Flood vs Resurrection

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The story of Noah, the ark, and the Flood in Genesis 6-9 is one of the most famous and controversial passages in the entire Bible. The story, centered around a global cataclysm and a floating wooden zoo, has captured the imagination of people for millennia. Until modern times, most Christians assumed the story referred to an actual worldwide event that happened in the relatively recent past, and this interpretation of the Flood continues to be a central feature of Young Earth Creationism. However, the discoveries of modern science, as well as an explosion of new knowledge about the ancient world of the Bible, have decisively challenged whether this interpretation is the best reading of the text. This includes the work of many Christian scholars and scientists who were (and continue to be) guided by a belief that all truth is God’s truth, that Scripture is inspired, and that the testimony of God’s creation should not be ignored. The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a global flood that covered the entire earth, nor do all modern animals and humans descend from the passengers of a single vessel.
The story of Jesus, his death, and the Resurrection in the Gospels is one of the most famous and controversial passages in the entire Bible. The story, centered around God in human form rising from the dead, has captured the imagination of people for millennia. Until modern times, most Christians assumed the story referred to an actual event around two thousand years ago, and this interpretation of the Resurrection continues to be a central feature of orthodox Christianity. However, the discoveries of modern science, as well as an explosion of new knowledge about Biblical times, have decisively challenged whether this interpretation is the best reading of the text. This includes the work of many Christian scholars and scientists who were (and continue to be) guided by a belief that all truth is God’s truth, that Scripture is inspired, and that the testimony of God’s creation should not be ignored. The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a resurrection.


Relating science and Scripture
Relating Science and Scripture


When discoveries in God’s world conflict with interpretations of God’s Word, Christians have three options:
When discoveries in God’s world conflict with interpretations of God’s Word, Christians have three options:


Abandon our faith in order to accept the results of science,
Abandon our faith in order to accept the results of science,


Deny the scientific evidence to maintain our interpretations of Scripture,
Deny the scientific evidence to maintain our interpretations of Scripture,


Reconsider our interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God’s creation
Reconsider our interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God’s creation


Christians, by definition, reject Option 1. Option 2 has a terrible historical track record, and many prominent historical theologians have urged Christians not to ignore or dismiss the findings of science. Option 3 represents the best tradition among Christians, and history provides many examples of our knowledge of the natural world helping to correct faulty interpretations of Scripture. The discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo (that the Earth is not the center of the universe), for instance, changed the Church’s perspective on whether the Bible intends to teach us about Earth’s place in the solar system.
Christians, by definition, reject Option 1. Option 2 has a terrible historical track record, and many prominent historical theologians have urged Christians not to ignore or dismiss the findings of science. Option 3 represents the best tradition among Christians, and history provides many examples of our knowledge of the natural world helping to correct faulty interpretations of Scripture. The discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo (that the Earth is not the center of the universe), for instance, changed the Church’s perspective on whether the Bible intends to teach us about Earth’s place in the solar system.


Because we take God to be the author of the “book of nature” as well as the divine author of the book of Scripture, we believe the proper interpretation of the Flood story will not be in conflict with what we have discovered in the natural world.
Because we take God to be the author of the “book of nature” as well as the divine author of the book of Scripture, we believe the proper interpretation of the Resurrection story will not be in conflict with what we have discovered in the natural world.


The Bible in ancient context
The Bible in the context of the Classical Era


The Bible is a record of encounters between Almighty God and ordinary humans that lived thousands of years ago. As biblical scholar John Walton puts it, the Bible was written for us all, but it was not written to us. Thus, for us to understand what Genesis means, we first need to understand what it meant to those who wrote and received it.
The Bible is a record of encounters between Almighty God and ordinary humans who lived thousands of years ago. As biblical scholar John Walton puts it, the Bible was written for us all, but it was not written to us. Thus, for us to understand what Genesis means, we first need to understand what it meant to those who wrote and received it.


It was common practice in the ancient world to use an event (or memory of an event) and retell it in a figurative way to communicate a message to the hearers. There is good scriptural and historical evidence that the Flood story is an interpretation of an actual historical event retold in the rhetoric and theology of ancient Israel. The Genesis account is one of many stories of catastrophic floods in the ancient world, including the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, which bears striking similarities to the story of the Flood.
It was common practice in the Classical Era to use an event (or memory of an event) and retell it in a figurative way to communicate a message to the hearers. These retellings are often called myths. There is good scriptural and historical evidence that the Resurrection story is an interpretation of an actual historical event retold in the rhetoric and theology of the Jewish people. The Resurrection account is one of many stories of resurrections in world history, including the Norse tale of Balder, which bears striking similarities to the story of Jesus’s resurrection. 


