Does the Bible really say the flood of Noah covered the entire earth? Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, is about 8,850 meters (29,029 feet) in height. The Bible seems to indicate the flood covered all mountains (Genesis 7:19) by 15 cubits – about 22 feet – or more (Genesis 7:20). If that is true, where did all of the water come from? And, where did it go after the flood? Was the flood local, not global, as some assert? There are good arguments on both sides of the issue, many of which are described in this article. More importantly, couldn’t one of the people on the ark swat those two mosquitoes?
All life destroyed?
The Bible certainly seems to indicate the flood of Noah was global and destroyed all life:
“Then God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6:13)
“I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” (Genesis 6:17).
The Hebrew word basar (Strong’s 1320) is used in these verses – and many others - for “flesh”, defined as:
“…the soft tissue mass of any animal; the whole body; particular parts of the body… humankind, living things…”
Other verses in Genesis which use this same word basar (flesh) in reference to Noah’s flood include: 6:12, 6:19, 7:15, 7:16, 7:21, and 8:17. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, this Hebrew word appears about 270 times, normally indicating the skin and/or meaty part of a human or animal, sometimes used to distinguish from the spirit, soul, or heart. In the Old Testament, the term “all flesh” can mean “all mankind” or “all living creatures”, as in Genesis 6:17-19. So, it seems apparent that all land-based life was destroyed by Noah’s flood.
That’s a long time.
The Bible very specifically indicates the floodwaters remained for more than nine months (compare Genesis 8:13 with Genesis 7:11) and the people remained on the ark for one year and 10 days (see Genesis 8:14). If the flood was merely local, as some have stated, it is difficult to imagine why the passengers of the ark would need to remain on board for that length of time.
All the earth?
Upon initial reading, it seems to be very apparent the Bible states the flood covered the entire earth. It will be useful to examine the Hebrew words used in the Bible to describe the entire earth. The Hebrew word translated into English as “whole” is kol (Strong’s 3605), used by Moses around 249 times, to indicate “all, everyone, everything … any … whole … always” and words with similar meanings.
The Hebrew word translated as “earth” is erets (Strong’s 776), used about 250 times in the book of Genesis and more than 2,500 times in the Old Testament. According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, this word “does not only denote the entire terrestrial planet, but is also used of some of the earth’s component parts. English words like land, country, ground, and soil transfer its meaning into our language. Quite frequently, it refers to an area occupied by a nation or tribe.” In fact, this word erets is used in many Bible verses to describe concepts other than the physical surface of the globe. One example is given in Genesis 11:1:
“Now the whole (kol) earth (erets) used the same language and the same words.”
Obviously, these words are not used to signify all 510 million square kilometers of the globe’s surface area, but the people of the region. Even here, we can see that humanity had not yet spread to the rest of the Earth. That happened a few verses later:
“So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth (erets)”
How does one explain this verse in Genesis 41:57:
“The people of all the earth (erets) came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth (erets).”
These are the same Hebrew words used to describe Noah’s flood covering “all” the “earth”, now describing a famine during the time of Joseph. Does this mean there was a famine in Japan? And, people came from South America to buy grain in Egypt? Even though the words used in these verses could potentially be translated “all the earth”, they clearly indicate a regional phenomenon.
Other Old Testament verses, written by the same author – Moses – are indicative of local, not global, geography. For instance, in an area of Israel between Bethel and Ai (Genesis 13:3), Abram said to Lot:
“"Is not the whole (kol) land (erets) before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left." (Genesis 13:9)
As these are the same Hebrew words that were used to describe Noah’s flood, should we believe that Abram and Lot divided up the entire globe for their flocks and herds? Or, is it more reasonable to believe they separated a section of Israel?
Did the wind dry up the water?
Genesis 8:1 states:
“God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.”
This is a difficult verse to explain if one believes water covered the entire globe. How would a wind cause the waters to subside? Where would the wind cause the water to go? This method of evaporation does comport much better with a regional flood.
