Re: [asa] The Bible and the Anthropologically Universal Flood

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Fri Mar 16 2007 - 10:16:43 EDT

Jon, just a thought on Isaiah 54:9. It's an intriguing passage if you look
at the whole context. God says there to Israel:

*For a brief moment I abandoned you,
       but with deep compassion I will bring you back. *

* 8 In a surge of anger
       I hid my face from you for a moment,

He compares this to his feelings during the time of Noah:

*To me this is like the days of Noah,
       when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the
       So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
       never to rebuke you again. *
If we try to read this passage with lots of precision, it creates even
bigger theological problems than the geographic extent of Noah's flood.
What could it possibly mean for God to have a "surge of anger" and then to
change his mind about it? God isn't *really* like a person who has shifting
"emotions" and then acts rashly on them. Clearly, this is an
anthropomorphization. To me, that's a strong clue about how to understand
this particular passage. The point is that, though God judges, he
nevertheless maintains his *hesed*, his unfailing love, for his covenant

What does this say about the reference to the flood in this passage? It
seems fair to say that the preservation of Noah and the
subsequent restoration of civilization through Noah is simply an example of
God's unfailing love even in continually preserving a covenant people
through judgment. It isn't in any sense intending to teach anything in
particular about what a 21st-century geologist would understand by a flood
"covering the earth." Reading a 21st-century geological understanding of
"cover the earth" into this passage is a bit of eisegesis, not really a fair
extraction of the inspired content (the intended message) of this passage.

Having said that, does the passage at least incidentally seem to refer to a
flood that covers the whole globe? I suspect most local flood concordists
would answer "no" primarily by focusing on grammar. The Hebrew word "earth"
can mean "land" generally or even a particular "land" where a group of
people live (as, "the land of Canaan."). I don't know if that's the word
translated "earth" here, but that's my guess.

It's possible that focusing on a range of meanings in the word "earth" is
workable, and that used to be how I primarily tried to approach problem
passages like this. However, the more I learn about hermeneutics, the less
I'm convinced by this approach. It's more likely that the writer of Isaiah,
when he used the word "earth" here, would have pictured a judgment that
covered all the known world (which wasn't the globe as we know it, but
certainly was more extensive than a few cities along the Euphrates).

But even that observation, hermeneutically speaking, doesn't necessarily
settle the matter. Here's where, over the past year, I've begun to see the
limitations of the very literal and rationalist Norm Geisler-style inerrancy
with which I was raised. Personally, I don't think it's necessarily a fair
hermeneutical assumption that, if a passage like this one in Isaiah refers
incidentally to something that we today would relate to a scientific
proposition, it must somehow be in perfect harmony with that scientific
proposition (in my understanding, this is what Geisler-style inerrantists
mean when they say that the Bible is without error when it touches on
matters of science).

This is where, for me, the principle of accomodation has been very helpful.
If you haven't read Peter Enns' book Inspiration and Incarnation, I'd very
highly recommend it on this (Enns is a conservative OT scholar at
Westminster Seminary, not a liberal theologian who just rejects the text as
mere myth). Now, Glenn argues, correctly I think, that if "accomodation"
means we can just treat parts of the Bible as merely fables, the principle
is not helpful. However, it's not necessary to apply the principle in that
way. Calvin, for example, and BB Warfield following Calvin, saw the
principle differently. It simply means that the Biblical writers may refer
to things we today would consider "scientific" in ways that are imprecise,
exaggerated, and perhaps even mistaken. But this is not "error" in the
sense of a flaw in the divinely inispired scriptures, because the scriptures
are not given for the purpose of authoritatively asserting the sometimes
mistaken background assumptions that the humanly mediated text.

So, what does all this say about the precise nature of the Noahic covenant?
Well, I'm not totally sure. It seems to me, though, that it does suggest
that we don't need to affirm the inerrancy of the background assumptions
that might be inherent in some Biblical allusions to the Noahic covenant in
order to affirm God's complete faithfulness to the covenant itself. The arc
of the whole flood account, including the subsequent Babel account, is that
God destroyed all of human society except for the remnant of Noah and his
family. It represents, in a sense, a "starting over" of the creation
narrative. God promises that he will not destroy human society in this way
ever again, and he has been faithful to that promise, even though there
certainly have been other devastating local floods. The point isn't whether
there were a group of aborigines in Australia who remained untouched by
Noah's floodwaters. The point is that, from the limited understanding the
Biblical writers, the flood of Noah's time destroyed civilization. Perhaps
it's a beauty of the kind of revelation God gave us in scripture that we can
see how much further such a promise extends in the context of a networked
global civilization.

