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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part I:  The Extent of the Flood

Chapter 1

An Examination of The Record Itself

     THIS CHAPTER will deal specifically with the actual wording of the text. It always seems best to determine as accurately as possible the intention of the Hebrew original rather than to draw conclusions merely from various translations.
     So we begin with a brief examination of the Hebrew word
  (eretz) which is translated "earth," as in Genesis 6:4, 5, 6, 11, 12, etc. According to Young's Analytical Concordance, the Hebrew word is translated "country" 140 times, "ground" 96 times and "earth" and "land" frequently. It is also rendered "field" once and by several other words in a very small number of instances. Assuming that Young's list is exhaustive, actual count shows that the word is translated "earth" about 677 times and translated "land" 1,458 times. Moreover, of the 677 occurrences, in at least one hundred instances the word may be equally, if not more appropriately, rendered "land" rather than "earth." Whereas in the cases where it is translated "land" in the English, the instances in which "earth" would have been more appropriate are rare. That is to say, the choice of "earth" or "land" as a translation of the original in any particular instance is a matter of context: and on the whole, if we exclude the account of the Flood, usage elsewhere shows that the context favours the word land rather than earth. To put this another way, Hebrew writers evidently employed the word with its much more restricted meaning about four times as frequently as they employed it with a broader meaning. Where they wished to make it absolutely clear that they meant "earth" in the sense of soil, the word (adamah) was used, as for example in Genesis 2:5, "there was not a man to till the ground." And where they wished

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to convey the idea of the whole habitable earth, they used the word  (tebel), as in Psalm 24:1, "the world and they that dwell therein."
     A good illustration of the inconsistency of the Authorized Version in this particular context may be seen in Exodus 10:13, 14, where it is stated clearly that there was a plague brought upon Egypt only (for the land of Goshen probably escaped), and it is surely not intended by the writer that the whole earth was in view. Yet in Exodus 10:15 the Authorized Version has left the impression that the plague did indeed cover "the whole earth." My own studies have convinced me that in many subtle ways the AV is to be preferred to the Revised Standard Version. However, in this instance the RSV has translated Exodus 10:15 more correctly, rendering the phrase in question "the whole land."
     Now, it is quite surprising what a change this substitution makes in Genesis 6, 7, and 8. For example, in Genesis 6:11-13 the text would then appear as:

     The land also was corrupt before God, and the land was filled with violence.
And God looked upon the land, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the land. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the land is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the land.

     With this quite proper substitution, the view is contracted considerably. One is looking down upon a single community whose opportunity for wickedness had exceeded all bounds, perhaps partly because of the highly favourable conditions under which they lived in pre-Flood times and even more because of the extreme longevity which permitted the accumulation and compounding of experience in a way unknown to us today. While the animals suffered inevitably, and while Scripture elsewhere provides some interesting intimations of the existence of something akin to responsibility within the animal kingdom itself, it seems to me that the phrase "all flesh had corrupted its way" must apply morally only to mankind, though in effect animal life may have been badly disturbed as a consequence.
     When I say "within the animal kingdom itself," I do not mean merely that the moral responsibility is man's by reason of his appointed dominion among the animals, but rather that the animals themselves may be in some way accountable to God for their behaviour. This is a very controversial issue and it is customary to deny any such responsibility to animals. However, the serpent was

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cursed -- a very obvious statement -- but a fact which implies such responsibility. Does one curse a completely innocent creature? Again, an ox that gored a man was to be stoned to death (Exodus 21:28). It is conceivable that this was really a punishment of the owner for not keeping control of the animal. It would be a punishment to him because the meat could not be used, since the animal would not have been properly bled, and the hide would probably be pretty worthless. Merely to have killed the beast would not have been so serious, since he could have saved both the hide and the meat. It is necessary to make this point because it may be the sole reason why a "guilty" ox was to be stoned. On the other hand, it may not be. Furthermore, in the record of Jonah's great evangelistic campaign in Nineveh it appears that the animals in some way shared in the repentance of the city and were spared destruction on this account (Jonah 4:11). Although this point is inconclusive, it almost seems as though an animal of a certain age might be innocent, but accountable when older. Thus the Passover lamb was not to be more than one year old. These are slender threads indeed upon which to hang an argument, yet Scripture is quite clear about the part played by animals in God's service. An ass rebuked one prophet and a raven cared for another. If animals can obey -- can they disobey? If so, are they responsible before God?
     We know that animals can learn forms of behaviour which are contrary to their nature when under the influence of man, and we know that these inappropriate forms of behaviour can be communicated by imitation to succeeding generations of the same species. This is considered more carefully in another Doorway Paper.
(1) Nevertheless, this was essentially a judgment upon man. There is a parallel to this in Romans 8:20-22 where the phrase "the whole creation" has been taken by many to mean every living thing -- human, animal, and vegetable. However, Mark 16:15 speaks of the preaching of the gospel "to every creature," a phrase which in the Greek is precisely the same as that rendered "the whole creation" in Romans 8:22. The same phrase is found in Colossians 1:15 and 1:23. The use in Colossians 1:15 clearly limits the phrase to mankind. Yet there is justification from other parts of Scripture for believing that animal and plant life has indeed been made to groan under man's present dominion. So the fact itself need not be denied -- only it cannot be proved by an appeal to this

