{18}   STUDY: Extent of the Flood


        According to traditional teaching, the Flood was a worldwide or global one covering the whole Earth. However, in the last century, many people began to consider the possibility that the Flood could be a regional one covering only the areas where man inhabited at that time. Which theory of the Flood fits scientific data better: global or regional? Can the regional Flood interpretation harmonize with the inerrancy of the Bible?



What are the supporting evidences and difficulties of the global Flood?


[1] The Bible seems clear in implying a global Flood:

o        Gen 6:13: And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh.”

o        Gen 6:17: “I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven.”

o        Gen 7:18: “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” to a depth of 15 cubits (v.20).

o        Gen 7:21: And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind.

o        2Pe 3:6: “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” implies complete destruction.

[2] No need for an ark with that size if the Flood is only regional.

[3] If the whole mankind was destroyed, then the Flood must be global.

[4] Most races in the world have legend of the Flood. [Counter argument: Flood traditions all over the world do not prove a global Flood, only the spread of the Flood story through migration.]


[1] Where did the Flood water come from?

[a] Mount Ararat has an elevation of over 5000 metres and Mount Everest has an elevation of over 8848 metres (29,028 feet). The amount of water required to cover the whole Earth up to Mount Everest is 4 to 4.5 times the total water resources of the entire planet (or 8 times the water in all the oceans).

[b] Some postulate that the water came from the melting of all polar ice caps. Even so, the sea level would have increase 120 metres, not enough to cover even the low mountains.

[c] Some postulate that the additional water required was from all the water vapour in the atmosphere. However, if all water vapour became water, the air pressure would experience a drastic sudden drop so that no living things could live. Furthermore, the additional amount of water required is 60 times larger than what our present atmosphere can offer.

[2] Were all mountains totally submerged?

Some flood geologists believe that most of the fold mountains (including most major mountain ranges on Earth today) were formed because of the Flood, that is, the mountains before the Flood were much lower, thus requiring less water. A related argument is that even if some peaks were above water, we can still describe the Flood as covering the whole Earth.

However, the formation of all mountain ranges on Earth would result violent tectonic (earthquakes) and volcanic activities and the ark would not survive in such turbulence. In addition, the subsequent problem with volcanic ash will make life impossible.

[3] Was the ark large enough?

[a] The ark would not be large enough to contain all animal kinds in the world. It is estimated that the ark could contain a maximum of 35,000 to 50,000 kinds of animals. Yet the world today contains over 2 million species. (Currently, scientists have classified and named 1.5 million species. Different estimates put the total number from 2 million to 100 million. A realistic number is 5-10 million.)

[b] The loading of 35,000 animal kinds (over 70,000 animals, counting 2-14 animals per kind) would require a lot longer than 7 days.

[c] There was insufficient space for food and water for over 70,000 animals.

[d] Noah’s family of 8 people was insufficient to feed and look after all animals.

[e] The animals needed different climates for their survival. The ark could not provide such variety.

[4] Where was the source of the biodeposits such as coal?

Science says that Earth’s fossil-fuel deposits (coal, petroleum, natural gas) were formed gradually during a period of millions of years in Earth’s history. Flood geologist say that all fossil-fuel deposits laid down during the year of the Flood. However, the amount of existing biodeposits is more than 10 times larger than for the potential amount of deposits from all the plant matter on Earth today.

Flood geologists argue that the Earth carried a much greater biomass (abundance of life) before the Flood. However, the amount of biomass is limited by the flow of solar energy to Earth so the biomass before the Flood could not be 10 times what we have today. Of course, one can again argue that the solar energy reaching the Earth could be much higher before the Flood. However, flood geology also proposes that there was a thick water canopy surrounding the Earth before the Flood. This should drastically reduce the solar energy available to the Earth. In other words, there is a contradiction in argument.

The same problem is encountered when explaining the formation of limestone and marble.

[5] How could there be petroleum products before the Flood?

Another fact is that some petroleum products were apparently available before the Flood. In Gen 6:14, Noah was told to coat the ark inside and out with koper, a Hebrew word for “asphalt, bitumen, pitch, or tar.” The ark needed an effective sealant to protect it against leaks, and, apparently, lots of this tarry substance was available for Noah.

