Noah’s Flood: Worldwide or Local?

Some Christians believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the Flood described in the book of Genesis (chapters 6–9) was a local event limited to the area where Noah lived, for example the Mesopotamian Valley region. Why? Primarily because of their perspectives on the fossil record and radiometric dating. They believe the fossil record was laid down over millions of years and know that a global flood would have disturbed those fossils. Yet, there is significant evidence that most of the fossil record was created by the Genesis Flood! By tracing genealogies in the Bible, we know the Flood occurred around ~4,400 years ago. Let’s take a look at eight reasons for believing the Genesis Flood was a global, catastrophic event.

Reason 1 – Massive geologic layers: The Genesis Flood laid down millions of cubic feet of sediment like sand and mud all over the globe. It soon hardened into rock. These layers contain most of the fossil record. Some of these massive layers, such as the Kaibab Upwarp in the Grand Canyon, are bent and even folded, proving they were laid down rapidly and then bent before hardening into rock. Otherwise they would have crumbled instead of bending.

Reason 2- Fossil record: The fossil record is world-wide and shows evidence of rapid burial. Specific examples include clam and oyster shells on mountain tops that were fossilized while still closed, fish buried in the process of eating other fish, and ichthyosaurs that were buried while giving birth. The Flood accounts for such widespread watery catastrophe.

Reason 3 – The Flood covered the highest mountains: Scripture says that the “waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits [about 22 feet]” (Genesis 7:18–20, emphasis added). Of course, the writer refers to the mountains of the pre-Flood world, which were much shorter than today’s tallest mountains. Since water seeks its own level, it would be impossible for the water to cover the highest mountains and still be only a local event.

Reason 4 – Purpose of the Flood: Due to widespread wickedness and violence, God decided to wipe out all of mankind, the land-dwelling animals and birds (except for those who were on the Ark). God said the earth “was corrupt and filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11–12), and that He was going to “bring floodwaters to destroy every creature on the face of the earth that has the breath of life in it” (Genesis 6:17). He also specifically mentioned people multiple times: “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created” (Genesis 6:7). Since it is highly improbable that all of the people on earth lived in the Mesopotamian Valley region, a local flood would not have accomplished God’s purpose.

Reason 5 – Use of the words “all” and “every” and “everything” in Genesis chapters 6–9: The words “all,” “every” and “everything” are used 66 times in the Genesis Flood account. Many of these verses describe the creatures and people that perished during the flood. It is very clear by the context of these passages that God meant He was going to destroy all living creatures that live on land (except for those on the Ark). For example: “Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark” (Genesis 7:21–23, emphasis added). If the text doesn’t mean what it says, then it means nothing. Jesus and Peter also referred to the universality of Noah’s Flood. Who are we (who were not even there) to say that they were wrong?

Reason 6 – The Ark: it took over 100 years to build the Ark. If the Flood was just a local event, why would God tell Noah to build a ship over 400 feet long (Genesis 6:15) and then bring on board all the different kinds of animals including birds to be saved? (Genesis 6:19–21). If the flood was only a local event, there would be no need for an ark—Noah and the animals that God wanted to save would have had plenty of time to travel to a safer area.

Reason 7 – God’s covenant: in Genesis 9:11, God made a promise, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” If the flood was local, then every time a local flood happens, God would break his promise.

Reason 8 – Jesus believed in a global flood: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26–27). Peter also affirmed a worldwide Flood (2 Peter 3:6).

We recommend the following resources for more study: