I recently began rereading the Old Testament. I’ve only ever read through the whole Old Testament once, when I was in 10th grade I believe, when I was in early morning LDS Seminary.
So, it is with new, mature, adult, married, motherly eyes, that I am reading the Old Testament. I am not reading it to check it off my to-do list (other than to do my daily scripture reading), but in order to study it, by myself, and for myself.
So, you would understand my amazing at reading about the story of Noah and his Ark, beginning in chapter 6 of Genesis. What an incredible, and very doubtful story!
It seems bizarre to me that all of the earth would be under water, including mountains, and that all life (of the creeping/moving/flying land variety) died except they were on this ark, an ark measuring 450 feet long x 75 feet wide x 45 feet tall (in modern measurements). Luckily, that is actually quite big – 1,518,750 cubit feet, the base of which is 33,750 square feet.
I found this Bible Study Guide online to be a good resource on understanding how many kinds/species of animals could have fit on there, etc, even accounting for the animals that would have been consumed during the long trip. They would also have to pack all sorts of other foods and supplies for Noah’s family and the animals.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live with anywhere from 16,000-40,000 animals on a boat for over a year (Genesis 8:13-14)? Was Noah a veterinarian? Were his sons? Did he know what to feed them all, how to clean up after them, how to keep them from getting seasick? Did they get any exercise or ever leave their rooms/cages? How did he keep some from attacking each other? What about handling the birth of new animals?
And how did they even manage to get all the animals to get onto the boat in the first place? Did they have tranquilizers of some kind?
Just imagine how much you’d have to do every single day on that boat to tend to all of those animals. And as far as we know the only people on the boat were Noah, his wife, his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and three daughter-in-laws. (Genesis 7:13) That’s eight people, unless there were others “of his house” (Genesis 7:1) also on the boat, to handle thousands of animals every day.
And here’s what else I discovered. It didn’t just rain for 40 days and 40 nights, elevating the water levels 22.5 feet (15 cubits Genesis 7:20), covering the hills and mountains; but, the fountains of the great deep were also broken up, or burst open (Genesis 7:11). So, not only was it raining from above, but some seismic activity was opening up waters from the bottom of the oceans – see THIS for some ideas about that.
So, after reading these things in the Bible about a story I had heard hundreds of times, I finally stopped to really think about this story.
Do I really believe that all life was destroyed off the face of the earth (Genesis 7:21-23) except whatever kinds of animals Noah got and kept alive on his ark for over a year?
I mean, are you serious? Did this really happen?
As I talked to my husband about these seemingly crazy circumstances, he looked up what our Church and its General Authorities have to say on the matter. And we learned some awesome things.
In the January 1998 Ensign of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Donald W. Perry, an assistant professor of Hebrew at Brigham Young University, said that there are three groups of people in the world:
1.) Those who call the story of Noah and a worldwide flood completely “implausible,” “unacceptable,” and “impossible”;
2.) those who believe there may have been a local, charismatic preacher, such as Noah, and a localized flood that covered only a specific area of the world;
Perry goes on this article to discuss how various prophets have referred to Noah and the flood, including Jesus Christ himself to the people of the Americas (3 Nephi 22:9). If we believe in these other prophets and readings of the Old and New Testaments and other scriptures, then it should follow that we should also believe in the trueness of this event.
He also takes note to show that the language used in Genesis is such to make us understand that the flood was not a localized event, but a worldwide event, involving all, every living thing.
Mr. Perry then goes on to talk about something I have never thought about before – uniformitarianism, which has been described simply in this way: “The present is the key to the past.”
Uniformitarianism, first postulated by James Hutton in 1795,6 proposes three primary concepts: (a) there were no processes (such as geologic processes) operating in the past which are not operating now; (b) there are no processes operating now which were not operating in the past; and (c) process rates have not changed.
Because modern scientists observe geologic change to be relatively slow now, many have naturally concluded that geologic processes have always been slow. Yet uniformitarianism, a premise on which much of geologic science is based, is an idea, not a fact. With our limited knowledge, it presently is a powerful paradigm for examining the earth, and given our ignorance of how the Lord has done things, it does help explain many things. [emphasis mine]
[…] Yet although uniformitarianism is a powerful perspective, it is still a premise, not a fact. Uniformitarianism cannot explain all of the oddities and anomalies about the earth. Further, it neglects a God who can speak and have the dust of the earth obey, who can move mountains at will, and who can divide the Red Sea. As Latter-day Saints, we have scriptural evidence that God has intervened in the affairs of the earth and modified the landscape on numerous occasions. Among other things, he changed the earth’s environment after the Fall, he gave Enoch power to move mountains and rivers before the Deluge, he caused the Flood, and he was the cause of the catastrophic events in America at the Savior’s death. [source]
The thing is that if we can believe that Jesus walked on water, turned water into wine, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and healed various ailments, then we are choosing to overlook our current scientific understandings, we are choosing to overlook our human senses, and instead, choosing to believe.
For Latter-day Saints, the Flood is a matter of faith and belief. We believe in many events that today we cannot scientifically explain. For example, in a world where change and death are the norm, the scriptures promise immortality and eternal life. Indeed the scriptures teach that this earth will be burned (see 2 Pet. 3:10), receive a resurrection (D&C 88:26), and become a celestial kingdom (D&C 88:17–18). Such future events will make the incident of the Flood look like child’s play in comparison.
Further, with all of the advancements of science in recent decades, we still cannot explain how angels are able to defy gravity and descend or ascend through a building’s ceiling (see JS—H 1:43); how rapid interplanetary travel is possible for heavenly beings (see D&C 130:6–7); how a righteous man can raise the dead using God’s power (see 1 Kgs. 17:17–23); how heavenly messengers can appear to mortals (see D&C 110:2, 11–13); or how Jesus Christ’s divine sacrifice is able to atone for our sins. [source]
So, yes, Moses is serious as he writes about the story of Noah and the ark. He’s serious that they happened. And in our church, we believe it was also needed because,
Latter-day prophets teach that the Flood or the total immersion of the earth in water represents the earth’s required baptism.
Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:
“Latter-day Saints look upon the earth as a living organism, one which is gloriously filling ‘the measure of its creation.’ They look upon the flood as a baptism of the earth, symbolizing a cleansing of the impurities of the past, and the beginning of a new life. This has been repeatedly taught by the leaders of the Church. The deluge was an immersion of the earth in water.”
He writes that the removal of earth’s wicked inhabitants in the Flood represents that which occurs in our own baptism for the remission of sins.13
This certainly seems likely, especially as it seems that after Noah and his family and all the animals finally leave the ship, they are starting over.
The first thing Noah does after leaving the Ark is to build an altar and to offer sacrifices to the Lord, just as Adam did after he left the garden of Eden.
The earth is renewed, and God is again giving a covenant to man (Genesis 8:20-22). He gives the same commandment he gave in the beginning – “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1); as well as commandments as to that which he could and could not eat.
God’s token of this covenant is a bow, or rainbow in the sky. (Genesis 9:14-17)
So, is the Bible serious about Noah’s Ark and the worldwide flood? Yes. Absolutely, yes.
What questions have you had while reading the scriptures? Is it hard to believe the things you read?
I am assuming I will have many more questions as I continue to study the Old Testament. There’s some “strange” stuff in there!
The talk I referenced is “The Flood and the Tower of Babel” by Donald W. Parry, Ensign, Jan 1998.
Another great talk to check out – “Noah, The Great Preacher of Righteousness” by Joseph B. Romney, Ensign Feb 1998