Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Flood

What do I think of this book by John Walton and Tremper Longman published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always get excited when I see that a new Lost World book has come out. Walton’s books are always very enlightening and this time, he’s teamed up with another great Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman. They are discussing the great flood of Noah in this one and what the text says about it.

The first proposition put forward is the most important one in my opinion. This is that Genesis is an ancient document. Sounds obvious. Right? We all know it, but few of us seem to remember it. We read the text thinking it was written to people like us with a culture like us. That explains our tendency to read science into the text.

They also make the point that it’s not God’s purpose to teach us science in the Bible. We get a message about God’s work in the world. We do not get a message about how the world works. The message transcends any false beliefs that the ancient culture would have, such as the sky being solid and there being a body of water above.

This does not affect inerrancy. Inerrancy is about what the text affirms. The text speaks about thinking with our entrails, but that is not the teaching of the Bible. We do not go there to learn how our bodies work in thinking. We can learn some things about what to think and how to think, but not a scientific assessment of thinking.

The writers also do believe that there is a real event in the past being described. We often make a distinction between the metaphysical and the empirical. They can be different, but for the ancients, the interpretation of the event was much more important than the event itself. For the pagans, that would be their gods were showing their will through the events. For Israel, it was YHWH.

It’s also important to note that with the Genesis flood, we have a divine interpretation of the event right there. We do not have this with events today. Sorry, but we cannot speak with divine authority on why it is that a hurricane or a tsunami happened.

The writers also stress that hyperbole was a part of ancient writing. This goes on in the flood. It is no doubt that the flood is being described in terms that seem global. That does not mean that the flood itself was global. The ark itself is a huge wooden boat even by today’s standards. One can look at Ken Ham’s ark and think it’s possible, but keep in mind that was built using all manner of modern technology. Noah did not have that.

The writers also have a section on other flood accounts in ancient literature. They are there and while there are similarities, there are also vast differences. The biggest are not in the historical details, but in the theological interpretations of the events. These are the most important ones and yet, they’re usually left out.

The next section deals with the flood itself and in the context of the narrative. They show the connection it has to the sons of God passage in Genesis 6 and to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. All of these reflect on the role of order and the importance of the covenant.

The final section relates to how to approach issues of our day with the text. There is a section by another author who argues about the lack of evidence of a worldwide flood. As with many scientific issues, I thought it was fascinating and yet I found it very hard to understand. There’s also questions about how science and Christianity work together today. I agree with the authors definitely that we need never fear science. If it shows an interpretation of Scripture is likely false with good data, then we should really consider it. They rightly cite this informed opinion.

Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned. If they find a Christian mistaken in a subject that they know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions as based on our teachings, how are they going to believe these teachings in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think these teachings are filled with fallacies about facts which they have learnt from experience and reason.

Reckless and presumptuous expounders of Scripture bring about much harm when they are caught in their mischievous false opinions by those not bound by our sacred texts. And even more so when they then try to defend their rash and obviously untrue statements by quoting a shower of words from Scripture and even recite from memory passages which they think will support their case ‘without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.

Reading that, you could think it was written today. It wasn’t. It was written over 1,500 years ago by Saint Augustine. You can read it in his book The Literal Meaning of Genesis. If we believe God offered both the book of nature and the book of Scripture, we need have no fear of any scientific endeavor.

Differences of opinion I have with the authors are on minute points of interpretation of passages and not on major issues. Like all other Lost World books, this one is incredibly eye-opening and enlightening. I highly recommend it and I look forward to the next one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters