The ESV Study Bible on creation — Noah’s flood

The ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, and is certainly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever produced. It has been out for only three years, but it looks like it will be a highly influential reference work for decades to come. 

One potential positive impact of the ESVSB relates to its treatment of the doctrine of creation. The ESVSB does not take a stand on geological issues such as the age of the Earth or the extent of the flood. In both of these cases it offers cautionary notes that could open the doors to old-Earth interpretations for many readers. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

My hope and prayer is that, just as the Scofield Reference Bible led many to accept the Gap Theory (rather than young-Earth interpretations) a century ago, so the ESVSB will introduce Christians of our day to alternative viewpoints on Genesis 1, such as the analogical days and day-age interpretations.

This is my third article on the ESV Study Bible’s coverage of issues related to the doctrine of creation. My first two posts were:

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

ESVStudyBibleThe ESV Study Bible‘s notes on the extent of Noah’s flood are not as comprehensive in some ways as were the notes on Genesis 1, but they still contain a lot of useful information to help the reader better understand the text. I have already noted that the ESVSB’s introductory notes to Genesis state that one should be cautious and not read too much into what the text of Genesis 6-9 says about the extent (global or local?) and work of the flood. The ESVSB Introduction to Genesis states:

One must take similar care in reading the flood story. The notes will discuss the extent to which Moses intended to describe the flood’s coverage of the globe. Certainly the description of the flood implies that it was widespread and catastrophic, but there are difficulties in making confident claims that the account is geared to answering the question of just how widespread. Thus, it would be incautious to attribute to the flood all the geological formations observed today…

The notes on 6:17 discuss the extent of the flood:

Although God intends the flood to destroy every person and his remarks have a strong universal emphasis, this in itself does not necessarily mean that the flood had to cover the whole earth. Since the geographical perspective of ancient people was more limited than that of contemporary readers, it is possible that the flood, while universal from their viewpoint, did not cover the entire globe. Indeed, Genesis implies that prior to the Tower of Babel incident (see 11:1–9), people had not yet spread throughout the earth. Many interpreters, therefore, argue that a huge regional flood may have been all that was necessary for God to destroy all human beings. The expression “all the earth” (7:3; cf. 8:9, “the whole earth”) does not exclude such a possibility: later, “all the earth” came to Joseph to buy grain (41:57), in which “all the earth” clearly refers to the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. In support of the view that the flood covered all the earth, other interpreters point out that the text says that “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” (7:19) and that the water was “fifteen cubits” above the tops of the mountains. If “the mountains of Ararat” (8:4) refers to the range that includes present-day Mount Ararat in Turkey (elevation 16,854 feet or 5,137 m), the amount of water necessary to cover it would be at least 16,854 feet above sea level.

The first part of this note won’t make all old-Earth advocates happy, and is in line with the writings of Hugh Ross, a prominent day-age interpretation advocate. It does bring out some important considerations:

  • The importance of perspective: from Noah’s perspective, a vast flood in the Persian Gulf/Mesopotamian basin (if that is where the local flood occurred) would have seemed vast, covering everything as far as he could see. That doesn’t mean that the flood necessarily covered the entire spherical earth.
  • Clearly, “all the earth” doesn’t always mean “all the earth” in the Old Testament.
  • The flood did not necessarily have to be global in order to be universal in terms of humanity.

I’ve written more about the extent of Noah’s flood elsewhere.

The second part of the ESVSB note on 6:17 presents what many young-Earth creationists would consider to be a weak case for a global flood. Most of them acknowledge that the flood didn’t have to be over 16,000 feet deep to cover the entire planet if pre-flood mountains were not that tall. But even aside from that, there are other ways to read what the text says about the depth of the flood (click on the “elsewhere” link above).

The notes don’t say much more about the extent of the flood, and say nothing about its work. But enough has been said to show that the text of Genesis 6-9 does not require a global flood, and there is certainly nothing in the text that would lead us to assert on Biblical grounds that the flood laid down the sedimentary rocks that blanket much of the planet.

Grace and Peace

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