Grappling with the Chronology of the Genesis Flood: A Biblical Issue
B. Hodge, Biblical Authority Ministries, July 15, 2020
As many may already be familiar, there is a debate over the chronology of the Flood of Noah’s Day in Genesis 6-8. There shouldn’t be. It’s quite straightforward.
In the past, a number of people have set forth to write out the chronology of the Flood based on the text of Scripture (a few modern examples are E.F. Kevan in The New Bible Commentary in 1953, Dr. William Barrick in Coming to Grips with Genesis in 2008, and even I was able to put one together for Answers in Genesis in 2010).
The process is rather simple—open the Bible to the Flood account in Genesis 6-8 and get started. Most people who have done this arrive at numbers very similar to each other. There are a couple of places people seemed to get confused but are in general agreement. Some of these points of disagreement are simple things like: was the initial 40 days of the Flood part of the 150 days of the prevailing Flood or was it 190 days total? Most agree that the 40 days are part of the 150 days due to the calendar date that constrains it (150 days = the exact 5 month period when the Ark is lifted up and so the ancient 360-day calendar is being used).
Another instance was whether the first dove was sent at the same time as the raven or 7 days later. Most agree it was 7 days later due to the next time the dove was sent out that says “another” seven days (Genesis 8:6-12). And the last major point of confusion seems to be 370 days versus 371 total duration of the Flood. But this is merely due to rounding. In other words, do you include the first day of the Flood as a full day and the last day of the Flood as a full day or do you keep them both as half days.
In some cases people argued over when the water peaked: the 40th day, the 150th day or somewhere in between. Of course, the Bible simply doesn’t say but the text of Scripture makes this statement between the 40th and 150th day so at least there is a limited range where the waters peaked over everything at least 15 cubits (Genesis 7:20). So in retrospect it doesn’t seem like a big deal since everyone is getting numbers very similar to each other and rightly so, we are all starting with Scripture. This brings us to the issue of the huge technical treatise of Drs. Boyd and Snelling.
Grappling with the Chronology of the Genesis Flood (GCGF)
Drs. Boyd and Snelling [S. Boyd and A. Snelling, Grappling with the Chronology of the Genesis Flood, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2014] have an entirely different take on the chronology of the Flood. Let us first distinguish these models by name. The previous chronologies, I am going to call the Straightforward Chronologies of the Flood. The one coming from Drs. Boyd and Snelling will be called the Temporal Reasoning Chronology of the Flood. The reason for this name will be apparent in a moment.
The Temporal Reasoning Flood Chronology essentially takes the calendar dates as firm, but the rest of the information within the Flood account is taken in a more fluid fashion to be able to shift around so their temporal segments can be rearranged. In other words, the information within the account can be seen as segmented or like “pockets of information” that are independent from the immediate context and may actually be part of a different day in the Flood.
Essentially, these researchers and their colleagues claim the Hebrew verb used (wayyaqtol form) in the account allows for the information to be shuffled about. Typically, when this verb form is used, things follow chronologically unless the context determines otherwise.
In other words, since the Flood account utilizes this verb form, it would typically be taken as chronologically for the most part—like I said, unless context warrants it differently (i.e., you would get a Straightforward Chronology of the Flood). But these scholars are challenging this by asserting that there are segments that are temporal and can be rearranged.
Just so you know, this new understanding of this verb form (called “Temporal Sequentially” of the wayyaqtol) goes against 2,000 years of Hebrew scholarship and was the brainchild of Jewish professor Stephen A. Kaufman at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Furthermore, the idea of temporal reasoning, which also permeates this entire study came from secular linguist Alice ter Meulen from the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Why did I give you these tidbits of information? They are actually quite important. I want readers to realize that Scripture is being reinterpreted and one the reasons for the justification by these researchers to reinterpret it, is due to ideas from people who oppose the Bible as the truth. In basic form, man’s ideas are being utilized to reinterpret God’s Word. Should this be the case? Why seek the ungodly to understand spiritual things in light of John 12:40, Romans 1:18-28, Romans 11:7-25, 2 Corinthians 3:7-16, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 4:17-19, Titus 1:15-16, 2 Timothy 2:23-26.
