Flood, Faith, and Russell Crowe

From Hurricane Katrina to SuperStorm Sandy to various massive typhoons across the world, the thought of a Great Flood triggers thoughts of complete destruction.  No greater event as described in the Bible confronts us with the terrifying power of nature than Noah’s Flood. Yet the central theme in the Noah story is not mindless natural forces, but rather the supreme Holy authority of a Merciful Creator God faced with human disobedience.

Even popular culture is fascinated with Noah and God’s Flood.  I do not know how good a film this will really be, but a new movie staring Russell Crowe due in 2014 promises to explore the theme using the latest computer generated imagery techniques:

Film director Darren Aronofsky tells that the story of Noah had captivated him ever since he was about thirteen years old. What do we make of the narrative about Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9 that would inspire a movie like this?

Noah in the Bible

With Noah’s Flood the central Biblical message should be clear.  The God of the Bible released that Flood as a sign of judgment against a rebellious people. In one of the ancient Babylonian flood stories, one of the gods sent the flood to silence a noisy people who were keeping that god from sleeping. But such an amoral and shallow rationale is completely missing from the Bible.  In stark contrast, the one True God, as opposed to a plethora of competing pagan deities, is grieved by the destructive behavior of the humans He has made. Nevertheless, God in His graciousness does save some, including Noah and his immediate family.

There is no escaping God’s judgment apart from His intervention to save us. In anticipation of the coming of Jesus, the story of Noah’s flood highlights this tension between divine Justice and divine Mercy. It is also a story about one man and his family that stood obedient to God in face of a mocking world. In the story of Jesus Christ we have been given a way to enter into the “ark” that He has provided. In Jesus, God embodies Himself as that Man who alone would be obedient and actually become that Ark that would save us.

Nevertheless, when it comes to some of the particulars regarding the scientific and historical details about Noah’s flood, Christians often find themselves disagreeing with one another. The controversy results from various tensions dating back to the rapid development of science and historical studies in the 19th century.

The Global Versus Local Flood Debate

Until about the late 1800’s, most Christians pretty much accepted the idea of a great deluge that wiped out the face of the entire planet.  Most natural philosophers with an interest in geology had accepted a theory of catastrophism, the idea of a major catastrophe or catastrophes responsible for the emergence of earth’s geologic features.  However, geologist Charles Lyell put forth the idea of a uniformitarian model for understanding geologic transformation.   For Lyell, the earth’s features “uniformly” developed gradually and slowly over a long period of time, with layers upon layers of sedimentation over millions of years.

Most scientists today accept a largely uniformitarian understanding of rock development, with some catastrophic events interspersed in earth’s history. Unfortunately, the emergence of uniformitarian science backed by an extensive catalog of observations put the traditional narrative of Noah’s Flood as a global event into question.

A further complication arose after archaeological discoveries of various Ancient Near East flood stories, including portions of the Babylonian Atrahasis Epic first published in 1876, with an expanded version published in 1975, which references the insomniac god that needed some earplugs. Historians have debated whether the Genesis material somehow preceded these pagan flood stories, or if the pagan stories came first, or (more likely) if both the Genesis and pagan narratives share some common historical tradition despite crystal clear differences.

By the late 19th century and onwards, most evangelical Bible scholars had adopted a largely “Old Earth” perspective that embraces the concept of a “local” Flood as opposed to a “global” Flood.  Many of these scholars have noted good Biblical reasons for accepting a “local” Flood, not just simply to account for the scientific data.

For example, Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe argues for the idea of a “worldwide” Flood.  In many Bible passages, the notion of the “world” more readily correlates to the then “known world” of the ancients.  There is fairly good evidence to indicate that at the time of the Noahic Flood that humanity was still relatively confined to the area in the Ancient Near East and had not yet dispersed to the far corners of the earth (about 50,000 years ago, according to Ross. Or look here for a different “old-earth” approach to the date question).  Therefore, the idea of consciously identifying the “world” with that which is “global” is something that we as moderns take for granted that was not known in Noah’s day. Also, in Psalm 104:5-9 which roughly parallels the Creation account found in Genesis 1, the text indicates that God set a boundary for the oceans so that they might never again cover the earth after the event of Creation, which rules out a “global” Flood for the later era of Noah.

