The Bible’s Viewpoint
The Flood—Fact or Fable?
‘And all the animals went into the ark to Noah, two by two.’—Genesis 7:8, 9.
WHO has not heard of the Flood of Noah’s day? Probably you have known the story from childhood. Indeed, if you go to the local library to investigate the Flood, you may find many more books written for children on the subject than for adults. Thus, you may decide to treat the Flood account as merely a bedtime story. Many feel that the Noachian Flood account, along with much of the rest of the Bible, is nothing more than a fable or, at best, a moral lesson concocted by man.
Surprisingly, even some who claim to rest their religious beliefs on the Bible doubt that the Flood actually occurred. Catholic priest Edward J. McLean once stated that the story of Noah was meant to be interpreted, not as history, but as “an allegory or literary form.”
However, is the Flood narrative in the Bible only an allegory, never meant to be treated literally? Does the Bible itself permit such a view?
Consider first the record made by Moses in the book of Genesis. There, we find the specific year, month, and day when the torrent began, when the ark came to rest, and when the earth dried off. (Genesis 7:11; 8:4, 13, 14) Although specific dates are not always recorded elsewhere in Genesis, these dates emphasize the fact that Moses viewed the Flood as a real event. Contrast the Bible’s ring of truth with the classic opening words of many a fable, “Once upon a time . . .”
As another example, consider the ark itself. The Bible describes a vessel about 437 feet long, with a length-to-height ratio of 10 to 1 and a length-to-width ratio of 6 to 1. (Genesis 6:15) Now, Noah was no shipbuilder. And remember, this was more than 4,000 years ago! Yet, the ark was built with proportions that were ideal for its function as a floating container. In fact, modern naval architects have found similar ratios suitable for structural integrity and stability on the open seas. Although the Bible does not specify the exact length of time Noah spent building the ark, the account allows for construction that took 50 or 60 years. (Genesis 5:32; 7:6) These factors stand in stark contrast with the well-known story found in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. The epic describes a massive, ungainly cube some 200 feet [60 m] on each side that was built in only seven days. Unlike that Babylonian legend, the Bible’s Deluge account engenders confidence in its accuracy.
Outside the Genesis account, the Scriptures refer to Noah or the global Deluge ten times. Do these references indicate that the inspired writers viewed the Flood as genuine history or as a fable?
In the Scriptures, Noah appears in two genealogies of the nation of Israel, the second culminating in Jesus Christ. (1 Chronicles 1:4; Luke 3:36) Ezra and Luke, the compilers of these genealogies, were both skilled historians and must have believed that Noah was a real person.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Noah is listed alongside historical characters, being cited as a man of righteousness and faith. (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Hebrews 11:7) Would it make sense for Bible writers to include a mythical figure as an example to follow? No, for this could easily lead those reading the Bible to conclude that faith is beyond the power of humans and can only be displayed by storybook characters. Noah and the other men and women of faith were listed because they were humans with frailties and feelings like our own.—Hebrews 12:1; compare James 5:17.
In the remaining Scriptural references, Noah and the Flood are referred to in the context of the destruction God brought on the faithless generation that surrounded Noah. Notice Jesus’ reference to the Deluge, recorded at Luke 17:26, 27: “Just as it occurred in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of man: they were eating, they were drinking, men were marrying, women were being given in marriage, until that day when Noah entered into the ark, and the flood arrived and destroyed them all.”
Jesus Christ was an eyewitness of the events he described, having existed in heaven prior to his life on earth. (John 8:58) If the Deluge were merely a fable, then either Jesus was implying that his future presence was make-believe or he was speaking an untruth. Neither conclusion is compatible with the rest of the Scriptures. (1 Peter 2:22; 2 Peter 3:3-7) Therefore, Jesus Christ, as a result of personal observation, believed the Bible account of the global Flood to be authentic history. For true Christians, this is without doubt the most conclusive evidence that the Flood of Noah’s day was fact, not fable.
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
L. Chapons/Illustrirte Familien-Bibel nach der deutschen Uebersetzung Dr. Martin Luthers