[6] Other difficulties:

[a] Sediments from the Flood are not found over the whole Earth. (Flood geologists believe that all fossils were results of the Flood.)

[b] If the Flood was global in extent, the animals living very far away could not have enough time to come to the ark, especially those slow moving ones.

[c] Gen 2—4 records the New Stone Age but there was no discontinuity recorded in that age.

[d] The Flood should result in extensive changes in the surface topography of the Earth. Yet, 2 of the 4 rivers in Eden are still existent today. [Counter argument: maybe they are not the same rivers but only in similar location.]

Blanket Answer—Revisitation:

Of course, all these problem could have been solved with God’s miracles if that was His plan. However, God has been shown to use the natural process and natural order (which He designed at creation) to complete His plans. Difficulties in the Bible (where clear answers are not available) are best solved by explanations following laws in nature, if that is possible.

o        When God wanted to demonstrate the value of life to Jonah by killing the shady plant, He could have simply killed it supernaturally with a miracle but instead He appointed a worm to attack and kill the plant (Jonah 4:7).


What are the supporting evidences and difficulties of the regional Flood?

A regional Flood can solve all the difficulties for a global Flood. The main problem is to explain why the Bible seems to indicate a global Flood.

Solving Exegetical Difficulties:

[1] “The earth” may refer to “the known world” meaning only the Middle East.

[a] “All the high mountains” (Gen 7:19) and “all flesh” (Gen 7:21) can refer to the viewpoint of all mankind at that point in time.

[b] The phrases “all the world” or “the whole world” in the Bible may not mean the whole world.

o        “All the countries” in Gen 41:57 does not mean all countries in the world but only all the countries in their known world of the Genesis author, that is, the ancient Near East in and around Egypt.

o        1Ki 10:24 states that “the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart”; we do not conclude that the Chinese sent yearly delegations to Jerusalem.

o        Ac 2:5 refers to “from every nation under heaven” but at least not including China; similarly “all over the world” in Ro 1:8 and “All over the world” in Col 1:6 do not refer to the whole Earth.

[c] A phrase in the Bible seems to support the regional Flood. 2Pe 3:6: “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.” The word “world” (Gr. kosmos) can mean the whole universe, the whole planet Earth, the whole of humanity, or a portion of Earth. However, the qualifying phrase “of that time” indicated that the Flood destroyed the world known to the people “of that time”, that is , only a portion of Earth.

[2] A regional Flood was sufficient to fulfil God’s plan.

Because of the concentration of people in Mesopotamia at that time, a regional Flood was sufficient to kill every single human (except Noah’s family).

[3] Regional Flood still needs a miracle.

Even if the Flood was regional in extent, it would still require a miracle from God to maintain the high water level, as the water level in the Flood area must be much higher than outside the Flood area, and the flood water was described as prevailing for 150 days (Gen 8:24).

o        Counter Argument: Gen 7:19 describes that “the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.” The Hebrew verb translated “covered” is kasah. This word can be defined in 3 ways: [a] residing upon, [b] running over, or [c] falling upon. Kasah can therefore be interpreted to mean that more than 15 cubits of water remained over the high hills or mountains; or it could mean that this quantity of water either ran over them as in a flash flood or fell upon them as rainfall.

Supporting Evidences:

The difficulties for the global Flood position can all be supporting evidences of the regional Flood. In addition, there are 2 points related to the floodwaters.

[1] From where were the floodwaters from?

The Genesis text describes where the water came from (Gen 7) and where it returned (Gen 8), namely, earthly sources. Gen 7:11-12 says the floodwaters came from “the springs of the great deep” and “the floodgates of the heavens”, meaning the subterranean reservoirs (called aquifers) and to heavy rain clouds. Gen 8:1-3 says the floodwaters “subsided”, “receded”, “abated”. The Hebrew word shub is particularly clear, meaning “returned to its original place or condition.” These verbs indicate that the floodwaters returned to the places from which they came. They still remain on the Earth to this day. If the Flood was global, the water required to cover all high mountains would require more than 4 times the total water resources of the entire Earth. Such flooding would be pointless if no one inhabited the other regions.

