Thursday, November 01, 2012

An Old Earth and a Local Flood: God's Word May Well Teach Both Are True

I had lunch today with a geologist who credits me with giving him an understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This man heads the exploration department of an oil company that has grown under his leadership to be one of the largest resource firms in the world. His mind moves as fast as an Intel processor, and one can almost hear his neurons firing as he thinks. He's a smart man who has studied the earth's rocks to find uranium, gold and now oil. He believes the earth is old and Noah's flood was local; and he believes this because of his geological expertise.

He knows that I believe the Bible to be inspired by God. He asked me what I thought of his views of an old earth and a local flood. I could tell he was a little hesitant to share his views with me because he was under the mistaken notion that all evangelical, Bible-believing Christians must be young earth creationists and global flood adherents.

He was shocked when I told him I felt I could prove from the Scriptures (not science) that the earth is millions of years old and that Noah's flood was local, not global. My friend is quite convinced he can prove these two things to others from scientific evidence and logic, but he was dumbfounded to hear his Bible-believing evangelical Christian friend state that these views also can be proven from Scripture. Now, before too many of my fellow evangelicals get all bent out of shape, please know that I have taught young earth creationism and a global flood. However,  I have no qualms with saying to others that I could be wrong in my views. Here's why:

Five Textual Reasons Why Noah's Flood Could Be Considered Local

(1). Genesis 7 says the flood fell on the "earth" forty days and forty nights. The Hebrew word eretz is  translated into English as "earth" in the Genesis 7 flood account.  The author of Genesis 7 used erets a dozen times to describe the extent of Noah's flood. For example,  "And the rain fell on the earth [erets] for forty days and forty nights" (Genesis 7:12 NIV).

When we Christians in the west hear the word "earth," we immediately think of a global sphere, the globe we call earth. However, when a Hebrew heard the word eretz, he would never think like us. Erets simply meant land.  This is the way the word is used throughout the Old Testament:
The Lord said to Abram, 'Leave your country [erets], your people, and your father's household and go to the land [erets] I will show you. (Genesis 12:1).

I [God] am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth [erets] to seize dwelling places not their own. (Habakkuk 1:6). 
"See how the waters are rising in the north; they will become an overflowing torrent.  They will overflow the land [erets] and everything in it, the towns and those who live in them. The people will cry out; all who dwell in the land [erets] will wail. (Jer. 47:2).
In this last example, Jeremiah used the exact same language that Moses used in Genesis 7, yet no interpreter of Scripture suggests that the flood in Jeremiah's day was anything more than a local flood. The Hebrew text implies Noah's flood was also local.

(2). Genesis 7:20 says, "The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered" (Genesis 7:20 NKJV). A Hebrew cubit was the measurement from the elbow to the tip of the fingers, an average of eighteen inches, or a foot and a half. Fifteen cubits is somewhere between 20 and 30 feet, but no more. The English word "mountains" is the Hebrew word har, which is often translated "hills." The Hebrew text itself indicates a local, albeit devastating flood. Noah took the animals native to his land, not the entire earth, and gave them safety in the ark God told him to prepare.

(3). Prior to the flood there were Nephilim, "heroes of old, men of renown" (Genesis 6:4). If the entire world's population was destroyed during Noah's flood, as a global flood requires, then there is difficulty explaining how the Hebrew spies "saw the Nephilim" in Canaan, generations after the flood (see Numbers 13:33).

(4). The author of Genesis ascribes specialization of labor and technological advances to Cain's descendents--Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain--who were "the father of all those who dwell in tents" and "the father of all those who play the flute and harp" and "an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron" respectively (Genesis 4:19-22). The author of Genesis assumes that specialization in musical instruments, metallurgy, and shepherdology existed continuously from before the flood to the present day. Were the descendents of Cain all drowned in a global flood, then the "fathers" of these technologies would be the sons of Noah, not the sons of Cain. Further, a simple reading of the Hebrew chronologies from Genesis 5 to Genesis 11 places Abraham's birth less than 300 years after the flood. Many in Noah's family, including Noah himself, were still alive in the days of Abraham. With that said, how is it possible for there to be numerous peoples and numerous national identities by the time Abram left Haran to come to Canaan, a scant three generations after the flood?  For example, Hagar came with Abraham from the empire of Egypt (Genesis 16:1) and Eliezer came with Abram from Damascus (Genesis 15:2). The flood of Noah seems to be God's judgment against the apostasy of His chosen people, the family that would eventually be called the Hebrews.

