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Noah & The Flood: Fact or Fable?

If someone asks you, “Why do you believe in Noah & the Ark and the great flood?” how do you answer?

We know that among the common myths of the world’s history, the memory of a worldwide flood is widespread. So what are we to make of this? Is the biblical account just another version of a popular myth – or, as Francis Schaeffer argues in his book Genesis in Space and Time, does the prevalence of myths about a great flood point to the historical testimony of the biblical account?

“From China to the American Indians and even the pre-Colombian Indians, one finds in strange forms the myth of the great flood. Most of these myths have weird elements – foolish elements, for example the descriptions of the boat that was used. In the Bible these strange and foolish elements are not there. We would say, then, that the Bible gives the history of the flood; the myths all over the world are contorted, but show that men everywhere have a memory of it. Here in the Bible is the one flood story whose details, including the construction of the vessel, are reasonable.”

The Bible records this story of Noah & the flood as historical fact – there’s no indication in the text that we are to read this as a mythical fable with a spiritual meaning. No, the very text of Scripture itself is at pains to convey that this happened on a particular date in history.

For instance, notice the specific attention given to dates in the narrative. In Genesis 7:11 we read, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” This specificity continues throughout the account.

But the most compelling evidence for the historicity of the flood comes from looking at how the rest of Scripture treats Genesis 6-9. Ultimately, I believe that a true understanding of Scripture will never contradict a true understanding of science. But we need to start with Scripture, not with geology or archaeology. How firm a foundation is laid for our faith in God’s excellent Word! God’s Word is uniquely powerful and convincing. The Holy Spirit speaks and brings conviction and assurance through this Word.

So you don’t need to travel to the mountains of Ararat in far eastern Turkey & Armenia to prove that Noah’s Ark existed. You don’t need to find a piece of the wood of the Ark, any more than you need to find a piece of the wood from Christ’s Cross, to believe that the Bible is true. What you need is the conviction and assurance of the Spirit. You need faith – just like Noah needed faith to build that ark for 120 years in the middle of a desert.

So where would you go in Scripture? You’d go first to the prophets like Isaiah, who records God saying:

“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you" (Isa. 54:9).

For Isaiah, the covenant God made with Noah provides certainty for God’s future promises.

Then you’d go supremely to Jesus, who taught in Matthew 24:37,

“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Our Lord links the certainty of his second coming to the historical fact of God’s judgment in the days of Noah. There clearly is no doubt in Jesus’ mind that God really did destroy the world with a flood in ancient history.

Finally, you’d go to the apostles of Jesus, like Peter, who taught that the great flood of God’s judgment is a warning, a foreshadowing, of the end of the world, when the Lord returns and dissolves this world by fire and brings about a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Listen to the testimony of the Apostle Peter:

“... you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly"      (2 Pet. 3:2-7).

Isn’t it striking that Peter says that scoffers “deliberately overlook [the] fact” of the great flood? There’s something about this historical event that makes us shudder. An unbelieving mind does not want to face the fact of the flood head-on; our natural (sinful) inclination is to deliberately overlook this biblical fact. Why is that? I suspect that one of the main reasons we don’t want to accept the historicity of the flood is because we don’t want to face the certainty of final judgment.

So in the minds of the prophets, the apostles, and our Savior himself, the flood in the time of Noah was a real event in history pointing to the rock-solid reliability of God’s promises, and the certainty of an event in the future, when the purifying fire of God’s judgment will engulf the heavens and the earth. May we learn from this what sort of people we ought to be, “in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:11-13).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Pastor David Sunday


For further reference see:

Schaeffer, Francis. Genesis in Space & Time (Downers Grove: IVP, 1972), pp. 129-134.