Getting to the Root Cause
I wanted to find out why the Boyd/Snelling project was necessary to reinterpret the commonly held understanding of the verb form (wayyaqtol) that we typically find in Hebrew Lexicons. This is a big deal of course and has bearing on Genesis 1 that utilizes the same verb form. If it is not generally sequential (unless context determines otherwise), then this causes a potentially insurmountable problem for the six-day creationist because there is no calendrical dates in Genesis 1:1-2:3 (i.e., Creation Week).
So why was it so important to change the meaning of verb form that has been in place for millennia? Why was it devised in the first place—what triggered it? Dr. Boyd answered that question in the preface of the book, Grappling with the Chronology of the Flood. And this is what I want to discuss—the heart of the issue. There are actually some places throughout the research presented in the book that can be quite helpful but much is built on this one reason.
Pulling the Trigger for the Research Project
Dr. Boyd et al’s problem with the Flood chronology arose when the researchers could not reconcile that several things happened on the same day of the Flood (day 150 of the Flood). Let us review the 150th day of the Flood:
And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days. Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. And the waters receded continually from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat.(NKJV)
Discussing this, Dr. Boyd wrote in the preface (p. xiv) regarding Day 150 (Genesis 7:24-Genesis 8:4):
“How would there be time between these virtually identical instants of time for all the events represented by these verbs?”
First, they are not identical instances, but over the course of one day (day 150). You might ask, what are these events that couldn’t have happened on the same day? Let’s list them:
1. God remembered the animals and Noah on the Ark (Genesis 8:1). [Not that God forgot them, but this is directly standing against the animals and people that died during the course of the Flood (Genesis 7:21-24).]
2. God made a wind to pass over the earth.
3. The waters subsided.
4. Fountains of the great deep were stopped.
5. Rain from heaven was restrained.
6. Water started to receded continually from the earth on the 150th day.
7. Ark rested on the mountains of Ararat.
These 7 things are the events represented by the wayyaqtol verb form in question between Genesis 7:24 and Genesis 8:4 that Dr. Boyd et al cannot see as happening on the same day. This is an arbitrary opinion and should be noted. When looking at these 7 things, they could easily have occurred on the 150th day. For example:
1. God remembering Noah and the animals: a moment in time—that is predicated on assuming God who is not bound by time, is to be counted within the time markers here.
2. Causing a wind to begin on the earth, would take virtually no time for an all-powerful God.
3. An all-powerful God could easily stop the foundations of the great deep at a moment’s notice (e.g., Mark 4:39).
4. An all-powerful God could also restrain the rain in an instant as well (again, see Mark 4:39). Take note that so far we have only used about 1 second of a 24-hour day.
5. The waters immediately beginning to subside/abate (becoming less intense) would be a natural outcome with regards to the wind, rain restraining, and fountains ceasing.
6. Water began receding continually from the earth is clearly reasonable as a direct result of the springs and rain being stopped and restrained. Yes this could easily occur over the course of the rest of the day as the mountains rose and the valleys sank down (Psalm 104:8-9, NASB) catastrophically (the Flood event was a catastrophe).
7. The Ark strikes the mountains of Ararat nearing the end of the 150th day when the waters had receded a little. The depth, for all we know, could merely have been 15 cubits below the Ark when waters began to recede (maximum depth of the highest submerged land at the peak of the Flood per Genesis 7:20). This small amount of water recession isn’t much at all. The Ark’s height was only thirty cubits! Having less than 15 cubits of water decrease in a day is not a problem in the least.
These events could easily occur over the course of one day or even far less! It is an arbitrary opinion to say otherwise. Yet, this was the thinking that triggered an entirely different belief system about Hebrew grammar and a new rearranged Temporal Reasoning Flood Chronology.
