Extent Of The Deluge Genesis 7:19

It has been much urged of late that the deluge was not universal, but was confined to a particular region which man inhabited. It may be admitted freely that, seeing the object of the flood was to drown mankind, there was no need that it should extend beyond the region of man’s habitation. But this theory necessarily assigns to the world before the flood a lower population, and a more limited extension of it, than we are prepared to concede. Our reasons for believing the world to have had a large and extended population before the flood, have already been given. Let us now add, that when we consider how widely the population descended from Noah had increased and spread within a period after the flood greatly shorter than that from the creation to the deluge, with advantages very far below those which the antediluvians possessed, it is simply incredible that it should at the time of the deluge have been confined within the limits required.

It appears to us, that a plain man sitting down to read the Scripture account of the deluge, would have no doubt of its universality; and although our interest lies not in reasoning upon the greater or less probabilities of the case, but in ascertaining what the word of God means to teach to us—it is gratifying to believe that the greater amount of even human probability is in concurrence with the more obvious meaning of Scripture. As to that meaning, what limitation can we assign to such a phrase as this—“All the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered.” If here the phrase had been “upon the face of the whole earth,” we should have been told that “the whole earth” had sometimes the meaning of “the whole land;” but as if designedly to obviate such a limitation of meaning, we have here the largest  phrase of universality which the language of man affords—“under the whole heaven.”

Furthermore, if the deluge were local, what was the need of taking birds into the ark, and among them birds so widely diffused as the raven and the dove? A deluge which could overspread the region which these birds inhabit, could hardly have been less than universal. If the deluge were local, and all the birds of these kinds in that district perished—though we should think they might have fled to the uninundated regions—it would have been useless to encumber the ark with them, seeing that the birds of the same species which survived in the lands not overflowed, would speedily replenish the inundated tract as soon as the waters subsided. It is altogether a most remarkable circumstance, that the only creatures of those contained in the ark which are named, are those whose existence upon earth would not have been affected by any deluge much less than universal. And if the waters of the deluge rose fifteen cubits above all the mountains of the countries which the raven and the dove inhabit, the level must have been high enough to give universality to the deluge.

We yield our judgment to what appears to us the force of these arguments as to the meaning of Scripture. Apart from these reasons, we should have been inclined to regard the deluge as partial, though extensive, for it must be allowed that the doctrine of the flood’s universality has, on its side, considerable difficulties—but which do not seem to us insuperable. We believe, further, that when once the real meaning of the Scripture is ascertained, we shall have gained the standard of truth as to these great facts; and all true science will then be found to be reconcilable with its statements, if not confirmatory of them.

The subject is a large one, and we may not here discuss or even state it fully. But there is one branch of it possessing great and peculiar interest, to which some attention may be given. We mean the traditions of the deluge which have been found to exist among all nations. 

It used to be urged that the universality of these traditions proved the universality of the deluge. But it must be allowed that they prove nothing, either way, on the subject. Those who have taken such great and laudable pains in collecting the traditions of tribes and nations deponing to the fact of an overwhelming deluge in the days of their remote ancestors, and who have inferred from the existence of such traditions in every quarter of the globe, that the deluge had belonged to every region in which such traditions were found, appear to have overlooked the important fact, that as all men sprang from Noah, their traditions are to be traced to their origin, and that they would naturally carry these traditions to any region in which they might afterwards settle. Commentators have erroneously reasoned as if the traditions had originated in the various regions in which every diversity of the human species has been found. Dr. J. Pye Smith and other able advocates of a partial deluge, successfully remove this stumbling-block from their path. But it is clear that although the argument for a general deluge loses this support—that for the partial deluge gains nothing by it.

These traditions are however important as showing two things in corroboration of the scriptural account. They show that there was, as Scripture affirms, a flood by which all mankind, except one righteous family, were destroyed; and they prove, in further conformity with the Scripture record, that all the existing tribes and nations of mankind are descended from that one family which survived the flood. In this point of view they are of high interest; and after tomorrow we will consider some of the more remarkable coincidences which they offer. It will be seen in them, that, as was natural, the tradition of every settled nation makes its own land and its own mountains the scene of these circumstances—the traditions of a settled people being always localized. On that ground alone the traditions of a nomad people, as the Hebrews were, with respect to localities, would be entitled to preference, even had they no higher claims.  Such nations had no local, but only family attachments—and hence, while every other tradition makes the ark rest upon some high mountain in the land where that tradition reigns, the Hebrew account assigns the ark to a mountain far away from any land with which that people were connected, and which it is not at all probable that any of them had in the time of Moses ever beheld.