I believe the flood of Noah was universal but not global. By universal, I mean that the entire human race and all of the nephesh (soulish) animals associated with humans were wiped out by the flood except for those humans and animals that were on board Noah’s ark. Virtually all Christians who adhere to a global flood insist that I hold my belief because I am persuaded that scientific evidence eliminates the possibility of a global flood. They say that I trust science more than I trust the Bible and that my model for Noah’s flood is founded on my insistence that science trumps what the Bible clearly declares.
The truth of the matter is that I am convinced that the Bible itself eliminates the possibility of a global flood. The primary reason for why some people think the Bible teaches that Noah’s flood was global in extent is that they presume the Bible’s message on Noah’s flood is limited to Genesis 6–8. As I have written in my book Navigating Genesis, there is more content relevant to Noah’s flood in the other 65 books of the Bible than there is in Genesis. To put it another way, with respect to the Bible, not all of the answers are in Genesis.
In this article I will only briefly highlight some of the biblical reasons for why the extent of Noah’s flood must be universal to all humanity but not global. Those wanting a thorough explanation and documentation can read the relevant parts of Navigating Genesis.1
Twice in his second epistle, Peter addresses the extent of Noah’s flood. In both cases, Peter qualifies the Greek word cosmos, translated as “world.” In 2 Peter 2:5 he writes that the “world of the ungodly” was flooded. Here, Peter implies a distinction between the whole of planet Earth and that part of Earth inhabited by ungodly human beings. He does this again in 2 Peter 3:6 where he refers to the world that was deluged and destroyed as cosmos tote, which literally means “the world at the time the event occurred.” By attaching the adjective tote to cosmos, Peter implies that the world of Noah is not the same as the world of the Roman Empire.
The limitations that Peter imposes upon Noah’s flood are consistent with a great many biblical texts that declare the doctrine that God’s judgment wrath is always limited to the extent of human reprobation. An obvious example is God’s refusal to wipe out the Amorites living in the hills of Canaan at the time that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.2
Perhaps the strongest biblical constraints on the extent of Noah’s flood are in the creation texts in Job, Psalms, and Proverbs that address the third day creation event of God forming the continental landmasses. For example, Psalm 104:6–8 reads: