Monday, May 17, 2010

Genesis 6:5-8:19's Flood

The Biblical flood account picks up in Genesis 6:5-12 as men’s hearts and actions are really bad: “great wickedness”, “corrupt” (*3), “full of violence”, and “every inclination” of the heart as “only evil all the time”. (This sounds like a really bad rock station!) One commentator said this is "perhaps the Bible's strongest statement about sin"—and I can’t think of a stronger one. It’s interesting that the text gives such an emphasis on “the heart”—motives, thoughts, etc.—rather than mere action or inaction.

Interestingly, Gen 6:12’s “people” is lit. “flesh/meat”—which can refer to animals or people. It is as if man is acting like “an animal”. Or perhaps animals (or even man disobediently) have gone carnivorous.

The violence brackets God’s response and Noah’s emergence. In Gen 6:6-7, we are given a picture of grief, pain, pity, and profound disappointment experienced by God. (See also: Ezek 6:9a, Is 43:24b; Eph 4:30, I Thess 5:19, Is 63:10). And his response is to wipe 'em out (II Kings 21:13b). God judges evil—in his own timing (II Pet 3:9). And the judgment or at least the punishment extends even to animals, depicting how sin affects others/innocents (Mt 5:45, Acts 14:17; Rom 8:19-21).

Then we’re introduced to Noah in Gen 6:8-10. This is the fourth “account”; after three Creation accounts, we now have a re-Creation account! Thus, in the narrative (as often in life), 6:5-7,11-12’s evil surrounds 6:8-10’s righteous Noah and his family—and God intervenes. Noah is a fine man: he “found favor/grace” in God’s eyes; he’s not perfect, but is “a righteous man” (Heb 11:7b) and he “walked with God” (as Enoch in 5:22). He was also "blameless among the people".

In Gen 6:13,17, God describing the impending destruction to Noah. Interestingly, 13,17’s “destroy” is the same Hebrew word as 11,12’s “corrupt”, implying a causal, appropriate and necessary response by God.

Practically, the Flood gives the picture of cleansing and a fresh start—and given that means, most other life will not be able to survive. Interestingly, the reduced number of animals would correspond to fewer people. If not, who would've had dominion (Ex 23:29-30)? For the Christian, we find a parallel with baptism (I Pet 3:20b-21). It certainly allows an OT parallel for Israel with the Red Sea and the Jordan River. And looking forward, it parallels the surprise of sudden destruction—as in the End Times-- despite warnings (Mt 24:36-39). Then, the world was destroyed by water; the next time will be with fire (II Pet 3:5-7).

Was it a “local” or universal flood? If taken literally, the Bible is clear that it’s universal. But there is room to interpret these references as hyperbolic. (For example, see: Gen 41:56-57, I Kings 10:24; Rom 1:8, Col 1:6. See also: Ps 104:5-9 which might seem to prohibit a worldwide flood.)

Theologically/logically, if human life had not spread beyond the Mesopotamian Valley, then there’s no need to destroy distant regions. To note, there’s little reason and limited ability to get very far away—and to the point of the Babel story, men were prone to stick together.

There are some concerns logically with a universal flood. Could the ark hold all of the world’s species? Could enough rain fall quickly enough to get the job done? Paulos calculates that "10,000 to 20,000 feet of water on the surface of the earth [is] equivalent to more than half a billion cubic miles of liquid...the rain must have fallen at a rate of at least 15 feet per hour, certainly enough to sink any aircraft carrier..." But Gen 7:11’s “springs of the great deep” may mitigate most need for water from above—and there may have been dramatic changes in geology that we can only speculate about today.

In any case, a catastrophic flood is also verified by extra-Biblical evidence and the validity of the story’s details. Many civilizations have a flood story (vs. an earthquake story). The dimensions of Noah’s ark make sense. And there is archaeological and geological evidences of a catastrophic flood.

In Gen 6:14-16, we’re given details of the ark—the first "Love Boat" in history. Of greatest interest to Christians, 16’s (single) door (closed by God) is a picture of entering the (only) door of salvation.

It’s interesting that God chose to use an ark built by Noah's hand to save him. Why? First, it’s a trial of faith and obedience—and an op for witness. It’s a picture of God’s provision and our participation within our faith walk. As Matthew Henry said: "We cannot do it without God; he will not do it without us." It allowed time for his vivid witness and their repentance, underlining God’s justice in this. Noah would have had a greater sense of ownership and gratitude—probably understanding “the gift” better.