This doesn’t mean that Genesis 6-9 is borrowed from the stories of other cultures, but that it is based on a common cultural memory of a watery cataclysm.
In Balder’s story, after he dies from the success of Loki’s evil plan, he is eventually resurrected with the passing of Ragnarök. Ragnarök is the Norse version of the apocalypse in which the whole world is destroyed and recreated. After the recreation of the world, Balder is said to rule the new earth with his brother Höðr and Thor’s sons. 


The exact nature or date of this historical flood is not important to the meaning of the Genesis account, however, because the purpose of the biblical story is not to give a list of facts about that flood, but to communicate a message about God and humanity to the original hearers (and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to all God’s people throughout history)
As you can see, the story of Balder is very similar to the Resurrection story in a number of ways. After Jesus is said to die and come back to life, the Bible says he will come back at the time of the apocalypse, recreate the world, and then rule over the New Earth for all of eternity.


Interpreting the flood story
This doesn’t mean that the Resurrection story is borrowed from the stories of other cultures, but that it is based on a common cultural belief of something like a resurrection. 


The Genesis Flood story contains many literary clues that its writers (and original audience) were not intended to narrate an actual series of events. The story employs the literary device known as “hyperbole” throughout, describing a massive ark which holds representatives of “every living creature on Earth”, and a flood which flows over the tops of the highest mountains in the world. These are not meant to challenge readers to figure out the practicality of such descriptions, but rather they are important clues that we are dealing with a theological story rather than ancient journalism.
Also, the exact nature or date of the alleged resurrection is not important to the meaning of the Resurrection account, however, because the purpose of the biblical story is not to give a list of facts about the resurrection but to communicate a message about God and humanity to the original hearers (and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to all God’s people throughout history)


There are other clues that the writers are not intending to relate a literal series of events. One is the command given to Noah to treat “clean” animals differently than “unclean” animals, even though those categories were not given to the Hebrew people until the time of Moses, much later in the biblical story. Another clue about how to interpret the Flood story comes from its place in the book of Genesis and specifically in the “primeval narratives” of Genesis 1-11.
Interpreting the Resurrection story


Biblical scholars almost universally see these chapters as having a different purpose than the rest of the book of Genesis. The primeval narratives cover a huge swath of cosmic history and are highly figurative in their language. They serve as the grand and poetic “introduction” to the story of God’s people which commences with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. While they speak of real events (such as the creation of the universe and the special calling of humankind), they do so in rhetorical and theological ways that have more to do with the purposes of the story than a plain narration of facts. This is completely typical of how ancient people (including the Israelites) wrote historical accounts, especially concerning “primeval” events near the beginning of history.
The Resurrection story contains many literary clues that its writers (and original audience) were not intended to narrate an actual series of events. The story employs the literary device known as “hyperbole” throughout, describing a large earthquake at the death of Jesus⁠—which would be highly unlikely to occur around the same time⁠—a mysterious darkness like an eclipse that lasted a scientifically impossible amount of time, a swarm of zombies who rise from their graves, Jesus teleporting from place to place in his new body, and spiritual beings of light known as angels. These are not meant to challenge readers to figure out the practicality of such descriptions, but rather they are important clues that we are dealing with a theological story rather than journalism in the Classical Era.

There are other clues that the writers are not intending to relate a literal series of events. One is the command Jesus gave to a fig tree near the beginning of the holy week. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus  curses the tree and it withers immediately. But in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus curses the tree and it withers as they pass by it the next day. The Gospels also have extremely varied accounts of who arrived at the empty tomb first. Another clue about how to interpret the Resurrection story comes from its placement in the Gospels and specifically in the “resurrection narratives” at the end of the Gospels.

Biblical scholars almost universally see these chapters as having a different purpose than the rest of the chapters in the Gospels. The resurrection narratives are a huge portion of the Gospels and are highly figurative in their language. They serve as the grand and poetic “introduction” to the story of the church which commences with the Great Comission in Matthew 25. While they speak of real events (such as death of Jesus and the special calling of humankind), they do so in rhetorical and theological ways that have more to do with the purposes of the story than a plain narration of facts. This is completely typical of how the people of the Roman world (including the Jews) wrote historical accounts, especially concerning the resurrections of their gods. People in these days were more concerned with the meaning of events rather than the facts of the events.


