Author: Ron Graham
The book of Genesis describes a great flood which destroyed the world. Only four women and four men survived. The four men were Noah, and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and the women were their wives. The question occasionally arises as to whether this flood was universal or local. Did it cover Planet Earth entirely, or the vicinity of Mesopotamia only?
Memories of a great flood are world-wide. Those originating in the vicinity of Mesopotamia are closest to the Genesis account (for example the second tablet of the Babylonian Epic of Gilmesh). It is moot as to whether a world-wide or local flood is indicated by these facts. We must rely on the Genesis account.
Various statements in the Genesis account show the flood to be universal. Let's look at those statements, and see what light they shed on the question...
The flood brought about "the end of all flesh" —all land-dwelling and air-breathing creatures perished. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark (Genesis 6:7,13, 7:21-23).This shows that the deluge was as wide as the habitation of birds, land animals, and men.
Genesis further says that everyone in the world today is descended from those who came out of the ark, Noah and his sons, and their wives. God said to them, as he had said to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Genesis 9:l), and so, "From the sons of Noah, the whole earth was populated" (Genesis 9:18-19).
The flood, according to Genesis, came about because God saw that "the earth was filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11-13). This does not sound like a local problem. A flood covering only part of earth would not eradicate the violence filling the whole earth.
The flood covered all high mountains. "All the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered" (Genesis 7:19,20). It would be hard to explain this in terms of a local flood.
The flood lasted a year. The deluge started in the second month one year, and the flood did not abate until the second month of the next year (Genesis 7:11, 8:13-14). It is hard to explain why a local flood would take so long to drain away.
The ark was the only place of refuge. The ark was "to keep them alive". There was no other place to go in order to escape the flood (Genesis 6:19-20). If the flood was local, it is hard to explain why people and animals near its edge could not escape to dry land.
God promised that he would never flood the earth again. To this day the rainbow reminds us of this good promise (Genesis 8:20-22, 9:11-17). If this promise was about a local flood, then God has broken it. Many great floods have happened since. On a planetary scale however, the waters are under remarkable control. We recall that in the beginning the waters of our world were in chaos, before God divided them and gathered them together (Genesis 1:1-2, 6-10). This planet is a watery world. Under the earth, in the deep, upon the poles, and in the sky, there is an unimaginable quantity of water.
The dry lands of our planet and the creatures who dwell in those lands, live only by the grace of our Lord Jesus, who "holds everything together" according to the ancient promise (Colossians 1:16-17). No more will he unleash those waters upon his creatures. Never before had he done it, either, because God had forewarned Noah "of things not previously seen" (Hebrews 11:7). The flood Noah survived was unique in world history. Surely that means more than an all-time record for local floods.
Peter's commentary on the Genesis account confirms that the flood was universal. Peter says that in the beginning God, by his word, made the heavens and earth out of water and in water. However that created world was later deluged with water and perished under water. This Peter believes. Furthermore, Peter warns that the heavens and earth that emerged from that flood will also be destroyed, not by water, but by fire. We will then live in a new heavens and a new earth (2Peter 3:3-7,10-13).
In Peter's view, the flood was as extensive as the heavens and earth of the original creation, and of the present world. There is no reason for us to understand the Genesis account of the flood differently to Peter. It should be no surprise to us that Peter understood the Genesis account of the great flood in this way. We have seen no fewer than seven reasons, from the account itself, for understanding it as Peter did. The flood was universal.