There’s virtually no detail of the work itself. But one might imagine what it was like building the ark. The on-lookers’ response would have ranged from curiosity to thinking he's crazy to being ill at ease with his dedication. They would not have understood “rain”. (There’s no record of that pre-Flood.) And then there’s Noah’s family…And Noah…

A little Bible trivia: Noah’s "ark" in Genesis is the same (Egyptian!) word in Ex 2:3,5 for Moses’ “basket”—the only two uses of that word in the Bible! This makes a clear connection between the two stories: floating containers preserving life; both daubed with pitch (Gen 6:14, Ex 2:3); both emphasize common Biblical theme of God delivering his (wholly dependent) servants from crisis. By way of contrast, it’s old Noah vs. young Moses; near the beginning of Genesis vs. Exodus; saved the human race and animals vs. the deliverer of the Jews.

Gen 6:19-21 lays out the original “Endangered Species Act”. As one person quipped: “Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.” The ark implies a picture of order and purpose within the chaos of the flood and Noah’s society. And as Kass notes, it is “a microcosm of the projected new (ideal) earthly order”. 19’s “bring into” and 20’s “will come to you” is interesting as a picture of God’s provision and his participation.

Noah is obedient—in fact, silently so (more later). And then, the rains begin in Gen 7:4. The earth had been flooded by evil—and now by rain. (The Babylonian account's far less realistic flood story requires only six days of rain—with a seventh day to drain.)

Gen 7:17 says the waters “lifted up” the ark. Matthew Henry notes: "The waters which broke down everything else bore up the ark...The more the waters increased, the higher the ark was lifted up toward heaven. Thus, sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions."

I enjoy the analogy of the ark to the church: it’s smelly and difficult, but the best available alternative—and less noticeable if busy working on improving the environment. People often claim to be “lone ranger” Christians, uninvolved with a local body of believers. This is incoherent with a Christian worldview and is so fundamental that, if purposefully rejected, brings one’s salvation into question. Putting it another way: if you don’t want to be with Christians in this life, why would you want that in the next life?

Gen 8:1b’s "wind" is the same word as the “Spirit” (1:2, 6:3). Other analogies from Creation follow: 2's springs, heavens closed and the rains are "restrained"—as Day 2's separation of sky from water; 3's waters begin to recede and 5's reappearance of land—as Day 3's land from water. Then, the birds appear in Gen 8:6-12—as in Day 5.

In Gen 8:13, Noah receives a big birthday present. And in Gen 8:16-18, they come out of the ark—although not in the proper order (a factoid which turns out to be large; more later!).


At May 17, 2010 at 4:44 PM , Blogger AmericanVet said...

Wrong order? Okay, that is interesting. Speak on...

At May 18, 2010 at 12:50 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Geologists by now have a highly detailed description of the Earth's geological history, based on an overwhelming amount of data, and it is clear that there was never a global flood as described in Genesis—particularly one which happened in historical or near-historical times (less than 6,000 years ago; the Biblical time lines would have actually put the flood since the construction of the great pyramid in Egypt).

However, there is clear evidence of catastrophic flooding in the near East in recent prehistoric times. It is entirely possible that cultural memories of these are recorded in the flood myths of that region. (Other regions of the world also have histories of catastrophic flood events. The Columbia River gorge had an incredible flood event at the end of the last Ice Age, when an ice dam failed and allowed the prehistoric Lake Bonneville to drain. The Willamette Valley south of Portland Oregon is flat due to sentiments deposited by this event.)

What it interesting about the flood story in the Bible is the moral or ethical dimension of the story. Rather than destroying humanity because humanity is inconvenient, the Bible portrays God as doing so out of moral necessity. Destruction of an entire race strikes modern readers as abhorrent, but the flood story helps establish the idea that God is a God of justice and morality who expects ethical and moral behavior by humans.

At May 18, 2010 at 1:29 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

As I'll cover in a future post, the differences between the Biblical and pagan Flood accounts are important and noteworthy. Stay tuned!

At May 18, 2010 at 5:21 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

Hello William,

Excellent points in your last paragraph.

What specific data refutes with certainty the Genesis account of a global flood?

At May 18, 2010 at 8:48 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, geologists prior to about 1800 took it for granted that the cataclysmic events in the Bible explained many things in geology, such as the occurence of sea shells on top of high mountains, and the many huge canyons and other erosional features on Earth. But by 1800, geologists began to realize that most of what they saw was best understood as the result of slow processes that transpired over spans of millions of years. In fact, in the late 1700s, James Hutton realized that "angular unconformities" could not be explained other by multiple, slow processes. These geological formations consist of layers of rock tilted at odd angles, sheared off, with newer rock layers deposited horizontally on top of them. This implies a period when rock layers were laid slowly by sedimentation (at the bottom of a sea), then mountain-building pushed up the layers and folded them so that they tilted vertically; then erosion sheared them off; then finally, under a new, shallow sea, new layers were deposited by further sedimentation. So by the mid 1800s, geology was firmly based on the doctrine of uniformitarianism, where processes that took millions of years had shaped the Earth.

