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Monday, September 10, 2007

Some Questions about Noah's flood

The great flood in the time of Noah was God's flood, not Noah's, but it has often been given Noah's name.

I am well aware that there are debates about the authenticity of the story of Noah, which is told in Genesis 6-10. There are also Bible scholars that believe that Noah was a historical figure, but who doubt that the flood was truly world-wide. (Humans might have been located in a relatively small area at the time of Noah.) I do not have resolutions for such debates. I pose them, and some other questions, below. I'm not sure that any view of Noah and the flood is without serious weaknesses.

1) Why is the story of Noah in the Bible?
Only God can answer that question, of course, but the story emphasizes God's hatred of evil, His love for the righteous, and His concern for not just humans, but for all of his creation.

2) Did Noah really exist?
New Testament passages, as well as the Old Testament, seem to indicate pretty clearly that the answer is "yes". They include at least these: 1 Chronicles 1:4, where Noah and his sons are included in the genealogies of the ancestors of the Hebrews (Noah is also listed in the genealogy in Luke 3); Isaiah 54:9, where God, through Isaiah, promises comfort to the Israelites, as He made a promise to Noah; Ezekiel 14, where the prophet lists Noah as an example of righteousness, along with Job and Daniel; Matthew 27, where Jesus compares the surprise that will attend His return with surprise at the destruction in the time of Noah (this is repeated in Luke 17); Hebrews 11, where Noah is listed as one of the heroes of faith; 1 Peter 3, where Peter speaks of Noah (I'm not clear on the meaning of that passage); and 2 Peter 2, where Peter uses the story of Noah as a warning to the wicked, and a comfort to the righteous.

3) Was the flood world-wide?
Maybe. Maybe not. The description says that it covered the whole earth, but 1 Kings 10:24 says that the whole earth came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Surely not inhabitants of the New World? Australia? Daniel 8:5 says that, in a vision, Daniel saw a goat coming across the whole earth. Perhaps, in both these cases, especially the first, the whole known earth is meant. Perhaps not. Perhaps that is what is meant in the case of Noah's flood. I don't know. There are Bible scholars who believe it was world-wide, and those who don't.

4) Where did all the water come from? Where did it go after the flood?
Especially if the flood was world-wide, there is no good natural answer to that question. There doesn't seem to be enough water to cover the mountains all over the earth. God could, of course, have specially created the necessary water, and removed it after the flood. If the flood was local, the amount of water required would have been much less, depending on where humans were living at the time. Some have suggested that they were living in a large valley, which, after the flood, became the Mediterranean, or the Caspian, Sea.

5) Where is the geological evidence for the flood?
Although some claim that there is geological evidence for a world-wide flood, few, if any, academically trained geologists believe this. One practicing geologist, trained by young-earth creationist geologists, came to doubt that the geological evidence was there, and asked some other geologists, also trained by persons who believed in the influence of the flood, how what they had learned about the flood from this training was useful in searching for petroleum. None of them could give a positive response.

6) If the flood wasn't world-wide, why didn't God just tell Noah to go somewhere else?
I don't know. He was a witness of God's righteousness while he and his sons were building the ark, and perhaps God's mercy wanted his work, and his righteousness, to bring about repentance in his neighbors.

7) Were there any dinosaurs on the ark?
See previous post.

8) What happened to all the plants that were exposed to water for a long period of time?
This page attempts to answer that. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.

9) What happened to the salt-water fish during a world-wide flood?
This page answers that, or tries to. Maybe that answer is correct, maybe not.

10) How did slow-moving animals, like sloths, and some turtles, get to the ark, and how did they get back after the flood, if it was world-wide?
God may have started them earlier than, say, zebras, I suppose.

11) How about amphibians (frogs, salamanders, and the like), which would have been expected to dry out if they had to travel long distances over land?

