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The New Testament and the Genesis Flood: A Hermeneutical Investigation of the Historicity, Scope, and Theological Purpose of the Noahic Deluge

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Introduction

And the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them" (Genesis 6:7). [i]

     With these dramatic and disturbing words, the book of Genesis records Yahweh's divine determination to utterly destroy the humans He had previously created in His very image and likeness. The subsequent verses in the Genesis account detail the grotesque wickedness of the human race and the wrath which God poured out in response to man's rebellion. With the exception of one family, consisting of eight souls, and a representative sample of each animal species, the book of Genesis depicts the complete obliteration of all life on planet Earth—Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark (Genesis 7:23).

     While the words of Scripture appear clear enough to the casual reader, a storm of controversy continues to rage over their meaning and significance, and indeed, the very historicity and truthfulness of the events presented in the Genesis narrative. The debate in the academic community among those who would question, if not outright deny, the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures has consistently found its focus on the historicity of the Noahic deluge and, on a broader scope, the very trustworthiness of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Yet, even in the wider evangelical community, among those who would robustly affirm the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible, a heated debate has ensued concerning the extent, meaning, and theological significance of the flood. [ii]

     On the one hand, there are those within conservative evangelicalism who claim that we should view the deluge narrative as literal history, depicting a massive cataclysm unleashed against humanity in response to unparalleled evil. In this category there are biblical scholars, linguists, theologians, and various scientific authorities who have fervently articulated their position that no legitimate interpretation of the biblical language will deny its literal truthfulness. [iii] Noah's flood was global; death and destruction were total; and the presently existing geological features of our planet are the direct result of this worldwide disaster.

     On the other hand, however, there is an ever-growing body of literature, produced by otherwise conservative biblical interpreters and scientists alike, suggesting that such a literal understanding of Genesis 1-11 in general, and Genesis 6-9 in particular, is not warranted. [iv]   In this view, the flood is typically seen as a local event that destroyed the humans and animals that were living in a somewhat limited area—the “world” that would be observable by Noah and his family. [v] Thus, according to this perspective, any talk of an ancient global cataclysm that produced the geological features of the Earth betrays disingenuous science and naive hermeneutics. [vi]

     In light of this persistent controversy, that has to some degree fractured the evangelical community, this paper will seek to understand the Noahic deluge as interpreted and utilized by the New Testament. [vii] While this perspective is admittedly restricted, it is nonetheless critical if we affirm that the authors of the New Testament books were inspired by God—the same God who inspired the first eleven chapters of Genesis.  By restricted, I simply mean that this brief investigation will not deal with scientific considerations (the geological/fossil evidence), the length of the creation days, the age of the Earth, or even with the text of Genesis itself. The focus here will be limited to the way the six principal New Testament passages appeal to, interpret, and utilize the story of Noah and the flood. The obvious assumption is that this New Testament perspective will be authoritative for all interpreters of the Genesis narrative.  It will be argued that no interpretation of the flood narrative will be legitimate that does not thoroughly address and submit to the authority of these passages. In other words, it is my stated presupposition that the New Testament is the only divinely authorized commentary on the Old Testament and must be consulted when evaluating the scientific evidence. In those places where the New Testament authors have specifically quoted and interpreted an Old Testament passage or event, as is the case with the flood narrative, there is a considerable responsibility placed upon the interpreter to thoroughly appreciate and humbly submit to its claims. This is certainly not to imply that the language and very words of the Old Testament do not stand on their own merit.  It is to say, however, that the Christian Scriptures consist of both Old and New Testaments, and that God's verbal revelation has progressively moved forward in time from shadow to substance, from promise to fulfillment. In this way there will be a hearty attempt to faithfully employ the analogia Scripturae, or analogy of Scripture, which presupposes that the more difficult and ambiguous passages are to be interpreted in light of those that appear to be less difficult. 

     Additionally, this paper will seek to address the theological significance of the Genesis flood as it occurs in and relates to the progressive flow of redemptive revelation and history. For instance, does it significantly matter whether or not the flood was literal or symbolic, localized or global; and if it does, how does this factor into our understanding of God's dealings with men in general, and with salvation, divine wrath, and eschatology in particular?  The answers that the New Testament provides to these questions will be of great importance to those who uphold Scripture's divine inspiration, inerrancy, and unique authority.

     As implied above, it will also be assumed in this paper that all scientific data particularly that related to the Genesis flood should be evaluated in light of the witness of Scripture. Thus, it seems reasonable enough to rest on the conclusion that both general and special revelation, as they have been historically articulated, will stand in perfect harmony on these matters. However, this clearly assumes that we have properly interpreted both categories of divine revelation and, in the end, have bowed to the supremacy and preeminence of God's self-revelation in the written Word.  While the stars in the heavens, functioning as revelatio generalis, do tell of the glory and greatness of God (Ps. 19:1), it is the revelatio specialis, understood as the inscripturated Word, which announces God's saving purposes and infinite mercies in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.  For this reason, Scripture will serve as the final arbiter of all matters.

 

An Investigation of the Key New Testament Passages 

Matthew 24:37-39

For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.

      These pointed words of Christ are found in what is commonly referred to as the apocalyptic discourse. In this admittedly complex and equally controversial section of Matthew's gospel, Jesus introduced and expanded upon the main theme of His Second Advent, or what He termed the “coming of the Son of Man” [parousi,a tou/ ui`ou/ tou/ avnqrw,pou] (v. 37 cf. 24:27, 30, 39, 44, 46). As the Lord provided the spectacular details of the consummation of the present age to His disciples, He equated His triumphant return to earth with “the days of Noah [sper ga.r ai` h`me, rai tou/ Nw/e] (v. 37). In this way, the link is established between one redemptive-historical event, the Noahic deluge as recorded in Genesis, and a future salvific-consummative event of infinitely greater magnitude. The similarities between the “days of Noah” and the time of the Second Advent are set forth in verses 38-39. Prior to “the flood” [tou/ kataklusmou], there was a general lack of concern for the reality of divine judgment and vindication. Life progressed in a routine fashion, thoroughly undisturbed by even the slightest eternal considerations. Noah's contemporaries were “oblivious to all else than their own pleasurable living” and had “no inkling of the judgment that was to come upon them until it was too late.” [viii] The “eating and drinking” and “marrying and giving in marriage” provide the incontrovertible evidence that Noah's generation “did not understand” [ouvk e;gnwsan] or even care that God had determined to unleash His judgment upon a thoroughly wicked generation. [ix] In a tragically similar way the generation alive at the time of the parousia will find themselves fully unprepared for the cosmic cataclysm. Leon Morris finds this very fact to be the “critical point” of Christ's analogy. When the Lord returns in triumph “it will be too late, just as it was too late for the antediluvians when the flood came.” [x]

