. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment. The new born earth was wrapped in aqueous swaddling bands. In the first ages, ere man appeared, the proud waters ruled the whole earth. The waters stood above the mountains, no dry land was visible, vapour as from a steaming cauldron covered all. Geologists inform us of this as a discovery, but the Holy Spirit had revealed the fact long before.
The Septuagint labels this psalm “a psalm of David concerning the constitution of the world;” and an inscription on an ancient Syriac version of Psalm 104 states: “a psalm of David, when he went to worship before the ark of the Lord with the priests; and as to us, it teaches us confession and prayer; and intimates to us the constitution of the beginning of the creatures; and declares some things concerning the angels.” (bold mine)
The Neo-Ussherian who interprets this as referring to creation, will usually say God made an exception regarding the flood, but this seems like special pleading to me. We can conclude that it isn’t just those pesky Christians who listen to 21st century science who believe this way.
Answering Objections to the Local Flood
Because water always seeks its lowest point, how could water cover the mountains but not the whole earth?
This question needs to take into account the lack of variety in the Hebrew vocabulary. The Hebrew word for Mountain can easily refer to slopes or smaller mountains than the snow-capped ones you may be thinking of.
Secondly, water doesn’t always seek its lowest point, there have been observable floods where tidal forces and wind push water up onto land.
Why Couldn’t Noah just run away from the local flood?
This assumes that just because it was local that means it was small, like the size of a city or a neighborhood. This isn’t the case. However, what is a problem is the idea that many animals who are area specific all coming to one boat. You might think of the Pangea defense, but continental drift and the Neo-Ussherians calendar of events don’t add up with the evidence of Pangea.
If God didn’t flood the whole world, God lied.
This type of rhetoric is the most infuriating. It is circular reasoning, It presupposes the disputed topic and reeks of piety instead of honest inquiry. It’s also insulting to ask or state to a fellow Christian that they simply believe God is lying, certainly an uncharitable assessment of someone you disagree with.
Did God stretch out the heavens (Psalm 104:2) in Genesis 6-9 ? Did God set the earth on its foundations (Psalm 104:5) in Genesis 6-9? If it’s talking about a flood, where’s the reference to judgement? The things we expect to see if it was referring the flood is just not there.
Given the biblical parallels and the scientific evidence, I think it’s more probable that the flood was local rather than global.
[i] Rose, J. (2004). New Evidence for the Expansion of an Upper Pleistocene Population out of East Africa, from the Site of Station One, Northern Sudan. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 14(2), 205-216.
[ii] Parker A.G. (2010) Pleistocene Climate Change in Arabia: Developing a Framework for Hominin Dispersal over the Last 350 ka. In: Petraglia M., Rose J. (eds) The Evolution of Human Populations in Arabia. Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology. Springer, Dordrecht
[iii] El Bastawesy, M. Arab J Geosci (2015) 8: 2577. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12517-014-1396-9