“Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth…on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened. And the rains fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights…and the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.”Genesis 7:6,11,12,24
The nature of Hebrew narrative can be quite peculiar, especially in light of comparison against modern prose. As is common with Hebrew literature, the writer will often tell the same story multiple times in order to drive home a particular point, emphasize a particular feature, or to gradually reveal more information within the contextual timeline of the story. From Genesis 6:13 to the end of Genesis 7, we see the same scene played out and reiterated no fewer than four times, but each time there is a slight change, where more information is provided, or the previous section is summarized.
One thing we must remember in our study of Scripture, chapters and verses didn’t come along until centuries later after the invention of the Gutenberg press, which made the publication of Bibles for personal use more readily available. As such, the system of chapters and verses was devised to make it easier for the layperson and personal reader to follow along and find their place with the priest during Mass or to find particular stories for recall and recitation. There is nothing inspirational at all about the chapters and verses as they were not a part of the original autographs of the individual books of the Bible. As a result, in many cases the chapters and verses tend to divide the narrative in some awkward places at times, and the narrative of Noah is no exception.
In Genesis 6:13-22, God reveals to Noah His judgement and plan to save humanity through him and his family. Genesis 7:1-5 provides more details regarding the particulars of God’s command to Noah, with the noted expansion of the number of animals to be brought on board to account for meat and sacrificial offerings. Genesis 7:6-10 summarize the final days prior to the loading of the ark as a sort of mini-introduction that is repeated in Genesis 7:11-16, culminating with the statement “And the LORD shut him in.” This marks the transition from God’s salvation of Noah and his family, and consequently humanity in general, to the execution of God’s righteous judgement upon the earth in Genesis 7:17-24, including some interesting scientific details that give us some clues to what happened to change the landscape of the world as Noah knew it.
Modern scientific theory suggests that at one time “millions of years ago,” the earth consisted of a single continent that we know as Pangaea. At some point, due to the phenomenon we know as plate tectonics, the continents began to shift and break apart. The mid-Atlantic ridge almost perfectly in the center of the Atlantic Ocean running north-south for nearly the entire length of the continents of North and South America, mark the dividing line of what we can very visibly see the fit of the African coast and Europe. In fact, scientists have found fossils on the coast of Argentina and Brazil that match up with similar fossils found on the western coast of Africa , thus giving credence to this theory.
However, it is scientifically possible and very probably that the continents did not break apart over a long period of time, but rather in a very short period of time due to a single cataclysmic event and our modern understanding of plate tectonics has dramatically slowed down since that event. In March 2019, in the Journal of Natural Sciences, Dr. D. R. Fraser writes “Geological evidence indicates that dinosaurs became extinct at the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene eras, about 66 million years ago, at a time when there was worldwide environmental change resulting from the impact of a large celestial object with the Earth and/or from vast volcanic eruptions.“
It is entirely plausible that that the impact of a large meteor in what we now call the Gulf of Mexico ripped apart the continent as it once was and shift the continents and broke them apart quite rapidly in much the same way that a confectionary artist would break apart a large batch of peanut brittle with a kitchen mallet. This cataclysmic event would have broken the singular continent into four major pieces: North and South America, Antarctica, Africa/Europe/Asia, and a resultant shockwave separating Australia/New Zealand into the Oceanic continent. Today we can still see the long term effects through the scars of mountains, ravines, large canyons, massive craters, and volcanoes. We see islands spring up and disappear almost overnight around the world in many cases due to volcanic activity that is a remnant of this single event even today. And Scripture even holds a testament to this possibility.
“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Genesis 7:11-12)
The theory goes that as the continent broke apart, water from the ocean (“the fountains of the deep”) rushed in. Geysers burst open releasing steam and water trapped in the earth’s crust. As the water crashes in, some of it comes together and splashes upwards into the atmosphere, producing the effects of rain. The water of the ocean covers all of the land even up to 22.5 feet above the highest mountains of that time, many of which today bear evidence of marine fossils as high as in the Himalayas. Such a large amount of water could conceivably take a little more than a month to calm the torrent following such a cataclysmic event.
As the waters began to “recede”, this is the effect of plate tectonics pushing the land masses of the continents upwards to allow the water to drain off of the land. This process would take a little over a year for the waters to drain away, but still a rather rapid shift compared to today’s slow continental drift. Even today, the presence of mountains and volcanoes are a testament to this movement of the earth’s crust. Mountains today are likely significantly higher elevation than prior to the flood, largely due to the consequences of that very same event.
There is plenty of evidence that speaks to the reality of a global flood event. The Scriptures describe this event in glorious detail, and hail it as God’s judgement upon a wicked and evil world. The wrath of a holy God is a fearsome thing. But the mercy and grace of God is equally awesome in that He chooses to love His creation enough to find a way to preserve it, even in the midst of the execution of His righteous judgement on a scale unlike any the world has ever seen since. The same God that is capable of destroying all of the earth is the same God that seeks after you to care for you and to love you and provide a means of escape from the judgement that will surely come in faithfulness to His word.