Insights from the Animal Kingdom on the Scope of Noah’s Flood

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Excerpt Some who claim to be biblical Christians nevertheless refuse to accept the straightforward sense of Scripture in every case. In particular, many who are steeped in the sciences say that it is impossible, scientifically speaking, for the Earth to have been created in six literal 24-hour days and for the Flood to have been a worldwide cataclysm. Notwithstanding the unambiguous, comprehensive language of Genesis 7:19, which states that the Flood covered “all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens,” they insist that, due to difficulties they see in reconciling certain scientific understandings with a worldwide Flood, it had to have been a local Mesopotamian event. Continue reading

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They declare that the language of Genesis is merely comprehensive within the limited geographic scope of the biblical writers, even though the text of Genesis gives no support for this assertion. They thus place Science over Scripture—although they will deny it, saying that God reveals Himself through both the written Word and the visible creation, and the two speak with one voice. But one still takes precedence, and they have chosen that which depends on human efforts to understand, rather than simple trust in what is revealed.

There have been a number of powerful arguments put forth to address the fallacies of viewing the Flood as a local event, one of which is that God could have saved all the animals by simply having them migrate out of the danger zone. (See Ian Juby's Genesis Week video on Noah's Flood for some others.) But these arguments have failed to sway the “local flooders.” Is there anything new that can be said to these folks to make them change their minds, and stop respecting the words of scientists more than the Word of God?

Possibly. In answering a recent email sent to ABR, I had occasion to once again read Genesis 7, and got what was (to me, anyway) a whole new insight, another reason why the Flood could not have been merely a local Mesopotamian affair. I have not read this particular angle anywhere else, and share it below. See what you think.

To set the stage, we should acknowledge that the earliest chapters of Genesis are written from God's perspective, not man's. They relate things that only He could have known, and reflect His "whole Earth" perspective, one going far beyond the geographic boundaries of ancient Mesopotamia. For example, how could any human being possibly know the order of creation—including such an illogical thing as light being created as an entity BEFORE the sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1:3–5, 14–19)—except by divine revelation? Or, how could humanity discern that the entire universe was originally constrained within a ball of water, and God separated the “waters below” (which would become the Earth) by an expanse (the atmosphere and outer space) which was then bounded by more water (Gen. 1:6–8)? Short of claiming the whole narrative is just a fanciful story, an option not open to the true Christian, it is inconceivable that any but the Lord Himself could report such things in the factual style in which they are presented. The literary style of Genesis is historical prose narrative, not poetry filled with figures of speech, and we must honestly embrace the exegetical limitations this reality imposes upon understanding the text.

Carrying this “God’s perspective” understanding over to the Flood story in Genesis 6–8, we see the foolishness of trying to comprehend it from the restricted point of view of an Ancient Near Eastern writer, as the “local flooders” do. Trying to salvage an "old earth" viewpoint by claiming the Flood was confined to the area around Mesopotamia means God was deceiving us when He, not some fallible human being, declared—again, from His "whole earth" perspective—"I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky..." (Gen. 6:7). Observe from the bolded text that this "blot out" condemnation extends to ALL air-breathing animal life, even to the birds, which are geographically unconstrained and able to fly to a place outside of any locally flooded area. Does it make any sense to imagine a local Flood utterly exterminating the birds?

We see this same universality of death for all air-breathing animal life elsewhere. The expression “all flesh” is the key for understanding the comprehensive extinction set forth here. In Genesis 6:13 God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them [i.e., all flesh]; and behold, I am about to destroy them [i.e., all flesh] with the earth." We must not make the mistake here of thinking that "all flesh" is just a synonym for "all men." The context makes it clear that "all flesh" includes all air-breathing animal life. In Genesis 6:19 God tells Noah to bring onto the Ark two "of every living thing of all flesh" for preservation from annihilation. The very next verse tells us that "all flesh" includes birds, animals and creeping things (Gen. 6:20). Thus, the entire animal kingdom was corrupted when Adam, its ruler, fell from grace; as Romans 8: 21 puts it, the entire creation was put under slavery to corruption. The "all flesh" violence in 6:13 likely refers to the onset of animal carnivory that came as part of the fall of Adam, a corruption that will be removed when the Curse is lifted (see Isa. 11:6–9). And "all flesh," wherever it might be found on the surface of the earth, was to be blotted out as a result. This included the dinosaur herds in the American West, and all of the birds, no matter where they may have flown to. It cannot have been just in Mesopotamia.

Showing no hesitancy at being redundant, God repeats Himself in Genesis 7:4: "I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made." The kind of universality seen in this context cannot be diminished by appealing to hyperbole in other contexts. It self-evidently refers to all air-breathing animal life, wherever it may be geographically, because it is given from God's whole-earth perspective, not a presumed Mesopotamian perspective of Noah. If we accept that inspired Scripture is accurately telling us God's perspective, and if language means what it says (rather than what scientists might wish it said), we are left with no alternative but to conclude that Genesis 7:21–23 refers to the complete extinction of all air-breathing, land-based animal life, wherever it might have been (NASB):

All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.

The universal extent of the extinction God imposed on all air-breathing creatures is confirmed by the well-known Rainbow Covenant in Genesis 9:8–17. A careful reading of the text reveals implications which I had never appreciated before undertaking my recent study. This covenant was not made solely with man, but also with all air-breathing animals:

Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you...I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh...

Do you not see that this covenant was not only made with mankind, but also with every air-breathing creature of all flesh? That this covenant was thus extended to the animals makes little sense unless, just as mankind was universally annihilated except for the eight souls on the Ark, so also all air-breathing creatures, all over the world, were exterminated except for those few saved on the Ark. No others escaped. None outside the bounds of Mesopotamia survived.

From this we are forced to conclude that the Flood could not possibly have been a local event restricted to Mesopotamia. To merit inclusion of the animals in the promises of the Rainbow Covenant, just as humanity was utterly obliterated from the Earth, so also was all air-breathing animal life. Animal death had to be of the universal scope that the straightforward meaning of Genesis demands. Just as judgment fell upon all humanity because of sin, so also it fell upon the entire animal creation. Therefore God made a covenant with the animals, just as He did with the human remnant saved on the Ark. And just as we look to our Savior for our ultimate redemption, the animal creation also has something to look forward to:

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:19–21, NASB).

In conclusion, it is a theological impossibility for the Flood to have been local. Only a truly universal Flood allows us to make sense of the fact that God extended the promises of the Rainbow Covenent not just to mankind, but to all air-breathing animal life as well.

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