1."Nature as Part of the Kingdom of God", Part II in Man in Adam and in Christ, vol.3 in The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company.  

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particular text. Accordingly it seems that the term "all flesh" in verse 12 means the entire human race at that time. This race had corrupted itself and brought a judgment upon the land in which all other flesh (i.e., the animals) suffered as a consequence (Genesis 7:21).
     We thus have two phrases--"all flesh" and "the whole earth" -- characteristic of the account of the Flood, which in the English look pretty sweeping, but which may not really be as broad in their implications as the translation has led us to believe. When we read of all flesh having corrupted itself throughout the whole earth, this may in fact mean only that the whole human race (still confined within the land area in question) had become so corrupt that it must be destroyed before it could spread so widely as to require some other and far more completely devastating means of destruction on a world-wide scale. On the contrary, there are many occasions in which the word   (eretz) does mean earth in the broader sense, as of course in Genesis 1:1, 2, and it must therefore be admitted that the issue cannot be decisively settled merely by consideration of the meaning of the Hebrew word for "earth."

     Therefore we have to seek further light, first, from the character of Hebrew literature itself, and secondly, from certain specific statements made in the account of the Flood which seem clearly to have been a record of personal observations made by the captain of a ship who had sufficient leisure to note them at the time. The reason for putting the matter this way will become clearer subsequently.
     We shall consider, then, some examples of statements which seem to imply much more than was perhaps intended by the writer. We have already noted the language in Exodus 10:5-15 in which the phrase "the whole earth" is shown by what preceded to mean only Egypt, and not even the whole of Egypt -- since the land of Goshen was excepted. The same kind of limitation is found in I Samuel 30:16 in which the Amalekites are spoken of as "being spread abroad upon all the earth" by which was meant no more than the land of the Philistines (I Samuel 29:11).
     In Jeremiah 34:1, "all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the peoples, fought against Jerusalem." There, the phrase "of the earth" is limited to "his dominion," i.e., the dominion of Nebuchadnezzar.
     When Ahab sent his servant to find Elijah, it must be assume that he limited his journeyings, in view of the time interval, to Palestine itself. And yet in I Kings 18:10 the same servant addresses Elijah

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with the words "As the Lord thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee."
     In 2 Chronicles 36:23, Cyrus' empire is said to have encompassed "all the kingdoms of the earth". But there were kingdoms in the Far East which were surely not included. Cyrus' empire was pretty clearly defined. We are told in Deuteronomy 2:25 that at this early period in their national history God had put the fear of the Israelites upon "the nations that were under the whole heaven." It seems doubtful if this geographic range included any more than the Middle East, and probably only part of this. Meanwhile Nebuchadnezzar tells his contemporaries that "all people, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him" (Daniel 2:37,38; 5:19). The limits of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom are very well known.
     In Genesis 41:57, "all countries" came into Egypt to buy corn, for the famine was sore "in all lands." The story of those famine years reads like a firsthand account -- not a revelation. The Egyptian government would hardly have sold corn (i.e., wheat) to people in China who lived on rice or to those in the New World who lived on maize. China's history goes way back beyond this period, and certainly man was in the New World prior to 2000 B.C., antedating this particular period of famine. Acts 11:28 speaks of a similar famine throughout all the world, yet it is not likely it really meant over the whole globe including the New World.
     The New Testament is full of illustrations of the use of hyperbole. The apostle James, in Jerusalem, points out that "Moses . . . hath in every city them that preach Christ" (Acts 15:21), and Paul claims in Colossians 1:23 that the Word of Life had actually been "preached to every creature under heaven". Had this literally been the case, would not the end of the age have been upon us long ago, for was not this to be the signal? The Lord had said, "This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14).
     The Queen of Sheba is said to have come to hear the wisdom of Solomon "from the uttermost parts of the earth," which was probably another way of signifying Yemen in Southern Arabia. And this word was spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ, who most certainly did not suffer the limitations of the geographical knowledge of His contemporaries (Matthew 12:42). He was evidently using language which is reflected in I Kings 10:24 and there used in the same connection. Solomon's father before him had enjoyed a similar notoriety, as indicated in I Chronicles 14:17, but surely Europe and the Far East were quite ignorant of David's existence, and so was the New World.

