Question: Doesn't the Bible say that the continents were divided immediately after the Flood?

Table of Contents

Question: Doesn't the Bible say that the continents were divided immediately after the Flood?

At least a few leaders of the Church have been of this view that the continents were divided during or after the Flood

Prominently, prior to becoming president of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that

in the beginning all of the land surface was in one place as it was in the days of Peleg, (Genesis 10:25.) that the earth was divided. Some Bible commentators have concluded that this division was one concerning the migrations of the inhabitants of the earth between them, but this is not the case. While this is but a very brief statement, yet it speaks of a most important event. The dividing of the earth was not an act of division by the inhabitants of the earth by tribes and peoples, but a breaking asunder of the continents, thus dividing the land surface and creating the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere. [1]

John Taylor also expressed similar views, albeit more briefly. [2] It is perhaps important to note that then-Elder Smith wrote that "By looking at a wall map of the world, you will discover how the land surface along the northern and southern coast of the American Hemisphere and Europe and Africa has the appearance of having been together at one time." [3] Elder Smith was writing between 1953 and 1966; modern continental drift theory was only beginning to gain acceptance during this period (even by 1977, a geology textbook would note that "a poll of geologists now would probably show a substantial majority who favor the idea of drift," while also providing a substantial critique of the theory. [4]

It is difficult to know, then, if Elder Smith would have revised his view of the implication that continents "fit," jigsaw-puzzle-like, into each other had he been aware of some of the later evidence. He was certainly humble enough to renounce other views which he had expressed which contradicted later scientific advances.

Scriptures that refer to the earth being "divided" refer to groups of people being separated

A few scriptures, then, refer to the earth being divided:

Genesis 10:25 and 1 Chronicles 1:19: And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg; because in his days the earth was divided: and his brother’s name was Joktan.
D&C 133:24: And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.

There is no serious biblical scholarship that reads these verses as implying a rapid drift of the continents

The verses in Genesis and 1 Chronicles are describing the descendants of Shem. LDS scholar Hugh Nibley viewed Genesis 10:25 (which says that in the days of Peleg "the earth was divided") as meaning "the earth was divided among the children of Noah." There is no serious biblical scholarship that reads these verses as implying a rapid drift of the continents—partly because such an idea would have been utterly foreign to writers in that time period. Some members have preferred to take the reading of Elder Smith as described above.

Note that a belief that the continents were physically divided during the flood contradicts the belief that the Garden of Eden was on the Western continent, since there would have been no "Western hemisphere" prior to the Flood. At best one would have to say that the Garden of Eden was on the same continent that the modern Middle East is on, but that it was a little further west than believed by traditional fundamentalist Christians.

See also: Peleg

Notes

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1957–1966), 5:73. ISBN 1573454400. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. John Taylor, Government of God (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1852), 110. off-site
  3. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1957–1966), 5:73. ISBN 1573454400. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) For essentially the same argument, see also 4:22; Church History and Modern Revelation (1947), 2:35; and Man: His Origin and Destiny (1954), 385, 421–422. Note that these sources are all even earlier, and likewise predate modern continental drift data and theory. President David O. McKay was clear on multiple occasions that the latter volume represented only President Smith's personal opinions, and were not Church doctrine (see here and here).
  4. Richard A. Davis, Principles of Oceanography, 2nd edition, (Addison-Wesley, 1977), ISBN 0201014645. For more on continental drift theory's history and development, see wikipedia.org off-site.