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

From: <>
Date: Fri Mar 16 2007 - 21:41:16 EDT

My opinion on the promise to never flood the earth again is this: that the Mesopotamian civilization was upended by the flood, but God promised that he would not upend it again. Many years later when Abraham and his family were the only remaining righteous people in the land, God kept his promise. Instead of sending another flood like he did in Noah's generation, He simply sent Abraham away. That marked a big shift in the history of God's working among men: before that, God's covenant people were in Mesopotamia; after that, they were in Canaan. So God abandoned Mesopotamia in a sense. It was a big deal.
Also, note that a similar promise is found in the Gilgamesh epic. When the flood-hero burns his sacrifice (after exiting the ark), the "gods" are hovering around the altar as they are lusting after the smell of burning meat. Then, the earth goddess puts a rainbow into the sky (she calls it her necklace of lapis lazuli flies, which was a gift from the sky god) and she says that whenever she puts her necklace into the sky it will be a reminder of the terrible thing that had been done to mankind. To see the significance of this, you have to see how the flood story is thoroughly mesopotamian. The gods had sent the flood because the clamour of the workers in the fields was so noisy that the gods couldn't sleep. Remember that mesopotamian civilization existed because of the invention of collective agriculture, so the discussion of the noisy workers in the fields, and the act of killing them to end their noisy labor, is a thoroughly relevant issue for that culture. But the und
 erground sea god Ea (who made mankind) warned the flood-hero to make an ark and so Ea rescued mankind. When the earth goddess laments the tragedy of mankinds' near-total destruction, the idea is that in the future the gods will leave mankind alone to continue their noisy agricultural ways.
The biblical version of the account is that God sent the flood because of the wickedness of mankind (similar to the noisy suffering of agricultural slaves being whipped in the fields). God promises to never do that again, and so He is committing to allow mankind go back down its path of those noisy, abusive practices that existed in that civilization. It is basically the same idea found in the gilgamesh epic. So it is a thoroughly mesopotamian concept that God would not flood out that civilization again. Instead, He simply sent Abraham away from it.
Phil M.
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 10:29 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] The Bible and the Anthropologically Universal Flood

One other curious feature of the Isaiah 54 text that I just noticed. God says to Israel: So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
       never to rebuke you again.
What does this mean? Did God keep this promise? What about Jesus' teacing about the Day of the Lord in Matthew 24, the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and Paul's understanding of the Law and of the Church as the new Israel? (Or for dispensationalists, for the understanding of the "tribulation" as a specific time of judgment and purification of Israel?) Hermeneutical issues galore!

On 3/16/07, David Opderbeck <> wrote:
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 earth.
       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 people.
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 assumptio
 ns 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 21:41:46 2007

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