Actually, in recent years, since the 1960s, geologists have realized that some things are the result of cataclysms. The best example of this is the end of the age of dinosaurs, which appears to be the result of an asteroid impact. Until the 1960s, geologists weren't convinced that meteor craters were caused by meteors. They now have identified roughly 200 of these on Earth, including a three-mile wide one near Frankfurt, Kentucky that is about 400 million years old. But in general terms, a universal flood is not compatible with the evidence in geology, or at least, there's nothing a universal flood explains that isn't already very well explained by other things (plate tectonics, vulcanism, erosion).

But there's more direct evidence against a universal flood. One interesting bit of evidence against a flood in near-historical times (less than 10,000 years ago) is human genetics. If all of us shared ancestry with a handful of people who lived that recently (Noah and his gang), there would be much less diversity in human genes. Actually, we do have an unusually limited diversity in our genetics, but it's consistent with a "genetic bottleneck" event or events that happened before about 50,000 years ago. Some scientists suspect a super-volcano eruption in Sumatra about 74,000 years ago may have been responsible for this.

At May 18, 2010 at 9:14 PM , Blogger radar said...

William, it is interesting that scientist give credit to exploding volcanoes for designing life. Have you any idea how much information is in a DNA string? One cell has more information that my 64 bit brand new honking desktop computer and it is coded with a four choice code rather than just off and on like binary systems. Organisms are so obviously designed that eventually Darwinists will have to admit it.

Population genetics tell us that this population of people came from one family about the time of the Noahic flood, actually maybe two hundred years after but these numbers are not precise.

Rapid speciation has been proven. Now that we understand facilitated variation and genetic redundancy we see that kinds speciate much faster than Darwin imagined because the cell is designed to speciate. Contingencies and redundancies are within the cell aleady. All the cell has to do is allow the environment to choose the most favorable pieces of code.

There is absolutely NO overwhelming data disproving the flood, that is a canard.

The Egyptian empire is admittedly begun by Cush, who is mentioned in the Biblical Table of Nations and he came along after the Tower of Babel and the Flood. Most cultures have references to one of the three sons of Noah at the very least in their genealogies.

All large structures, the subduction of much of the crust at the time of the Flood, the sedimentary rock layers...all point to a big flood and then an ice age with all sorts of catastrophic dike breaks and still-pliable layer folding and canyons forming, etc.

At May 18, 2010 at 9:19 PM , Blogger radar said...

Hutton and Lyell were spectacularly wrong. Lyell, in fact, fudged his Niagra Falls data because it didn't fit in well with his beliefs. The rock layers are not only catastrophic but most of them including all of the ones in the midst of the stack (which comes in various orders, unlike your textbook illustrations) are certainly sedimentary and formed by floods. Ian Juby was able to make a flood machine and observe the formation of layerings and also most of the rock layer features of the grand canyon by using his imagination and some simple machinery.

Anyone ever notice how all the dino tracks in the area go uphill? Juby is one of the guys who explained that during his experiments. You might start here:

At May 19, 2010 at 2:03 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

Population genetics tell us that this population of people came from one family about the time of the Noahic flood, actually maybe two hundred years after but these numbers are not precise.

Radar, may I ask, where did you find this assertion? It is flatly contradictory to what I've read (if by "this population of people" you refer to the current human population on Earth).

But it is not necessary to believe a literal interpretation of Genesis to be Christian. Many leading contemporary scientists accept evolution, accept deep geological time, regard the flood story as allegory, and are devout Christians. One notable example: Francis Collins, co-discoverer of the gene for cystic fibrosis and director of the Human Genome Project, is an evangelical Christian.

At May 19, 2010 at 8:25 AM , Blogger Janet P said...


Radar's point (and the point I was making) is that your assertion that "overwhelming evidence makes it clear that there never was a global flood" cannot be accepted as scientific fact. This is a debate - the study of the flood is "historical science".
Much evidence exists to support the global flood account: fossilized sea life on world's highest mountain ranges (and on farms in the Midwest), polystrate fossils indicating rapid burial of life found worldwide, "dinosaur graveyards", etc

Uniformitarianism is theory, not fact, and has been proven to lead to false conclusions as in the case of its champion, Lyell (Radar noted above).

