Question: Why does the Church teach that the flood was a global event?

Table of Contents

Question: Why does the Church teach that the flood was a global event?

Without a doubt, the flood is always treated as a global event as it is taught by Church leaders

Without a doubt, the flood is always treated as a global event as it is taught by Church leaders. This is not likely to ever change, since it is based directly upon a straightforward reading of the scriptures. The challenge comes to those who examine scientific data showing the diversity of plant and animal life, and the millennia required to achieve such diversity. The story of a global deluge then appears to be at complete odds with scientific data, which may encourage some not only to doubt the scriptures, but to even question the existence of God. Therefore, can one believe that the Flood of Noah may have been of limited scope, yet still accept what is taught in Church? We examine the scriptures from the point of view of the prophets who wrote the story of the Flood in order to answer this question.

One must examine the scriptures from the point of view of the prophets who wrote the story of the Flood

Although this criticism is directed at the LDS church, it is really directed at anyone who believes in a literal reading of the Old Testament. LDS leaders have in the past taught the concept of a global flood based upon such a reading. Although the idea of the global flood has been used as an example, Church leaders have never stated that a belief in a global flood is necessary for salvation.

Genesis 7:19-23 reads:

19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
23 And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

A similar reference to the destruction of all flesh from off the earth is found in Latter-day scripture in Moses 8:25-30. These passages have long been interpreted to mean that the entire globe was covered by water (although some have pointed out that the reader is left to wonder how "the mountains were covered" by water "fifteen cubits" deep — approximately 23 feet.) The primary reason for this global interpretation is the use of the word "earth." When modern readers see the word "earth," they envision the entire planetary sphere. Dr. Duane E. Jeffery elaborates:

A critical issue in the Flood story in the King James Bible has to do with translations of the Hebrew words eretz and adamah as meaning the entire “earth.” What do these terms actually mean? It is widely recognized that Hebrew is a wonderful language for poets, since virtually every word has multiple meanings. But that same characteristic makes it a horrible language for precision. As it turns out, eretz and adamah can indeed be a geographical reference akin to what we usually mean by “the earth.” But it is not at all clear that the ancients had the concept of a spherical planet that you and I do. Many scholars argue that the Bible writers thought in terms of a flat earth that was covered by a bowl-shaped firmament into which the windows of heaven were literally cut..." [1]

The concept of a spherical earth did not appear in Jewish thought until the fourteenth or fifteenth century

In fact, the concept of a spherical earth "did not appear in Jewish thought until the fourteenth or fifteenth century." [2] The word "earth," as used in the Bible, simply refers to solid ground or land, as opposed to water (see Genesis 1:10 — "God called the dry land Earth; and...the waters called he Seas...."). It is, of course, possible that earlier prophets had a more advanced view of the nature of the earth—this perspective could, however, have been lost to later centuries and scribes.

The concept of a global flood has become further reinforced within the Church by the fact that Church leaders teach that the flood washed away the earth's wickedness (Baptism of the earth)

The concept of a global flood has become further reinforced within the Church by the fact that modern day prophets and apostles have taught that the flood washed away the earth's wickedness. For example, in 1880 Elder Orson Pratt stated that God "required our globe to be baptized by a flow of waters, and all of its sins were washed away, not one sin remaining." [3] Joseph Smith, Jr. taught that Noah was born to save seed of everything when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood. [4] Such wickedness could include man's wickedness, or it could imply a need for the earth itself to have a type of baptism.

Notes

  1. Duane E. Jeffery, "Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions," Sunstone no. (Issue #134) (October 2004), 31–32. off-site Jeffrey notes that ideas of a global flood may have resulted from a widespread local problem. A current hypothesis that has been gaining ground since 1998 is that a significant flooding event occurred in the area now occupied by the Black Sea. Evidence has been discovered which has led a number of researchers to believe that the Black Sea area was once occupied by a completely isolated freshwater lake at a much lower level than the ocean. The theory is that the sea level rose and eventually broke through the Bosporus shelf, resulting in a rapid flooding event which would have wiped out all life living along the shores of the lake (see p. 34). Whether this is the source for the Genesis flood remains conjecture.
  2. Duane E. Jeffery, "Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions," Sunstone no. (Issue #134) (October 2004), 30. off-site
  3. Orson Pratt, "The Earth's Baptism In Water," (1 Aug. 1880) Journal of Discourses 21:323.
  4. History of the Church 1:283; Evening and Morning Star, August 1832.