(5). After the flood, Noah offered a blood sacrifice (see Genesis 9). This sacrifice represented the future coming of the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and his death at Calvary. Through blood atonement, Noah and his family found peace with God. God gave a sign to Noah of the peace covenant--a bow. Most people say "rainbow," but in reality, it was a bow. But not just any bow. A bow is an instrument of war. It is a picture of death. When your enemy uses his bow, he aims to destroy you. But God promised Noah that through the blood covenant of peace, He would not destroy His people. Look at His bow.

The bow of God gave to Noah was  (1). Hung in the sky and pointed away from Noah's land, and (2).the bow had no string in it so it was unusable, and (3). the bow was unbent, perpetually picturing for Noah that God was at peace through blood atonement.

Generations later, the Hebrew people would reject the Lamb of God, "trample under foot His blood," and turn their backs on the only Sacrifice that God provided for sinners. In response, God took up His bow against the Hebrews, and broke covenant. In Revelation 6:1-2, the bow of God is taken up against Israel as the Lamb rides a white horse, holding His bow, and comes in judgment against His people Israel. In the same manner that God destroyed the land of Noah for the apostasy of His people during the days of Noah, so too He destroyed the land of Israel (Jerusalem, the Temple, etc...) in AD 70 for the apostasy of His covenant people.  God's wrath against sin is either born by the Lamb and escaped by those who trust Him, or it is born by sinners who trample under foot the only sacrifice God will ever provide for sinners. The Old Covenant way of worship is over.

The New Covenant shows us the God of all grace who provides for us the Lamb. The message to us all is "Trust Him!"


Next time you feel tempted to draw a line in the sand and refuse fellowship with those believers in Christ who hold to an old earth and a local flood, think twice. It very well could be they, not you, are closer to understanding the sacred text.

In addition, since Russell Crow is playing the lead in the epic 2014 Hollywood film Noah, it might be wise to brush up on your Bible knowledge lest you be tempted to get your theology from Hollywood.

The worst thing any Christian could be is cocksure of non-essential theology and miss the importance of Jesus Christ and His covenant of peace with those who trust Him.

Whether you are and old earth advocate or a young earth believer, whether you believe in a local flood or a global flood, remember this: Christianity is all about intimacy with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

My friend learned salvation by grace through faith in Christ from me. Thank God he's smart enough to realize all other doctrines are secondary.


Jenn said...

Thanks for addressing this....I've bookmarked this page for future reference. My girls are of an age to begin seriously searching out truths and I want them to always look at things with an open mind....knowing that only God holds all the answers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post to consider. Regarding th Nephilim and Cain's descendants not being destroyed by the flood, what do you make of Genesis 6:12-13 in which God describes all flesh as corrupt and that He has determined to make an end of all flesh?

Wade Burleson said...


"Knowing that only God holds all the answers"

Well stated.

Wade Burleson said...


In Genesis 5 the focus narrows to the lineage of Seth (Adam's third child). God's Old Covenant people came through the line of Seth, Noah, and then Shem. The eight people saved in the flood were the "remnant" of God's chosen people. The "all flesh" of Genesis 6 refers to all of Seth's family, with whom God had a special relationship.

I'm showing there is an answer for objections to those who hold to a local flood.

Many Bible believing, old earth, local flood adherents believe Genesis recounts the establishment of His special covenant relationship with the sons of Eve (vs. the sons of the devil), and that relationship moved from Seth to Noah to Shem to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the 12 Tribes of Israel. The flood was God's judgment against His covenant people, and the "all flesh" were all those in covenant with Him.

Throughout the Old Testament, when God moved in judgment upon a people and the prophets used apocalyptic language to describe the judgment, the phrases "all flesh," or "the face of the earth" or "heaven and earth" were used by the Hebrews to represent local judgment, not global judgment. These phrases were Hebrew idioms that Christians in the west unfortunately have interpreted with a western mindset.

The message of the Bible is a covenant message. Real life if found in an intimate faith relationship with the one true God through Jesus the Anointed One. Genesis is viewed by many Christians as a poetic and apocalyptic portrait of God's covenant relationship with His Old Covenant people, not a scientific manual of the creation of the world.

The encouragement in this post is for Christians to be careful of judging other Christians over differing interpretations of Genesis.

Dee said...

Hi Wade
I loved your post. As one who was on the receiving end of some pretty bad mojo from some YEC who told me that I was practically a heretic for believing in an old earth, I appreciate your perspective.

I wonder what they would have said if I had told them I trended towards evolutionary creationism(aka theistic evolution). I probably would have been burned at the stake!

