Genesis global flood and the problems that lie within

Genesis global flood and the problems that lie within


CIMG7809Was the flood of Noah, a true mega flood? A flood so big which happened to water the entire planet? That is certainly what many people hold to, not all though. Biblical scholarship has long been popular on the global flood and many evidences have been given along the centuries to further concrete the view that the waters, as described in the account of Genesis are the most accurate when they go for a universal flood theory.

However, closer inspections show a contrasting picture, and one certainly which catches the eye. There are odd questions and odd speculations abound the story of the flood and I believe as long as we have the book of Genesis, the consensus might be broken off. But true to the spirit of scholarship let us indeed look at what the text says and not read into the story what we might think may have had happened. That is certainly an error most scholars and non-scholars alike often find themselves in.

I believe that the flood makes more sense if its local and not global. This is actually, what I lean towards. Why? you ask. Well because to be honest that is what the scriptures in their most accurate form describe.

For those who do not know Hebrew and its use in the O.T, let me give a simple approach to this.

The word “earth” as is used in the account of Genesis’ flood and other parts of it, never actually means planet Earth. That is where most confusion lies. The Hebrew word used here is “Erets” (Strong’s Dictionary number H776) which means land, country, soil, ground. To my delight, there is indeed a word in Hebrew which when used means the whole world or inhabited world and that is tebel (Strong’s H8398). The important thing to note is that Tebel is never used once in the account of the Noah’s flood, not once. In-fact only Kol (meaning “all”)-Erets is used through out. Kol-Erets meaning “all land” or all ground. It is also treated a few times as ” specific number of people within a boundary”.

Here is how the account of the genesis flood starts:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11)

And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:12)

Now use the Hebrew word in it and you will see what it really means:

Now the land (erets) was corrupt in the sight of God, and the land (erets) was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11)

And God looked on the land (erets), and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the land (erets). (Genesis 6:12)

Makes some sense, right? So you can immediately see the account of the flood does not even has to begin with the entire planet scenario. It simply is not there. What is there, is the land which makes up the Mesopotamian flood plain.

Still not satisfied? Here is another one. In the story of the tower of Babel, it is written:

“The (Kol) whole (Erets) earth used the same language.”

You can see right there that earth, can not mean planet earth. It means, people who lived within that immediate region. The Hebrew here is Kol-Erets, again meaning the whole land. But it does not mean the whole planet. This is equal to saying:

There is famine in all the land.

If you say this to someone, they will ask you which land are you talking about? No one will assume that you meant the entire planet had famine on it. To the writers of the old testament, using the word land made perfect sense because in that case it was their own land which the Hebrew word Erets referred to. The word Erets is always used to describe land, local geographic piece of land, throughout the entire Old Testament. Not once, is it used to mean the whole planet.

It is similar to God saying “I will flood all the land”, but this does not mean “all the planet” or “all the earth”.

The problem is, since the early translators of English used “earth” as also meaning “land” or “ground”, they gave the old English translations a bit of a scholarly touch, more than it fairly merited. And thus we have an array of people trying to justify the global flood because the word “earth” is used in their English bibles, the true Hebrew word simply means “land“.

Of course this is just the start, if you look closely you will find that there are many other problems there too.

  • If the flood waters went as high as the highest mountains, then where did all that water go?
  • At such altitude, oxygen is very low, so it is impossible to breath that high.
  •  Surprise, the English word mountain in the original language is can also means hill.

Though earth, in English does mean land. I think more people are so simple minded that they do not actually think about this mostly. The though immediately jumps to all of the earth rather than land. And the thing is the flood has been so long preached and understood as global that each English translation of the Bible seems to use words which tend to go toward a global flood theory. It surprised me to some extent when I first came to study this because even modern translations of the Bible treat the word “Erets” as land elsewhere just fine, consider this:

  • The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole [kol] land [erets] of Havilah, where there is gold. (Genesis 2:11)
  • And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole [kol] land [erets] of Cush. (Genesis 2:13)

Right here they translate the word perfectly but in Genesis 6, they shift gears and use the word earth where they should be using land. However for those of you who like to know more, there may be a good reason for this too. You see, in Genesis 6 the word “earth” in a few lines also means “people“, and not land or planet. This is as typical as saying, the world has gone mad; now you really do not mean the land or the planet, you mean the people (not all people to be precise for all can not be mad). I think this may be one reason why the translations do tend to stick to the “earth” and not  “land”. Earth (as in land inhabited by humans) means that people are being referred, which the word land, alone does not address. In my opinion it may be that the use of both may have seemed inconsistent and that is why they chose to stick with “earth” even when it gave double meanings. However this use is also, more of a literary device than a specific.e.g.