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      Luke 2:1 refers to a decree which went out to tax "the whole world." Surely we are not intended to suppose that the pygmies of the Ituri Forest in Africa and the nomads of Eastern Asia were also forced to pay dues. The phrase undoubtedly refers only to the Roman Empire, a limitation which must probably be applied in Romans 1:8 also, where the faith of the Roman Christians is said to be "spoken of throughout the whole world." This same faith had become a challenge in Acts 19:27 to the worship of the heathen goddess, a worship which was claimed to have been equally "world-wide." Both the early Christians and their contemporary pagans used a term which must obviously be limited, and which was quite meaningful in its limited sense to their listeners. In Acts 19:10 we are told that "all that dwell in Asia" had heard the gospel. It is not unreasonable to speak in this way. It is analogous to saying: "everyone knows that" -- a term we use without insisting on its literal meaning.
     There are many such passages in which hyperbole is clearly the reason for the comprehensiveness of the statement. In Acts 2:5, devout men from every nation under heaven surely does not include the Americas? Similarly, in Daniel 6:25 Darius writes to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth -- but, again, surely exclusive of the Far East, the New World, and even Western Europe, England, and the Scandinavian countries. In Israel's history, there were many occasions upon which God moved mightily in their defense, and such occasions must have seemed to them to have been told around the world, as Joshua 4:24 implies! Yet even neighbouring states take no note of them in their official histories...David's fame went to all lands and all nations (I Chronicles 14:17) as did his son, Solomon's (I Kings 10:24). Yet we find scarcely any reference to either in the records of the time outside the land of Israel.
     Moses, who is similarly unknown so far except in the Bible, is said to have been the meekest man of all men upon the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). Perhaps he was, literally. But I do not think we are really required to believe this: only, that he was an exceedingly meek individual.
     In II Chronicles 36:23, Cyrus claims that the Lord God of heaven had given him all the kingdoms of the earth. We can be quite certain, I think, that this is merely royal exaggeration. . . .
     James 5:17, 18 tells us that in Elijah's time it rained not upon the earth for a space of three and a half years. Are we to suppose this was true even in Tierra del Fuego, where it seems to be raining all  

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the time? And it is rather unlikely that the world could survive zero precipitation for more than three years. A single area could, insofar as there would be some input of food for man and beast from neighbours. But over all the whole globe?
     In all these cases it could be that the statements are precise observations of sober fact. But to argue this too emphatically would surely mean that Hebrew simply did not as a language allow the use of imagery to impress the reader. Actually, we know it does. It speaks, obviously hyperbolically, of waves mounting to heaven (Psalm 107:26), trees growing unto heaven (Daniel 4:11), a tower as high as heaven (Genesis 11:4) -- though admittedly this passage could conceivably be interpreted to mean dedicated to (the worship of) heaven. In II Chronicles 28:9 a man's rage reaches to heaven -- we might exclaim, "Good heavens, what a rage!" And in Deuteronomy 1:28 and 9:1 the enemy cities that stood in Israel's way as they marched into the Promised Land were walled up to heaven and had just as impressive fortifications along the walls!
     So one can take virtually every word descriptive of the magnitude of Noah's Flood and find it elsewhere applied in Scripture to circumstances of rather clearly limited, though impressive, dimension. Allowing Scripture to be its own best commentary, I do not think we can argue that the record of one single event should determine the precise meaning of the terms used in describing all other events. We ought rather to let the many occurrences govern our judgment about the terms used in the one event.
     Quite incidentally, but not without relevance, there are numerous passages in which the words "all men" occur with the meaning of "all kinds of men" or "all sorts of men". In John 8:2 "all the people" undoubtedly means "all kinds of people". In the same way, in Mark 3:28 "all sins" is given in the parallel passage in Matthew 12:31 as "all manner of sin". In John 12:32 the Lord said He would draw all men unto Him, which surely means all kinds of men. Similarly, in I Timothy 6:10 the love of money is probably not the root of all evil, unless one is to attribute cancer, for example, to this cause -- which seems absurd. The love of money is the root of "all kinds of evil." There are many illustrations of this: such, probably, are John 1:7 and I Timothy 2:4, for example.
     From such illustrations one gathers that the Old Testament and the New Testament writers both made use of expansive terms similar to those employed throughout the Flood story, attaching to them  