Thank you so much for your graciousness.

Bob Cleveland said...

There is, obviously, a perfection and a vastness to God that we cannot fully appropriate with a finite, human mind. That's evident in His only allowing Moses to allow him to glimpse His back. It's obvious a full look at Him would be fatal.

That same perfection and vastness applies to His knowledge, His actions, His qualities, etc. Our minds can only comprehend so much, and He knows that (duuhhh....).

That applies to what He tells us, too. I've heard it said that what's revealed in scripture is ours to know, but what's not revealed isn't. I think God is very "rifle-bore" with what He reveals to us.

It's really nice when the Holy Spirit connects verses here and there from around the Bible that opens up new possibilities. I think He does that because the person He shows it to needs to know those things, for whatever the purpose God has in mind. In this case, perhaps it's bringing a lot of folks who've felt marginalized, back into the fold.

Too many times we read the Bible the way Jim Cymbala described .. looking (consciously or unconsciously) for verses that support whatever position we hold. But if we really want to know whatever God wants to reveal to us, without pre-conception, He'll show us stuff we didn't begin to know we didn't know.

Good post.

Bob Cleveland said...

Oh .. forgot to include my favorite verse:

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29, NIV)

Could it be that, under the new covenant, God has re-defined "Israel"? Right out there for all to see?

Wade Burleson said...


You are welcome! I thought of you when writing this post, knowing your love for Scripture and the Lord while holding to an old earth.

Bob, I think you may be on to something that many evangelical Christians miss!

Anonymous said...


This is an excellent post. Simply excellent.

I do not have the time to read and research as much as I would like, and I always appreciate when pastors or other teachers produce these kind of resources for people.

I think that much damage has been done in former generations by those who were teachers in the faith became convinced by what they saw an irreconcilable scientific matters with faith matters and the Bible. I personally believe that far too many of them threw in with what they thought were objective facts in science and concluded that the Bible had to be more like an ancient collections of stories, filled with myth and untruths. This view, once adopted, eventually flows from the OT to the NT to Jesus. And Jesus become something other than who He and the church said he was.

I admire the faithfulness of the pastors and others who did not go in that direction.

But, when those who seek to hold a high view of scripture take stands that may not be accurate, they also, unwittingly, do damage to the faith of others.

We will never know all of the answers in this life. But the OT and the NT make it clear that believing the words of God is an absolute requirement for fellowship with Him. Belief, even when one doesn't have all the answers, is the essence of faith.

But faith should not include dogged pronouncements about things that cannot be settled. Usually those things include both ends of th spectrum of time - origins and the eschaton.

In these areas, we will do better to show a little humility. There is much we don't know, and much we will never know in this life.


Aussie John said...


Much appreciated article, which allows God to be God.

Bob's words were a gem as well!

Anonymous said...

Just wondering how you interpret 2 Peter 3, where Peter seems to be saying that the flood and the endtime destruction are analogous. Is Peter saying that destruction at the end will be local? He also says that the world that then existed perished.

Wade Burleson said...


John Owen, John Gill, and a host of other brilliant Hebrew and Greek linguists interpret 2 Peter 3as the destruction of the Old Covenant--specifically the AD 70 destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. They show, quite convincingly, that "the elements" are the Old Covenant ritualistic sacrifices, etc...

Anonymous said...

Owen and Gill are two of my favorites, but I remain unconvinced of their Preterist views. Correct me if I am wrong but didn't Gill believe in a young earth? I have his commentary on Genesis and he definitely believed in a universal flood. Wonder why you didn't quote him there.

Wade Burleson said...

You asked about II Peter, not Genesis. Gill believed the earth to be about 6,000 years old, but in his days, that was not considered young. :)

Anonymous said...

"John Owen, John Gill, and a host of other brilliant Hebrew and Greek linguists interpret 2 Peter 3as the destruction of the Old Covenant--specifically the AD 70 destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. They show, quite convincingly, that "the elements" are the Old Covenant ritualistic sacrifices, etc..."

I am assuming that the anonymous poster is asking about Peter's response to the "delay of the parousia" and Peter uses the analogy of the flood to show that God will come again to purge the world in fire. It would seem that this purging of the heavens and earth is similar to the flood in which God also purged sin from the earth.

In response to the anonymous poster you simply say that "John Owen, John Gill and an (unnamed) host of linguistic scholars believe that it referred to the temple. It very well may but you simply throwing there names out there as a sort of trump card proves nothing at all.

