Noah's Flood Covered Whole Earth or Part of Earth?
Did Noah’s flood really cover the whole earth? Young-earth creationists insist that it did and that the science supports it. Skeptics reject that as preposterous nonsense. Dr. Hugh Ross believes that the Bible is absolutely correct in recounting Noah’s flood but that it did not literally cover the whole earth. In his words, it was “universal” but not “global.”
The idea behind Ross' argument is that the Bible uses phenomenological language. That is, when the Bible talks about the “sun rising” (e.g. Malachi 1:11) it’s speaking the same way we do today. When we say that the sun rises, we don’t literally mean that the earth is stationary and the sun is moving; but rather from our perspective, the sun is rising. And from our perspective, it’s absolutely true to say that the sun rises every morning. So when the Bible says that Noah’s flood covered the “earth,” it’s describing events from the perspective of the author. And at the time, the “earth” would amount to the whole known world which probably meant the Mesopotamian valley and possibly the area around it. Ross points to other examples in scripture to support this interpretation.
In Genesis 41:57 we read, “[A]ll the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.” Genesis 42:5–6 clarifies that the famine had spread throughout the whole of the Egyptian Empire and the land of Canaan. “The world” in this context refers to a major region of human civilization rather than to the entire globe.
The writer of 1 Kings 10:24 declares that “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” Again, the succeeding verses clarify what “the whole world” encompassed. Rulers came from as far away as Sheba (modern Ethiopia) and all the lands of Arabia, probably not from Antarctica or Greenland.
Hugh Ross, “Exploring the Extent of the Flood: Part One,” Reasons to Believe (blog), January 1, 2009, https://reasons.org/explore/publications/nrtb-e-zine/read/nrtb-e-zine/2009/01/01/exploring-the-extent-of-the-flood-part-one.