     In verse 39, Christ depicted the judgment of Genesis 7-8 in terms of a massive deluge which “came and took them all away” [kai. h=ren a[pantaj].  This phrase speaks of the literal washing down or sweeping away of humanity by means of an unprecedented torrent of destructive waves. [xi] In the same way that the men of Noah's time were totally overwhelmed by the sudden and unexpected release of the flood-waters, the generation living at the final consummation will also be brought to their abrupt and violent end. The flood waters of Noah's time were not, therefore, simply a “memorable rain but an unparalleled event in human memory that [was] brought about by the unique work of God.” [xii]

     As to the scope of the Genesis flood, at least from Christ's perspective, it was sufficient to remove “all” but Noah and his family. This detail runs parallel to the Genesis account with its announcement that God “blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land,” sparing only Noah “together with those that were with him in the ark” (Gen. 7:23). It is easy to understand, then, how the Noahic deluge serves as an appropriate model for the final judgment of which Christ spoke in Matthew 24.  Those who belong to Christ through faith are analogous to those who were safely deposited within the confines of the ark. Those outside His saving grace are similarly analogous to those who were swept away in the deluge. Just as all the wicked and unrepentant of Noah's time were drowned in the flood, all those who reject the grace of God in Jesus Christ will be thrown into “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The flood that “took them all away” in the days of Noah was but a precursor to the final and ultimate act of divinely ordained judgment. 

     To summarize, this passage makes it apparent that there exists a definite theological linkage between the ancient Noahic deluge and the Second Advent. The historicity of the former provides a sufficient foundation for the proclamation of the latter as a certainty for which to prepare. It is clear that Christ regarded the Genesis flood narrative as an actual event and, thus, employed it to dramatically “illustrate the unexpectedness and unpredictability of his return.” [xiii] If the Genesis flood was simply a myth or hyperbolized story, it seems very unlikely that Jesus would have so pointedly appealed to it in order to establish a platform from which to announce the pertinent details of His own return.

     It is also apparent that the magnitude of the flood, as set forth by the language of Genesis 7:19-23, is a critical feature of the ancient event which becomes, in the mouth of Jesus, an image of the totality of God's eschatological wrath revealed against the wicked. [xiv] In the exact way that the coming of the flood waters signaled salvation for Noah and his family and death for the wicked, the coming of the Son of man, with all of its abruptness and cosmic perturbations, will trumpet eternal redemption for those in Christ and everlasting damnation for the impenitent.   

Luke 17:26-27

And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

     In Luke's version of Christ's apocalyptic sermon, the same features are apparent that are included in the Matthean account with the exception of the use of the word “destroyed” [avpw,lessen]. [xv] Whereas Matthew quoted Jesus as indicating that the Genesis flood “took them all away,” Luke employed the language of complete destruction and death. The flood was the divinely chosen mechanism for the annihilation of “all” [pa,ntaj] the wicked of Noah's generation.  That is, all those individuals who were conducting their lives along a rather carefree course of eating, drinking, and marrying were lost with the exception of Noah and his family.  As observed above, this is tightly analogous to the scenario to be played out on the stage of human history at the eschaton. The wider context of this passage even provides a “double comparison” between the parousia and the judgments in the time of Noah and Lot (vv. 28-31) which enhances the depiction of the salvation of a few and the total destruction of the wider society. [xvi]   Thus, in the way that the great flood of Genesis

destroyed all of unthinking humanity save Noah and his family and as fire and brimstone destroyed all of the indifferent populace of Sodom save Lot and his family, so too will judgment descend upon humanity, male and female, on the last day when the Son of Man is revealed. [xvii]

     Once again, it is apparent that the Old Testament record of the flood-event is, in the New Testament, strategically united to the concept of a cosmic last-day judgment at the parousia of Christ. Its suddenness, violence, and totality are upheld as figures of both the divine mercy and wrath that will be brought upon the world on “the day when the Son of man is revealed” (17:30). Thus, in this text, as in its Matthean counterpart, we have the historicity of the Noahic flood as well as its essential redemptive-historical significance affirmed by means of the very words of Christ Himself.

 

Hebrews 11:7

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

      In this brief passage, the author of the epistle to the Hebrew believers sets forth Noah as one among the “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) whose life and testimony were exemplary in matters of faith, obedience, and endurance.  In making his appeal to manifest steadfastness in Christian discipleship, the author enjoined his readers to reflect upon the story of Noah and his deliverance from the flood by means of the “ark” that he and his sons “prepared for the salvation of his household” [kateskeu,asen kibwto.n eivj swthri,an tou/ oi;kou auvtou]. What is significant about this passage is its apparent assumption of both the historical veracity of the flood and its uniqueness as a meteorological phenomenon.  Note that the text declares that a divine warning came to Noah regarding “things not seen” [tw/n mhde,pw blepome,nwn].  This evidently indicates that, as far as the author of Hebrews knew, the flood was an unparalleled event in human history. F. F. Bruce, for example, agrees with this assessment and finds that the focus of this passage clearly rests upon the fact that

when God announced that he would do something unprecedented in the experience of Noah and his contemporaries, Noah took him at his word and showed that he did by making practical preparations against the day when that word would come true. Noah received a divine communication that a deluge would sweep over the earth. Such a catastrophe had never been known before, but Noah's faith supplied the proof of “things not seen” [italics added ]. [xviii]

 In other words, the obedience and faith of Noah is exemplary precisely because he heard and heeded the divine warning concerning a phenomenon with which he and his ancient contemporaries were thoroughly unfamiliar.  The outcome of his faith, demonstrated in the detailed and labor-intensive construction of the ark amidst a hostile culture, was nothing less than the salvation of his family. [xix]   Again, this language seems to closely parallel the Genesis narrative and strongly suggests that only Noah and his immediate kin were left alive after the deluge. 

     That Noah, by means of his faithfulness to God's word, is described as having “condemned the world” [kate,krinen to.n ko,smon] provides a possible linkage between the flood-event and the ultimate judgment awaiting mankind. [xx]   David A. DeSilva has argued that the author is here asserting the fact that “Noah's example shows that expediency resides in acting on the basis of God's declarations about the future, things not yet seen but certain to come into being.” If this assessment is correct, then this passage would stand with the other places in the New Testament where the Noahic cataclysm is presented as a spectacular “illustration of sudden judgment, a foreshadowing of the advent of the Son of Man” and the subsequent eternal segregation of humanity before the divine throne. [xxi]

     To summarize, we may confidently claim that, at the very least, Hebrews 11:7 interprets the Genesis data as authentic history and the flood as a revelatory episode that serves to foreshadow the reality of a vastly greater cosmic event to come on a future day of divine wrath. 

