Question of the Week: If Noah’s Flood was not global, why the reference in Genesis 7:19 to floodwaters covering the whole surface of the earth?
My Answer: First, the Bible repeatedly declares or implies that Noah’s Flood was not global in extent. Genesis 8, 2 Peter 2:5, 2 Peter 3:6–7, and Psalm 104:6–9 imply that it was only the world where ungodly people and their domesticated animals lived that was flooded. 2 Peter 2:5 states that God “brought the flood on the world of the ungodly.” 2 Peter 3:6 declares that “the world of that time perished when it was flooded.” In both these passages in 2 Peter, the Greek word kosmos is qualified, implying less than the entirety of Earth.
Psalm 104 is the longest of the creation psalms. It complements Genesis 1 in providing the scientific details of God’s creation works. Psalm 104:6–8 refers to creation day 3 in Genesis 1 when God transformed Earth from possessing only water on its surface to possessing both oceans and landmasses. Psalm 104:9 states that once landmasses appear on Earth’s surface, the newly formed landmasses will “set a boundary they [Earth’s surface waters] cannot cross; they will never cover the earth again.” This statement in Psalm 104 explicitly rules out the possibility that Noah’s Flood could be global in extent.
As for Genesis 7–8, context is everything. The whole face of the earth means something different for Noah than it does for us who live in the twenty-first century AD. It is the whole face of the earth that Noah, and in Genesis 8:9 the dove, could see from their perspectives. Notice that in Genesis 8:5 Noah, from his perspective on top of the ark, could see distant hills, whereas, later, the dove flying low over the receding waters could not. Note, too, the phrase in Genesis 8:9 about water covering the face of the earth is similar to the phrase in Genesis 7:19. The phrase in Genesis 7:19, “all the high mountains under the whole sky were covered,” could just as faithfully be translated, “all the elevated hills under the whole sky were covered.” The context for the whole sky is Noah on his ark. Genesis 7:19 declares that from on top of the ark at that time Noah could only see water from one horizon to the opposite horizon. For a detailed exegesis of biblical passages on Noah’s flood, see Navigating Genesis. Anyone can get a free chapter at reasons.org/ross.