WAS THE BIBLICAL FLOOD GLOBAL OR LOCAL?
It has been discussed many times from the 19th century, if the flood described in Genesis chapters 6 to 8, had a global scope or was just universal, meaning just local enough to kill all humans in existence at the time, and the animals that surrounded them.
Though traditionally Christians have understood the event to have global reach; from the time of biblical criticism, the idea extended, that if the flood was sent expressly to annihilate humanity, it would have been unnecessary to flood the whole planet to do it, and a local event could have achieved that.
THE ARGUMENTS FOR LOCAL FLOODING
There are three main reasons the ones who profess a local flooding hold:
1 – LIMITED POPULATION
Given the birth of humanity around Mesopotamia, it is assumed all humanity exited only around the Middle East. God only needed to flood from the coasts of the Mediterranean to Iran, and from Turkey to the Arabian Peninsula to annihilate all humans.
2 – THE WORD ‘ΚΌΣΜΟΣ’
2Peter 2:5 calls the area flooded ‘world’ (Κόσμοσ), which means the habitat we live in, not the physical planet itself.
In this case, only the ‘world’ of men could have been destroyed, not the whole planet which was not part of their world.
3 – THE WORD ‘חָרָבָה’ (CHARABAH)
In the same way, Genesis 7:22 speaks of the ‘land’ being flooded, not the planet, by the use of the word ‘Charabah’.
The argument gets deeper and complicated, trapped in specific terminology.
However, certain things are clear in Scripture, and from here we need to start any consideration.
1 – THE WORD ‘אֶרֶץ’ (ERETS)
The term ‘Erets’ is used every time the narrative of the flood is mentioned, as the area affected. This term means mostly ‘Earth’, but sometimes it can also refer to country or land, depending on the context.
By the inclusive language of the narrative, the reader cannot come to another conclusion that in this context, it is referring to the ‘Earth’, as a ‘planet’. This word is also used to talk about planet Earth in Genesis 1:1.
2 – THE DEPTH OF THE FLOOD
The flooding is said to have overpassed mount Everest over 15 Cubits (Around 6 and half meters), and from the moment started raining until Noah came from the ark, nearly a year passed (Genesis 7:12, 24; 8:4-6, 10, 12-14).
If the flooding had been local, it would have been impossible to submerge Mesopotamia under 6 meters of water over the highest mountain for nearly a year.
3 – THE NEED OF THE ARK
If the flooding would have been global, God could have translated Noah and his family to a dry land, unaffected by the rain. The fact that Noah was ordered to build the ark and save animals in it, it is indication that there was not a place to run away to. Animals could have survived if the flooding was local.
The whole contextual reference to the flooding seems terminal and without scape. The term “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” (Genesis 7:19), can hardly be taken as only meaning a section of the Earth.
If the flooding had been local there is a high possibility that the border people could have escaped, and the animals would have survived. No need to rescue them.
RESPONSE TO THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST
1 - Even though population was limited, still if God’s intention was to wipe out humans, the possibility exists that humans that lived at the edge of the flooding, could have saved themselves by scaping to dry land.
They died because they could not escape anywhere.
2 – The word ‘world’ (Kosmos), was used by Peter, because he referred to the habitat the ancients and which they lost. The fact that the habitat they knew disappeared, it does not take away the global scope of the flooding.
3 – The Hebrew term ‘Charabah’ or ‘land’ speaks of the death that occurred on the place the ancients lived, but does not deny that the flooding could have exceeded the ‘land’ they knew.
The study extends into other related texts, like Psalm 104:6-8; or the NT epistles, considering specific words and literary contexts, but overall, it seems that the Genesis narrative implies that the whole planet was covered once under water.