Does Belief in a Worldwide Flood Matter?

David Harris

Over the last decade or so there seems to have been a shift in overall interest in origins-related issues. While millions of years and goo-to-zoo-to-you evolutionary biology was used as a primary excuse for rejecting Christianity, current discussions with secularists generally revolve around abortion, LGBT issues, and slavery. The news segments, public debates, and regular conversations about origins are now seldom seen. Those opposed to the Bible and its teachings would rather use the current cultural capital in their attempt to discredit it.

The Argument Moves Indoors

However, this does not at all mean that discussions of Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel aren’t relevant. The literal accuracy of these topics is not only crucial to understanding the biblical narrative as a whole but also serves to influence the confidence Christians have in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, conversations around these important events have become, in many churches, rare.

The consequence of the lack of biblical literacy around origins-related issues is that when a challenge is made to the biblical paradigm, many Christians will flounder and become unsure about exactly what the Bible really says. A prime example comes in the question of whether the Flood described in Genesis 6-9 was a global, worldwide event, or merely a local disaster.

Assessing Motives

Among major evangelical publications (Christianity Today, TGC, etc.) the topic of the age of the Earth and its relation to the biblical Flood is avoided altogether, or its nature as a secondary, tertiary issue is stressed. The fact that major Christian institutions of learning are full of prominent men who do not believe in a literal Genesis lends itself to an underplaying and general avoidance of the topic to “prevent disunity.”

Assessing motives when “middle-of-the-roading” a subject like the Flood is crucial. What is the purpose of bringing nuance to such a topic? Is it fear that Christians will be made fun of for “outdated” beliefs? Is there a legitimate concern that people in the church will lose their faith over the demand for belief in the literal biblical account?

Since 2020, there has been a striking parallel between Christian leaders who either pushed or were loosely supportive of draconian COVID protocols (lockdowns, masks, vaccines, etc.) and soft-peddling or nuancing the Genesis account. The reason for this is straightforward: for acceptance of official narratives, especially when they are “science,” a discipline that is supposedly unbiased. While listening charitably is a good general practice, there’s no harm in asking whether one who doubts Genesis also believes what they are told in other areas, even those that deny basic nature and common sense (for example, staying 6 feet from each other will stop a virus from spreading).

As the biblical account of the Flood has come into discussion in recent days, it’s helpful to revisit and review why believing in a global food is not only a reasonable and biblical position but also the one that makes the most sense of the world we occupy.

The Language Used in Genesis 7

Oftentimes the argument against the Flood being a global event centers on the words “earth” (erets) and “whole” (kol) used in Genesis 7. It’s pointed out that these words, even when used together, can refer to specific regions and not only the entire earth. This is true but doesn’t do anything to disprove a global flood, as the reverse would also be true (because sometimes the words DO refer to the whole earth). The pains taken in Genesis 6-8 to stress that the mountains were covered (Gen. 7:20, KJV) are strange if the Flood was not global.

This argument clearly demonstrates a need to find something in the text that conveys the mere possibility that the Flood was NOT global, begging the question, why? What is the point of trying to localize the Flood if not an attempt to mesh the biblical narrative with modern scientific assumptions? The best-case scenario for appealing to the language of the text is to establish ambiguity to open the door for a syncretistic view of the earth’s origins.

What did Jesus Believe?

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:28)

This passage from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse does not lay out a piece-by-piece argument for the Flood being global. What it does show is that Jesus believed biblical narrative, and referred to it as an actual historical event. The parallel between the two events he describes is hard to miss though: the coming of the Son of Man is a total, complete, global event, just as the Genesis Flood was.

“Scoffers Will Come in the Last Days”

The proverbial nail in the coffin for any Christian reinterpretation of the Genesis account comes in 2 Peter 3:

…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

If you open a modern geology textbook, oftentimes the first principle introduced is that of “uniformitarianism” (the belief that the current geological processes currently being observed have always continued in the same way, and have yielded the world we see today). In a practical sense, the crux of the local/global flood debate boils down to the acceptance of this principle, one that’s a direct contradiction to what’s laid out in 2 Peter 3.

While topics like plate tectonics, the rock layers of the Grand Canyon, Mount St. Helens, and fossils in the high Appalachians can be interesting forays into the intricacies of post-flood geology, ultimately the issue comes down to a basic assumption: was the Flood local or global? If it was, as the Bible indicates, a worldwide deluge, then our physical world starts to take shape and make sense in a wholly different context, one that affirms the character and attributes of our great God. Free from the bounds of the “current thing” in the world of secular academia, the narrative instead becomes captive only to the Word of God, a captivity unparalleled in its benevolence and harmony.

Is Belief in a Global Flood Required for Salvation?

The thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 had no chance or opportunity to hone the particulars of his theology or make sure that he believed all the correct doctrines. Through God’s grace, He saves even those with simple faith as well as those with bad theology. Salvation is through faith in Jesus, not faith in believing all the right things. That being said, we know the plan of salvation through the Scriptures. If we pick and choose what to believe contingent on how they mesh with current narratives, we may say we’re trying to “uphold our witness,” but we’re actually just trying to gain the acceptance of the world.

Again, to bring it back to the main issue at hand: if a Christian wants to call the nature of the clear biblical narrative into question in regard to the Flood, then why? If not to fit the Bible into secular assumptions, why else? To be novel? To be contrarian? If the physical world makes not less, but more sense with the assumption of a worldwide flood, why exert so much energy trying to force a uniformitarian view and a biblical view together?

Let us not be the scoffers spoken about in 2 Peter 3, but rather the faithful, holding to the truth of the Word of God in every area, including the formation of our world.

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