Ancient cosmology in the flood story
Jewish worldview in the resurrection story


Not only do we need to read the Flood story through the lens of ancient literature, but also ancient cosmology. Because the ancient Israelites (like all people in the ancient Near East) lacked telescopes, satellites, and other modern scientific equipment, they pictured the universe as it appeared to everyday observation. Ancient Near Eastern people thought that rain comes from an ocean above the sky (which explains why the sky is blue), and that this ocean wraps all the way around the earth (which explains why deep wells always hit water). They also thought of the “whole Earth” as simply the edges of their current maps, which mostly consisted of today’s Middle East.
Not only do we need to read the Resurrection story through the lens of classical literature, but also the Jewish worldview. Because the Jewish people (like all people in the Roman world) lacked MRI machines, heart rate monitors, and other modern scientific equipment, they pictured the world as it appeared to everyday observation. The Jewish people thought that resurrections were possible due to records of three resurrections in the Torah, Rabbinic teaching of the resurrection of the faithful in the Old Testament, and the promise of a Messiah who would die and rise again. But, the evidence stands against these beliefs.


The Flood narrative relies on this same ancient understanding of the world. As the “firmament” (a solid dome in the sky which holds the cosmic ocean in place) collapses and the “fountains of the deep” explode upward, the Earth experiences a cataclysmic return to the watery chaos described in Genesis 1:2. To deal with the chaos of sin, God returns the Earth to chaos, and then restores order with a “restart” and renewal of creation.
The Resurrection narrative relies on this same understanding of the world. The Gospel narratives themselves mention a large number of Jews who had this perspective, and even the authors of the Gospels were Jewish. When Jesus told his diciples—some of whom would write the Gospels—to “Follow me,” they obey without hesitation because they were in such great expectation of a Messiah. It is no wonder that they fell folly to writing Jesus’s Resurrection as if it were a historical event. Their worldview demanded it.


Modern people read the Flood story with a completely different perspective on the shape of the Earth and universe. Those who say the story portrays a “global” flood, for instance, are imposing that term upon the text, because the original audience had no idea that the Earth was a globe. Similarly, any speculation about the water sources or ark buoyancy or geologic effects or post-Flood animal migrations or similar questions is missing the point of the story.
Modern people read the Resurrection story with a completely different perspective on the possibility of the resurrection of the dead. Those who say the story portrays a “true” resurrection from death to life, for instance, are imposing that term upon the text because the original audience could not really be sure that Jesus was actually dead. They did not have the sensitive equipment we have today. It is well known in the scientific literature that people can appear to be dead with an indicernable heart and breath rate and yet still be able to resuscitate later. In addition to all of this, any speculation about how Jesus rose from the dead (or other similar questions) is missing the point of the story.


The meaning of the flood
The meaning of the Resurrection


To some, the view outlined here of the Flood account denies the divine inspiration of the text and instead makes the story entirely a human invention. But it’s important to remember that God chose to communicate his message through ordinary people, accommodating himself to their limited knowledge in order to draw themselves to him. God did not give the ancient Israelites scientific data, nor did he give the Israelites new genres of literature.
To some, the view outlined here of the Resurrection account denies the divine inspiration of the text and instead makes the entire story a fanciful myth. But it’s important to remember that God chose to communicate his message through ordinary people, accommodating himself to their limited knowledge in order to draw them to him. God did not give the ancient Israelites scientific data (facts that came from an observation), nor did he give the Jewish people new genres of literature. The Jewish people simply did not have the means of communicating actual events through words without sacrificing the true meaning of the story.


The story of Noah, the Ark, and Flood speaks an inspired and powerful message about judgment and grace, that has instructed God’s people throughout the ages about God’s hatred of sin and his love for his creation. Most importantly, we see God’s promise never to destroy the Earth again fully realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, where God takes the judgment for sin upon himself rather than humanity. Thus, through the lens of Christ, the biblical Flood story proclaims the marvelous news of God’s grace and love for his people.
The story of Jesus and his death & resurrection speaks an inspired and powerful message about judgment and grace that has instructed God’s people throughout the ages about God’s hatred of sin and his love for his people. Most importantly, we see God’s promise to never destroy the Earth again fully realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, where God takes the judgment for sin upon himself rather than humanity. Thus, through the lens of Christ, the Resurrection story proclaims the marvelous news of God’s grace and love for his people.