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all [kol] the earth [erets]. (Psalm 100:1)Obviously people can shout, not the planet and its burning core.

And the people of all [kol] the earth [erets] came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth  [erets]. (Genesis 41:57) As you can see people from Australia did not come to buy grain from Egypt. Since the famine was in the “land” not in Australia.

As you can see above are two distinct different uses of the same words. One carries poetic metaphor, one is literal. You have to know grammar and context to understand both.

If you have an English Bible, you only have a translation, you do not have the Bible in its original text. And that is why I always stress that people should not read their Bibles and simply form scholarly conclusions. That is why when an atheist or agnostic makes fun of the absurdity of a global flood or fitting all the animals in the Noah’s ark, I do not take that criticism seriously at all. Because I know it is rooted in ignorance of study. The same goes for Christians who like to proof-text their way into everything they think the Bible says, when it does not.

I feel sad for both parties, and myself. For at times explaining these little things becomes frustrating especially when people do not listen or tend to contradict because they do not like the answer.

There are many other problems with a global flood theory too but I think that is for another day. This post is already beginning to look lengthy.

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8 thoughts on “Genesis global flood and the problems that lie within

  1. Even of more importance is the archaeological record which shows no world-wide flood in the time-frame of the Bible. Stories of ancient cultures indicate that there was a world-wide flood but it would have had to have been much, much older. There is some archaeological record for a limited flood in Mesopotamia though.

    1. Actually for those who believe in a global flood the point of possibility is more popular than actuality. For instance, during the last ice age, the whole northern hemisphere was under ice, at some places, the ice was close to 2 miles thick. So the problem is not that only Genesis says that land can be covered by water (or ice), science says it too, they just do not agree on the time frame, as you point out.

      But even more so the reason is that, the account in Genesis simply do not speak of a global flood to begin with.

  2. John,

    Great analysis! I appreciate your desire read and not read into; that’s where true exegesis starts. I’ve looked at many of the issues with a global flood and have considered myself fairly convinced it was global in scale but I’ve been open to persuasion. Just a few points in response to the ones you make in your post.

    On the use of tevel/tebel in the flood account, you correctly note that it isn’t used at all in the flood account; in fact only 10 of the 39 OT books make use of it, predominantly in poetic books, the heaviest in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah and Jeremiah. There it often used in conjuction with erets:

    “The earth [erets] is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world [tebel] and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

    Erets is used in every book of the OT, first appearing in Genesis 1:1… “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [erets],” where the meaning must be seen as the entire planet. This doesn’t mean that every occurrence of erets means the entire planet, but I don’t think we can look at tebel as the exclusively proper word for whole earth given it’s relative scarcity in scripture and it’s favored use as a synonym to erets in poetic writing. Your conclusions on the meaning of erets (that it means local area) in Gen. 6:11-12 and 11:1 seem to be driven by that assumption.

    Without this assumption, taking into account the first 11 chapters of Genesis, erets occurs 96 times in the context of a global earth (i.e. “every creeping thing that creeps on the earth [erets]” in Gen. 1:26) and only 12 times in a localized “geographic area” context (i.e. “the land [erets] of Nod” in Gen. 4:16)

    Also, there are some issues I see with what you list as problems for a global flood:

    First, the altitude/oxygen problem: We measure altitude as distance from sea level. Oxygen levels at sea level are dense. In a global flood scenario, where the “sea level” rose to the height of the highest hills/mountains, the dense oxygen level would be unchanged for the ark’s inhabitants since they would have technically been at sea level the entire time (Raised water level globally would have pushed the dense oxygen mixture up with it).

    As for an accounting of the water necessary to cover the highest mountains, I think we have to consider that a global flood would have drastically reshaped the surface of the earth through plate tectonics and likely created mountain ranges during the flood and in the period of geologic instability that would have followed. It’s possible that the mountains we see now are newer or taller than what existed pre-flood, which would lessen the volume of water required.

    Another consideration is the detection of vast reservoirs of water hundreds of miles below the surface of the earth that researchers estimate could add an ocean to what is currently on the surface (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070227-ocean-asia.html).

    While “the English word mountain in the original language is can also means hill” is true, the vast majority of the occurrences of har/harim translate as mountain/mountains. Where the extent of the flood is described in Genesis 7:19-20, harim is accompanied by kol (all) and gavoah (high, exalted), as if to distinguish these from lesser hills.

    Thanks again for your insightful posts and a “critical eye.” 🙂

I'd love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. Thank you.

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