On Tuesday, one Christian apologist accused another of “accepting man’s pagan religion” and mutilating God’s Word by arguing that the flood in Genesis 6-9 was local, not global. Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham — a believer in six calendar days of creation — leveled this serious accusation against Reasons to Believe Founder Hugh Ross, who accepts an old earth as revealed in mainstream geology. Old-earth creationists like Ross argue that the flood in Genesis was geographically local. Young-earth creationists like Ham claim that old earthers prioritize science over the text of the Bible.
“Because Hugh Ross so compromises by accepting man’s pagan religion of evolutionary geological naturalism, he mutilates God’s holy word as he tries to justify his blatant compromise and disregard of what the Scriptures clearly teach,” Ham posted on Facebook. “Such people as Hugh Ross and his organization are undermining the authority of God’s Word and are part of the reason for the exodus of generations from the church.”
Yet Ross — an astronomer by training — argued that the Bible supports both an old earth and a geographically local flood, and people like Ham are actually reading their own ideas into the Bible out of fear that the theory of evolution might undermine Christianity. In the process, they overlook the original context for Genesis and ignore what the rest of the Bible says about creation and the flood.
“The Bible rules out the possibility of a global flood,” Ross told PJ Media. “If you actually do a thorough Bible study, rather than just concluding that the flood must be global, you’ll end up discovering that yes, it’s universals to all humanity and to all the animals associated with them, but it’s not global to the whole earth.”
While modern Americans — who have a global perspective — may read Genesis as recounting a global flood, there are clues in both the Old and New Testaments showing that Jews and early Christians did not read it this way.
Rather than responding to Ham’s accusation that he has “mutilated God’s holy word,” Ross turned to the Bible itself. Referencing his book Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey through Genesis 1—11, Ross said he examined “every passage that’s relevant to the flood, not just Genesis 6-8. Most Christians aren’t aware of the content on the flood in Job and Psalms and 2 Peter.”
Young-earth creationists often accuse old-earth creationists of taking a low view of scripture, of suggesting that the Bible is not truly inerrant. On the contrary, Ross said, he takes a high view of scripture. “Let’s hold to biblical inerrancy all the way through,” not just for Genesis, he urged.
In the New Testament, the apostle Peter twice refers to the flood. He writes that God “did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5) and that “by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (2 Peter 3:5-6).
In these verses, Peter — who had often spoken with Jesus — insisted that the flood destroyed the “ancient world” and “the world of that time.” He made a distinction between the world (cosmos) that his readers understood — the Roman world — and the world as it was then conceived — likely Mesopotamia. “I think everyone would agree that ungodly humans at that time had not inhabited Antarctica or Greenland,” Ross quipped.
Other Bible verses also suggest that the flood could not have covered the entire globe.
In Job 38, God declares that He “shut in the sea with doors … and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’ ” (Job 38:8-11).
In Proverbs 8, the personification of Wisdom says of God, “When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep … when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth” (Proverbs 8:27-29).
In Psalm 104, the psalmist praises the God who “set the earth on its foundations,” saying, “You covered its with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled … The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth” (Psalm 104:5-9).
Ross argued that this passage “is covering creation day three when God transforms our earth from a water world into oceans and continents. Water will never again cover the whole face of the earth. That explicitly rules out the possibility that the flood of Noah was geographically global.”
The Reasons to Believe founder also noted that the flood’s purpose in Genesis 6-8 is not geological but moral. “Yes, all of humanity was impacted by the flood and all soul-ish animals,” he explained. Noah’s ark need not have saved every species of animal, because only some species could be impacted by human sin.
“The book of Leviticus shows the damage of human reprobation. If a soul-ish animal that’s owned by a human being is goring other animals or human beings, the owner of the cow is to be talked to. If the cow continues, the cow is to be killed and the owner along with him. The animal is behaving viciously because the owner is vicious,” Ross explained.
“God designed these soul-ish animals to bond with human beings and in that bond to serve and please those humans. If they’re bonded to a wicked human being, what’s going to bring pleasure to that human is vicious behavior,” he added. When the Israelites enter the land of Canaan, for instance, God sometimes tells them to kill all the men and women but to keep the children and animals. In other cases, God tells them to kill all the animals along with the humans. In these cases, the humans have corrupted their animals, so both are irredeemable, Ross argued.
“So in the model that I have for the flood, there are no emperor penguins, polar bears, no kangaroos on the ark. Because I believe that humans had not reached those areas so those animals had not been impacted by human sin,” he explained.
Finally, Ross addressed Genesis 7:22, which says the waters of the flood covered the highest mountains. “That word can also mean hills.” The word for “cover” is also vague. Perhaps most importantly, when Noah releases a dove, the bird comes back with a leaf from an olive tree. Olive trees do not grow on high mountains, so there must have been low-lying hills or foothills within flying distance of the ark.
“Ken Ham believes that I believe in a flood that was universal for humans but not global for scientific reasons. I actually hold my position for biblical reasons. It was 100 percent biblical evidence,” Ross told PJ Media.
“As I read through all of the creation texts in the Bible, I am forced to draw the conclusion that it’s not talking about a young earth, it’s talking about an old earth. I can demonstrate that to you without any reference to science whatever.”
Ironically, young-earth creationists may be more influenced by modern science, Ross suggested. He described being perplexed when he first met young-earth creationists. He wondered where they got their views, and concluded that “a fear of Darwinian evolution is behind the whole movement.”
Yet Ross also insisted that it is not “helpful” for Christians to accuse one another of having “mutilated God’s holy word.”
“Non-Christians watch our internal debates. If we’re not treating each other with charity, they’re not going to trust us,” he said. In that spirit, he praised Ken Ham for holding “the Bible in high regard.”
“But I think he takes the view that he’s the only one who takes it that way. I believe in the authority of the Bible just as much as he does. It’s a matter of interpretation — not just of one book of the Bible, but all sixty-six books of the Bible.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.