Dr. Boyd’s Solution
The impossibility [of those 7 things occurring on the same day] that Dr. Boyd et al set up had essentially been “written in stone” and apparently cannot be relinquished. And this now caused a problem that Dr. Boyd et al needed to solve. Dr. Boyd stated in the Preface of the book:
“Since the text cannot be compromised, our understanding of the grammar must be mistaken….But there is no other alternative.”
Though I heartily agree with Dr. Boyd that the text cannot be compromised, I disagree that there is no other alternative but to question the long understood use of the grammar. Dr. Boyd set this argument up as an “either-or” possibility (either the text of Scripture is wrong or the grammar must be changed). But this is a bifurcation fallacy (either-or fallacy). The easy answer is a third possibility…that the perception [that these 7 events couldn’t happen on the same day] was…wrong.
So because of this, they have proposed a neo-interpretation of the Flood that include:
A. A huge volume on why 2000 years of grammar must be changed
B. Rearranging the text in the Genesis 6-8 after arbitrarily dividing them into segments
C. 150 days does not necessarily equate the time between 2nd month 17th day (Flood begins) to 7th month, 17th day (Ark strikes Ararat mountains)
D. Events that occurred on the 150th day can now be equated with the events that occurred on the 40th day or elsewhere
E. A poetic chiastic structure (that mimics Cassuto, a Jew who viewed Genesis as poetic), is used to draw new conclusions regarding the Flood…
A Simple Conclusion
And this is just the start. If you ask me what my take is, then it is simple:
“I have no problem with the events listed in the Bible for the 150th day of the Flood to have occurred on the 150th day of the Flood. Therefore, the rest of the book trying to reinterpret the Flood account is a moot point.”
Is it that simple? Yes, it is that simple. And this is a reminder to all of us. We can get caught up doing years of fruitless research because we have the wrong foundational points—and I’m no exception as I’ve done this before too!
We need to pay closer attention to the text of the Bible and the authority of that text logically before we develop scientific, theological, chronological, historical, or (what have you) models. This is a case of taking scientific models and theological models to supersede the plain meaning of the text of Scripture, to mean something else.
What can this Research Lead to for Genesis 1?
Consider for Boyd et al that the only time referents that is seen as accurate in the Flood account are the calendar dates. But if something is listed as occurring on a “day” like 150th day, the details may not be in association with the 150th day but instead can be assigned to a different day such as the 40th day.
Boyd et al have made the case that some of these things on the 150th day actually belong to the 40th day. For example, they claim the springs of the great deep and windows of heaven were closed on the 40th day, not the 150th day. This was presented in Answers magazine by a co-author of the book L. Anderson [April-June, 2014 page 63]. This has since been reiterated in Answers magazine [January-March, 2015 answer 7 on page 67] by the Ark team member T. Chaffey.
Furthermore, Answers magazine has now added a famous poetic chiastic structure to the Flood account that is virtually identical to Jewish commentator Cassuto, who held staunchly that the Flood was poetic [Lee Anderson April-June, 2014 page 66-68]. Nevertheless, this Temporal Reasoning Chronology of the Flood is not the agreed upon the position within Answers in Genesis.
What does this reinterpretation lead to in Genesis 1 since the same verbs form is used there as well? Furthermore there are no calendric dates in Genesis 1. So if Boyd and company are correct, then events on any day in Genesis 1 can be moved to any other day and seen as poetic if they wanted to push that angle too. Is this Temporal Reasoning Flood Chronology the road we want to continue travelling on? I suggest we stick with the plain reading of the Scriptures.
 I believe this problem started prior to Dr. Boyd where some science models of the Flood has Rodinia break into Pangaea and Pangaea is under water until late in the Flood, hence the mountains of Ararat could not have existed on the 150th day (Genesis 8:3-4) which is post-Pangaea and signifying that most plate movement had ceased by this time. This problem has plagued some creationists for some time. I suggest the scientists holding to this model may have influenced Dr. Boyd on this issue, which is why Dr. Boyd changed his position as he stated in the preface of the book.