Sunday, November 25, 2007

Re: does the text of Noah's Flood, not require us to believe that all humanity was wiped away?


Thanks for your message. But as you are aware, my policy is that when I receive a private message on a creation (including

[Above: Michelangelo's The Deluge, Sistine Chapel, Wikipedia.]

Christianity), evolution, or design topic, I respond via my blog, CreationEvolutionDesign, after removing the sender's personal identifying information.

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Thursday, November 22, 2007 11:38 PM
Subject: blog question/comment

>Mr. Jones,
>In your posting on Noah's Flood, does the text not require us to believe that all humanity was wiped away? After all, what would be the purpose of God's promise in chapter 9, as local disasters have occurred plenty since the time of the flood (which is unknown and therefore could have been any time in the past).

I am not sure which "posting on Noah's Flood" you mean. My previous blog posts on Noah's Flood are (most recent first): 11-Sep-06; 15-Apr-06#3; 14-Apr-06#2; 14-Apr-06#1.

But I disagree that the Biblical text of Noah's Flood (Genesis 6-8) "require[s] us to believe that all humanity was wiped away."

As the late evangelical theologian Bernard Ramm noted the Bible indicates the extent of the Flood in Genesis 6-8, by listing in Genesis 10, the nations which descended from the survivors of the Flood, "Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons" (Gn 10:1). And in that "Table of Nations of Gen. 10 ... no mention of the Mongoloid or Negroid races is made":

"An examination of the Table of Nations of Gen. 10 discloses that no mention of the Mongoloid or Negroid races is made. Some anthropologists believe that it is impossible to make any racial distinctions among humans, others make two main divisions, but most accept with modifications and qualifications and exceptions the triadic division of Negroid, Mongoloid, and Caucasoid. As far as can be determined the early chapters of Genesis centre around that stream of humanity (part of the Caucasoid race) which produced the Semitic family of nations of which the Hebrews were a member. The sons of Noah were all Caucasian as far as can be determined, and so were all of their descendants. The Table of Nations gives no hint of any Negroid or Mongoloid peoples." (Ramm, B.L., "The Christian View of Science and Scripture," [1954], Paternoster: Exeter UK, Reprinted, 1960, p.234).

Earlier in his book, Ramm had pointed out that, "Noah certainly was not a preacher of righteousness" (2Pet 2:5) "to the peoples of Africa, of India, of China or of America", and that "The purpose of the flood was to blot out the wicked civilization of Mesopotamia" (my emphasis):

"The purpose of the flood was to blot out the wicked civilization of Mesopotamia, and being a local flood of a short duration we would not expect to find any specific evidence for it, especially after the minimum of another six thousand years of weathering. There are three views of the local flood: (i) Some assert that man never spread beyond the Mesopotamian valley. This is impossible to defend in that it is so well proven that men were to be found outside the Mesopotamian area long before the flood. (ii) G.F. Wright believes that the ice-age drove man into the Mesopotamian valley. (iii) A third view, and the one which we hold, is that the entire record must be interpreted phenomenally. If the flood is local though spoken of in universal terms, so the destruction of man is local though spoken of in universal terms. The record neither affirms nor denies that man existed beyond the Mesopotamian valley. Noah certainly was not a preacher of righteousness to the peoples of Africa, of India, of China or of America-places where there is evidence for the existence of man many thousands of years before the flood (10,000 to 15,000 years in America). The emphasis in Genesis is upon that group of cultures from which Abraham eventually came." (Ramm, 1954, p.163).

which presumably, as far as Noah and his sons were concerned, was "all humanity."

Also of the utmost importance is Ramm's observation above, that The emphasis in Genesis is upon that group of cultures from which Abraham" (and through him, the Jesus the Messiah (Mt 1:1,17; Lk 3:23-35), "eventually came." Genesis is part of "the law," the purpose of which, as the Apostle Paul pointed out, "was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Gal 3:24. KJV).

There is other evidence that all humanity was not wiped out by the Flood in that the descendants of at least one race of pre-Flood people, the Nephilim:

"The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown." (Gn 6:4)

survived the Flood:

"We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them." (Num 13:33).

