The Extent of the Flood
As already mentioned, USTO disparages a “Bible-first” approach. Instead, the Bible has to be understood, not only on its own terms, but also in terms of what God is revealing in the “second book” of scientific evidence. Not surprisingly, this leads USTO to reject the notion of a global flood in the days of Noah. They grant that the Bible describes some cataclysmic event of massive proportions; however USTO insists that it was not global. Moreover, “the event is described with a specific theological and literary goal in mind” (241). It is not meant to provide us with a “hydro-geological” explanation.
Once again we are presented with a false dilemma: a global flood versus a “specific theological and literary goal.” This dilemma is false because if we understand the text to be referring to a global flood, that certainly does not rule out a theological and literary goal. Creationists understand that God reveals what he does in Genesis 6-9 for a theological purpose, but that by no means rules out the historical fact of what it describes.
In Genesis 6-9, one of the key issues is how we understand the Hebrew word kol (all). USTO concludes that the Hebrew word kol in the Flood story is used rhetorically – it simply means that a large area was inundated and large numbers of people were affected. Kol can be used rhetorically – no one questions that. However, Scripture must interpret Scripture. USTO ignores the key section in Genesis 6. In Genesis 6:5-7, God observes the wickedness of human beings “in the earth.” USTO would translate that as “in the land,” and yes, the Hebrew word for ‘earth’ can also be translated ‘land.’ But verse 6 militates against that, because it speaks of God’s creation of human beings “on the earth.” God did not create human beings “in the land,” i.e. in some region now under his scrutiny. This is universal language. That becomes further evident when Genesis 6:7 refers to the animals. God plans not only to destroy humanity, but also the “animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens” which he created at the beginning (cf. Gen. 7:4). This too favours a global understanding. Later in chapter 6, God speaks of “all flesh” having corrupted its way on the earth. Are we to imagine that there were pockets of humanity which were immune to this trend? Genesis 6:17 says, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.” Notice the mention of “under heaven.” All flesh “under heaven” is slated for destruction. Again, that distinctly favours a global understanding of this event.
Moreover, the building of the ark itself witnesses to a global flood. The ark was built by Noah, not only to save him and seven others of his family, but also to save the animals. USTO has no explanation as to why the animals had to enter the ark if the Flood was something less than global.
In a sidebar, USTO interacts briefly with the New Testament mentions of the Flood. They claim that none of the New Testament passages “make a statement about its geographical scope” (243). Luke 17:26-27 is mentioned:
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
USTO claims that this is just speaking about “how people were living their lives day by day and were caught by surprise when judgment came” (243). But what is the nature of the judgment to come? It’s universal. Just as the Flood destroyed all the ungodly in the days of Noah, “so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” In case you miss the point, in the next three verses, Christ speaks about the days of Lot and the wholesale destruction of Sodom: “fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.” No one escaped, except Lot. Clearly, Christ understood the Flood to be an event which destroyed all human beings except Noah and his family.
According to USTO, 2 Peter 2:5 “references God sparing Noah” (243). 2 Peter 2:5 says, “…if he 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…” It beggars belief to argue that Peter believed the flood to be anything less than global. It was the “ancient world” which was not spared and the flood came upon “the world of the ungodly.” The natural reading is to understand these terms globally and universally.
USTO also adopts an unnatural reading of 2 Peter 3:5-6. They argue that it just speaks about the world being deluged and destroyed and the Greek word for ‘world’ (kosmos) is being used in its broadest sense, and therefore it’s not referring to the extent of the Flood. However, when you look at these verses in context, beginning with verse 4, it becomes evident how implausible that interpretation is:
They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.
Notice how Peter writes about the creation of the earth – he is quite evidently not speaking about the creation of some portion of the planet. The same entire planet that was created was deluged with water.
If God is revealing through the scientific evidence that a global flood never happened, then we need to revisit our interpretation of Genesis and somehow bring it into alignment with this newer divine revelation. That is what USTO is doing. However, it is a revisionist approach to the Bible. It simply does not honour the Bible as God’s Word. We honour God’s Word when we take it on its own terms and then evaluate what we observe in the world around us in the light of what God has said. As the Psalmist says, “….in your light do we see light” (Ps. 36:9).
There are a fair number of other concerns I could mention, but having covered the most important, I’ll bring this lengthy review to a close here. I began by saying that USTO could be described as the theistic evolution “Bible.” I said that intentionally because USTO not only contains content from the written Bible as we know it, but it also presents scientific evidence as a second “book” with additional revelation from God (albeit with a “provisional authority”). Whether this is a legitimate method of approaching origins is really the key issue. Because I am a Reformed Christian, I emphatically deny that it is.
I believe the Bible alone is our inspired, infallible, inerrant source for doctrine and life. The Bible teaches that about itself. Therefore, God’s Word always has to be our starting point. It is not that the Bible is a “textbook” for science, as USTO and others allege creationists to believe. Rather, science can only honour God when it takes its starting point from what God has said in the Bible.
I tried, but I could not read this book dispassionately. In this book, I heard the whispers of Satan in the Garden of Eden: did God really say? If someone is questioning my Father or twisting his words, even if it’s done with the greatest sophistication, I cannot remain dispassionate. I also think of the sad fact that this book comprises course material at Wheaton College. Scores of impressionable youth have been and are being fed this content. Because it is happening at a Christian institution, they could be led to believe that this is an acceptable Christian approach. It is not. It is unbelief. I pray for students at Wheaton College that God will help them with his Spirit and Word to discern the truth regarding origins.