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25 September 2018

The flood story.

Um… why are we debating whether or not an ancient flood happened?

In Genesis there’s a story about a massive flood. Rain for a month and a half; waters which covered every hill in the area, and killed every living thing. It was, states the author of Genesis, God’s way of getting rid of the violence in the land—by getting rid of everybody but one righteous (well, righteous enough) family.

Starts like this.

Genesis 6.11-21 KWL
11 To God’s face, the land was ruined. The land was full of violence.
12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!—all flesh ruined its way in the land.
13 God told Noah, “To my face, the end of all flesh is coming:
They fill the land with violence before them. Look, the land is ruined!
14 Make yourself a box of cypress trees. Make living spaces in the box.
Plaster it from the inside to the outside with asphalt.
15 This is how you’ll make it: A box 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high.
16 Make a window in the box, a cubit from the top. Make a doorway in the box’s side.
Make bottom, second, and third floors.
17 Look at me: I bring the deluge of waters on the land to destroy all flesh on it,
the breath of life under the heavens: Everything on the land dies.
18 I raise my relationship with you. Come into the box.
You, your sons, your woman, your sons’ women with you.
19 All living things, all flesh: Two of all comes into the box to live with you.
They’ll be male and female.
20 From the bird to its kind, from the animal of its kind,
from all which swarms the ground of its kind, two of all comes to you to live.
21 Take with you all the food you can eat. Gather it for yourselves.
It’s for food, for you and them.”
22 Noah did everything God commanded him to do.

The synchroblog is a diverse group of opinions on the same topic. For September 2018 it’s “What the flood?”—what’s your spin on the story of Noah’s flood?

No we don‘t always agree with one another—and that’s the point. Let’s see what other Christians might say on this matter.

Joseph A. Brown, Redeemer Savior
The great flood: 7 amazing lessons every Christian needs to know.
Mike Edwards, What God May Really Be Like
Did God really drown millions in the flood?
Jim Gordon, Done with Religion
There will never be a world wide flood again, but was there ever one in the first place?
Jordan Hathcock, Welcome to the Table
A flood of insightful hope.
K.W. Leslie, Christ Almighty!
The flood story.
Tomek Leszczynski, Get On With It
Flood: A remedy for corruption?
Jeremy Myers, Redeeming God
Did the flood of Genesis 6-8 really happen, and if so, did God really send it?
Scott Sloan, Life and Stories About My Dog and About My Faith
The flood as a foreshadowing to the cross of Christ—God is not like Thanos from the Infinity War.

So God has this man, Noah ben Lamekh, build himself a big black box…

Yeah, black box. What d’you think an ark is, a boat? What, were the Hebrews carrying around the Boat of the Covenant through the desert for four decades? Did Indiana Jones excavate a Nazi-killing gold boat, or am I remembering that movie all wrong?

But you’d be forgiven if you made the mistake of thinking a tevá is a boat. After all, American popular culture has the image of a boat cemented in everybody’s brain. Noah built a boat, they say—and on dry land! How the neighbors laughed and jeered at Noah and his kids for building a boat on dry land. Then when the floodwaters came, boy did they get their comeuppance.

Except it nowhere says in the bible, nowhere in Genesis, that Noah built a boat. That bit about the jeering neighbors? Not in the bible either. I know; you’ve been told that story so many times, you half remember it being biblical, don’t you? Nope; go read Genesis 7 again. Isn’t there. Never happened.

Wait, what about those people in Kentucky who made the Ark Encounter, the life-size Noah’s Ark which they claim is totally based on the bible? Read that bit of Genesis 6 again. God told Noah to build a box. Arguably log-cabin style, ’cause it’s made of ačé-gofér/“trees of cypress”; God didn’t say planed wooden planks. Covered in kofér/“bitumen,” or asphalt, so it wouldn’t be bare or stained wood, as the Ark Encounter displays, but black as the roads outside your house. Figuring a cubit is half a meter (or half a yard, if you’re American like me), Noah was instructed to make it 150 by 25 by 15, square, not with curved bow to easily cut through water, and certainly not with a rudder—who’s gonna steer it? What’s its destination? Why would Noah presumptively assume this box would even float?—for all he knew it might stay where it was, underwater, waiting for the floods to pass.

The Kentucky monstrosity is entirely based on popular Christian culture, and what generations of American preachers and their art have speculated about Noah’s box. Something which actually requires less faith in God than Genesis is describing. ’Cause they imagine Noah built something seaworthy, that could survive on its own—instead of something God would have to miraculously preserve, and did.

So when skeptics ask me whether I believe the bible’s flood story, I can’t give them a simple yes. ’Cause I do believe the story. But the story I believe is the plausible one we find in the bible. Not as it’s told by young-earth creationists, who have turned it into Christian mythology, then turned that into junk science.

Did God flood all the land… or all the planet?

More than once, Genesis states God dumped the floodwaters on the ereč. This word can be translated two ways: “Land,” which is how it’s used in the bible, like in “the land of Egypt” Ge 41.41 or “the land of Canaan,” Ge 12.5 or “the land of Edom,” Ge 36.31 and pretty much every other geographic area. Or “land” as opposed to what’s not solid ground, like the seas or oceans, Ge 1.18 or the heavens. Ge 1.1

Or it can be translated to mean what young-earth creationists mean by it: Earth. Our planet. As a whole.