Was the earth completely dry?
Genesis 8:13-14 states:
“By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.” (NIV)
Other versions do not contain the word “completely” in verse 14. Nonetheless, using the reasoning that the “earth” implies the entire globe, does anyone really believe the earth was dry? Were the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans dry? If this is interpreted regionally, it makes much more sense.
All the high mountains covered?
The Bible, in Genesis 7:19-20, appears to clearly state all mountains on Earth were covered:
“The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.”
The Hebrew word used here for “covered” the Hebrew word kasa (Strong’s 3680), which can mean “to cover, conceal; to decorate; to overwhelm; … be shrouded … hide”.
However, the word kasa (or kasah) can be interpreted in this passage to mean, according to Astronomer Hugh Ross, “more than twenty feet of water stood, that is, remained, over the high hills or mountains; or it could mean that this quantity of water either ran over them as in a flash flood or fell upon them as rainfall. The context gives no clear indication which of the three meanings to choose.” And, any “of the three scenarios would guarantee total destruction, no survivors.” According to this interpretation, the Himalayas may not have necessarily been covered completely, but hills and mountains may have had large quantities of water running over them. Another point Ross makes is that the understanding of the earth as a large globe about 40,000 kilometers in circumference is a relatively recent conception. People of Noah’s time understood the earth to be the land, implying people and societies. Whether Mount McKinley in Alaska was flooded or Aconcagua in Argentina was covered would have been irrelevant to Noah.
High mountains – globalist position:
How do those who believe in a global flood account for the problem of the incredible quantity of water needed to cover all of the high mountains? The issue involving the tallest mountain peaks, as well as the deepest ocean trenches is handled by asserting that the earth at the time of the flood was much flatter. These mountains and trenches arose from tectonic activity within the last 6,000 years, after the flood:
“Clearly, what the Bible is telling us is that God acted to alter the earth's topography. New continental landmasses bearing new mountain chains of folded rock strata were uplifted from below the globe-encircling waters that had eroded and leveled the pre-Flood topography, while large deep ocean basins were formed to receive and accommodate the Flood waters that then drained off the emerging continents.”
This would answer the question of where the water came from. If all mountains were flattened and ocean trenches were raised, there is sufficient water on the planet to cover all land, making this a “water world”, similar to the (second-rate) movie with Kevin Costner. Alfred Russel Wallace wrote:
“According to the best recent estimates, the land area of the globe is 0.28 of the whole surface, and the water area 0.72. But the mean height of the land above the sea-level is found to be 2250 feet, while the mean depth of the seas and oceans is 13,860 feet… and if all the land surface and ocean floors were reduced to one level, that is, if the solid mass of the globe were a true oblate spheroid, the whole would be covered with water about two miles deep.”
This solves the problem of Noah’s family requiring oxygen masks to endure the altitude of the Himalayas. However, global flood proponents also believe the rise of mountains and even separation of continents occurred within about the last 6,000 years. Currently, though, Everest is rising less than an inch per year. To rise to over 29,000 feet would require an elevation increase of approximately 4.8 feet per year – a change of 57 times more than the current rate. And, one would suppose the Mariana Trench, at a depth of about 11,000 meters or 36,000 feet, developed within the last 6,000 years.
What about the promise God made?
If the flood was not worldwide, how does one explain the promise God made in Genesis 9:11 and 15:
“I establish my covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth."
“and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
God promised to Noah there would never be another flood to destroy the earth. Certainly there have been many regional or localized floods since that time. If Noah’s flood was regional, that would imply God has broken His promise many times, including at New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
On the other hand, if one understands “all flesh” in these verses as a reference to humans primarily in the Mesopotamian region, it is true that God has not destroyed all people since Noah’s flood. This makes sense because there was no reason to destroy all animal life. What would be the point of God destroying wallabies in Australia for the sinfulness of humans in the Middle East?
What about the animals?