12) Presumably the ark was built in the Middle East, or in East Asia. How did animals from North and South America, and Australia, get to the ark, and how did they get back after the flood, if it was world-wide?
It is possible that there were land bridges between all the continents, that aren't there now, but this flies in the face of the geologic evidence, and scientific evidence is part of God's revelation to us (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20).
It is possible that God directed their footsteps (or flight), and transported them to the vicinity of the ark, and back. Note that, especially in Australia (and other smaller isolated land masses) there are animals that don't live anywhere else. Did they leave the ark and go straight home, without leaving any offspring behind?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions for sure. Some people claim to. Perhaps they are right.

See my previous post on the question of whether or not dinosaurs are still alive.

Thanks for reading.

This post was slightly edited on December 27, 2016 and January 19, 2017.

See also these questions, raised by a different blogger.

Added on August 3, 2017: For further material on the flood (not by me) see this post, which is part of a series of five. You can easily access the rest of the series from it.

December 13, 2017: I quote from an article by Caspar Hesp:
In a YEC global flood scenario, it is problematic to explain how all marsupial descendants and fossils could have been constrained to the Americas and Australia, before and after dispersion from the Ark of Noah. Post-Flood hyperspeciation after a single migration cannot be invoked because the variety among marsupials is too extreme to be categorized as a single “kind” or “baramin”.


elbogz said...

Noah was the most righteous man in the world. Yet when he gets off the ark, he gets drunk and falls down naked causing his son to sin in such an egregious manner that he was cursed the rest of his days. If the ark was to cleanse the world of sin, why, then did sin still exist? If the flood was not to cleanse the world of sin, what was God�s purpose?

Bonnie said...

Thanks for raising all these questions (together in one place!), Martin.

As to (6), I think that, as with all of the OT "stories," Noah and the flood's was about God's redemptive purposes, not just about "running away," which is what going somewhere else would've represented.

To respond to elbogz, I also think it illustrates God's judgment, and that humans are sinful and in need of His redemption. Noah's righteousness was rewarded in that he was used as an agent of redemption and the establishing of a covenant (of the rainbow).

Anonymous said...

Biblical evidence points to a different purpose than sin in God creating a disaster.

The lineage of mankind had become polluted (Nephilim) and it was necessary for the lineage to be cleansed.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the Hebrews are not the only Middle Eastern group to have a Great Flood-Sole survivor story. Utnapishtim is only the most notable exception.

Noah must have been a real individual but it's impossible to tell what parts of his story are morality lessons wrapped in myth and which parts are historical.

The distinction between myth and history becomes clearer as the Bible progresses. In Genesis in particular the distinction between myth (parable) and history isn't clear.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, all of you.

elbogz, I can't answer all of your questions, and I have some of my own, but the Old Testament has a repeating pattern of people turning to God after some sort of punishment, then they, or their descendants, falling away again. God does punish sin, but He doesn't stamp it out, since he loves humans, and has given them the power to make moral choice. But God does finally have an answer to the sin problem, namely Himself.

Bonnie, I think you are right on.

Starving Econ Grad, it is true that Genesis 6 starts with saying something about the Nephilim (whoever they were) but I believe (without knowing the original language) that it goes on to say that the flood came because of sin, not because man's lineage needed cleansing. See Genesis 6:5-7.

Natalie said...

Something I just happened to notice today... Noah is not mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, though he is in the Gospel of Luke. Now, I've come to understand that the genealogy account in Matthew is likely for Joseph and the account in Luke is likely for Mary. Still, that doesn't account for the lack of Noah. If Noah and his sons were the only people in existence, whether world-wide or just in that area, shouldn't he be part of both lineages?

Martin LaBar said...

December 30, 2008: Thanks, Natalie.

The Matthew genealogy begins with Abraham, who came a number of generations after Noah. The purpose of the Matthew genealogy seems to have been to point out that Christ had impeccable Jewish credentials -- He was a Son of Abraham.

There are lots of other people left out of that genealogy, then, including Adam, for one.

Natalie said...

Yeah, I went back and reread the passage the day after I wrote this and realized the same thing. Duh! =)

Martin LaBar said...

Jan 5, 2009: Thanks, Natalie.

That's often how my brain works (or doesn't).