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no greater significance than we would attach to such a colloquialism as "everybody's doing it wherever you go". It is not necessary, I think, to insist upon a literal interpretation of any passage of Scripture where there is a wealth of evidence from other parts of Scripture to support a less literal interpretation. There are other indications from the text itself that the terms employed were the rather natural expression of a man overwhelmed by the devastation of his own community and countryside. It is quite natural for a man in such circumstances to note that the water had risen above all the hills and mountains familiar to him from childhood. Knowing the draught of the ship and finding that the waters carried him over these familiar landmarks, he simply observed that the waters were at least fifteen cubits deep over their tops. The ark would not have drifted freely over them otherwise. It seems unlikely that this fact was supernaturally revealed to him, by the way the text reads (Genesis 7:19,20); yet he could not have known it by any other means if the reference is to the level of the water over the Alps or the Himalayas. But it would be quite clear to the captain of a ship, who had a pretty good idea of the draught of his vessel. Moreover, there are certain figures indicated in the text which, if we are rightly interpreting them, provide some rather surprising information about the rate at which the waters receded. In Genesis 8:4 we are told that the ark came to rest, i.e., grounded, on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. If we are permitted to assume that the draught of the ark (that is, the distance from the bottom of the keel to the water-line) was in the neighbourhood of fifteen cubits, or about twenty-five feet, it means that the water was just twenty-five feet deep at the spot on which the ark came to rest. It could hardly have been much more for the ark to have grounded at all, but even if it were twice that amount and the draught of the ark accordingly increased, the picture is not seriously affected.
     The record states then that the waters receded (Genesis 8:5) until the first day of the tenth month, at which time apparently it became possible to see dry land.
(2) Before this, the raven released from the ark had not found any resting place within easy flying distance so that we must assume that the peak on which the ark was actually grounded had not appeared above the water up to this time. Obviously,

2. According to William G. Lowe, this would be after an interval of seventy-three days. See: "Discovering the Calendar of the Creation," Science and Scripture, September-October 1971, p. 11.

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Figure 1.  Diagrammatic illustration of the recession of the waters.

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if land could be seen, the raven would have found a place to alight instead of wandering to and fro as depicted in Genesis 8:7. In this interval, therefore, from the seventeenth day of the seventh month to the first day of the tenth month, the water level had fallen perhaps twenty-five or thirty feet. It is clear that as soon as the level had fallen by the amount equal to the draught of the vessel, dry land would appear (see Figure 1).
     Thus the interval between these dates, a period of about seventy-three days, was the time required for the water to leave the "water-line" of the vessel and reach a level twenty-five or thirty feet below it. The seventy-three days are made up of the thirteen days which remained of the seventh month, the twenty-nine days of the eighth and thirty days of the ninth month and the first day of the tenth month; and twenty-five feet in seventy-three days is the equivalent of a drop in level of about four inches per day (see Genesis 8:4,5).
     On one occasion a flooding of the Tigris River brought the water level up some 22 1/2 feet and it was thirty days before the waters had run off sufficiently that the people could again go outside their city walls.
(3) This is a rate of fall of about nine inches per day. Such a rate for a comparatively small flood in a very flat plain would be, I should think, not unusual. It may seem that twenty-two feet of water is not much of a flood. Anyone who has lived near a large river and has seen it rise eight or ten feet will know what a terrifying monster it suddenly becomes and how wide may be the spread of its waters.
     Delitzsch records an occasion in 1876 in which a tornado coming from the Bay of Bengal accompanied by fearful thunder and lightning approached the mouth of the Ganges River, and the high cyclonic waves uniting with the then ebbing tide formed one gigantic tidal wave with the result that within a short while an area of 141 square miles was covered with water to a depth of forty-five feet and 250,000 men met their death by drowning.
(4) This is not for a moment intended to support the idea that the Flood was merely the result of a swollen river. It is only mentioned to show how widespread in its destruction a local flood of this kind can be, and to give some idea of the rate of recession of the water.
     It is often argued, by those who feel very strongly that the Flood must have been world-wide, that they are showing much greater respect for the Word of God than are those who view the

3. Loftus, W. K., Travels and Researches in Chaldea and Susiana: quoted by F. A. Moloney, Transactions of  the Victorian Inst.utes, vol.68, 1936, p.52. The reference is to the city of Baghdad.
4. Delitzsch, F., Babel and Bible, Williams & Norgate, London, 1903, p.43.

