Reading the account in Genesis, one might easily conclude that the flood was worldwide. But delving deeper there are many points to take into consideration.
- Peter the Apostle did not believe the flood was universal. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit (and thus reliably), he writes in his Second Epistle: “[God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people…bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; … by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (2 Pet. 3:5-6).
Just as we use the word “world” today to speak of a specific portion of the planet or domain (Third World, Western World, scientific world, etc) Peter uses the word “world” to indicate a specific portion of the planet God destroyed in the flood in order to be rid of the “the world of the ungodly” His phrasing “the world that then existed” in itself implies that God destroyed a microcosm and a specific arrangement of affairs and not the entire face of the earth.
To the point, Paul wrote that the faith of the Church of Rome was “spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8) This obviously cannot be interpreted literally.
- In a similar way the Bible uses words such as “all” and “every” with limited scope. It is recorded in Genesis 41 that “the famine was in all the lands” and “over all the earth,” and that “all countries came into Egypt to buy grain.” However, it is little supposed that the irrigated plains of Babylonia were suffering, or that the Yellow River dried up, or that Chinese and Native Americans came flooding into Egypt.
In a like vein, Chapter 16, verse 20 of the Gospel of Mark: “And they went forth, and preached everywhere” (v. 20); must clearly be a hyperbolic statement, for it is improbable they traveled to all parts of Siberia and the isles of Japan, or that they preached to the Eskimos of the “New World.”
- The dimensions of the ark would have been grossly inadequate in containing anything close to “all” the animals in the entire world; not to mention the physical impossibility of gathering animals from all the wilds of planet earth. Additionally, the animals of the wild do not have a distribution pattern consistent with a mass migration from one place (such as Noah’s ark) and fossil evidence indicates animals originated in their own particular areas long before the Noachian Deluge.
- The ark came to rest within 500 miles of its starting point. This would be unlikely if the entire earth had been flooded.
- Someone has calculated that to flood the entire globe would require eight times the amount of water now available in our present closed system. Where would all the water have gone?
- What about the fish? In a flooded planet, fresh and salt water would mix, making it very difficult for all fish, especially fresh water fish, to survive.
- The Biblical record on a whole concerns itself only with the inhabitants of a local area near Israel and those interacting with that area. North America, for instance, is not mentioned. Why should we assume other areas would be included in the flood?
- The tone of the flood passage is entirely local. Noah could hardly have preached righteousness to the entire world; neither would righteousness mean anything to those who had been unexposed to God’s standard as those in the area had been.
- Evidence of a worldwide flood is lacking.
- However, there is convincing evidence of an extensive flood in the Mesopotamian area. Digs near the ancient city of Ur uncovered a layer of clay deposit almost ten feet thick, sixteen feet below the present surface and covering evidence of human habitation. This led to a more extensive search for Flood evidence and the results established that “the disaster engulfed an area northwest of the Persian Gulf 400 miles long and 100 miles wide. Looking at the map today we should call it ‘a local occurrence,’ for the inhabitants of the river plains it was, in those days, their whole world” (Keller, Werner; The Bible As History).
The flood was a singular and great event, and God promised never again to send such a Flood (Gen. 9:11-15); however this does not mean that the whole planet had to have been covered.
- Before sending the Flood, God said to Noah: “The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13).
Yet from other passages in the Bible it is evident that God never destroyed the literal planet earth and moreover, never will: “the earth abides forever” (Eccl. 1:4).