1 Peter 3:19-20

. . . in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

      With the examination of the relevant texts from the Petrine epistles we are immediately confronted with some of the most difficult and hermeneutically troublesome passages in the New Testament. However, despite the interpretive obstacles they present, each makes a significant contribution to the New Testament theology of the Genesis flood narrative.  Preeminent among the three to be treated lies within this rather cryptic pericope from the first Petrine epistle that references a much-debated and profoundly mysterious visit by Christ to imprisoned “spirits” (1:20).  While the nature, timing, and location of this “proclamation to the spirits now in prison” typically assumes center stage in the interpretive arena, the passage makes some rather remarkable claims about the Noahic flood.

     Peter highlights the longsuffering, or “patience” [makroqumi,a] of God that was graciously revealed in His “waiting” [avpexede,ceto]]]in the days of Noah.” [xxii] With these words the apostle lays forth his interpretation of the Genesis story and initiates the construction of a theological argument regarding the salvation of sinners to which Christian baptism, the avnti,tupon,  gives testimony (v. 21). This essential point—that God in His infinite mercy saves all those who, like Noah, pass “through the water” (v. 20)—finds its foundation in the Old Testament story of the salvation of “a few, that is eight persons” (v. 20).  Paul J. Achtemeir has stated a similar case in his claim that the apostle's preeminent aim in this passage is to

show, on the analogy of God's saving Noah and his family during the divine victory over the evil world through the flood, how the Christians through baptism share in God's victory through Christ over the supernatural powers of the evil world, a victory to be consummated with the return of Christ. Thus both content and context of vv. 20-21 show how Christians share in Christ's victorious and salvific career. [xxiii]

 

If this analysis is correct, the significance of the Genesis flood narrative, particularly in the Petrine corpus, can hardly be overstated.  If the account of Noah's salvation, along with seven others, anticipates a greater and wider display of God's saving purposes through the atoning death and bodily resurrection of His Son (truths that are depicted in baptism), its historicity as an actual event in time and space is no trivial matter for debate among biblical authorities. However, if the event described in Genesis is nothing more than a cleverly devised symbol-laden myth, its power and function as the theological antecedent to salvation in general, and Christian baptism in particular, is seriously weakened, if not entirely lost. It is plainly apparent that Peter has determinedly linked the waters of the ancient flood, an occurrence he appears to have clearly accepted as an authentic historical event, with the waters of baptism that are likewise applied to the believer in time. Thus, the antitype decisively communicates the point that the “God of the [Old Testament], the One who delivered Noah, is the One who is now at work in Baptism.” [xxiv] Paul J. Achtemeir has concluded that the flood waters

effected Noah's deliverance from his evil world as baptism affected the deliverance of the Christians from their evil, contemporary world: by passing through them, both entered a new existence. Thus, as Noah was rescued through water (i. e., the flood) from an evil world and subsequently entered into a new and cleansed world, so the Christians are rescued through water  (i. e., their baptism) from the evil world that surrounds them and are delivered into the new world of the Christian community. [xxv]

 

     To restate the point made above, it certainly seems reasonable to conclude that if Peter's argument for the grace and longsuffering of God, as well as his employment of the flood passage as paradigmatic of salvation, is based upon what he knew to be nothing more than an ancient legend that was, perhaps, synthesized from a number of extant flood myths, the very core of the Christian faith surely rests upon a tenuous foundation at best. [xxvi]   At this juncture, therefore, we may claim that the evidence strongly suggests that Peter believed and accepted the Genesis record of the flood as genuine.

     Not only is salvation, as witnessed through the baptismal waters, linked by the apostle to the Noahic deluge, the theme of eschatological judgment finds its theological paradigm in the flood as well. According to Francis W. Beare, the construction of the ark itself was an unmistakable testimony to “the imminence of the divine judgment which was to overwhelm the world.” [xxvii]   To the same degree that salvation is depicted in the historical flood-event, the coming eschatological judgment of all mankind is powerfully foreshadowed. According to Peter, only eight souls were delivered from the divine wrath. This detail perfectly comports with the Genesis account and, at the least, establishes the probability that Peter understood that the Noahic deluge was catastrophic, if not worldwide, in scope as the language of Genesis implies. With such a presupposition regarding the magnitude of the flood, one may quite readily understand how it became, for Peter, the most significant Old Testament model of the salvation/judgment motif. [xxviii]   The very waters through which the faithful preacher of righteousness and his family were saved served as the horrible mechanism of judgment and death to those outside the safety of the ark. In this regard, Noah's ark may be viewed as an apparent counterpart to the New Testament church and, more specifically, to the protection afforded those who find shelter from the wrath of God within its spiritual walls. [xxix] Bo Reicke, for instance, claims that Noah's ark was constructed

for the elect as a means of escape. It is mentioned here as a prototype of the church which is conceived as a lifeboat launched upon the sea of time. An allusion to the cross is also possible, but less probable. Like the ark of old, the church now, in anticipation of imminent disaster, is being built up. [xxx]

 

Even if one does not accept this level of typology, it is hardly deniable that Peter employed the flood narrative as a demonstration of the salvation/judgment tension that pervades the New Testament gospel message. Thus, if one of the apostles, arguably the chief apostolic witness, so depended upon this Old Testament story for the construction and dissemination of his gospel its central importance as a redemptive-historical event is self-evident.

2 Peter 2:5

. . . and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly . . . .

      The unique contribution of this passage to the current study is its dual employment of the word “world” [ko,smou . . . ko,smw] and its introduction of the term translated “flood” [kataklusmo.n].  Peter was emphatic in his announcement that God brought judgment against the “ancient world” [avrcai,ou ko,smou] and, thus, did not “spare” [ouvk evfei,sato] it from destruction by water.  The principal hermeneutical task, then, is to arrive at a legitimate understanding of the meaning of these two critical terms as they are used by Peter to warn his readers about unholy living within the community of faith.

     World” [ko,smoj] is a very flexible term employed in only seven passages by Peter (1 Pet. 1:20; 3:3; 5:9; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:5, 20; 3:6). [xxxi]   It may express a variety of meanings and, in fact, reveals its elastic nature within the limited scope of Peter's epistles.  For example, in 1 Pet. 3:3 it is typically rendered as “adornment,” while in 2 Pet. 3:6 it clearly refers to the physical earth itself.  Here the question concerns whether or not Peter claimed that the earth itself, along with all of its inhabitants, was literally destroyed by the deluge. The immediate context seems to support the notion that Peter made use of the term in a dual sense. The physical world, planet Earth, was indeed brought under divine wrath (the first occurrence of “world”) which then resulted in the death of the inhabitants (the second occurrence) and the termination of their decadent culture (the “world” as understood as referring to mankind in rebellion against God). Richard J. Bauckham finds a similar dual employment of this word, and likewise understands that ko,smoj indicates the “inhabitants of the world” in the first instance and “also emphasizes the universal scope of the Flood” in the second. [xxxii] In a similar vein J. N. D. Kelley proposes that it is most probable that “in this setting [Peter] means to refer to the universe as a whole and conceives of the Flood as causing a cosmic catastrophe” [italics added]. [xxxiii] Once again, this explanation of Peter's language provides significant evidence that he interpreted the Genesis description of the deluge in a literal way.