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catastrophe as geographically limited. The latter, like myself, see the Flood as being universal only in terms of the world's population, supposing that this population was still somewhat confined in a restricted area.
     Actually, I would say personally that anyone who takes the text wholly seriously will be forced to conclude that the event had a quite limited magnitude in terms of depth of water, simply because the run off was so slow. This run-off can be shown from the figures given in the text to have been only a few inches per day!
     Now, this total is not much affected if the months were twenty-nine or thirty days. For the present purposes, we have a period of perhaps approximately seventy-three days for the water to fall from the water-line of the ark till the ark was "high and dry," as indicated in Figure 1. There does not seem to me any other way of reading these figures nor interpreting their implication. So we have a rate of decline at a critical period of the Flood of only four inches per twenty-four hours. Moreover, the waters were only 324 days running off. . . .  From the cessation of the rain to the time the waters were fully abated -- i.e., from the twenty-eighth day of the third month (Genesis 7:11,12) to the twenty-seventh day of the second month of the following year (Genesis 8:14) -- the total number of days, according to William Lowe's calendar, is seen to be 324 in all. A very approximate estimate, at a run-off rate of four inches per day, gives a total depth of water of about 108 feet. It is conceivable that the run-off was much more rapid at first and only four inches per day for the last seventy-three days (on an average), but a fast rate of run-off would have caused considerable current and the ark would have undoubtedly been carried some distance by it. But one certainly sees no indication of such a current in the "ship's log" kept so carefully by Noah. How long would it have taken the waters of a world-wide Flood to run off? And where would they run to?
     There is no question to my mind that if God wished to submerge all land below the available waters, He could do so. It has often been pointed out that the average continent can be represented in its relative depth and area by a postage stamp. This is all very inexact, but broadly speaking the area of the postage stamp relative to its thickness is of the right order of magnitude. The height of the highest mountains relative to the area of the continents in which they are found is in reality very small indeed. If for some reason the land masses were submerged, the oceans could easily pour over them, and in fact have done so in different places and at different times. However, as we shall see, this kind of

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catastrophic event seems to be so far beyond what was required for the judgment of mankind that it is unlikely God would see fit to bring it about. For where miracle is concerned, God is an economist.
     I believe it is a mistake for anyone who wishes to be rational and scientific in his approach to such problems to assume that one must at all costs eliminate miracle in order to make the explanation valid. There are so many mysteries in everything that total explanations are probably quite beyond our powers even of the simplest daily occurrences. To attempt to explain the Flood by wholly natural means is in effect to explain it away, because this overlooks the matter of its timing entirely and tends to do away with all the supernatural elements, including the reality of the forewarning given to Noah. After all, he was warned in sufficient time that he could just nicely complete the ark and assemble its cargo and provisions. Here is a series of timed events prior to the coming of the flood waters involving a kind of foreknowledge which Noah surely did not have except by revelation. One cannot rationalize revelation. And if part of the story is rationalized, why not the whole of it? This is the tendency, the "implacable offensive of the scientific method," as it has been called. The divine warning becomes merely a human premonition.
     This is the danger, as I see it, of all efforts to subject such events to rational explanation. I do not believe that the miraculous element can ever be eliminated entirely in God's dealings with man, and therefore even in the daily life (indeed, the very existence of life itself) there is always this element of miracle. It is in operation all the time -- sustaining the world -- though only occasionally becoming exceptionally evident.
     What is important, I think, is that one should not attempt to find a scientific explanation of every incident or factor in the Flood story, if by "scientific" is meant "accountable by known laws". But this admission does not automatically require us to expect to find miraculous elements where Scripture does not give reason to believe they were needed. Miracle was certainly required in the forewarning: but it may or may not have been needed to bring about the catastrophe itself. In due time we may find the physical explanation of the presence of so much water, so suddenly cast upon the land: and to continue the search for this is, to my mind, quite proper.
     But it may be asked, If the Flood was local, why was an ark necessary at all? Could not Noah have simply migrated? Moreover what of the Flood traditions which are found all over the world? Do they  

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not imply, as modern anthropology seems to demand, that by at least 5000 B.C., man had already migrated into every part of the world, requiring that the catastrophe be world-wide, if all mankind was involved in it? And surely it would not be necessary to take birds into the ark if the Flood was only limited in extent?
     All these are legitimate questions. To some of them at least, there are satisfying answers.



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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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