Was the Genesis flood local or universal?
Though there is ample evidence in science to demonstrate that the Genesis flood covered the whole earth rather than merely a part of it, it is not to science but to Scripture that the man of God turns for proof. Science, being dependent on the understanding of fallible man, is always changing—what was held yesterday may not be what is held today. By contrast, the Bible simply states the truth, because it is the record of what God has said. Unlike the shifting sands of man’s apprehension, it is a rock on which we can depend.
The critics find the thought that water once covered the entire planet too incredible to believe. They would rather have it that Noah’s flood only destroyed a limited area—something akin to Caesar’s decree “that a census should be made of all the habitable world” (Luke 2: 1). Thus when Scripture speaks about God bringing “[the] flood upon [the] world of [the] ungodly” (2 Pet. 2: 5), the word world is taken to mean a restricted area in which the ungodly lived—as we might say, ‘their world’—rather than the planet. The critics do not explain why Noah could not simply have vacated the area that was to be judged, as the time period “while the ark was preparing” (1 Pet. 3: 20) was clearly considerable (“when the longsuffering of God waited in [the] days of Noah”—my emphasis). There was certainly no need to preserve either doves or ravens (see Gen. 7: 3; 8: 6–12) since both these exist commonly outside the imaginary local flood region and could easily have repopulated it.
Such doubters do not know the Bible (or, if they do, they do not believe it), for Genesis 1 tells us quite explicitly of a time, long before the great flood, when the planet was covered in water. Thus we read that “the earth was waste and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (v2, my emphasis). Again, in verse 9, God said “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together to one place, and let the dry [land] appear”. Clearly, the message conveyed by these early verses of Scripture, is a world covered in water. Thus the idea of Noah’s flood covering the whole planet should not be regarded as extraordinary since such a state of complete inundation had existed before. Of course many professing Christians will reject this divine revelation as being too fanciful, but their faith (if it is faith at all) can hardly be described as faith in God, for they do not believe the record of what He has said. Faith in God and faith in His Word are essentially the same thing.
The record of Noah’s history leaves no doubt that the flood with which he is so inextricably linked was universal in its extent: “For I, behold, I bring a flood of waters on th earth, to destroy all flesh under the heavens in which is the breath of life: everything that is on the earth shall expire … And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth; and all the high mountains that are under all the heavens were covered (Gen. 6: 17; 7: 19). There is no doubt that the writer intended to convey to his readers that the flood was a cataclysm of unparalleled severity, covering the whole earth, and destroying every living thing. To assert otherwise is to make the writer a charlatan.
Further confirmation is seen in the covenant of the rainbow made “between God and every living soul of all flesh that is upon the earth” (Gen. 9: 16)—for the inevitable conclusion drawn is that there could have been no rainbows prior to the great flood. Hence the flood was no local inundation, but an event that changed the very hydrology of the planet—for these is no mention of it raining before the flood, only that “a mist went up from the earth, and moistened the whole surface of the ground” (Gen. 2: 6). It defies belief to say that the rainbow was present prior to the flood, and that God only ‘appointed’ it as a sign afterwards, for that would make it not really a sign at all. Furthermore, the rainbow is seen in every land and is thus universal. That being so makes the flood universal too, for the two are inextricably linked.
Men scoff at the idea of a universal flood but believers need not be concerned with their opinions. There is One whose words will stand forever (see Matt. 24: 35) and who spoke of a flood that “came and took all away” (v39). Indeed, the Lord went further and said that if men did not believe Moses (Moses being the writer of Genesis), then they would not be persuaded by His own resurrection (see Luke 16: 31)! The reason men do not like the record of the past judgment is because it reminds them of the judgment to come. Then, “the earth was corrupt before God” (Gen. 6: 11) and history is repeating itself. Thus “as it took place in the days of Noe, thus also shall it be in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17: 26). Judgment is coming.