Keller: “Noah’s flood … was a regional flood”

One of the hot debates over how to interpret Genesis is what to make of Noah’s flood. Is it myth or history? Was is worldwide or local? Here is Tim Keller’s answer:

In order to be true to my own principle, I won’t bother you with information about the different views of the flood. Let me just lay out my own assumptions. I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a world-wide flood. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a world-wide flood seem to ignore too much the scientific evidence that there was no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend seem to ignore too much the trustworthiness of the Scripture. After Genesis 1, the rest of Genesis reads like historical narrative. If, it is asked, ‘what of the Biblical assertions that the flood covered every mountain over the whole earth (Gen.7:19,21), we should remember that the Bible often speaks of the ‘known world’ as the ‘whole world’ — compare Gen. 41:56,57; Acts 2:5,9-11; Col.1:23. (Tim Keller, Genesis: What Were We Put in the World to Do? [New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006],81)

It is interesting to compare his answer to what Peter Enns wrote over at BioLogos:

However, a balanced interpretation of Scripture does not force the reader to believe that the Flood was a worldwide phenomenon. The scientific and historical evidence summarized below supports the idea that the flood was indeed catastrophic, but that it was local, recent and limited in scope.

10 thoughts on “Keller: “Noah’s flood … was a regional flood”

  1. sedgegrass says:

    Aside from the obvious primary questions: ‘is Scripture reliable and how are we to interpret it?’, I am always amazed at how man always seems to be so self-assured about ‘facts’ and ‘scientific evidence’ in each successive generation. I am currently in the middle of doing some personal research on kidney disease. The one thing that has become obvious in this one little area of very specific study, is the complexity and the unknowns – despite incredible advances in medical knowledge- of the functions of just one common chemical in our bodies. Things just ten years ago that were held to be absolute, irrefutable facts about our metabolism, are regarded now as incomplete as blood-letting and leeching.

    On a more terrestrial matter, in my great-grandparents day, scientists wrote volumes about how plowing up the midwest of the country would change the atmospheric conditions and create rain to furnish bumper crops. People acted on this with a great land rush, plowed up the native turfs and created the infamous Dust Bowl.

    I am bothered by these assertions of absolute fact and evidence, knowing that as this Earth rolls around, new ideas will replace old ones and we may find ourselves clinging to disproved ‘facts’ that fall through our fingers like dust. Scripture, on the other hand, should serve as a rock beneath our inquiries and when we dig deep through the geological artifact, we should be assured that our limited discoveries must rest on Scriptura firma rather than simply terra firma.

  2. Rebecca Miller says:

    The main thrust of the flood account in the Bible is the wickedness of man, the righteous wrath of God, and His mercy. The whole debate misses the important message being conveyed.

  3. Eileen says:

    Applying that approach, let me lay out my own assumptions regarding the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe Christ’s resurrection happened, but that it was a spiritual resurrection, not a physical and bodily resurrection. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a physical and bodily resurrection seem to ignore too much the scientific evidence that there can be no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend seem to ignore too much the trustworthiness of the Scripture. Most of the gospels read as narrative, except for the parts where a narrative reading does not tally with settled science. I believe that a balanced approach to Scripture reveals that Job was speaking with figurative and poetic language when he said that his Redeemer lives and that he would yet see God in his flesh.

    I believe that, according to all scientific evidence, the known world of the flood era was bowl-shaped because otherwise Noah could have sailed over the mountains in the ark instead of landing on them. I believe that the humans who lived outside the known world of the flood era, however one defines that, were not exceedingly wicked and therefore it was not necessary for God to cleanse that part of the earth. This is probably because they were not actual physical descendants of Adam but were merely rising beast hominids who were not part of the Adamic tribe. I believe that rainbows only occur in the part of the world known at the time of the flood and that the rest of the earth is subject to total flooding at any moment since God never made a covenant wherein He promised never to flood the entire earth but only that part of the world known at the time of the flood.

  4. Rachel Miller says:

    Eileen~ excellent comment.

    Rebecca~ Eileen was showing how the same arguments that are made regarding the flood can be used to deny the resurrection. She was taking the “what does science say” argument to its logical conclusion. I know Eileen well and can confirm that she does indeed believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

  5. sedgegrass says:

    Eileen’s conclusive reasoning also points out the necessity of a complete ‘leap of faith’ – based solely on an individual’s personal subjectivity- by those who choose to formulate their own beliefs. Why would that belief be any more probable than the Scriptural account, especially when we are starting with the assumption that there is a supernatural ‘God’ and a spiritual reality?

    Can the same be said about a flood narrative? The Dust Bowl science is a good lesson in how presuppositions and prejudices have always infiltrated science. (In this case, developers and land speculators financed and supported this.) How much scientific inquiry is hindered by the understanding of a particular institution’s expectations on the scientist, or even more so, on it’s hiring standards? How much previous education is predicated on evolutionary belief, laying a framework of the mind that precludes all other plausible considerations?

    When Christians read evidences of the ‘facts’ of geology or anthropology, how far back are they willing to go to determine the source and the groundwork of that ‘objective’ scientist? Or the possible errors laid down beforehand, upon which his was built?

    This is why I think we must regard seeming contradictions as cautiously as we regard the heart of mankind- as prone to sin and error.

  6. Rebecca Miller says:

    Aahhhh! Glad to hear it. Now I see what she was doing. Yes, I agree. Science is not the infallible word of truth. If you set that up as your standard then there is no God and life came about by natural processes. Scientist are constantly proving one thing or another then a little while later what they thought to be true is proven wrong.

  7. Eileen says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. I absolutely believe the Scriptures are inerrant, infallible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, authoritative, complete and sufficient. I am fascinated by real science done by scientists who are humbly trying to understand Creation and Creation’s Creator. But I have lived long enough to see lots of settled science upended, so my faith in the claims of scientismists is exceedingly weak. We must ultimately choose where to place our faith, and I think that the highly-valued middle ground of “reasonableness” and “balance” is frequently enough quicksand rather than bedrock.

    Interestingly enough, Hunky Hubby and I watched NatGeo’s program on the deep oceans tonight. It seems that there are, among other amazing things, inexplicably (!) large debris and sediment fields there! But we are assured there is no evidence for a global flood…

  8. Rebecca Miller says:

    Part of our homeschool curriculum is to do nature study. On our last nature walk we looked an old stump very closely. There looked to be a grouping of hairy strands about 1/4 inch long growing on the decomposing stump. When we looked at it under a 5X magnification jeweler’s loupe it took our breath away. It looked like a prehistoric forest of braided trees. The intricate detail was amazing. No matter how small or large you go in your study of the creation you find order and complexity. A true testament to The Creator. Try as they may, scientist cannot explain the complexity and order on every level with their naturalistic philosophy. Science definitely does not have all the answers. To start with the conclusions of flawed scientists and read their conclusions into scripture will only lead to confusion and theological error. We need to start with the word of God and filter our observations of His creation through that sieve. I think we are all on the same page here.

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