QUESTION: Was the flood of Noah’s day a local flood or was it worldwide?
ANSWER: Genesis 6-9 records the days of Noah and the flood that came upon the world at that time. Besides Genesis, there are other verses in the Bible which make reference to this significant event. Throughout the cultures of this world, there are several hundred flood stories which certainly suggests that this was a cataclysmic event which affected all of mankind. But the reliable account is the one found in Genesis. Taking the language of Genesis in its normal sense, the Bible teaches that the Flood was worldwide and not local. There are 8 reasons for coming to this conclusion.
(1) The use of “universal terms” in the Genesis account. “Universal” terms are ones that normally include all things. God stated that “all flesh” was going to be destroyed by the Flood (Gen. 6:13). And unless all of mankind lived all together in one area, this tells us that the Flood was worldwide. In 7:4, it is not just humans that will be destroyed but all living things on the face of the earth. 7:19 declares that “all the high mountains everywhere” were covered by the flood waters. 7:21-23 reinforces the concept of a worldwide flood by saying that: “all flesh” perished; “all mankind” perished; “all” on dry land and “all” who breathed were destroyed; and “every living thing” died and “only Noah” and those on the Ark were spared. If language has any meaning at all, the normal usage of these “universal terms” tells the reader that the flood waters covered the entire earth.
(2) The moral purpose of the Flood. The reason for God bringing the Flood on the earth was to eradicate the wickedness of mankind (Genesis 6:1-13). Mankind had become totally corrupt and there was simply no hope of them turning around spiritually and morally and coming back to the Lord. A local flood would kill off all people in that local area but would not deal with this universal problem of wickedness. The terrible evil of mankind was all over the world and the judgment of the Flood had to be of equal dimension (being worldwide) in order to fulfill God’s purpose.
(3) The depth of the Flood. Genesis 7:19 records the depth of the Flood.
“all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher and the mountains were covered.”
Without any stuttering, Moses states that all the mountains on the face of the earth were covered by over 22 feet of water. This makes no sense, linguistically or scientifically, if the Flood isn’t worldwide. How can a mountain be covered by water and not “fill in” the surrounding valleys? Once again, if normal language has any meaning, then these universal terms mean the Flood was universal.
(4) The geology of the Flood. It is clear from the Bible that the Flood of Noah’s day was not a tranquil event, but rather a cataclysmic geologic event; something that a local flood (even the worst ones) simply could not bring about. Genesis 7:11 records that “all the fountains of the great deep burst open” as well as 40 days of tremendous downpour of rain. This verse is not describing the phenomena of a local flood, but certainly one that is worldwide. Furthermore, Psalm 104:5-9 gives a “divine commentary” on the Flood of Noah’s day. It describes great mountain building activity of a worldwide nature that was part of Noah’s day.
(5) The Duration of the Flood. Not only did the waters of the Flood come on the earth for 40 days, but the waters continued covering the world for 150 days. When 7:4, 24; 8:2-14 are analyzed, it is clear that the total time Noah was in the Ark, away from the flood waters, was just over a full year. No local flood has ever lasted anything close to a year. The great length of the Genesis flood points to a worldwide flood. The waters of the Flood did not begin to recede until the great mountain building activity took place, as the waters rushed down into the newly created valleys and ocean basins. None of this description goes along with a local flood.
(6) The Size of the Ark. The Ark was a huge structure (6:15). Depending on one’s determination of a cubit’s length, the Ark was around 500 feet long and 80 feet high (give or take a few feet). Such a big structure was simply not needed for a local flood.
(7) The need for the Ark and the gathering of the animals. (6:19-20) As with the last point, a local flood makes the building of an ark and the gathering of animals from all over the world pretty strange if it was just a local flood. Why not simply tell Noah to leave the area of the upcoming flood? Why not just keep the animals from coming into the soon-to-be flood area? Why go through the charade of gathering animals and building a vessel to preserve them to escape a local flood? Only a universal flood makes all of this reasonable.
(8) The testimony of the Apostle Peter. In 2 Peter 3:4-7, the Apostle was foretelling the future universal judgment of fire that God will bring upon the world in the last days. In developing his argument, he appealed to an example of God’s universal judgment in the past. This judgment was the Flood. Peter’s argument makes no sense and is without any merit if the Flood was not universal. If Peter is trying to prove a universal judgment of fire in the future, appealing to a local flood in the past immediately makes his argument meaningless. A universal past judgment is used by Peter to illustrate and prove a future, universal judgment. So Peter was convinced that Noah’s flood was a worldwide flood.
So the texts of Scripture speak consistently for the Flood being universal and not local. One might not want to believe in a worldwide flood, but the text of Scripture declares that the Flood of Noah’s day was one that covered the entire earth. And everywhere on this planet there is unmistakable evidence that the land (even the highest of mountains) were once under water.