As for "the purpose of God's promise in chapter 9", i.e. Gn 9:8-16:

"Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: `I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.' And God said, `This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."

there is less of a problem there as long as we first try to understand it from the original writer and readers' ~3000BC perspective, instead of our ~2000AD perspective. As Old Testament theologian John H. Walton observed, "We understand God's inspired message when we understand the human author's message" and "The task before us as interpreters is to try to dissipate the culturally induced fog" and "interpret the details of the text in relation to the author's purpose rather than ... superimpose our culture and our expectations on ... [the] text":

"The author of Genesis has made choices. He had to select what information to include. He had to decide how to communicate that information effectively to his audience and how to provide it with the emphasis that would serve his purposes. He had to guide his literary art with discretion so that it would contribute productively to his purpose. Our belief in inspiration suggests that God's hand was behind all of these choices. We are not content to consider the book of Genesis as simply the work of a human author. Yet it is the assumption of this commentary that God's purpose is carried out through the human author's purpose. As a result, that author should be considered the link to the authoritative Word of God. We understand God's inspired message when we understand the human author's message. God's communication is to Israel through the author of Genesis, but we believe that the book constitutes a part of God's revelation of himself, so its vitality remains undiminished for us today. Though that message transcends culture, the form it was given in is, to some extent, culture-bound. The task before us as interpreters is to try to dissipate the culturally induced fog so that we can establish a strong authority link to God's revelation through the communication of that revelation by his chosen spokesman. The anticipated result is that we will be able to interpret the details of the text in relation to the author's purpose rather than tailoring our interpretation to whatever modern debates have captured our attention. ... None of us is immune to the syndrome of hearing what we want to hear. We are all inclined to superimpose our culture and our expectations on a text. In the case of a biblical text, the problem becomes acute because we also tend to superimpose our theology on a text and even excuse that imposition by attributing the meaning we want to derive from it to the divine author if we do not find it on the human level. ... We will assume a level of integrity to the communication that transpired between the author and his audience-that is, that he was intentionally communicating something meaningful and that he had every reason to expect his audience would understand what he meant. We will assume that although there may be more truth than the author knew, the truth he did know and communicate was authoritative and inspired. It is therefore the human author's communication that will be our target as we seek out God's Word. At times we will be able to identify other layers of meaning that transcend the human author, but it is the initial context that serves as the foundation for any other layers. This foundational layer is the most ignored, the most difficult to penetrate, and the most important, so it will be our primary focus." (Walton, J.H., "Genesis," The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 2001, pp.19-20).

For starters, the writer and readers of Genesis would not have thought of "earth," as we today who have seen photos of the global Earth in space think of it. As the late Old Testament theologian Gleason L. Archer, Jr. pointed out, regarding "the Great Deluge of Genesis 6-8," "the Hebrew 'eres, translated consistently as `earth' in our English Bibles, is also the word for `land'" and "There is another term tebel, which means the whole expanse of the earth, or the world as a whole" but "Nowhere does tebel occur in this account, but only 'eres":

"Noah's Ark and the Flood As to the Great Deluge of Genesis 6-8 ... the comparative lack of geologic evidence for a world-wide cataclysm has given rise to doubts as to the universality of the Flood. No characteristic or uniform flood-type deposits have been discovered in the sites excavated in the Mesopotamian Valley. The thick flood stratum found by Leonard Woolley at Ur dates from early fourth millennium (ca. 3800 B.C.), but only one other flood stratum from that period has thus far been discovered, that found by Stephen Langdon at Kish (a much shallower deposit, incidentally). The other flood deposits, discovered at Kish, Shuruppak, Uruk and (possibly) Lagash, represent an inundation of a thousand years later, judging from the archaeological remains and stratigraphical sequence. While the excavations may not in all cases have penetrated low enough to reach the 3800 B.C. level in some of the above mentioned, in Kish, at least, the dig went down to apparently undisturbed virgin soil right below the 2800 B.C. level. It is of course true that these few deep excavations are insufficient for any firm conclusions. But they have led most archaeologists to question the possibility of a general deluge over a more than local area-at least within the period investigated in the excavations themselves-and even staunch conservative apologists ... have defended the theory of a flood restricted to the cradle of the human race in Mesopotamia (or possibly extending up to the Caspian basin). ... The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (Vol. I, p.98) indicates that the Hebrew text does not necessarily imply a universal flood. .... In explanation of this assertion, it needs to be pointed out that the Hebrew 'eres, translated consistently as `earth' in our English Bibles, is also the word for `land' (e.g., `the land of Israel,' `the land of Egypt'). There is another term tebel, which means the whole expanse of the earth, or the world as a whole. Nowhere does tebel occur in this account, but only 'eres, in all the statements which sound quite universal in the English Bible (e.g., 7:4, 10, 17, 18, 19). Thus, Genesis 6:17c can be rendered: `...everything that is in the land shall die'-that is, in whatever geographical region is involved in the context and situation." (Archer, G.L., "A Survey of Old Testament Introduction," [1964], Moody Press: Chicago IL, Third printing, 1966, pp.192-194. Emphasis original).