For more details, look at my Veracity colleague John Paine’s “Old Earth” references to the local, “worldwide” Flood and John’s research via Hugh Ross on the Book of Job.  Check out the following video for a summary of this view:
From a more secular perspective, we can find supporting evidence scientifically for a local flooding event comparable to what we find in the Bible, though this article from the National Center for Science Education does not address all of the concerns of the Biblical account.

“Flood Geology” and the Church

But while most evangelical Christian thinkers in the early 20th. century found the idea of a “local” Flood a more refined way of understanding Biblical teaching, not everyone was convinced.  George McCready Price, a Seventh-Day Adventist, in the 1920’s pioneered the idea of a massive global Flood that could simultaneously account for the existence of the fossil record, the tremendous upheaval of sea floors and the emergence of tall mountain ranges, and a Young Earth of around 6,000 years old.  In 1961, a Virginia Tech hydraulic engineer, Henry M. Morris, and a theologian, John C. Whitcomb, published a more popular version of Price’s theory in their landmark book The Genesis Flood, which effectively launched the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement.

According to this proposal of Flood Geology, the sea floors of the oceans opened up catastrophically, shooting water upwards from beneath the oceans, accompanied by relentless rain that flooded the entire globe.  Later when the Flood waters receded, great tectonic plate shifts dropped the sea floors to take in the Flood waters and conversely shot up large mountain ranges.  As most of life was destroyed at this time, this would explain why we find fossil remains way up high in the Himalayan mountains.

Kentucky-based Answers in Genesis, which built the popular Creation Museum, is also raising money to build a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark to demonstrate the ideas behind Flood Geology (Answers in Genesis dates the flood at approximately 2348 B.C.).  Advocates of the Young Earth view maintain that their proposals are necessary since any trend towards accepting the concept of a “local” Flood, or worse, even no Flood at all, is a denial of Biblical faith. Though not as impressive as the multi-million dollar special effects of Darren Aronofsky, this brief animation shows the basic idea (Ken Ham needs to work some type of deal with Aronofsky for better visual effects):

As you can probably imagine, resolving the details involving a global Flood can get really, really complicated very quickly. When I went to hear Terry Mortensen, an apologist for Answers in Genesis, give a public talk at the College of William and Mary earlier this year, I remember one female student listening patiently as Dr. Mortensen gave his defense of a global Flood. After a few moments, this young woman leaned into the microphone and asked, “And you expect me to believe all of that?

Advocates of a global Flood will often respond by saying that belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ can be difficult to have faith in, too. This is a very good point. It is definitely worth considering. However, I find that belief in a global Flood requires something that belief in the Resurrection does not do. It requires you to believe in a whole rather intricate and complex set of miracles all contingently strapped together which are never explicitly taught in the Bible, a problematic feature of nearly all apologetic approaches that try to read too much science out of the Bible, or even read too much science into the Bible.

The Bigger Picture with Noah

My concern is that we not get so hung up in the minutiae details of the science and history that we miss out on the bigger picture, the story of what God wishes to teach us and apply in our lives today about the example of Noah’s faith. We live in a world where men and women live in rebellion against a loving and patient God: People like me, and probably like you, too. This God longs for people to humble themselves and turn back in trusting faith to the God who made them. There is room on the ark, thanks to Jesus. God is incredibly forbearing, but He warns that the Final Judgment will be far more severe than any Flood, whether it be “global” or “local”. We will just have to see whether Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe get this right or not!