     The second key term in this passage is the word translated as “flood.” [kataklusmo.n], the same term employed in the passages from Matthew and Luke above.  The standard meaning of the word is the rather straightforward idea of a “flood” or “deluge.”  While the Genesis narrative describes the judgment of God as being in the form of “the flood” [lWBM;h;], Peter likewise utilized a term that depicts an event of apparent catastrophic proportions. When both of these key terms are taken into consideration together, a comprehensive picture of unparalleled divine judgment begins to emerge.

     Additionally, the apostle, again building his case from the Genesis account, drew a radical contrast between the moral condition of the antediluvian culture and that of Noah and his family.  While the society of Noah's time could be characterized as “ungodly” [avsebw/n], Noah himself is described as a “preacher of righteousness” [dikaiosu,nhj kh,ruka]. This radical discontinuity promotes the fundamental themes of the disobedience and depravity of the ungodly, which God directly judges, and the authentic piety and faith of the righteous, which God blesses and saves. Strategically located against the backdrop of the destruction of the wicked, one discovers the glorious display of God's sovereign mercies in the salvation of Noah and his family. [xxxiv] This dramatically adds to the cumulative weight of the essential theological significance of the Genesis flood in the theology of Peter.

2 Peter 3:5-6

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.

      Once again, within the confines of a discourse concerning the parousia of Christ and the “day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (v. 7), Peter appealed to the Genesis deluge as undeniable evidence of God's inexhaustible power to both save and to destroy.  His argument concerned those “mockers” who doubted the reality of an ultimate termination point for human history and the cosmos itself—a final “day” when God will bring all men and nations to judgment (vv. 3, 4,7).  The apostle presented his case against such foolish thinking by appealing to two events in cosmic history that displayed irresistible power of the divine Word and God's Lordship over the creation. Peter first spoke of the very creation of the heavens and the earth “long ago” [e;kpalai] by means of the “word of God” [tou/ qeou/ lo,gw|] (v. 5). Here the apostle recalled that the entire cosmos owes its origin and existence to the will and purposes of the Creator who simply spoke into being all that is. With particular stress, Peter described how “the earth was formed out of water by water” [gh/ evx u[datoj kai. diV u[datoj sunestw/sa] in the earliest stages of God's creative act. Secondly, however, Peter declared that through the same secondary agency—water—God brought the ancient world to its utter destruction as a result of the unspeakable wickedness of Noah's generation (v. 6).  His essential point, then, was that it was “from water that the earth emerged; it was by water (rain, etc.) that life on earth was sustained; and yet this same water engulfed it, when God's word of judgment went forth at the flood.” [xxxv] In light of the divine origin of the universe and Yahweh's preservation of “the present heavens and earth” for “fire” and a “day of judgment” [oi` de. nu/n ouvranoi. kai. h` gh/ tw/| auvtw/| lo,gw| teqhsaurisme,noi eivsi.n puri, throu,menoi eivj h`me,ran kri,sewj] (v. 7) the certainty of a terminus ad quem for humanity and the cosmos itself is undeniable. This language, then, functions in such as way as to dramatically emphasize that it was “God's word that brought the antediluvian world into existence, and also caused its destruction. Since it is the effective power behind everything, no one has the right to doubt God's word.” [xxxvi]

     The significance of this passage for understanding Peter's interpretation of the flood narrative is found in verse 6 where direct reference to the destruction of the world by water is made. As in the Petrine passages above, one must identify the appropriate meaning of the words “world” [ko,smoj], “destroyed” [avpw,leto], and “flooded” [kataklusqei.j].  Since the context includes a direct reference to the creation event as an example of the divine power, it would reasonably follow that ko,smoj should be understood to indicate the physical earth if not the entire cosmos. This view recognizes the strategic juxtaposition of diV w-n o` to,te ko,smoj in verse 6 and oi` de. nu/n ouvranoi. kai. h` gh/ in verse 7.  That is, if verse 7 is speaking in terms of the physical universe, as is apparent from the context, it would follow that verse 6 would express a similar literal rendering of ko,smoj. Interestingly, J. N. D. Kelly agrees that the context demands this interpretation and alleges that, perhaps, even more is intended by Peter's use of this term. Based upon the previous mention of the “ancient world” (2: 5), Kelly suggests that it is not simply a reference to mankind or even the earth, but includes “the entire universe.” [xxxvii]   If this is accurate, the Genesis flood could have likely been an even greater cataclysm than typically understood.  

     That the world of Noah's day, according to Peter's understanding, was both kataklusqei.j and avpw,leto seems to portray an act of divine judgment that was not only global in scope but comprehensively destructive in magnitude. Peter's use of avpw,leto (meaning to kill, perish, or destroy), with regard to the havoc created on earth as a result of the flood waters, must be interpreted in light of the warning concerning the eschatological destruction [avpwlei,aj] of the “present heavens and earth.”  Thus, the Genesis deluge was an ancient yet appropriate precursor to the final act of divine vindication. [xxxviii]  

The New Testament and the Genesis Flood Narrative: Significant Hermeneutical and Theological Issues

 

Scriptural Integrity and the Historicity and Universality of the Flood

      In the first section of this paper, the case was made supporting the conclusion that the New Testament books that reference the Noahic flood narrative have consistently understood the Genesis account as literal history. As far as Jesus, Peter, and the author of Hebrews are concerned, the events as captured in the ancient language of the Old Testament should be taken at face value. Each New Testament passage reflects an identical picture of a cataclysmic deluge brought upon a world immersed in unprecedented wickedness and rebellion against God.  This internal consistency, between the Old and New Testament renditions of the flood, has a direct bearing upon one's view of the basic integrity of the Bible including its authority, inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy. Whether or not the New Testament witnesses have accurately recorded what actually happened in the time of Noah as reported in Genesis is, therefore, of monumental importance for the doctrine of Scripture. While a comprehensive defense of this point cannot be made here, this assertion may be briefly illustrated by an appeal to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

     Typically understood, the inerrancy of Scripture indicates that the very words of the Biblical text are true and that no legitimate error of fact is contained in the Bible. [xxxix]   Applying this somewhat basic definition of biblical inerrancy to the subject of the Noahic flood, then, involves the rather uncomplicated task of comparing the language of Genesis with that of the relevant New Testament passages.  In doing so, we should ask whether or not the New Testament witness have substantially altered the story—perhaps reinterpreting the details of the flood narrative for some particular theological purpose—or have reported it in similar terms as found in the Genesis narrative itself.

