Did Noah’s Flood Cover Greenland?

The Greenland Ice Sheet is huge. It covers over 1,700,000 km2 (660,000 sq mi) and averages over 2 km (6600 ft) thick. There’s a tremendous amount of water tied up in the ice. If it were to melt, sea level would rise by over 7 m (23 ft). Ice cores taken in Greenland show annual layers that stretch back for more than 40 ky.

A worldwide flood would have covered Greenland, and in the process it would have left sediments or caused a hiatus in trapped air bubbles or caused a temporary change in salinity or left some sort of evidence. There are no such traces in the Greenland ice. Moreover, a worldwide flood sufficient to cover Mt. Ararat (not to mention Mt. Everest) would have provided sufficient buoyancy to float the ice cap off of the island. If the ice cap were floated off the island some time during the last few thousand years, why does it have over 40,000 annual layers? Indeed, why is it there at all? The climate of the last few thousand years has not been sufficiently cold to allow the Greenland Ice Cap to reform from scratch.

Perhaps Noah’s Flood did not cover Greenland.

In the previous post we noted that there is tree ring data going back to the end of the last ice age over 10 ky ago and a living creosote bush in the California desert that is over 11 ky old.

Perhaps the Flood missed California as well.

But such a non-global flood is completely out of line with the common understanding of the Genesis account. Doesn’t the Bible say that the whole earth was flooded?

No, it doesn’t. At least, not exactly. Here’s what we read in the King James Version:

And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.  …

And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth.  And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.  And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.  Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.  …

But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.  Then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. [1]

This English translation appears to describe a universal deluge. What does the original Hebrew say?

Genesis 6:17 and 8:9 in interlinear Hebrew/English.

Genesis 6:17 describes what God intends to do. Genesis 8:9 which describes the aftermath. Notice that both passages use the same Hebrew word eretz to define the area flooded. Eretz is a word that has several meanings. It can mean earth in the same way that the English word means “the place that is not the heavens,” or it can mean land as in “the land of Israel” or “the dry land,” or it can mean earth as in “soil” or “dirt.” 6:17 uses the word eretz by itself, and 8:9 uses a more specific phrase kol eretz.  Kol eretz can be translated as “whole earth,” but it does not have to be translated that way. In fact, there are many instances in the Bible where it is not. Consider some examples.

In Genesis 13 we have the account of Abram and Lot separating. In 13:9 Abram says to Lot, “Is not the whole land (kol eretz) before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

In Leviticus 25:24 a portion of the law concerning the Jubilee year reads, “And in all the land (kol eretz) of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.”

So it is plain from the various ways that Moses used the phrase that it does not have to be translated as “the whole earth.” It could also be rendered as “the whole land.” How would this translation fit the context? And what is the context?

The first eleven chapters of Genesis, from the Creation through the Tower of Babel, refer solely to the area of the Mesopotamian flood plane along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to assume that the chapters concerning Noah found in the midst of this section are set in the same place. There is evidence that this area has been subjected to catastrophic floods during the early part of the Holocene epoch, that is, over the last 10 ky or so. [2]

There is also evidence in the text of Genesis that the flood was not universal. Genesis 8:5 says that on the first day of the tenth month that the tops of the mountains were seen. However, the raven and the dove that Noah sent out in 8:7 through 8:9 had no place to land because there was water “on the face of the whole earth (kol eretz).” This is clearly an inaccurate translation because we know from 8:5 that the mountain tops were not covered. “The whole land” or maybe “the whole ground” might be a more exact fit with the context, and either of these would be hyperbole if the mountain tops weren’t submerged.

Genesis 8:1 and 8:3 says that the waters “returned.” If the flood were global, to where would the flood waters have returned? There is no great vapor canopy in the sky. If all the water in the atmosphere were precipitated out, it would only raise sea level a few centimeters. There are no great underground stores of water sufficient to flood Mt. Everest. Greenland, Antarctica, and all the other icy regions on the Earth don’t hold enough water to raise sea level 15 cubits above any mountain top. If the water flowed back to the sea, then the quantity of water involved must have been relatively small compared to the capacity of the oceans.

Thus, it seems that there is nothing in the Hebrew text of Genesis that requires that Noah’s Flood be universal in the sense of covering the whole planet. The text does explicitly say that God’s judgement on mankind (except for Noah’s family) was universal.  The Bible clearly says that rebellious mankind was wiped out by the Flood; however, it does not say explicitly that the entire planet was flooded.

So why build the Ark? Why not simply have Noah and his kin migrate beyond the flood zone and send the animals with him? The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as a preacher of righteousness. [3] Noah was God’s witness to the world. He spoke for God, warning of impending judgement. His preaching and his example of doing as God said left the rest of the world without excuse. [4]

And what about God’s promise in Genesis 9 not to destroy the earth again with water?

And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.  And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:  I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.  And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:  and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. [5]

To date, God has kept His promise. He has not used a flood to execute universal judgement against mankind. Of course, if He were to do so today, such a flood would have to be global, but Noah’s era was before the general scattering of man around the earth detailed in Genesis 11.

When we look in the natural world, we don’t find evidence for a global flood that occurred within the last few thousand years. When we look carefully at the story of Noah in the Bible, we don’t find anything that requires that the Flood covered the entire planet. Where does this leave Flood Geology as taught by the Young Earth Creationists?

It’s a solution in search of a problem. Unfortunately for its proponents, its a wrong answer to a non-existent question. A universal flood didn’t carve the Grand Canyon, or create all the coal, oil, and natural gas in the world, or lay down multiple layers of sediment all in a single year. Even if the physics could be made to work (and I suppose God could force it to work if He chose to intervene miraculously), the global flood that is alleged to have caused it all does not seem to have happened.

There have been several proposals about the means God used to cause Noah’s Flood. None are particularly convincing to me. Some suggest an earthquake-driven breach of a natural barrier that was damming a large reservoir. Others have suggested that a meteor strike similar to the one that hit in Siberia in 1908 could have struck the Persian Gulf and caused a massive tsunami. There isn’t much physical evidence left. Neither the Bible nor nature speak conclusively.

But I’m not at all troubled when I find that there are some things that God has done which I can’t comprehend. I’m thankful that the Designer of creation is vastly more intelligent than any of His creatures.


[1] Genesis 6:17, Genesis 7:17 … 20, and Genesis 8:9 (AV).

[2] The Sumerian king lists and other surviving documents make mention of a devastating flood around the year 2900 BC. However, it was not extensive enough to be Noah’s flood.

[3] II Peter 2:4, 5.

[4] Or, as my college student son would say, Noah wrecked the curve.

[5] Genesis 9:11 … 15 (AV).

1 thought on “Did Noah’s Flood Cover Greenland?

  1. Pingback: Zero to Hero Day 4, The Incredible Never-Ending Blog Post of Doom Part 2 | Rose B Fischer

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