Have you checked the weather lately?  Is that raindrops I hear falling in the distance? I wonder if I have my umbrella with me?  Surely, that will protect me. Right?

Additional Resources:

For more Young Earth Creationist resources supporting a global interpretation of Noah’s Flood, look at this extensive collection of resources at Answers in Genesis.

For more resources supporting an understanding of a local interpretation of the Flood, look here at BioLogos.org. You might be challenged to consider the Genesis Flood narrative as a different type of literary genre that is not necessarily tied to a strict rendering of history.

For more background on the Atrahasis and other pagan Flood narratives, the theological challenges presented by these archaeological discoveries, and more detail on literary genre you will be rewarded by reading what Old Testament scholar Pete Enns has to say, starting with this post at BioLogos.org.

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

13 responses to “Flood, Faith, and Russell Crowe

  • John Paine

    The story of Noah is a good example of Scripture that many people treat as allegory, obviously because it is so fantastic. For the account to be factual, you have to accept the miraculous–which many people simply cannot do. But to adopt an allegorical perspective you have to get past the following arguments that support an actual historical event:

    1) Authors throughout the Bible reflect the belief that Noah was a historical person.
    2) Noah is specifically mentioned in biblical genealogies (Gen. 10:1; 1 Chron. 1:1; Luke 3:36).
    3) Noah is commended as a man of great faith (Ez. 14:14, 20; Heb. 11:7; 2 Pet. 2:5).
    4) Scripture recounts the flood as a real event, even by Jesus (Is. 54:9, Matt. 24:37–38; Luke 17:26–27; 1 Pet. 3:20).

    HT: http://www.reasons.org/articles/biblical-foundation-for-rtb’s-flood-model

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    • Clarke Morledge

      John has some really important things to grapple with here.

      I received an offline comment regarding the idea of the sea floors opening up and shooting massive amounts of water upwards to generate the flood, in addition to the rains. In global Flood Geology, this corresponds to the “fountains of the great deep” in Genesis 7:11, where the waters were found in enormous subterranean caverns underneath the entire earth’s oceans, and perhaps under land areas as well.

      From an Old Earth perspective, I am currently familiar with two prospective ideas as to what this corresponds to, according to how the original Hebrew language for this phrase has been used elsewhere in the Bible:

      1. a large aquifer, most probably underneath the modern day Persian Gulf area, where such a local flood might have happened.

      2. large irrigation systems in ancient Mesopotamia.

      Follow the links referenced above for more information.

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  • S.M.

    Thank you for this balanced article–as a YEC geologist, I’m used to one-sided articles from both sides of the debate, and this is one of the first I’ve seen that gives both the young earth and old earth perspective without disparaging either.

    I would add to John’s list that the whole Genesis account from Adam to Abraham is a coherent historical narrative, which is taken up in the New Testament when Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam. If we reject the historicity of Genesis before Abraham, then we are put in the position of having real people be the descendants of metaphorical ones.

    Another problem is that Noah took birds onto the Ark. Why would birds, who can fly, need to be delivered from a local flood? And for that matter, why wouldn’t Noah just move up into the hills, instead of going to all the trouble to make a boat? There are plenty of high mountains around the Mesopotamian plains, many of them over 2000m in height.

    If you haven’t seen them yet, I would also suggest browsing the technical journals of Creation Ministries Int’l (http://creation.com/articles#journal_archive) and the Creation Research Society (http://www.creationresearch.org/crsq/articles_chron.htm) There’s a lot of fascinating research being done within a YEC context nowadays, and much of it is being published in these journals, as well as Dr. Snelling’s online journal at AIG (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v6/n1).

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    • Clarke Morledge

      S.M.

      I really, really, really appreciate your comment and stopping by.

      We try to be balanced here on Veracity, recognizing that there are different points of view within the Body of Christ. We may not all agree, but we can still have fellowship with one another. The local church we worship in has a variety of Young Earth, Old Earth, and Evolutionary Creationists all worshipping together.