Further the poster is right that you have cherry picked when you want to appeal to Owen and Gill. These same linguistic scholars don't hold your view of an old earth and a localized flood. They could be wrong but if you can play them as a trump card 2 Peter 3:8-10 without explaining why they are right then the same can be done to "trump" this entire post.

Wade Burleson said...


Please re-read the post. A few of your wrong assumptions may be corrected.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this writer was assuming, as I was that if you could "prove from Scripture that the earth is millions of years old and the flood was local" that you of course believed it. It is one thing to maintain a spirit of humility and say that other Bible believing Christians hold a different position (we should all do that on non-essentials) as you point out, but when I tell someone I can prove a point from Scripture, I think that better be the position I hold

Wade Burleson said...


Read what Louis said above.

His comment is brilliant. He gets it.

High reverance for the Word, humility about our interpretation of the Word.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Louis but I still think you have missed my point. I think that I can "prove from Scripture" that Peter is talking about universal judgment at the end of time by comparing that with a universal flood, therefore that is the position I hold. Now, I might be wrong and Owen, Gill and Burleson might be right, but I would not say that I can prove your point from Scripture, because I happen to respectfully disagree.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps instead of saying "I can prove from Scriptures" you should say that "an old earth and a local flood is a plausible interpretation" maybe YOUR language isn't clear.

Perhaps also actually interacting with someone instead of pointing them to scholars or other comments which agree with you.

When I first started reading this blog several years ago it was because it was a voice questioning those who sought to snuff out all who didn't tow the party line. Odd that the blog has now become a microcosm of what it started out to combat. Anyone who agrees with you is "brilliant" anyone who does not seems to be illiterate and needs to "reread" your post. Obviously if we had any grasp language or that art of Biblical exegesis we would agree with you..

Anonymous said...

should read YOU ARE not clear..(ironic that I messed that up and I see the humor in it)

Wade Burleson said...


"Anyone who agrees with you is "brilliant" anyone who does not seems to be illiterate and needs to "reread" your post."

Ironically, I am posting about people who DISAGREE with me, and affirming both them and their arguments.

Wade Burleson said...


It would also help if you will sign your name, pseudo-name, or some other nomenclature so our heads don't spin with all the anonymi. :)

Anonymous said...

Pastor Wade, this old oil patch lady thanks you even while disagreeing a tad.

I'm not old earth local flood persuasion but do see the scriptural possibility of it.

I'm more gap theory on creation without being dispensational on all the rest.

But just being able to say there is Biblical evidence for other than young earth creationism would make such a difference in the oil patch.

Young people with some education bring up those core samples and study them. And then some zealous parson tells them to disbelieve their eyes and their tests or they don't really believe in Jesus, and they often walk away from the faith.

Good post!


Christiane said...

Here is something to think about from my own faith tradition:

"...methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.
The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."
from 'Gaudium et Spes', a pastoral letter.

I'm also fond of this quote:
"Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth".

Unknown said...


I think one of the more difficult elements in this discussion is that it is in effect possible for peter to have thought the flood was universal in spite of the fact the language leaves open the possibility it was local, and the reality is that it was local.

And the reason is one Calvin carefully pointed out: Accommodation. God's accommodation to our limited understanding. God divinely provided for the truth in the language of Genesis in that eretz is a term whose scope is not precise. Yet Peter in constructing the ANALOGY compared a universal flood to a universal judgement. The inspired, God breathed use of an specific analogy to convey a particular idea does not mean that all elements of the analogy are themselves scientifically accurate, because God uses our language and our culture to 'speak' to us where we are.

Consider this example of the words of Jesus himself from Matthew 16:

"When it is evening , you say , ‘It will be fair weather , for the sky is red .’ 3 And in the morning , ‘There will be a storm today , for the sky is red and threatening .’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky , but cannot discern the signs of the times ?"

Is Jesus telling us this is an absolutely and scientifically accurate way of predicting tomorrows weather? I seriously doubt it. But it was a common perception of the day. And Jesus used it to make a necessary and TRUE point.

The deluge was probably viewed in Peter's day a being universal. But likewise, the common conception of the scope of the Earth in Peter's day was not a globe some 8000 miles in diameter suspended in space orbiting the sun. The language of the text of Genesis allows for what Wade has communicated AND for Peter's apparent conception. Yet God's accommodation to our language and culture in communicating His message allows for Peter to have perceived the flood as different from what it actually was (physically) and at the same time been communicating an absolutely true and inspired word from God through the Holy Spirit concerning the fact God will judge and has judged men for their sins.