o        Some flood geologists propose that the Earth’s surface was smoothed or flattened by the Flood to a maximum height of perhaps 500-600 metres, thus reducing the water requirement. Then the forces of plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions caused the restoration of the mountain ranges after the 40 days of flooding. In other words, for the area where the ark was floating, the land was uplifted from 600 metres to 5000 metres of Mount Ararat between the 40th day and the 150th day when the ark stopped on land, averaging an uplift of 40 metres per day.

o        The problem of this explanation is that such cataclysmic events of rapid tectonic and volcanic uplift would have produce such turbulence to easily shatter the ark. Moreover, the dust, debris, volcanic gases and ashes would have shut down photosynthetic processes for many years.

[2] To where were the floodwaters removed?

Gen 8:1 describes how God removed the floodwaters from the land by sending a wind. This removal technique perfectly suits the requirements of water removal from a gigantic flat plain such as Mesopotamia by speeding up the movement of floodwater toward the ocean. However, a wind would prove of little use in removing the waters of a global Flood because the water could not possibly recede to a lower area. The only exits for the floodwaters were either underground or the atmosphere. The massive water of a global Flood would take many years to recede back to underground or to evaporate into the atmosphere.


Could some people survive from the Flood besides Noah’s family?

Some even argued that there were survivors from the Flood. Their evidence is that the Nephilim (Heb. “giants”) existed before the Flood (Gen 6:4) and the descendants of Anak who came Nephilim after the Flood (Nu 13:33). However, the word can simply a common word for tall people.

The Bible clearly states that only Noah’s family was saved. Nephilim usally refer to giants who were morally fallen. These would possibly be the last people that God would spare.


Why did God destroy all birds and animals in the Flood? Did God’s wrath exceed a fair punishment for human sin?

The extent of a sin’s damage depends on the depth of degradation the sin expresses. Multiple and repeated sins compound the damage. Defilement begins and spreads in the order of:

·         to the sinner (Ro 7:8-11)

·         then to his descendants (Ex 20:5)

·         then to his soulish animals (Jos 6:21)

·         then to his material goods (Num 16:23-33)

·         then to his inhabited land (Lev 18:24-28)

Anyone (including animals) exposed to depravity at close range for a long enough time will be affected—and infected—by it. Noah’s contemporaries reached a degree of depravity that threatened to contaminate the planet irreversibly. That is why God decided to renew the Earth with the Flood.

God’s judgment never goes beyond the boundaries of sin’s damage and is therefore always fair and just. Just observe how God commanded different treatment when Israelites invaded Canaan under Joshua’s leadership.

·         In some cities, God instructed the Israelites to kill only the Canaanite adults.

·         In some cities, God decreed death for the entire population but not the soulish animals (the nephesh creatures tamed by the inhabitants). [We often see the negative impact of evil humans on the birds and mammals living with them (Ex 21:28-29; Lev 20:15-16). However, no amount of sin affects the behaviour of insects and bacteria, for example.]

·         In some cities, God told the Israelites to destroy everything: people, their soulish animals, and sometimes, people’s possessions too.

·         In the rarest of cases, such as Sodom and Gomorrah (located roughly at the southern end of the Dead Sea), even the land was laid waste. To this day, despite the land’s former fertility and abundant water supply, no crops or herds are raised in that region.

On the other hand, God would rescue the righteous people (fewer than 10) in the case of Lot and any relatives who chose to go with them.

In the case of the Flood, there was no reason for God to destroy the areas where the sin of man had not reached before the Flood. A geographically limited Flood would still be “universal” and “worldwide”, according to the definition of “world” (not the globe) among the ancients.


Can we find evidence of the Flood in the alluvial deposits?

There is no evidence of a global Flood in the world. However, this alone does not prove against the global Flood. It is true that several large alluvial flood deposits have been found in the Mesopotamian plain. However, the assumption that the Flood would leave clear evidence of its occurrence must be challenged. The Noahic Flood, though massive, lasted only one year. A flood of such brief duration typically does not leave a deposit substantial enough to be positively identified thousands of years later.

