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Don Stewart :: What Was the Extent of the Flood?

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Don Stewart
One of the most difficult and hotly debated topics among Bible-believers concerns the extent of the Flood recorded in the Book of Genesis. Sooner or later, those who seriously study the Bible must face this question: Was the Flood localized to one certain area of the earth or did it cover the entire globe? Did all life die in the Flood, or were only a portion of humankind and animals killed? If the Flood covered all the high mountains that exist today, it would have been at least six miles deep all over the globe. Is this what the Bible said happened? Was the Genesis Flood local or universal? Does the Bible clearly tell us the extent of the Flood?

Believers Only

This question is only discussed among believers. Those who do not believe the Bible reject the idea that the Flood occurred. They see the Flood account as a myth or allegory. Therefore, they are not interested in debating the extent of the Flood. This issue, like the time of creation, and the meaning of the word day in Genesis, is a matter of interest only to Bible believers since those who reject the authority of Scripture do not believe these accounts are factual.

Not Truth Of Scripture In Question

This issue, when discussed among believers, does not challenge the truth of the Scripture but rather how to properly interpret all the facts. All agree that the Flood did occur precisely as the Bible says. The question to answer is, What exactly does the Bible say happened? Is there enough evidence to make a clear determination? Therefore this is a matter of how to interpret what the Bible says, not a question of whether the Bible is right or wrong.

Not Test Of Orthodoxy

Unfortunately, some people have made their particular position with respect to the Flood as a test of orthodoxy. Those who do not agree with view are, in many cases, accused of compromise with the world. This is an unfortunate position to take because there are good Bible-believers who hold different positions.

Five Possibilities

If the Flood actually occurred as the Bible says it did, then we basically have five possible ways in which to understand its extent.

1.Local To One Geographical Region, Not Everyone Killed

Some Christians believe the Flood was localized to one geographical area - Mesopotamia. Therefore the Flood killed only the people and animals that lived in that area. People and animals living in other parts of the globe were not affected by the Flood.

2.Local In Geography, Universal With Respect To Life

Another view says the Flood was localized but so was humanity and the animals. The Flood was universal in the sense that it killed every living thing but everything that was alive at that time was living in only one small part of the world.

3.Geographically Localized But Uncertain About Humans And Animals

This position believes the Flood was localized to one particular area, but is uncertain as to whether there were humans and animals living outside the destruction of the Flood. They do not believe there is enough evidence with respect to population of other parts of the globe.


The traditional view is that the Flood covered the entire world, killing every living thing. God's judgment was toward everything living on the planet. The only life that survived was that which was inside the ark.

5.Uncertainty As To What Happened

Some who have studied this issue do not believe that any one position has convincing arguments. Because of the uncertainty as to which position is correct, these Bible students do not adopt a particular view on the extent of the Flood. They believe the Flood occurred, but they are not certain as to its extent.

The following sentiments are representative of many who have tacked this problem. Howard Vos writes.

It should be clear from a study of the arguments for and against a universal flood that neither side has the preponderance of answers at the present stage of research (Howard Vos, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 2 E-J, p. 318).

After summing up the arguments for the extent of the Flood, Old Testament authority, Walter Kaiser Jr., concluded.

Our conclusion is that the jury is still out on this question . . . .Some believe that the flood was spread out over the whole earth, while others insist that it was limited to the Mesopotamian basin or some other defined geographical area in the Near East. The point is that Scripture is anxious to teach that it was God's judgment on all mortals living on the earth except the eight on the ark. On the other matters we must await more information (Walter Kaiser Jr. in Hard Sayings of The Bible, Walter Kaiser Jr. Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Intervarsity Press, 1996, p. 114).

R.K. Harrison observed.

The extent of the flood has aroused much debate. The word translated earth can also mean country and heaven can describe the sky visible within one's own horizon (I Kings 18:45). While some arguments may suggest a limited flood, the fact that the mountains were submerged implies a more extended one (Genesis 7:19-20). Genesis supports arguments for both a local and universal deluge, with traditional biblical teaching favoring the latter and regarding the flood as punishment for unrepentant wickedness (Gen 6:5) (R.K. Harrison, in Evangelical Dictionary Of Theology, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Books, 1984,, p.,419).

Examine The Evidence

There are two basic positions with respect to the geography of the Flood: either the entire globe was covered with water or only a portion of the earth was flooded. Under the local Flood view, there are various ways in which to understand the extent that the Flood affected humanity. Either everything was killed, everything was not killed, or the evidence is unclear as to the death of all humans and animals. We will group each of these three positions under the local Flood view.

Our goal is to give the best arguments that are put forward for each particular view. Our desire is to be thorough without being exhaustive. The student can then decide which view best fits the facts or whether the evidence is not conclusive to hold any one particular view.

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