     As a simple example, we might extract one detail from the Genesis account—the claim in that all human life on the earth was terminated with the exception of Noah and his family (Gen. 6:17; 7:20-24)—and compare this assertion with the way it is reported in the New Testament. Genesis 7:20-24 states that “the mountains were covered” with water, that “all flesh that moved on the earth perished,” that God “blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the land” and, consequently, that “only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.” This language is undeniably clear, and the prima facie conclusion one is led to draw is that an actual historic incident is being described in a section of Scripture normally regarded as historical narrative. When the same events are reported in the New Testament, the language chosen by the writers reflects a strikingly similar picture of the flood.  Matthew 24:39 reports Jesus as declaring that the flood “took them all away.” Luke states that the “flood came and destroyed them all.”  Hebrews 11:7 affirms that only Noah's “household” was saved. 1 Peter 3:20 indicates that only “eight persons” were delivered from the waters.  2 Peter 2:5 says that only Noah and “seven others” were “preserved” from the flood.  Obviously, this particular detail from the Genesis account was of great significance to the New Testament witnesses, and they each presented it with perfect consistency. At this stage, then, the interpreter must face the question as to whether or not the words of Jesus, those from the author of Hebrews, and the claims of the Apostle Peter are true. That is, true in the sense that they faithfully and accurately comport with the facts concerning the flood as depicted in Genesis.  If not, then the words of the Genesis flood passages are, by definition, untrue, at least in the sense normally indicated by the word “true.” In other words, if the New Testament has essentially made identical claims regarding the Noahic deluge as are found in Genesis then both the Old and the New Testament texts must be evaluated together. The authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the one is intrinsically linked to the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the other. The Old and New Testament accounts of the flood, therefore, stand or fall as a literary unit. Therefore, the flood either happened as consistently described in both Testaments, or it did not.  These appear to be the only two interpretive options available. Consequently, if the flood did not take place as the Scriptures describe it, we have no basis to make the claim that the words of Scripture are inerrant or infallible. 

     This same procedure may also be applied to other details of the Noahic flood that are reported in both Testaments. For instance, the claim that the flood consisted of a worldwide catastrophe is found in both Old and New Testament texts. If this is correct, then one's position on the universality of the flood as a global disaster may not be summarily reduced to a trivial detail to be debated by scholars.  Rather, like other such components of a historical narrative, it becomes a critical element of the story that must be preserved if the basic integrity of the Scripture is to be acknowledged and respected. [xl]  

Covenant, Sin, and Redemption and the Historicity and Universality of the Flood 

     Having examined the New Testament evidence of the flood we are, in the words of Frederick A. Filby, “left with an inescapable conclusion. The Flood was not only a real historic event; it was an event of immense theological significance.” [xli] The theological implications of the Genesis flood, confirmed by its strategic employment in the New Testament, may be understood as consisting of three essential themes. As the brief treatment below will reveal, each is readily apparent in the New Testament texts that report the details of the deluge.

Sin and Judgment

      The obvious starting point in extracting the theological themes intrinsic to the New Testament's interpretation of the flood is the focus upon the reality of human sin and the corresponding certainty of divine judgment. The New Testament clearly reveals, in perfect agreement with the presentation of the flood in Genesis, that God brought the world-terminating cataclysm upon mankind due to its pervasive evil. [xlii]   While the text of Genesis records God's assessment of man's moral and spiritual condition—“that every intent of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5)—and His corresponding grief—“the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6:6)—the New Testament is equally candid concerning the reality of humanity's evil.  For example, we have observed how both Matthew and Luke speak of the spiritual carelessness and moral laxity of both the generation of Noah and that of the terminal generation that will witness the parousia (Matt. 24:38-38; Lk. 17:27). [xliii]   The context of Hebrews 1:7 likewise contrasts the righteousness of Noah and the morally perverted world that both his life and testimony condemned. Accordingly, Peter located the immediate cause of the flood in the wickedness and depravity that was rampant on earth (1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2: 4-5; 3:3-7). 

     What is apparent here is that the flood of Noah provides a dramatic platform from which the Scripture in general, and the New Testament in particular, articulates its doctrine of universal sin and the resultant divine response of universal judgment.  Warren A. Gage has convincingly advanced this point:

The great monotheistic affirmation of scripture requires the doctrine of catastrophic judgment to reconcile the holy wrath of heaven with the unrighteousness of earth. Moreover, the similarities between the great judgments recorded in scripture demonstrate the unity of prophetic pronouncement and the consistency of God's moral governance of world history . . . . the flood of Noah established the fundamental paradigm of biblical judgment recurring in the destructions of Sodom, Egypt, Canaan, Jerusalem (both the first and second temples, and the present cosmos. This pattern of judgment is reducible to three elements: the “days of Noah,” the “flood” of judgment, and the deliverance of the remnant from wrath. [xliv]

 

Simply stated, sin results in divine displeasure and horrific consequences. This certainty of judgment—the fact that all men are accountable to their Creator for their actions—sets the stage for the unveiling of God's radical grace triumphantly realized in the person and ministry of the resurrected Christ.   

Grace and Salvation 

     Noah is said to have “found grace” [!xE ac'm]' in the presence of the Lord (Gen. 6:8), and this announcement signals that, although His wrath and judgment of men for their sins is fully justified in light of His holiness, Yahweh is not only a God of infinite justice, He is also merciful and gracious to sinners.  This theme, of grace and salvation in the midst of well-deserved judgment, pervades not only the Genesis record, but finds its place of prominence in the New Testament's version of the flood story. Thus, we discover that the “historical occurrence of the Flood is part of the saving/judging acts of God, and its historicity is assumed and essential to the theological arguments of later biblical writers employing Flood typology.” [xlv]   This is made apparent in each New Testament passage under investigation.  For instance, in the gospels Jesus emphasized that Noah and the members of his family found salvation in the safety of the ark. Hebrews speaks of the ark that was constructed by Noah for the “salvation of his household” (11:7). Peter, utilizing even more explicit language, directly connected the waters of the flood upon which the ark safely floated with the waters of baptism that testify to the grace of God in salvation through Christ (1 Pet. 3:21). Summarizing Peters' theological argument from the flood, Derek Kidner envisions Noah as

almost a second Adam (9:1) [who] steps into a virgin world washed clean by judgment, and the spectacular deliverance in the ark is seen as a mere preliminary to salvation proper, which is a new creation. The New Testament sees the Flood and the rite of baptism as twin expressions of this reality (1 Pet. 3:18-21): that is, of the provision of a way through death into life. [xlvi]