Old-Earth Creationist Dick Fischer noted that "the Old Testament writers had no concept of the earth as a round globe with a circumference of 25,000 miles" and so "What we can visualize as the earth today is entirely different from what they could have pictured as a definition of the word":

"To reiterate: an unenlightened Bible translation has made victims of us all. The word `earth,' synonymous with `globe' or `planet,' is a permissible translation of the Hebrew word 'erets, from Genesis 1:1 to 2:4, even though this last verse is transitional, and shifts focus to the immediate area where Adam was created, where the flood took place, and where the tower of Babel was built. From Genesis 2:5 to 12, words such as `land,' `region' or `territory' fit the context better than the word `earth,' with the possible exception of Genesis 8:22 and 9:13. Cain was not driven off `the face of the earth' (Gen. 4:14), just out of the vicinity of Eden. Clouds never cover the globe completely (Gen. 9:14), only a segment of land. The planet was not divided in Peleg's days (Gen. 10:25), simply the immediate region. Undoubtedly, the Old Testament writers had no concept of the earth as a round globe with a circumference of 25,000 miles. What we can visualize as the earth today is entirely different from what they could have pictured as a definition of the word. Could the Hebrews or Egyptians or any other Near Eastern cultures have envisioned the world then as we know it exists today, with polar ice caps and oceans covering three-fourths of the surface, massive land continents, and numerous oceanic islands burgeoning with unique faunal populations? The notion of a global flood, based solely on the Genesis narrative, fails on two counts: (1) the word translated `earth' in Genesis can mean `land,' and (2) any word which might have defined `earth' would not mean then what it means today." (Fischer, D., "The Origins Solution: An Answer in the Creation-Evolution Debate," Fairway Press: Lima OH, 1996, p.260).

Therefore "the purpose of God's promise in chapter 9" is first of all, as the text says, "to Noah and to his sons with him" (Gn 9:8). That is, if the Flood was not global but covered only the known world of Noah, then how Noah understood "every living creature," "every living creature on earth," "all life," "all living creatures of every kind" and "all living creatures of every kind on the earth" (Gn 9:8-16) is the text's primary meaning. Indeed the text equates the above with "every living creature that was with you ... all those that came out of the ark with you" (my emphasis). That the text has a deeper global meaning, is its secondary meaning. There is no logical or theological problem with God giving a promise that is deeper and wider than its original recipients would have understood. Indeed that is the rule, rather than the exception. For example, the first hearers of Jesus' command to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19), would not have understood that "all nations" included the Chinese, American Indians or Australian aborigines, etc, even though the risen Jesus would have.

>I've no doubt this event was historic, for the same reasons as you do (many accounts, Jesus' testimony), but cannot seem to make sense of this point.

You may be referring to my position on the Flood, which I posted on my now-terminated Yahoo discussing group CED (e.g. 20-Jul-05 & 15-Mar-05) and summarised in my blog post, "What I believe about Creation, Evolution and Design":

Flood, Noah's. On the basis of Jesus' affirming that there was a Noah, an ark and a flood (Mat. 24:38; Lk. 17:27), and other evidence such as the credible design and dimensions of the Ark and the widespread ancient stories of a Great Flood, I accept that there really was a Noah's flood, but that it was probably a local symbolic act by God to represent His judgment on the entire world.

This can be summed up in a syllogism: 1. If Jesus was God; and 2. He taught that there was a Noah, an Ark and a Flood; 3. Then there really was a Noah, an Ark and a Flood. The classic Christian position is that while Jesus, in His human nature, was ignorant of things that all other humans of the 1st century AD were ignorant of (e.g. the existence of Australia, quantum physics, the day and hour of His return - Mt 24:36 = Mk 13:32, etc), in His God nature He was omniscient:

