The Flood (1)

By Mike Willis

In recent months, much has been written about the days of creation as a result of recent teaching that the days of creation are long ages and the teaching that the creation days are separated by long eons of time to allow natural evolutionary processes to develop the earth as we know it. Much has been written to address this issue.

This article is designed to discuss the flood. When men use extra-biblical evidences to reason that creation could not have occurred in six literal consecutive days, they allow extra-biblical sources to have final authority over their faith. Those same extra-biblical sources that deny a six-day creation also deny a universal flood. This article is a preemptive strike against any who might deny the Genesis narrative of a universal flood and who might affirm that Genesis 6-8 describes a local flood. 

The Biblical Flood

Genesis 4 relates the growth of sin that led to fratricide, Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. After listing the eight generations of Adam’s descendants through Cain, the narrative culminates in Lamech’s slaying of a young man and then boastfully defying anyone who attempts to avenge his death (4:23).

Genesis 5:1-6:8 forms the section of Genesis known as “The Book of the Generations (toledoth) of Adam” (5:1). Chapter 5 lists Adam’s descendants through Seth through ten generations, down to Noah’s sons (5:31-32). It climaxes in a description of the wickedness of the world brought on by the intermarriage of the “sons of God” (not a reference to angels, but an ethical description of those descendants of Seth who “call upon the name of the Lord” — 4:26) with the “daughters of men” (an ethical description of wicked women). The whole generation was corrupted.

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (6:5).

God determined to execute judgment against the wickedness of the world. He said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them” (6:7). The section concludes with the statement that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8).
Structure of the Flood Narrative
Genesis 6:9-9:29 forms the section in Genesis known as “The Generations (toledoth) of Noah.” Largely this section narrates the flood. The outline of the section is as follows:

6:9-13 — God tells Noah of his intention to the destroy the world.
6:14-22 — God commands Noah to build an ark, specifying the dimensions. Noah obeyed the Lord’s commandments.
7:1-6 — God commands Noah to enter the ark.
7:7-24 — The Flood waters prevail.
8:1-5 — The Flood waters recede.
8:6-14 — Noah sends out the raven and dove to determine if the ground is dry.
8:15-19 — God commands Noah to depart from the ark.
 8:20-22 — Noah offers sacrifice to God.
 9:1-17 — God makes a covenant never again to destroy the world with a flood.
9:18-29 — Noah’s sin of drunkenness and the judgment on the descendants of Ham.

For a discussion of the structure of the flood narrative see Wenham (Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-18, 155-158). Wenham cites B.W. Anderson’s analysis of the structure of the Flood narrative in its extended chiasmus structure:

Transitional introduction (6:9-10)
1. Violence in creation (6:11-12)
2. First divine speech: resolve to destroy (6:13-22)
3. Second divine speech: “enter ark” (7:1-10)
4. Beginning of flood (7:11-16)
5. The rising flood (7:17-24)
God remembers Noah
6. The receding flood (8:1-5)
7.    Drying of the earth (8:6-14)
8. Third divine speech: “leave ark” (8:15-19)
9. God’s resolve to preserve order (8:20-22)
10. Fourth divine speech: covenant (9:1-17)
Transitional conclusion (9:18-19) (Wenham 156)

Note the correspondence of the sections: 1-10, 2-9, 3-8, 4-7, 5-6. This orderly structure makes the concept of an editor carelessly putting together two or more documents a difficult position to defend.

Another structure in the narrative pertains to the days which may be outlined as below:

7 days until the flood comes (7:4)
40 days and 40 nights of rain (7:12)
150 days of the waters prevailing (7:24)
 God remembered Noah (8:1)
150 days of the waters declining when the ark rested on Ararat (8:3)
40 days of continued drying at the end of which Noah sent out birds (8:6)
7 days after the raven was sent out, Noah sent out the first dove (8:10)
7 days after the first dove, he sent out the second dove (8:12)

One should observe the correspondence in the numbers (with the exception of the last group of seven days).  Both of these structural analyses emphasize the unity of the Genesis narrative in contrast to the composite authorship interpretation suggested by modernist commentaries (see for example, Skinner, Westermann, Gunkel, Von Rad, Brueggemann, etc.).

The narrative of Genesis has God speaking to Noah in these texts:

6:13-22 — God tells Noah of his intention to destroy the world and gives him instructions on building the ark.
7:1-4 — God tells Noah to enter the ark.
8:15-19 — God instructs Noah to leave the ark.
    9:1-17 — God makes a covenant with Noah.

There is not one word recorded as the thoughts of Noah. This will have significance in later comments about the language used in describing the flood.

Widespread Belief in a Universal Flood

Aside from the common belief in creation, there is not another common belief among the races of mankind more extensive than belief in the flood. There are many existing traditions of a universal flood that are told in numerous languages (see Lange 293-296 for a listing of them from West Asiatic, East Asiatic, Grecian, those outside contact with the Old World [Celts, Mexicans from Cuba, Peruvians], Egyptians, and other cultures). Westermann states that there is no Old Testament story that has as many extra-biblical parallels as the flood. “The collection of R. Andree (1891) contains 88 texts; J.G. Frazer (1919; 1923) has assembled 250 texts covering almost 100 pages; J. Riem’s collection (1906; 1925) offers 302 texts” (402). He said, “We can say at once that the flood narrative like the creation narrative is part of the common property of humanity” (395). However, two particular ancient narratives are of interest, both of which come from the region near Babylon, because of their similarities to the biblical narrative:

1. The Gilgamesh Epic. The Gilgamesh epic relates that man was created out of clay. Enkidu lived in perfect harmony with beasts until he had sex with an harlot; he lost his strength and was changed in nature. He developed a fear of death. The flood came from the gods who gave instructions to build a boat with decks; they gave the dimensions of the boat, and instructions for its roof. The seed of all living things were put in it. The boat was pitched with bitumen. Gilgamesh put his family and animals on board. The flood lasted seven days and all mankind was destroyed. As the waters subsided the boat rested on a mountain. Gilgamesh released doves, a swallow, and a raven. At the end of the flood, he made a sacrifice to the gods after leaving the boat. 

2. The Atrahasis Epic. According to this narrative, the flood comes because the gods were irritated by the noise of men. The gods first sent a disease, then a drought, and finally a flood. Atrahasis is warned by Enki beforehand to build a boat. The boat has several decks and is pitched with bitumen. Atrahasis puts animals on the ship. The rain lasts seven days and seven nights. Sacrifices are offered to the gods after the flood is over. Also, the flood may have come because of sin.

The similarities between these accounts are too close to be accidental. The explanations suggested are these: (1) Maximalists: Moses took the Sumerian history and revised it to fit his purposes. (2) Minimalist: Both narratives come from a common history of a universal flood. Various scholars hold positions somewhere in between. My position is minimalist. If a universal flood occurred, all cultures descended from the survivors and transmitted to their posterity a record of that flood, as supported by Frazer’s finding 250 flood stories. The biblical narrative is divinely revealed; those from other cultures contain the errors that would naturally creep in through the re-telling of the flood story through the centuries. As it stands, the common heritage of a flood story from many different cultures lends support to the historicity of the biblical narrative of a universal flood.

Those who explain the flood as a local inundation have no adequate explanation of the common heritage of a universal flood from so many different cultures.

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Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 21  p2  November 2, 2000