      As we have noted above, the New Testament and especially the Petrine passages, continually recount the salvation of Noah's family as indicative of the grace that accompanies God's acts of judgment.  Though God would have been perfectly justified in the complete obliteration of all mankind in the flood, including Noah and his household, divine grace found its glorious expression in the salvation of “a few” (1 Pet. 3:20).  Interestingly, even Gerhard Von Rad, who essentially denied the historicity of the flood, affirmed that this very event

testifies first of all simply to God's power and freedom, which allowed his created world to be engulfed by chaos. It shows that God is the one who judges sin, and it stands at the beginning of the Bible as the eternally valid word about God's deadly anger over sin. Thus it protects the word of grace from any kind of innocuousness (Verharmlosung); it undergirds the understanding of God's will for salvation as a pure miracle [italics added]. [xlvii]

  We may confidently conclude, then, that the Noahic deluge stands as one of the supreme historical illustrations of the plan of redemption, clearly illustrating the twin poles of divine justice on the one hand, and sin-conquering grace on the other.  

Eschatology and Vindication 

     Finally, Noah's flood causes men to look forward with either anticipation or fear to the future when a vastly greater cosmic deluge of divine wrath will be released from heaven. [xlviii]   Far from being simply a static historical event suitable only for wide-ranging speculation among biblical experts and scientists, Noah's flood provides an eschatological vision of an incomprehensible judgment at the cosmic level. The story of the watery judgment of the world and the salvation of Noah, therefore, is “not only an event of history. It is the age-long warning of God to the world. It is not only something that did happen . . . it is the pattern of something that will happen” [italics added]. [xlix]   In this regard, the New Testament authors

thought of the days prior to the flood as a time in which life went on in its careless way until the destruction came; it was therefore a fitting comparison to expected conditions at the time of the second coming. [l]

      According to the words of Jesus Himself, the day of the revelation of the “Son of Man” will follow the pattern set by the ancient flood story (Lk. 17:26). Peter, in full agreement with the theological interpretation of His Lord, saw the flood as the irrefutable sign of the certainty of a final day of cosmic vindication when the “present heavens and earth” will be subjected to divine “fire” and the impenitent will be judged and destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10). [li]   The events that terminated Noah's world and gave birth to the world in which we now live eschatologically prefigure the cataclysmic change “that shall end this present word and inaugurate the ‘new heavens and new earth' of Revelation 21:1, 38.” [lii]      Again, it is evident that the Genesis flood is a critical event on the redemptive-historical time continuum, and all those who affirm the basic trustworthiness of the biblical record must fervently uphold its integrity as a literal occurrence.

Conclusion

     As admitted at the outset, the narrow focus of this investigation has been upon the manner in which the New Testament Scriptures have interpreted and employed the Genesis flood narrative. Scientific evidence, either supporting or allegedly casting doubt upon the historicity and scope of the flood, has not been considered.  However, when the language of the New Testament authors is evaluated, it becomes readily apparent that each writer, including Christ Himself, not only believed that the Noahic flood actually happened as recorded in Genesis, but that this one event could serve as an appropriate foundation upon which to construct and articulate the key doctrines of the Christian faith.  It would seem, therefore, that the witness of Scripture regarding the Genesis deluge must function as the sieve through which all evidence from the physical world is passed.  Again, it is presupposed here that general and special revelation will be consistent in their respective testimonies concerning this and all other matters.  Thus, if the Scripture declares that an ancient global catastrophe literally occurred, destroying all life save Noah and his family, it follows that those who affirm biblical inspiration and inerrancy will seek to understand the witness of general revelation in this light. To state this point more bluntly, it would appear quite inconsistent for those with a high view of Scripture to argue that a localized flood occurred, or that it is relatively unimportant whether or not the events transpired as the Genesis data indicates. [liii] If, indeed, every word of Scripture is inspired and authoritative, the details of the flood story—located within the literary genre of historical narrative—cannot be summarily dismissed as inconsequential. This maneuver, when pressed to its logical conclusion, seems to lay the hermeneutical groundwork for a movement toward the marginalization, if not the ultimate denial, of all biblical supernaturalism including the resurrection of Christ.  Every interpreter of the Bible should fully appreciate the reality that the Christian gospel itself stands or falls upon the trustworthiness of such historical space-time events, the accounts of which have been preserved in the Scriptures.


[i] All biblical quotations are taken from The New American Standard Bible (La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1977).  The words of Scripture in the English translation will appear in “bold type.”

[ii] For example, consider the diametrically opposed views of John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), and those of Vern S. Poythress, “Response to Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds,” in Three Views of Creation and Evolution, ed. J. P. Moreland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

[iii] Examples of biblical linguists and scholars as well as scientific authorities in this category will be referenced below. However, perhaps no authorities have been more passionate about this position than Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb Jr. See their essay, “The Genesis Flood: Its Nature and Significance, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 466, vol. 117 (April 1960). They assert that if “language means anything at all, and if the Bible is to be acknowledged as the Word of God, then we must adjust our thinking to the astounding fact that a mighty deluge of waters once covered our entire planet . . . .” (164). Taking a similar approach is Donald W. Patten, “The Biblical Flood: A Geographical Perspective,” Bibliotheca Sacra 509, vol. 128 (Jan. 1971). Patten broadly characterizes proponents of the local flood view as “men who desired to harmonize or reconcile uniformitarian geology with the biblical account, found primarily in Genesis and Job” (40).

[iv] For an interesting example of the non-literal interpretation of the creation narrative from a theological conservative see Meredith Kline, “Because It Had Not Rained,” Westminster Theological Journal, vol. XX, No. 22 (1958): 146-157, and his “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 48 (1996): 2-15. As for the Genesis flood in particular, Poythress, “Response to Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds," is quite certain that the deluge, though a real event involving real people, simply describes the action in terms of its appearance to a human observer: “Everything within range of human observation was covered with water, and all the animals within range died” (91-92).  The critical point of the passage then is “the universality of divine judgment, within the scope of what Noah could see. The Bible simply does not say whether the flood covered the entire globe” (92).  Finally, in support of his position that the flood was a localized event, Poythress claims that no term “corresponding to our modern theoretical idea of the ‘globe' occurs in the passage” (92, note #3). George F. Wright, “Deluge of Noah”, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, advances a similar viewpoint by claiming that the only “universal” aspect of the flood was that it was sufficient to destroy all the people and animals in the local area occupied by Noah and his contemporaries. 

