Refuting Biblical Inerrancy: the Problem of the Length of the Genesis Flood

How long did the Genesis Flood, or Noah’s Flood, last? It is a challenge to answer this question because Genesis offers, I will argue, contradictory accounts regarding the length of the Flood, which constitutes a strong case against biblical inerrancy. 

The Defending Inerrancy website notices this discrepancy: “The alleged discrepancy is this: according to Genesis 7:24 (and 8:3) speak of the flood waters lasting for 150 days. But, other verses say it was only 40 days (Gen. 7:4, 12, 17). Which is correct?” 

Defending Inerrancy tries to explain the discrepancy away. His answer to the problem is that “Forty days refers to how long “the rain fell” (7:12, niv), and 150 days speaks of how long the flood “waters prevailed””. I will show that this is a misleading case for defending biblical inerrancy.

But first, let us consider the translation used. This inerrantist uses the New King James version of Bible translation, which is as follows regarding the verses in question:

1. “For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights (7:4).

2. “And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights” (7:12).

3. “Now the flood was on the earth forty days” (7:17).

4. “The waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days” (7:24).

5. That at the end of the 150 days “the waters decreased” (8:3).

Let’s compare this translation to the original Hebrew. Keep in mind that the Hebrew does not translate neatly into English, but is yet discernible:

1. “and forty days forty the earth on will cause it to rain” (7:4).

2. “nights and forty days forty the earth upon the rain And was” (7:12).

3. “the waters and increased the earth on days forty the flood And was” (7:17).

4. “days and a hundred fifty the earth on the waters And prevailed” (7:24).

5. “and decreased steadily going back going back from the waters And receded days and a hundred of fifty at the end the waters” (8:3).

Comparing these side-by-side, the two translations assert mostly the same thing, which means we can discard the idea that the inerrantist is using convenient translations to iron out discrepancies (although he is, I will show, misleading elsewhere).

Taking both translations into account, we have the following scenario: it rained for forty days and nights on the Earth (7:4, 12) and it was flooded for forty days (7:17). Alternatively, the Earth was flooded for 150 days (7:24) and then the Flood receded at the end of 150 days (8:3).

Clearly, verses 7:17 and 7:24 sit in tension with each other. But the inerrantist is selective here regarding the verses he uses to explain this discrepancy away. Either constituting an honest mistake or an attempt to be misleading, the inerrantist plays up verse 7:12 (“And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty night”) and conveniently downplays 7:17. He can thus support his case that “Forty days refers to how long “the rain fell” (7:12, niv), and 150 days speaks of how long the flood “waters prevailed””. Notice that 7:17 is not factored into this explanation. 

But 7:17 is the problem verse when laid side-by-side with 7:24: 7:17 states that the Flood lasted forty days whereas 7:24 says it lasted 150 days (7:24). The inerrantist wiggles out of this discrepancy by avoiding putting 7:17 side-by-side with 7:24. This is, of course, convenient because it ignores the discrepancy, which is the very thing the inerrantist wants to explain away.

Readers need to be careful of this tactic or mistake on behalf of the inerrantist. It is easy for the inerrantist to mislead his readers by downplaying certain verses while emphasizing others that are convenient to his case. In this example, the inerrantist has not resolved the tension in Genesis regarding the length of the Flood. Was it forty days (7:17) or 150 days (7:24)? We cannot say and neither can the inerrantist.

Let me know your thoughts!

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