      That being said, both John (our blog’s founder) and I do have our respective points of view. If you poke around on Veracity for awhile, you should be able to pick up where we are coming from. If there are some areas where you think we have in any way misrepresented a YEC perspective, we would enjoy your corrections. The main thing is that we want to encourage discussion and good Biblically-based thinking. We do not want to try to tell people how they should think. Rather, we want people to dig in their Bibles and dig into good apologetic resources to find the answers.

      Thanks again. Blessings to you!

      Clarke

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    • John Paine

      Yeah…what Clarke said. Thanks so much for commenting!

      Like

  • S.M.

    Got you guys on my “follow” list–look forward to reading more of your work!

    Like

    • jriddett

      I understand the notion that people treat Noah’s ark as allegory. However people not reborn , I think may have bigger problems with Christian faith than these truths. Maybe more problems with truth of a sinful heart or that people aren’t inherently good. These stories and happenings of the books of the bible don’t hold true meaning and fruition until God has been revealed through Jesus Christ and spiritual birth in ones soul. My point is the blocking or stumbling block I believe is not in truth of Noah’s ark but the dark truth of ones heart a part from God. Because as I once heard if a man was asked and knew all of this ( the bible Gods Word ) to be true, would he want to be Christian ? Unfortunately that answer can be no for some. Even after knowing it is all true.

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    • John Paine

      The inability or unwillingess to believe is an intriguing dilemma for Christians who wish to share their faith. We did a post on ‘bias’ (https://sharedveracity.net/2012/10/01/unreasonable-doubt/) that explores attitudes and presuppositions that put walls between the faithful and faithless. Your point is well made. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  • Clarke Morledge

    Psalm 104 remains a particularly useful passage of Scripture for helping us to understand the context of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9.

    On the Old Earth side, the context for Psalm 104 is about Creation week in Genesis 1, with occasional reference to God’s continued sustaining of His creative work. As a result, Psalm 104:9 speaks to God setting the boundaries between land and water at Creation, such that a later global Flood would contradict the meaning of the text.

    http://godandscience.org/youngearth/psalm104.html

    On the Young Earth side, this view insists that verses 6-9 actually speak to Noah’s Flood, describing the great tectonic plate upheavals required to make sense of the fossil record and lack of large mountainous regions before the Flood, as well as describing the “rainbow” promise made to Noah that never again would God flood the entire globe.

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/07/28/psalm104-flood-or-creation

    Does inserting the theme of Noah’s Flood into this Creation psalm violate the context of the Psalmist’s message? The answer to this question is key to the debate concerning the use of the Hebrew word “eretz” to mean either the “whole earth” or merely the “land” or “known world at the time” in Genesis 6-9.

    For more detail about the extent of the Flood, look here:

    Young Earth (technical):

    http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/19-psalms/text/articles/barker-ps104-gtj.pdf

    Old Earth:

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/exploring-the-extent-of-the-flood-part-one
    http://www.reasons.org/articles/exploring-the-extent-of-the-flood-what-the-bible-says-part-two
    http://www.reasons.org/articles/exploring-the-extent-of-the-flood-part-three

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  • dwwork

    Great post. I did a paper for a World Religions class on the flood myths. Just about every culture across the globe has a flood story. What I found is that the further from the biblical lands the more fantastic the legend becomes.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      David,

      Wow. I had not thought about the connection between flood stories and how fantastic they get as you move away from the Ancient Near East.

      I appreciate your input!

      Clarke

      Like

    • dwwork

      Clark, you are welcome. During my class as I was doing some additional reading on flood stories I had an aha moment. I went from Gilgamesh epic to American Indian flood stories.. David

      Like

  • Noah vs. Noah | Veracity

    […] Christian in reading Genesis is in trying to determine in what sense is it true. We already covered some of the basics here before on Veracity, but in light of the movie, a number of creationist ministries have produced material to help the […]

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