[v] Derek Kidner, Genesis, vol. 1: Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1967), claims that the geological evidence for the flood has proven to be “wanting, in the opinion of most experts, and little reasonable doubt remains (although some would dispute this) that the events of Genesis 6-8 must have taken place within a limited though indeed a vast area, covering not the entire globe but the scene of the human story of the previous chapters” (94).  Likewise, Kidner reaches the conclusion that the destruction caused by the flood was “like the inundation of the earth, complete in the relative and not the absolute sense. By ‘relative' we mean related to the area of direct Old Testament interest” (94). George F. Wright, “Deluge of Noah”, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, holds a similar position.

[vi] For instance, Ronald K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Peabody: Prince Press, 1999), boldly declares that the Genesis flood was a “comparatively local affair.” He alleges that no “certain geological evidence of the Flood is known, and consequently there is no ground for the belief that the Genesis deluge covered the entire world” (558). Vern Poythress, “Response to Paul Nelson,” likewise, makes a rather pointed charge: “The reader bent on the nave-modern interpretation rushes to conclude that the water [of the Genesis flood] must have covered the entire globe” (92). The same assumptions are made by A. J. Maas, “Deluge,” Catholic Encyclopedia: Online Edition. Available at www.newadvent.org. Accessed 26 April, '03.  He concludes that neither “Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations, render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth.”

[vii] See Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Biblical View of the Extent of the Flood,” Origins. 2 (1975): 77-95, for an exclusive treatment of the Hebrew text. Hasel argues for the historicity and global scope of the Genesis deluge. 

[viii] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew: 14-28. vol. 33a: The Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 719.

[ix] Recall the tragic words of Genesis 6:5-7— Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 And the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them."

[x] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 614. Similarly, the “coming of the Son of man will be just as abrupt, just as unexpected, just as decisive as the Coming of the Flood was” (614).

[xi] William Hendriksen, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), indicates “washing down” is the essential meaning of the phrase “took them all away” (870).

[xii] Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 377.

[xiii] Craig L. Blomberg,  Matthew,  vol. 22: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 366.

[xiv] Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, observes that the frequent use of “all” and “every” in Gen. 7:19-23 makes it indisputable that “the narrative depicts the flood in the language of universal deluge” (380).

[xv] According to Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. I, the basic and literal meaning of this word is to “destroy or kill” (394).

[xvi] This is the term utilized by I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 662.  Marshall explains that these two Old Testament events “were often connected with each other as examples of the punishment of the wicked and often also of the redemption of the pious” (662).

[xvii] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke: X-XXIV (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 1167.

[xviii] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 287-288.

[xix] Bruce, ibid, has also pointed out, along with several other commentators, that the construction of such a massive sea-going vessel far from waters “must have seemed an absurd procedure to his neighbors.” It is against such a background that Noah is here presented as a righteous man of authentic faith —one certainly worthy of inclusion in the Hebrews “hall of faith.”

[xx] There are a number of interpretations of this interesting line.  For example, Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, trans. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), maintains that it was the ark and not Noah's faith that condemned the world. By means of the fact that he was “so long occupied in building it, he took away every excuse from the wicked” (276-277). On the other hand, Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), believes that the author has in mind Noah's good example as “standing in judgment on the wicked” (579). Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989) proposes a third interpretation.  He suggests that the condemnation in question was more literal in nature, and is connected to the “legend that [Noah] was commissioned to preach repentance. Because they failed to accept his message, his contemporaries were condemned” (319). 

[xxi] Bruce, Hebrews, 288.

[xxii] J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter, vol. 49: The Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1988), understands the use of makroqumi,a in connection with the “interval between the sin of the angels (Gen. 6:1-4) and the coming of the flood waters on the earth (Gen. 7:11), an interval traditionally understood to be specified in Gen. 6:3 as 120 years” (212).

[xxiii] Paul J. Achtemeir, 1 Peter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 262.

[xxiv] Leonhard Goppelt, A Commentary on First Peter, trans. John E. Alsup (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 266.

[xxv] Achtemeir, 1 Peter, 266. Simon J. Kistemaker, James, Epistles of John, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), concurs: “The text allows for a resemblance between the flood and baptism. That is, as the flood waters cleansed the earth of man's wickedness, so the water of baptism indicates man's cleansing from sin. As the flood separated Noah and his family from the wicked world of their day, so baptism separates believers from the evil world of our day. Baptism, then, is the counterpart to the flood” (147).

[xxvi] Some might inquire as to how the essential integrity of the key elements of the gospel are compromised if the flood story, and other such miraculous occurrences that are witnessed in the Old Testament, are not true. That is, does it really matter whether or not they happened as detailed in the biblical text?  Or, stated another way, could Peter have legitimately appealed to the flood as the paradigm of divine salvation/judgment without having to accept its historicity? I shall argue below that such a move would eventually result in devastating consequences for biblical authority, inspiration, and inerrancy, and would bring the key historical miracle of Scripture, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, into serious doubt. As will be explored later, it is quite interesting that many interpreters seem willing to grant the improbability of the Genesis deluge while tenaciously clinging to the historicity of the resurrection. 

[xxvii] Francis Wright Beare, The First Epistle of Peter (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1961), 147.

[xxviii] This fact will become evident as the other Petrine passages are treated below.

[xxix] Goppelt, A Commentary on First Peter, states that in “both cases [the ancient flood and Christian baptism] God delivers by leading people through and out of water. What results, and this is quite important to 1 Peter (4:3), is separation from the rest of humanity, which, like the generation of the great flood in the time of God's patience, is “disobedient” and, therefore, subject to judgment (4:17f)” (267).

[xxx] Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, vol. 37: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 7.

[xxxi] Arndt and Gringrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), reveal such flexibility by indicating that kosmos may refer to the planet upon which we live, and, in a more metaphorical sense, mankind in general or the world of men who stand at enmity with God (447).

[xxxii] Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, vol. 50: Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1983), 250. Bauckham argues that Peter “seems to have thought of three successive worlds: the ancient world before the Flood, the present world, and the new world to come (3:13) after the eschatological judgment” (250).

[xxxiii] J. N. D. Kelley, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), 332. Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, also interprets “world” in the comprehensive sense of the whole planet and all of its inhabitants. He observes, “that the whole ancient world was destroyed on account of ungodliness” (164).

[xxxiv] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, vol. 18: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 99.

[xxxv] Ibid., 130.

[xxxvi] Bo Reicke, Epistles of James, Peter and Jude, 175. Reicke adds that the contrast Peter drew between the termination of the old world “through water and the present world through fire, only serves to accentuate the dreadfulness of the coming judgment” (175).

[xxxvii] Kelley, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter, 356. Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter, however, finds no such meaning in “world”: “There is nothing here to suggest that the whole earth was destroyed by the flood, let alone the heavens as well” (131). In his view the word should simply be understood in terms of “order” as “opposed to primordial chaos” (130).