At May 19, 2010 at 11:49 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, there's no debate in science about the age of the Earth and uniformitarianism. The debate ended by the mid 1800s. The only reason why anyone would conclude otherwise is because they believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis. The people who conclude otherwise come up with all kinds of arguments for their position, but they inevitably end up cornering themselves scientifically.

Here's an example. Some years ago, I read through a book by Walter Brown, a young-Earth creationist who had (if memory serves) a PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT. Now there's a problem with young-Earth creationism: the universe is very big, and it's impossible for us to see such things as distant galaxies simply because it would have taken far too long for the light from them to get to us. For example, the Andromeda Galaxy (visible to the unaided eye) is 2 million light years away, meaning the light took 2 million years to get to us. So how can we see these things if the universe is less than 10,000 years old? Brown's answer: light used to go much faster than it goes today. His evidence: the speed of light was sucessfully measured for the first time several hundred years ago, but the earliest measurements come up with somewhat higher values for the speed of light than the current value of 300,000 kilometers per second. So he drew a graph showing the speed of light as a function of time in years before present. This showed a gentle upwards curve for the last few centuries, when measurements of the speed of light are available—then a dramatic upwards curve resembling the graph of y = 1/x near x = 0 but with no data points to support it. This is ridiculous; this is not how you do science. In fact, if the speed of light did change, physics as we know it would drastically change, because many things in physics are tied to the speed of light.

It makes more sense to claim that the light from the Andromeda Galaxy was created in transit, so that we can see it even though the universe is only a few thousand years old. This is what Dr. Duane Gish told me in person (when I attended a creation/evolution debate as a freshman in college, in 1978). But this is a claim that goes beyond science; it cannot be tested. Indeed, we cannot do science in a universe that appears to be very old but isn't—what other physical data can we trust?

Again, all of this is unnecessary! Genesis is not a science book. Its anonymous authors did not know anything about modern science. That was not their agenda. They modified earlier creation stories to tell truths about God. Trying to force-fit geology to Genesis is no different than the sixteenth century scholars who tried to force-fit astronomy to the Bible. As Galileo said, the Bible is not about how the heavens move, it is about how to get to Heaven.

At May 19, 2010 at 1:52 PM , Blogger Janet P said...

Your passionate rebuttal ignores key geological evidence, as well as the fact that Lyell's own data proved his uniformitarianism false.

Christians can disagree here and that's what you and I will have to do.

At May 19, 2010 at 5:31 PM , Blogger radar said...

We can talk about light or about rock layers but not at the same time. Let's agree that uniformitarianism was falsified and tossed out by top scientists by the 1920's even if it took a long time to filter down to the classrooms. You can say there is no debate but just because you think you know doesn't mean scratch. The rock layers are from "Cambrian" (I would say from flood event forward) entirely catastrophic in nature and with few exceptions associated with water. SO we have the flood and the aftermath of the flood as reasons for the layering and that makes sense. Otherwise we need about ten or twelve "minor" world-wide or nearly world-wide floods to explain the rocks and that doesn't deal with paraconformities and other big problems.

For instance how about these polystrates?

At May 19, 2010 at 5:34 PM , Blogger radar said...

"A little science estranges a man from God. A lot of science brings him back."
— Francis Bacon

If you throw out the first eleven chapters of Genesis, why do you keep any of the Bible at all? Is the changing opinion of man superior to the Mind of God? I think not.

At May 20, 2010 at 12:37 AM , Blogger Janet P said...


Lots of evidence exists for the global Flood. Speed of light is a different discussion. This is the Answers in Genesis take:

I realize that you will see their theory as an attempt to make the Bible fit with science, so take it as you will. It is still quite interesting.
You bring up worthy points regarding the different lines of reasoning -- Brown, Gish.

Nice polystrate fossils, radar

At May 20, 2010 at 1:46 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Janet, thanks for the AIG link. I can see that they're trying very hard to reconcile physics, astronomy and a young universe; but I'm afraid they're not succeeding. What they don't mention is that while Einstein showed that time and distance depend on motion and gravity (they depend on the observer's location and motion), the speed of light is always constant (to every observer regardless of the observer's motion or location). That is, the one thing that is always constant in relativity is the speed of light.

But all of us agree (against atheists) that the universe shows intentionality; it was created, it didn't just happen. This appears in the marvelous balance in the laws of physics, which appear to be fine tuned to permit life to exist. Beyond that, Janet, as in your previous comment, we as Christians will have to disagree on the details.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home