Many theistic evolutionists like to claim that the flood described in Genesis 7-8 was not a global catastrophe, but only a local one. However, in this article, I’m going to demonstrate why I don’t think this is a sustainable reading of the text.
To begin, it’s very important to understand the literary structure of the flood narrative. If you pay close attention to the details of the story, you’ll notice that Genesis 7-8 is actually recapitulating the creation week in reverse. This is something I’ve explained a bit more in depth in my article here, but allow me to summarize by giving the bookends of creation and the flood:
On Day 6, God created man and the animals, and interestingly, when the sixth day is retold in Genesis 2, we’re told that the animals were brought “two by two” to Adam. This corresponds to Genesis 7:7-9, when the animals enter the ark “two by two,” along with Noah, who himself is later portrayed as a new Adam figure.
On Day 1, we’re told that “the Spirit [ורוח] hovered over the face of the waters.” This corresponds to Genesis 8:1-11, where we’re given two images of this very same event. It begins by telling us that “the Spirit [ורוח] blew over the earth,” which caused “the waters” to subside; and then we’re told that the dove flies across the “waters [that] were still on the face of the whole earth” in search of land, and Scripture, of course, later identifies the dove as a symbol of the Spirit (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22).
Thus, we can clearly see that the beginning of the flood corresponds to the end of the creation, and the end of the flood corresponds to the beginning of creation (and I explain all the parallels for the other days in my above-cited article). This tells us beyond all reasonable doubt that the flood narrative is about reversing the creation week, and hence is a de-creation event. Why is this relevant to whether or not the flood was local or global? It’s because, as I explained in my previous article, the creation narrative was about the literal creation of absolutely everything, and so if the flood reverses the creation week, it must be about the de-creation of everything, which only makes sense in the context of a global flood.
Moreover, if this is the case, we would expect to see this idea of absolutely everything being destroyed show up explicitly in the flood narrative, and indeed, this is exactly what we find: “every living thing” was blotted out, “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered,” “all flesh died that moved on the earth,” “everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died,” “every living thing that was on the face of the ground” was blotted out, “only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” The repeated use of words like all, everything, every, etc. within the context of the flood narrative being about reversing Genesis 1, tells us with certainty that this catastrophic event was universal in its extent.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Jesus and His Apostles saw the flood as a global event. According to our Lord:
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39)
Unless the coming of the Son of Man is going to be a local event, the only conclusion we’re left to draw from this passage is that our Lord Jesus Christ believed that Noah’s flood was universal in its extent, just as the Final Judgement will be. Without a global flood, Jesus’ comparison between local and universal events makes very little sense. And this problem only gets worse for theistic evolutionists when we get to the epistles of St. Peter:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly. (2 Peter 2:4-5)
For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. (2 Peter 3:5-6)
For St. Peter, it’s clear that he believed only eight human beings survived Noah’s flood, and that “the world that then existed” utterly perished in its waters. These passages largely speak for themselves, especially when we consider the fact that there is not a single author prior to modern geology, either Christian or Jewish, who has interpreted Noah’s flood as anything other than a literal and global catastrophe. Whether it’s Sts. Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, or John Chrysostom, the Fathers were absolutely unanimous: Noah’s flood was global, not local. In the words of St. Augustine, who dedicated chapters 15 and 16 of The City of God to defending the historicity and universal extent of the flood:
But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast [Noah]. (City of God, 16.8)