[xxxviii] This interpretation has been advanced by Francis A. Schaeffer in his classic work Genesis in Time and Space (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972). Schaeffer strongly defends the historicity and universality of the Genesis flood. In commenting upon Genesis 6:9, Schaeffer states: “Unless the flood were universal and did in fact destroy all the animals on earth, I don't know how to interpret [this verse]” (134).  In referencing 2 Pet. 3:3-7, he raises the simple hermeneutical question: “If the judgment at the second coming is taken to be universal, isn't the judgment by water at the time of Noah also universal?” (133). I find both his logic and his hermeneutical method quite appealing in the present case. To add further support to this claim, that Peter is correct in his approach to the language of the Genesis flood narrative, an appeal may be made to Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), one of the most significant modern Old Testament theologians. He claims that the Hebrew word typically rendered as ‘flood' “does not mean ‘flood,' ‘inundation,' even ‘destruction,' but is a technical term for a part of the world structure, namely the heavenly ocean. This heavenly sea, which is above the firmament (raqia), empties downward through latticed windows (II Kings 7: 2, 19). Here we have the same realistic and cosmological ideas as in Gen., ch. 1. . . . [Consequently] we must understand the flood, therefore, as a catastrophe involving the entire cosmos. When the heavenly ocean breaks forth upon the earth below, and the primeval sea beneath the earth, which is restrained by God, now freed from its bonds, gushes up through yawning chasms onto the earth, then there is a destruction of the entire cosmic system according to biblical cosmogony. The two halves of the chaotic primeval sea, separated—the one up, the other below—by God's creative government, are again united; creation begins to sink again into chaos. Here the catastrophe, therefore, concerns not only men and beasts. . . but the earth (chs. 6:13; 9:11)—indeed, the entire cosmos” (124).

[xxxix] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), defines inerrancy as the belief that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (90).  The doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is one of the distinctive features of conservative evangelical Christianity. This is easily demonstrated by observing the language of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (Articles XI, XII), and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Article I, “The Scriptures”).

[xl] For a brief, but compelling defense of the historicity of Genesis 1-12 and its theological importance see Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), pp. 116-126.

[xli] Frederick A. Filby. The Flood Reconsidered (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 133.

[xlii] Several Old Testament commentators have observed how the flood judgment of Genesis may actually be seen as creation in reverse. For example, Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), holds that the flood of Noah's day “un-creates and returns the earth to a pre-creation period when there was only ‘waters'” (291).  Derek Kidner, Genesis, vol. 1:Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1967), observes that the flood resulted when the “waters above and below the firmament [were], in token, merged again, as if to reverse the very work of creation and bring back the featureless waste of waters” (91). Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), also concludes that the “earth is being returned to its precreation chaos by the release of the previously bound waters above and by the upsurge of the subterranean waters” (139). This insight, that sin radically reverses and destroys what God has made good, is profoundly significant when contemplating the redemptive and restorative power of the grace of God ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). 

[xliii] John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), make an interesting observation regarding context of the gospel passages: “Now it is very important that we observe the context into which our Lord places the Flood-destruction.  It is placed alongside the destruction of Sodom and the destruction of the ungodly at the time of Christ's Second Coming. This fact is of tremendous significance in helping us to determine the sense in which the word ‘all' is used in reference to those who were destroyed by the Flood” (21).  Again, it is evident the flood plays a significant role in comprehending both the fact of sin and the certainty, if not immediacy, of the divine response in judgment. 

[xliv] Warren A. Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Winona Lake: Carpenter Books, 1984), 63. Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), provides some interesting insights as to why the flood was the chosen mechanism of divine judgment. In the first place, Ross argues that God is “sovereign over all creation and frequently uses nature to judge humankind. The sea has always been a symbol of chaos—something human beings cannot control (Job 38:8-11).” Secondly, “the great flood would be the most effective way of purging the world—certainly the most graphic. It would wash the earth clean, so that not a trace of the wicked or their wickedness would be found.”  Finally, Ross observes that the flood was “used by God to start a new creation. The first creation with Adam was paralleled here by the second with Noah. Just as the dry land appeared from the waters of the chaos in Genesis 1:9, so here the waters abated until the ark came to rest on Ararat . . . . The use of a flood that enveloped the whole earth was thus God's way of beginning again” (190).

[xlv] Richard Davidson, “A Biblical Theology of the Flood,” (paper presented at the 26th Seminar on the Integration of Faith and Learning, Loma Linda, California, 19 July 2000); available from www.aiis.edu/ict/uol_26A; internet; accessed 20 April 2003.

[xlvi] Derek Kidner, Genesis, 93.

[xlvii] Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, 125.

[xlviii] Richard Davidson, “A Biblical Theology of the Flood,” observes that the New Testament authors “recognize the typological connection between Flood and eschatology. The salvation of Noah and his family in the ark through the waters of the Flood finds its antitypical counterpart in NT eschatological salvation connected with water baptism. The Flood is also a type of the final eschatological judgment at the end of the world, and the conditions of pre-flood morality signs of the end time.” With regard to Peter's explicit language, Davidson helpfully argues that the New Testament flood typology “assumes and depends upon not only the historicity, but also the universality, of the Flood to theologically argue for an imminent world-wide judgment by fire (2 Peter 3:6-7). Peter argues that just as there was a worldwide judgment by water causing the unbelieving antediluvian world to perish, so in the antitype there must-needs-be a universal end-time judgment by fire bringing about the destruction of the ungodly” [italics added].

[xlix] Filby, The Flood Reconsidered, 134.

[l] David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, s. v.  “Flood,” by Jack P. Lewis (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 801.

[li] Whitcomb and Morris, The Genesis Flood, have correctly understood the weightier issue here: “But of even greater importance are the implications of the mighty Flood of Genesis for Christian theology. For that universal catastrophe speaks plainly and eloquently concerning the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men and in the processes of nature. Furthermore, it warns prophetically of a judgment yet to come, when the sovereign God shall again intervene in terrestrial events, putting down all human sin and rebellion and bringing to final fruition His age-long plan of creation and redemption” [italics added] (xix).

[lii] John C. Whitcomb, “The Supernaturalism of the Flood,” Grace Journal vol. 8 #1 (Winter 1967), 38.

[liii] Here I am in fundamental agreement with John Whitcomb, ibid., 34. He categorically declares that the critical difficulty with those who either outright deny that the flood occurred at all, or argue for a localized deluge, is its “tacit denial of the Biblical testimony to the basically supernatural framework of the Genesis flood. It is not a question of appealing desperately to the [raw omnipotence of God] to prop up an unscriptural theory of catastrophism, but of honestly facing the clear statements of the biblical text concerning the causes and effects of the Flood” [italics added].

   
   
         
   
   
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