After all, ereč gets translated “earth” and “world” a whole bunch of times in most bible translations. And most English-speakers can’t help but remember that “Earth,” capitalized, is what we call our planet. So when the scriptures are describing something which involves “all the earth,” Ge 1.26 KJV they’re not gonna think “all the land,” for that implies geographic boundaries. Nope, they’re not gonna imagine any boundaries whatsoever. All the earth. The whole world.

So when Genesis has it that God was flooding the whole ereč, the young-earth creationists are gonna insist this means the whole planet. Not just Mesopotamia; everywhere. Including parts of the planet where there weren’t any humans yet. Because in order to stop the earth’s violence, I suppose God also had to flood Antarctica and take out all those evil penguins.

Sometimes I wonder whether biblical literalists aren’t trying to play a game of chicken with reason, and trying to outdo one another in how far they’re willing to go. “Oh, you believe a literal interpretation of the bible means that? Well I believe a literal interpretation of the bible means this. Top this.” It’s not enough to believe God created the cosmos in six steps; they gotta insist these steps were literal 24-hour days, and if you don’t believe likewise, you’re a pagan heretic. And when science indicates it can’t be literal days, down with science, because they believe bible. But in reality they’re trying their darnedest to sound like the believingest Christians there are. Even if they sometimes chose to believe goofy nonsense.

The most commonsense interpretation of Genesis is God flooded the land. That land; not the planet. After all, flooding the planet was wholly unnecessary. Humans weren’t spread out that far. Nor is God the sort of being who’d destroy everything else he created just ’cause he can, or just to show off how much outrage is in him. I know some dark Christians who love that idea, but they really need to get saved. God didn’t need to prove to anyone he’s almighty; creating the cosmos did that.

And goodness knows young-earth creationists, who insist the flood was global, have been struggling to find explanations of where all the water came from, and where it went. Apparently “miraculously appeared” and “miraculously disappeared” aren’t among their options… at least not until they’re absolutely stymied for explanations. But never underestimate the practitioners of junk science. They can invent and believe any explanation, no matter how head-scratchingly bad it is to everyone else. The young-earthers I know are currently going with “the firmament” for where the water came from, and “the ice caps” for where it went. (A theory that, at this rate, is soon to be disproven.)


The universe… if we take Genesis literally. NIV Faithlife Study Bible

What’s the firmament? That’d be the space between the ground and a massive wall in outer space—one in which all the stars are embedded. The wall holds back all the water which used to cover Earth’s dry ground. That’s what the ancients believed they were looking at in the sky. Not infinity, as we now know it to be; the back end of the heavens.

Young-earth creationists have redefined “firmament” to mean a barrier in Earth’s atmosphere which held back the water. Which used to exist… but then God decided to flood the world, so he cracked open the firmament (as they figure “the windows of heaven were opened” Ge 7.11 KJV means) and dumped all that water back onto Earth until all the harím ha-gevoshím/“high hills” were covered. Ge 7.19

The next verse, in the KJV, translates har/“hill” as “mountain,” and states “and the mountains were covered.” Young-earthers love to point to it as a proof text and claim, “See? God even covered Mount Everest!” Well yeah, it’d mean that if “land” really means “world” and “hill” really means “mountain.” But they don’t. Because that very same verse says the water rose only 15 cubits—yep, only 23 feet deep. Ge 7.20 If it only took 8 meters of water to cover the “mountains,” we’re not actually talking about mountains.

Neither does “firmament” mean any atmospheric barrier whatsoever—because the sun, moon, and stars are in it. Ge 1.17 Which you’d know if you read your bible instead of believing young-earther theories.

I won’t even touch how they imagine Noah kept dinosaurs on the ark.

Defending the flood story, and sharing Jesus.

For skeptics, the implausible part of the flood story is the idea of a global flood. They have no problem believing in floods; we get ’em in the United States every time a hurricane makes landfall, or whenever the Mississippi overflows, or whenever a levee breaks. Floods happen. But a global, extinction-level event? That, they’re not so sure about.

Sometimes I point out to ’em they do believe in extinction-level events, like the asteroid which supposedly killed the dinosaurs, or the smallpox plague which wiped out the Indians, or the potential future catastrophe that pollution might become. (And is becoming right now.) Why not a global flood?

But once I explain to these skeptics how I don’t believe Noah’s flood was global—how a commonsense interpretation of the scriptures doesn’t require anyone to believe the flood was global—it pretty much answers their skepticism. “Oh, it wasn’t global? Okay then.” And we can move on to other things. More important things. Like, say, Jesus and their relationship with him—the real issue, which people try to avoid by bringing up implausible things which they think are in the bible, like global floods.

For young-earth creationists, they don’t just stumble across the smokescreen; they run into it and try to wave away the smoke. As if their first duty is to defend the self-described “creation scientists” who invented their haywire worldview, and not their Lord. No doubt the devil has a lot of fun sidetracking them into creationism debates, then watching them make all sorts of ignorant statements about “real science” which not only don’t win over skeptics, but make ’em think we Christians are the dumbest, most gullible humans alive. Next thing you know, we’ll be telling them essential oils are better than vaccination.

Don’t let the flood story distract you! Share Jesus.