The Great Flood

Did the Great Flood in the Bible really cover the whole earth?

No, probably not. There is significant scientific evidence that contradicts the idea of a global Flood that occurred sometime within the past 4,000–6,000 years.[1]

But isn't there geological evidence for a global Flood?

Not really. Some argue that certain geological features of the Grand Canyon point to a global Flood,[2] but scientific consensus does not support this interpretation.[3]

Doesn't the Bible say the Flood covered the "whole earth"?

Yes. Genesis 7:19 says that "all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered" with water during the Flood,[4] and Genesis 8:9 specifically says "the waters were on the face of the whole earth."[5]

The Hebrew text of the Bible uses the word "all, every" (kōl)[6] to describe the details of the event (e.g., "all the animals," and "all the earth," etc.).[7]

Why would the Bible say that the "whole earth" flooded if it probably wasn't?

It might be that the use of the phrase "whole earth" in Genesis meant something different than what it means to us today.[8] It seems the ancient Israelites didn't know that the earth was a globe, instead picturing something like a flat disc sitting on water and holding up a domed, vaulted sky.[9]

Haven't modern prophets and apostles taught that the Flood was global?

Yes. Both early and modern Church leaders have described the Flood as global or universal.[10]

An 1880 wood engraving of Noah's ark on the ocean after the great flood, based on a drawing by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine.

Haven't modern prophets and apostles taught that the Flood was the earth's baptism?

Yes. This idea was first taught by Latter-day Saints as early as 1832[11] and has been continuously taught by Church leaders.[12] It has also been repeated in literature written by Latter-day Saint scholars and scriptural commentators.[13] However, some Latter-day Saint writers disagree with this idea.[14]

Is it possible that the entire Earth could have been technically covered by water at one point, just not in a complete flood?

Possibly. John A. Widtsoe[BIO] taught this when he said "all parts of the earth were under water at the same time" and that there could have been "a terrific, long-continued downpour, such as is described in Genesis. The depth of the layer of water is of no consequence."[15]

Does the Church still teach that it was a global flood?

Yes, sort of. The Church gives the traditional story of the Flood in its curriculum and publications, but they usually focus on the gospel principles to pull from the story, not the specifics of how it may have happened.[16] However, the most recent article on a literal global Flood was published in 1998 in the Ensign.[17]

Have general authorities ever weighed in on the importance of a global versus local Flood?

Joseph Fielding Smith in the 1950s said there needed to be a global Flood for the earth to be baptized,[18] but no recent general authorities have weighed in on this matter.

Is believing in a global flood a requirement to be an "orthodox" member of the Church?

No. Many faithful Latter-day Saint scholars have written about reconciling the apparent problem with the global flood.[19]

Some People Say . . .

"The Great Flood was a baptism of the Earth."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • The Bible depicts a universal Flood that eradicated all life except Noah, his family, and the animals he saved on the ark.

  • Scientific consensus is that there is no evidence for a universal ("global") flood in recent geologic history.

  • Church leaders have regularly taught or assumed a global Flood.

  • Many Church leaders have also taught that this flood was the earth's baptism.

  • Some Latter-day Saint scholars have proposed alternative ways to read the story of Noah and the Flood that can be harmonized with modern science.

Our Take

The story of Noah and the great flood is certainly one of the most memorable in the Bible and a hallmark of the Christian tradition. But the idea of the whole globe covered in water doesn’t match up with modern scientific reasoning. With that modern reasoning in mind, why would the Church or Church leaders teach the story as a literal global Flood? How do Latter-day Saints make this work?

It seems early Church leaders believed and taught the traditional Judeo-Christian interpretation of the Flood in Genesis, that it was a literal global flood. Science has since progressed, which challenges Latter-day Saints to look at the account more critically and perhaps less traditionally.

So why haven't Church leaders denounced the traditional Flood story? We don't really know. It may be because they are undecided on the issue, or it may be they don’t see a compelling benefit to making a definitive statement on it. In recent years, Church publications and lessons focus more on the lessons learned from Noah and less on how the Flood may have happened.

It's okay to take stories like the Flood literally, and its okay to approach them as allegory. Wrestling with the reality, historicity, symbolism, or semantics of scriptural accounts is an meaningful expression of faith. Scriptures are most useful for the principles they teach, and for providing a way for God to speak to our hearts and help us to grow closer to Him.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Cave J
    The story was written before modern geography existed, and it might have been simply human error, believing the earth to be much smaller than we now know it to be, or they just assumed that since there was mass flooding in their area, the same was true for the rest of the world.
  • DENNIS W C
    There is a 30 year work by Dean Sessions called the UniversalModel.com A New Millennial Science published in 2016. There are over 2,000 peer reviewed documented research articles quoted proving the truthfulness of a Universal Flood. Much of Modern Science has an atheist agenda! ✅
  • Alex G.
    The one thing that makes me hold onto a global flood (or something close to it) is D&C 116. If Adam-Ondi-Ahman is in Spring Hill, Missouri then how did Noah to get Mesopotamia? God may not have wanted the rest of evidence to be left to allow faith.
  • Shane W.
    I think it’s okay to believe that the global flood actually happened and that God may have not wanted there to be evidence. I don’t think that makes him a trickster either. Just a careful orchestrator of the evidence to allow us the ability to practice faith.
Footnotes