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The biblical flood has long been the subject of extensive and heated debate. What we want to do in this lesson is explore primarily what the Bible has to say about the flood from the point of view of the stories themselves and then ask questions about what science can contribute to the discussion. In the process we will try our best to listen carefully — both to the Bible and to science.

Relevant Biblical Passages:

Gen 6-9 — account of events surrounding the flood of Noah
Heb 11:7 — passage about Noah’s flood in the list of Hebrew worthies
2 Pet 2:4-5; 3:3-6 — flood as foretaste of coming judgment

Issues for Discussion

Reading the story of the flood in Gen 6-9 is an adventure in itself. Some of the salient issues commentators on the passage bring to our attention are the following:

–the place this narrative occupies in Gen 1-11. Genesis 1-11, known as the Primeval Prologue to biblical history, records a downward spiral into chaos and disaster, based on five major points of rebellion: Adam & Eve — Gen 3 / Cain & Abel — Gen 4:1-16 / Lamech ­ Gen 4:17-24 / Ante-diluvians ­ Gen 6 / Tower of Babel — Gen 11. Justice and divine mercy appear throughout, with the emphasis on the disaster of human sin and the power of divine grace.

–the form of the text as we have it reflects that we have two stories pulled together by the inspired author. This becomes apparent when we see virtually the same material repeated and when we watch carefully for changes in the name for God throughout the account (for example, 6:5-8 speaks of evil in the world and the selection of Noah [consistently using the name “the Lord”], as does 6:11-13 [consistently using the name “God”] / 6:19-22 lists the number of animals [two of every sort][using the name “God”], as does 7:1-5 [seven pairs of clean and one pair of the unclean][using the name “the Lord”] / 7:6-10 gives Noah’s age [600 years] and the note that after seven days the flood came, as does 7:11-16 give Noah’s age [and the note that on that very day the flood came] / etc. throughout the account.

–identity and role of “sons of God.” Genesis 6:1-4 has occasioned no end of discussion about the cause of the flood, the identity of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” and what they did and the identity of the “Nephilim.” Whenever the term “sons of God” occur elsewhere in the Old Testament, they are angelic beings, but does this make sense? Sons of God as sons of Seth and daughters as daughters of Cain may make more sense biologically, but not exegetically. Lots of literature from the time between the Testaments about this (Jubilees, Enoch, 4 Esdras, etc.) and some intriguing New Testament passages (1 Pet 3:13-22 and Jude 6-7, etc.) as well.

–world-view and cosmology. How did the ancients view the world: as a sphere? As a disc with supporting pillars and vaulted dome of the heavens, like all others in the area until the 8th or 7th century BC?

–issues of science (evidence for a flood or not?)

What Difference Does it Make?

Why is it important how we understand and interpret this knowledge of the Bible and science? How can we make sure we don’t lose sight of the main purpose of the flood account?

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