Now, I realize this won't satisfy Glenn or many others. Honestly, it
doesn't totally satisfy me. I remember, as a young boy during baseball
practices, with the first spring breezes blowing, looking up at the sky and
wondering "how can all this be?" Thirty years later, I still often ask that
question. For people like me, I guess, such questions are maybe in some
ways a providential prod towards deeper learning and study, even if they
also are sometimes the content of an occasional dark night of the soul.
Unfortunately, some people's faith cracks entirely under this strain. It
can be very important, I think, for people like me to be free to explore
hermeneutical perspectives like accomodation. And it's important, I think,
for all of us in conversations like this to remember that the purpose is
mutual edification and encouragement, not simply making a point.


On 3/16/07, Jon Tandy <> wrote:
> Before I knew the geological evidence and other evidence, I believed in a
> global flood. Now that I do, *sigh* I'm conflicted but I have to give fair
> consideration to the evidence. I was just responding to your question about
> other Biblical arguments for a universal flood. I'm sure someone has dealt
> with this in writing, but I would welcome a link to a coherent argument
> against the scriptures I listed below, which would have to be taken as a
> promise that God would never again send a (local) flood to cover the
> (limited geographical area of) earth. How is this dealt with theologically?
> Come to think of it, I don't know if Glenn is presently monitoring this
> list, so I'm copying him. I was intrigued over a year ago when I first read
> his article on the Mediterranean Basin flood, although I don't know that I
> can buy into the whole program of a 5.5mya Adam. Glenn, how would you
> deal with this question? Either, (1) the Mediterranean Basin flood
> destroyed all living mankind at that time (excluding 8 individuals), or (2)
> it was just a local flood, although much further back in time, and thus how
> does the promise apply that God would no more send any local floods? or (3)
> God's promise was that he would never again flood the Mediterranean Basin,
> which is vacuous. In case (1), is it your conclusion that mankind (8
> individuals) climbed out of the Mediterranean Basin once their ark hit the
> Eastern shore, and thus the anthropological evidence *appears* to be that
> modern mankind came "out of Africa" to fill the rest of the globe? How does
> that interpretation stack up against the evidence of homo sapiens origins?
> Is there evidence that genetically all mankind can be traced to 8
> individuals at 5.5mya?
> The other strong argument against a local flood, is why didn't God just
> have them evacuate a few dozen (hundred?) miles away instead of going to all
> the trouble of making a huge ark and bringing in all the (limited number,
> local species of) animals to be preserved for a year on the ark, in addition
> to all the other millions of species which existed around the globe that
> would be preserved already because the flood was not global? Of course,
> there we go again, questioning God's methods and his word!
> Jon Tandy
> -----Original Message-----
> *From:* David Opderbeck [mailto:]
> *Sent:* Friday, March 16, 2007 6:46 AM
> *To:* Jon Tandy
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] The Bible and the Anthropologically Universal Flood
> So do you believe in a global flood? I agree with you that the Noahic
> covenant is hard to reconcile with a local flood. OTOH, what are the other
> options? Some speculation -- if we concieve of the flood as having wiped
> out an entire local civilization -- an entire city-state, say -- then I'm no
> so sure that it's such a stretch. Further, if we concieve of the Noahic
> covenant as one of the series of covenants made to God's chosen people, then
> perhaps we can view it more specifically as a promise that God would not
> judge the "land" in which his people live via a flood. This also perhaps
> ties in to the eschatological notion of a "remnant" saved from judgment, as
> in the remnant of Israel that survived the Babylonian captivity and the
> remnant that the NT eschatological literature pictures as surviving the last
> judgment.
> On 3/15/07, Jon Tandy < > wrote:
> >
> > <clip> (Gen 6:13, 8:21) and from Isaiah 54:9, the promise that the
> > "waters of Noah should no more go over the earth" seems a vain promise if it
> > was talking about a local flood only. How many large scale local floods
> > have occurred in the last 5000 years, causing much devastation and loss of
> > life. That coupled with the scriptures linking last days prophecies with
> > the flood, it implies that more than a local devastation is involved in that
> > promise. <clip>
> >

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Received on Fri Mar 16 10:17:07 2007

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