Christians, independent of their interpretations of the Genesis flood, “view the story of Noah’s ark and the Flood an essential part of the Bible’s divine teaching about God, his relationship to creation, and the just punishment that sin deserves” (1). This is because the “story points to the magnitude of Christ’s work, saving us from judgement and giving us new life.” The vast majority of biblical scholars, however, believe that the Genesis flood story, although it might be based upon an actual flood in the Mesopotamia region, does not to provide information on historical events (2) (3). Biblical scholars note the story for its message on God’s sovereignty over nature and his justice, love and grace, but not because of its historicity. Many have argued, myself included, that if the Genesis flood is based upon a historical event then it was probably a local flood, as suggested by the internal witness of the Bible. Very much like the exodus, the flood story has history behind it. Christian biblical scholar and professor Peter Enns explains that “Many biblical scholars relying on geological findings believe that a great deluge in Mesopotamia around 2900 BCE was the trigger for the many flood stories that circulated in the ancient world, some already two thousand years old by the time King David came on the scene” (4).
Then there is persuasive scientific evidence that needs to be considered. Christian and Professor of the History of Science Ted Davis explains that “Although some geologists once believed that geological evidence supported the historicity of a truly worldwide flood, by the 1830s that view was rapidly on the way out, as evidence grew for glacial activity that offered a much better explanation of “erratic boulders” and other things previously understood as detritus caused by the Flood” (5). This is supported by studies of ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica that provide evidence of never being inundated by water. Historical evidence also suggests that North America has been occupied by humans for at least 12 000 years, a fact that seems very difficult to reconcile with a worldwide catastrophe in Noah’s time. The vast and overwhelming consensus among professional scientists is that a global flood is contradicted by consensus in geology, stratigraphy, geophysics, physics, paleontology, biology, anthropology, and archeology (6). Thus contemporary scientists overwhelmingly reject it (7) as our best evidence points away from there ever being a global flood.
Yet, how did the ancient Israelites come upon the idea of a global flood? Scholars have persuasively argued that an entire generation of Israelites had been raised in a culture where the creation stories of their Mesopotamian neighbours involved cosmic battles between gods and demigods fighting for control of the elements. The oceans (the deep), the moon and sun were given major roles in these narratives. The point being that the Israelites were familiar with these tales and used them to construct their own creation story with Yahweh, Israel’s God, at the center, as Enns explains that “the flood story, though rooted in history, is dressed up in mythic clothes from head to toe” (8). The late scholar James Barr explained that scholars routinely acknowledge that “Such material [is not considered] to be historical or scientific: it belongs to legend… It belongs to mythology, or to the psychology of ancient peoples, or to literary symbolism, but it certainly is not historical or scientific chronology” (9). But, as Enns and others have pointed out, myth was an ancient category that God used to reveal himself to his people, the ancient Israelites. He points out that skeptics who use myth as an argument against biblical Christianity make the unwarranted assumption that God cannot use a category that we call “myth” to reveal truth to the ancient Israelites: “God lets his children tell the story – in ways they understand and that is packed with meaning for them. These are ancient stories. For ancient Israelites to talk about their God as the ultimate chaos tamer back at creation was a bold statement of faith – none of the gods of other nations could hold that spot” (10).
On a similar note John Walton, in his book The Lost World of Genesis One, argues that within the ancient world the creation stories focused on the “why” not the how. If Walton’s argument follows then it would be pointless to ask the “how” question and use it as a criterion for judging the biblical author and his story. John Shelby Spong agrees that geological details weren’t the purpose of the authors writing of scripture, instead, “The Scriptures are acculturated stories of a specific people” (11) in a way that was meaningful to them at their time. Thus, explains Haarsma, “to claim from our perch in the 21st century that Genesis was an attempt at science is a misguided effort.”
1. Haarsma, D. 2016. Biologos Responds to the “Ark Encounter.” Available.
2. Chisholm, H. 1910. “Ark” in Encyclopedia Britannica Company. p. 549.
3. Young. 1995. History of the Collapse of “Flood Geology” and a Young Earth.
4. Enns, P. 2014. The Bible Tells Me So. p. 152 (Scribd ebook format).
5. Davis, T. 2016. Flooding the World with Creationism. Available.
6. Senter, P. 2011. “The Defeat of Flood Geology by Flood Geology” in Reports of the National Center for Science Education 31:3.
7. Isaac, M. 2007. The Counter-Creationism Handbook. p. 173.
8. Enns, P. 2014. Ibid.
9. Barr, J. 1987. Biblical Chronology, Fact or Fiction? Available.
10. Enns, P. 2014. p. 156.
11. Spong, J. 1991. Saving the Bible From Fundamentalism. p. 102.
12. Wray, C. 2016. 8 Unfortunate Myths Christians Believe About Evolution. Available.