The Genesis Flood – Part 1

By Philip Robinson

The traditional interpretation of Genesis 6-9 has always been that the flood sent by God in the time of Noah was a global worldwide catastrophic event, with most of the fossil record being formed as a direct consequence of the flood. Unfortunately the traditional interpretation, which places the Flood around 2300 BC, has been challenged by those who claim, on the one hand, to have a high view of Scripture, and yet on the other hand subject their interpretation of Scripture to evolutionary thinking, which requires that the rocks in which we find vast amount of fossils were not created rapidly in a flood, but rather show the evolutionary progression of a “fossil record” which was laid down over millions of years. They thus suggest that it was not a global worldwide flood, which would have had devastating effects changing the entire topography of the earth, but rather say, that it was a localised flood, restricting it to a Mesopotamian region (normally a valley), but call it “universal” as they believe that all mankind (just so happened to!) live there. So what does the Bible have to say about Noah’s flood?

Words that are used for the Flood

First we can point out that the Hebrew word used for the flood in Genesis 6-9 (mabbûl) is only ever used in reference to Noah’s flood; similarly in the New Testament the Greek word kataklusmos is used uniquely for Noah’s flood. Both of these words carry the sense of a deluge of water. Had the writers wanted to convey that Noah’s flood was an ordinary local flood they could have used the Hebrew words sheteph, nahar, nachal, zaram or the Greek word plemmura. As Dr. Henry Morris puts it, the reason special words were used for Noah’s flood was that it “was not to be comparable to other later local floods; it was to be absolutely unique in all history.”

The Flood is Represented as Universal

Secondly, when we examine the reason for the flood (that the earth was corrupt, full of violence and wickedness and that every inclination of man’s heart was evil), we read in Gen 6:7 that it was God’s intention to wipe out all of mankind: “So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” It would seem a ludicrous suggestion to say that after 1700 years all mankind (and all the creatures that move along the ground, and all the birds of the air) had congregated together in only one valley. Even stepping away from Hebrew grammar momentarily and just looking at the description of the events that take place in the flood narrative, we see preparations of a massive scale. Noah was given 120 years to design, construct and fit out the ark; the ark was to be a huge vessel (450ft long, 75ft high and 45ft wide) and Noah was to take representatives of every kind of land animal and bird onto the ark. If the flood was local then why did he need to build such a large ark and take on board every kind of land animal and bird? Surely it would have made more sense for God to have told Noah to move away, the land animals not to be there and the birds to fly away (which they would have been more than capable of doing anyway). The size of the ark and the representation of every kind of land animal and bird on board the ark just does not make any sense if the flood was not global.

In Genesis 7:19-23 we read: “All the high hills…all flesh died that moved upon the earth…all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land died…every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground…Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.” In this passage the Hebrew that translates into “all” or “every” is kol, the frequency of the word kol Indicates that God is going out of his way to emphasize the universal extent of the flood.

However Dr. Don Batten points out that some argue that “all” does not always mean each and every. Some use Luke 2:1 as an example: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” However Dr. Jonathan Sarfati points out that it is not the word “all” that is limited here, but rather the word “world”, which in the Greek is oikoumenen, and which was often used to refer to the Roman Empire only. So in context it is clear that “all” really did mean “all” of the Roman Empire.

In addition, in Genesis 7:19, when the narrative describes the flood waters as covering “all the high hills” on the earth it is used in conjunction with the phrase “under the whole heavens”. The same phrase is used six times outside the flood account. These six instances are Deut. 2:25, 4:19; Job 28:24, 37:3, 41:3 and Dan. 9:12, and in each case “under the whole heavens” has a universal meaning. The flood waters are also described as covering the mountains to over 20 ft; this description can be no local torrent confined to the Mesopotamian valley, as the water surpassed even the highest mountains. As Dr. Gleason Archer points out, even “the most elementary knowledge of physical law leads to the observation that water seeks its own level…the episode here described lasted more than a year; and there is therefore far more involved here than a temporary surge”. For “all the high hills” to have been covered to a depth of 20 ft (Gen. 7:20), it would have been necessary for the flood to have been global.

The New Testament Presupposes a Global Flood

The New Testament also confirms that Noah’s flood was global. Jesus, in Matt. 24:37-39, compares his second coming to Noah’s flood. In context Jesus is saying that his return will affect all mankind universally, as did Noah’s flood. Peter, in 2 Peter 3, also compares the flood with the coming judgement of the world by fire; both are clearly seen by Peter to be universal and global in extent. The coming judgement will not be a localised event; neither was the judgement in Noah’s time.

Lastly we can note that after Noah’s flood, in Genesis 9:11-15, God promises never to send such a flood again and institutes the sign of a rainbow as a reminder of this promise. If the flood was just a localised one, then God would have broken this promise many times over, making him out to be a liar, which God cannot be (Titus 1:2).


In conclusion it would seem that a plain reading of the Hebrew grammar, the understanding of the flood in the New Testament, and a common sense interpretation of the Bible would dictate that Noah’s flood was global. The only reason for not holding to such a view is not because of what the Bible says, but rather to avoid imagined geological difficulties based solely upon an evolutionary framework.

Next read: The Genesis Flood – Part 2