"The two-minds hypothesis. This may seem a promising way to understand the incarnation, but [Thomas V.] Morris knows the real test comes when trying to make sense of how Jesus can exemplify very human qualities at the same time that he has similar divine attributes that contradict those human qualities. In particular, Jesus as divine is omniscient, but as human he has limited knowledge. Hence the properties of omniscience and of limited knowledge are both predicated of one and the same person, and that is a contradiction. Moreover, one wonders whether at any moment of his earthly life the person* Jesus knew everything or only some things. If everything, then how can Scripture say (Lk 2:52) that he grew in wisdom and knowledge? Morris answers that in Christ there were two minds (two distinct ranges of consciousness), one divine and one human. Christ possessed the eternal mind of God the Son, which knows all things. But he also possessed a `distinctly earthly consciousness that came into existence and grew and developed as the boy Jesus grew and developed.' [Morris T.V., "The Logic of God Incarnate," Cornell UP, 1986, p.103] The relation between the two minds was asymmetrical. That is, the divine mind knew and had access to everything the human mind knew, but the human mind had access to the divine only when the divine mind allowed it access. What Jesus knew through his human mind alone and apart from any access it had to his divine mind was only what was available to any other human living at that time. But since he was not merely human, Jesus had access to information that no mere human could know apart from divine revelation. [Ibid]" (Feinberg, J.S., "The Incarnation of Jesus Christ," in Geivett, R.D. & Habermas, G.R., eds., "In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History," Apollos: Leicester UK, 1997, p.234. Emphasis original).

Therefore, while Jesus could be ignorant of something in His human nature, He could not teach error because His divine nature would override His human nature and either prevent Him from teaching error or reveal to Him truth on that matter which was beyond His (or anyone's) mere human knowledge.

Of course one could deny Jesus was God, but then why bother with Noah's Flood? Or one could deny that He was teaching in Mat. 24:38 = Lk. 17:27, that there was a Noah, an ark and a flood, but then one would not be able to affirm that Jesus taught anything authoritatively (including His second coming, which He was also teaching in those verses).

>I also agree with you that the language can be misleading, as surely 'all countries' were not under a famine in Gen 41 and floated over to the middle east to buy grain from a guy named Joseph.

Agreed, as Ramm observed, "The universality of the flood simply means the universality of the experience of the man who reported it":

"First of all, in criticism of the universal flood interpretation, this theory ... cannot demonstrate that totality of language necessitates a universal flood. Fifteen minutes with a Bible concordance will reveal many instances in which universality of language is used but only a partial quantity is meant. All does not mean every last one in all of its usages. Psa. 22:17 reads: `I may tell all my bones,' and hardly means that every single bone of the skeleton stood out prominently. John 4:39 cannot mean that Jesus completely recited the woman's biography. Matt. 3:5 cannot mean that every single individual from Judea and Jordan came to John the Baptist. There are cases where all means all, and every means every, but the context tells us where this is intended. ... The universality of the flood simply means the universality of the experience of the man who reported it. When God tells the Israelites He will put the fear of them upon the people under the whole heaven, it refers to all the peoples known to the Israelites (Deut. 2:25). When Gen. 41:57 states that all countries came to Egypt to buy grain, it can only mean all peoples known to the Egyptians. Ahab certainly did not look for Elijah in every country of the earth even though the text says he looked for Elijah so thoroughly that he skipped no nation or kingdom (1 Kings 18:10). From the vantage point of the observer of the flood all mountains were covered, and all flesh died. We must concur that: `The language of the sacred historian by no means necessarily implies that the flood overspread the whole earth. Universal terms are frequently used in a partial and restricted sense in Scripture.' ("JFB Bible Commentary," 1870, Vol. I, p.98)." (Ramm, 1954, p.164. Emphasis original).

>That being said, I'm at a bit of a loss how to understand the Flood narrative. I wrote Jack Collins (wonderful guy who published a great commentary on Genesis 1-4 recently) but he refuses to take a position on the flood, which is a shame.

OK. I was on a mailing list with Jack Collins once, but I cannot now recall what his position on the Flood was.

My final piece of advice I have given to those Christians who write to me about seemingly intractable problems they are having with Genesis [e.g. see posts 10-Feb-06 and 05-Dec-06] is to put Genesis aside for the time-being and do what I did, "read through the New Testament only the words of Jesus in my morning quiet time" and then after doing that (which will take many years), "You will then see it (and everything) in its right perspective":

"I advised a Christian who asked me similar questions ... that I went through a spiritual/mid-life crisis in the early 1990's and used to walk at night listening to Chuck Swindoll on the radio. One night he said that we all need a mentor, but if we don't have one (as I didn't), then Jesus could be our mentor. I resolved there and then to read through the New Testament only the words of Jesus in my morning quiet time, confessing where I fell short and praying that the Lord would help me to apply his words to my life. It took me ~8 years and it changed my life forever. I recommend you put Genesis 1 aside and do that first, then go back to Genesis ~8 years later. You will then see it (and everything) in its right perspective."


I hope this has helped.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).
My other blog: TheShroudofTurin

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