Noah’s Flood – Global or Local? (By Brian Melia)

19.08.16 Expositional


What do the Scriptures teach on this turning point in history?

Many of today’s Bible teachers seek to make the early chapters of Genesis fit in with the modern, prevailing evolutionary narrative. In some churches and theological seminaries, a plain reading of Genesis is now ridiculed as ‘simplistic’.

It has become fashionable for many pastors to ridicule ‘young earth creationists’, even though the early church predominantly viewed the earth as thousands not millions of years old and treated Genesis 1-11 as straightforward history. For those who want a detailed defence of the early chapters of Genesis as real history, examining the relevant science from a thoroughly biblical perspective, I highly recommend Dr. Jonathan Sarfati’s book ‘The Genesis Account1. Here, I will focus on the flood, which is key to our understanding of the age of the earth.

The importance of our flood understanding

For most of Church history, the majority of Christian and Jewish Bible scholars believed that the flood, described in Genesis 6-9, covered the whole earth. On plain reading, Scripture teaches that there was a year-long global flood about 1,650 years after the perfection of God’s creation2. Many church pastors and teachers try and make the Scriptures fit with the aeons of time required in the prevailing view held by most modern scientists who believe in the general theory of evolution – for instance, presently dating the earth as between 4.5 and 4.6 billion years old. Such teachers typically argue that the flood of Noah’s day was local – normally said to cover the area of Mesopotamia – that part of western Asia situated within the river systems of the Tigris and Euphrates.

A worldwide flood would mean that the vast majority of fossils were due to this cataclysm and not due to supposed millions of years of animal and human deaths before Adam.

Yet the concept of a global flood is crucial to how we understand the age of the earth. For example, a worldwide flood would mean that the vast majority of fossils were due to this cataclysm and not due to supposed millions of years of animal and human deaths before Adam. It also allows for a consistent, reasonable explanation of the various rock formations across the globe which thus no longer require a slow and gradual build-up of layers over many millions of years to explain their existence, which evolution demands.

A world-wide event

A straightforward reading, without preconceptions, of the language in Genesis 6-9 is that it describes a worldwide flood. Genesis 6:13 reads:

So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.’” Likewise, Genesis 7:18-23 states: “The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.”

How could the words of Scripture be any clearer in describing a worldwide cataclysm? Nevertheless, local flood advocates counter that the word ‘all’ in the Scriptures can be used in a non-universal sense. Used in isolation this can indeed occasionally be the case, but not in a context where so many words stress the all-encompassing nature of the flood, with phrases such as “under the entire heavens”. The phrases “under heaven” or “under the heavens” appear time and again in the Old Testament and stress universality. For instance, Job 41:11 states “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” Just as God’s ownership is not merely local or regional, neither was the flood.

Some object that as Mt. Everest is 8,849 metres high, it was impossible for the flood water to cover this and other of the world’s highest mountains. However, scientists who believe that Noah’s flood was global propose that this mountain and many others were raised rapidly to present heights by geological upheavals, including catastrophic plate tectonic activity that took place after the original and lower mountains were covered by the global flood. Significantly, Everest has marine limestone at its peak containing fossils of sea- bottom dwelling crinoids.

The Genesis account never says that the mountains were all covered at their present height. There was plenty of water from the breaking up of what Genesis 7:11 calls the springs of the great deep and also from the opening of the floodgates of the heavens. It has been calculated that if the earth was flattened to a smooth sphere, without mountains or deep ocean floors, then the depth of the water covering right across the earth would be 2,686 metres (1⅔ miles)3.

If the flood was local, why did God instruct Noah to build a massive Ark? He could have told Noah to leave that land.

If the flood was local, why did God instruct Noah to build a massive Ark? He could have told Noah to leave that land – after all Abraham, at God’s command, left Ur in Mesopotamia and emigrated from Mesopotamia ending up in Canaan, a land his descendants would inherit according to the Lord’s command. In fact, Noah and his family were on the ark according to most scholars for 370 days (Gen 7:11-13 & 8:13-15). Similarly, why bother putting land animals and birds on the ark if the flood was local, as many species can migrate great distances? For instance, swallows arrive annually in springtime in the UK from southern Africa. The ark was the size of an ocean liner because it needed to be large enough to hold pairs of all the kinds of land vertebrate animals that were alive at the time.

Evidence from east to west

In Genesis 9:11–16, God makes an everlasting unconditional covenant with Noah, and all mankind and every living creature, with the rainbow being a sign of this covenant, that “never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Clearly, if the flood was local, then God would have repeatedly broken this covenant as there have been many local and regional floods since then; for instance, 80% of Bangladesh has been covered by flooding. This also shows that the use of the Hebrew word ‘eretz’ (meaning earth or land) throughout the flood narrative refers in these verses to the whole earth – and not just the local region.

It is no surprise that there are hundreds of ancient flood tradition accounts all over the world, including Peru and Mexico in the west, China and India to the east, and even Pacific islands – such as Hawaii and Fiji. Worldwide flood accounts pre-dating missionaries are also found amongst the Australian aborigines and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. In southwest China, the Miao tribe’s tradition was that the world was destroyed by a divinely sent worldwide flood because of wickedness, but the righteous man, Nuah, survived with his wife and their three sons, Lo Han, Lo Shen and Jah-hu, on a ship with pairs of animals.

It is no surprise that there are hundreds of ancient flood tradition accounts all over the world.

Not only does the Bible teach that everyone is descended from Adam as per the genealogies of Genesis 4 and 5 but it also makes clear that all post-flood people were also descended from Noah and his three sons who, along with their wives, were the only humans on the ark. The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth. (Gen 9:18-19) The resulting proliferation of mankind in the spread of nations is then described in Genesis 10.

A parallel of coming judgment

The flood is described in the Bible as a direct parallel to the worldwide extent of the coming judgment. Of mockers doubting the return of Jesus and this coming judgment, Peter wrote: “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged (katakluzó) and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:5-7)

The coming judgment will be global just as the flood of Noah’s day was. Jesus stressed everyone who was not on the ark died, just as fearful judgment awaits all those who have rejected salvation in Jesus: Matthew 24:37-39 reads: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Again, this is a global judgment paralleling the global flood.

A clear message from the Bible

Professor James Barr, formerly Oriel Professor of the interpretation of the Holy Scripture at Oxford University, who was otherwise liberal in his views on Genesis, wrote a letter dated 23 April 1984, to creationist David C.C. Watson, on the meaning of Genesis. He wrote that: “… so far as I know, there is no Professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that … Noah’s Flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the Ark.”4

A straightforward reading of the flood account in Genesis, also taking account of other relevant Scriptures, gives no support to modern claims of many pastors and teachers that the Genesis flood was a local or regional event. The cataclysmic flood was a worldwide judgment that was released after God had given those who opposed him long opportunity to repent: God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water (1 Pet 3:20).

The flood serves as a warning of the coming worldwide judgment in the coming Day of the Lord, as God “did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Pet 2:5). Likewise, just as the ancient world was engulfed in a deluge of judgment, with only those in the ark escaping, so, only those kept safe, by belonging to the Lord and Saviour Jesus, will escape God’s wrath which is yet to come upon the modern world.


1The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11 by Jonathan Sarfati PH.D. F.M.
2See Brian Melia’s video ‘God’s Very Good Creation‘ on
3Ocean Facts,
4Was the Flood of Noah Global or Local in Extent? by Dr. Andrew A. Snelling and Ken Ham Featured in The New Answers Book 3


Post a comment