But, doesn’t the Bible say that all animals on the earth died, not only humans? That would be the reason take animals on the ark, right? God states in Genesis 6:17, “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.” And, in Genesis 7:21, “Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind.” The Bible seems to be clear that not only humans, but also animals, were destroyed in the flood.
Why did Noah take animals if the flood was local?
Global flood proponents question why God directed Noah to take animals on the ark if the flood was localized. After the flood, animals from surrounding areas could easily migrate back to the flooded region, right? In response to this, Microbiologist Rich Deem makes several points:
· Some animal species are indigenous to the Mesopotamian region.
· Noah would have spent considerable time replenishing his herds. Whether the flood was global or regional, vegetables and fruit would not have been available for some time, making meat the only food source for Noah and his family.
· Animal migration back into the entire region would have taken a considerable amount of time. Even if the flood was not global, it was still geographically immense. Animals migrating back would have had no food source – plant or animal – for a period of time following the flood.
If local, why take birds?
Those who believe in a global flood make a good point that it would be unnecessary to take birds on the ark (Genesis 7:8 and Genesis 7:14); they could have simply flown back after the flood was over, couldn’t they? Rich Deem notes that, except for a few migratory species, most birds remain in a relatively small territory. And, since most are not designed for long distance travel, they would have drowned. Furthermore, it is difficult for birds to fly in heavy rain, meaning they would have sat in trees until water covered the trees and they had nowhere to go.
Why didn’t God just send Noah on a trip?
If the flood was regional, would it not have been much simpler for Noah and his family to travel out of the region until the flood was over? One answer has already been given as the same reason God wanted animals on the ark – to replenish fauna in the region. A second reason, offered by Rich Deem, is that God’s method of operation is to precede judgment with a warning and opportunity to repent. For example, the Lord sent Jeremiah to warn the people of impending judgment if they did not repent (Jeremiah 18:8). Also, God was rather insistent that Jonah preach to the people of Nineveh who, by the way, did repent (Jonah 3:10). Whereas Jonah spent three days preaching to the Ninevites, Noah spent 100 years building the ark. Peter explained that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness”. He went on to explain that, when they did not repent, God “brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5). Peter understood the purpose of the flood: Notice he mentioned ungodly persons were the target of the flood, not necessarily plants, animals, or the earth itself.
Noah lived more than 4,000 years ago, so what difference does it make now whether the flood was global? This is an important issue because, if the Bible states there was a global flood, but geological and other evidence proves that is not true, the Bible is discredited. As has been shown in this article, it is not an absolute requirement for belief in the Bible to necessarily correspond with an inflexible belief in a global flood. Believers may respectfully debate this issue without malice. Whether someone believes the flood was global or local is not relevant to his or her salvation.
Conclusion: The most important point
Whether Noah’s flood was global or local is inconsequential if each of us is not on the “ark” today. What is meant by that? As with some other historical accounts in the Old Testament, the ark Noah built symbolizes salvation through Jesus Christ.
“…in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21).
Noah believed the ark would save him from judgment. Each of us needs to be certain we are saved from judgment by belief in the “ark”, which is Christ.
[Biblical quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.]
James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 1297.
W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 83-84.
James Strong et. al., 1515.
W. E. Vine, p. 66.
James Strong et. al., 1516.
Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), 145.
Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe website, “Exploring the Extent of the Flood: Part One”, 25 Apr 2009,
Christiananswers.net website, “Where did the floodwaters go?” 29 Apr 2009,
A. R. Wallace, Man’s Place in the Universe, (New York, NY: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1903), 225-226,
Ken Ham and Tim Lovett, Answers in Genesis website, “Was There Really a Noah’s Ark and Flood?”, published 11 Oct 2007, accessed 2 May 2009, < http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/really-a-flood-and-ark#fnList_1_14>.
Richard L. Deem, God and Science website, “The Genesis Flood: Why the Bible says it Must be Local”, 26 Apr 2009, <http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/localflood.html>