As an example, the flood in California’s San Joaquin Valley in the 1970s covered the valley under 3 to 4 feet of water for a few months. Ten years later, all geological evidence of the disaster had been erased. Similarly, a one-year Flood in Mesopotamia, even to a depth of a few hundred metres, would leave behind insufficient evidence for a positive geological identification after thousands of years.


If the Flood was not global, why would God not simply instruct Noah to move his family and flocks to areas outside the Flood region?

When God pours out judgment, He gives ample warning ahead of time. This can be seen from the examples of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jonah.

Noah was sent by God as a prophet to give out the warning. For someone to build an enormous vessel in the middle of a plain would have commanded attention. Noah’s persistent devotion to this immensely challenging project for 100 years would have heightened the drama. As crowds gathered to jeer, not cheer, Noah would patiently preach God’s warning of impending doom and implored them to repent.

In 2Pe 2:5, Noah was described as “a preacher of righteousness.” Heb 11:7 says that “By his (Noah’s) faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” 1Pe 3:20 describes people before the Flood disobeyed God, possibly referring to Noah’s warnings.


How many kinds of animals were saved from the Flood?

Gen 7:21-23 identifies the animals destroyed: “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth.”

Gen 6:19-20 identifies the animals brought into the ark: “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind.”

There are 7 Hebrew words for the animals aboard the ark and their definition based on the Theological Wordbook of the OT:

o        basar: flesh; animal musculature, mankind; creatures used in Jewish sacrifices

o        behema: beast; cattle; long-legged, four-footed mammal

o        hayya: living animal; wild, not domestic, animal

o        nephesh: “soulish” creature; person; mind; land creature with the breath of life; creature capable of expressing yearnings, emotions, passions, and will; self-aware creature [these are birds and mammals with the capacity to form relationships with each other and with humans; they have unique ways of expressing their understanding, their choices, and their feelings; they, however, can be corrupted by human actions]

o        op: bird; fowl; insect; winged creature

o        remes: creeping living creature; short-legged land mammal such as a rodent; small reptile

o        sippor: bird; little bird

All these words refer to birds and mammals, though some can be used a little more broadly. There is a high correlation between this list and the list of soulish animals God created on the 5th and 6th creation days. It is not certain that animals other than birds and mammals were on the ark. The preserved animals were those that would allow Noah and his family to restore rapidly their economy, culture, and worship.

When the two lists are compared, there are 2 Hebrew words describing creatures that were destroyed in the Flood but not among those preserved on the ark:

o        sheres: teeming, swarming prolific small animals, all the smaller sea creatures and land animals (as contrasted with birds and beasts); rodents, amphibians, smaller reptiles, flying insects, wriggling water animals

o        yequm: animals with standing; animals which subsist

While sheres can refer to small mammals, most often it is used for small nonsoulish animals. Yequm can refer to all animals or just those that merely subsist.

We can therefore assume the death of insects, reptiles, and other creatures in the floodwaters but they would probably return within a short time from adjacent regions.


There are flood traditions in different cultures. How did they get similar stories?

More that 80,000 flood accounts in over 70 languages describe a cataclysmic deluge. More than 85% of these accounts mention a large vessel that saved the human race from extinction. The abundance of these Flood stories suggests that the memory of some unprecedented Flood catastrophe was firmly etched in the minds of ancient peoples.

One reasonable archeological explanation is to associate these Flood accounts with a common source. Similar to the creation accounts, we see traces of a pattern: the greater the story’s distance (in time and geography) from Mesopotamia, the greater the distortion relative to both the Biblical record and the established scientific record. The least scientifically distorted of the nonbiblical Flood accounts is the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh.



        While it is important to assert the inerrancy of the Bible, the Biblical record can in fact accommodate a Flood that was regional in extent. The regional Flood theory is in fact better supported by scientific evidences. That is why most theologians today (including those supporting a global Flood) allow the possibility of a regional Flood.

        The belief in the extent of the Flood is non-essential faith. We have to recognize that many explanations used here are not found in the Bible; some of them are speculations, perhaps logical, but speculations nonetheless. Arguments on this question should be avoided.