The Church Fathers are unanimous in their belief that the great flood account contained in the Book of Genesis is historical and not just a myth or fable. Though it is not a dogma of faith yet majority of theologians prior to the modernist movement also believes that the great flood is historical. However, after the enlightenment period in Europe this belief slowly becomes uncommon among theologians and biblical scholars. Even today what once a universal belief has become a subject of humor and ridicule, any scholar or apologist who holds the belief that the Genesis flood account is historical is suspected of being ignorant, incompetent and a conservative.
Modern research disputes the claim of the Church fathers that the Genesis account of the great flood is historical. Modern scholars like Raymond Brown suggests that the Genesis account of the flood was copied or received its inspiration from the Babylonian literary myth about a global flood that wiped out the population of the world. Since majority of the biblical scholars nowadays both Catholics and Protestants are in agreement that the Genesis account is just a myth, should we now dismiss the claim of the early Church Fathers and abandon this universal belief? Of course not! Biblical scholars offers us nothing but their opinion on the subject if they believe that the Great flood is just a myth then they are entitled to their own opinion since the great flood is not a dogma of faith. However, in order to be aligned with the mind and heart of the living tradition of the Church we are compelled to accept the opinions of the Church Fathers that the Genesis account of the Great flood is historical.
Internal Evidence From Scripture Suggests That It Is Historical
The Genesis account of the great flood is not just a plain record of a historical event, it is a typology of baptism that through the waters of baptism we are cleanse from all types of sins and through it we are incorporated into the body of Christ (Col.1:18) the Church. St. Peter mentions the Noah and the great flood in his discourse about baptism and its necessity for our salvation.
They were the generation who did not believe when God, in his great patience, delayed punishing the world while Noah was building the ark in which a small group of eight persons escaped through water. That was a type of the baptism that now saves you. 1 Peter 3:20-21
St. Peter based his preaching about the necessity of baptism on an event that took place thousands of years ago. In an apologetic point of view if Peter wanted more weight in his argument for the necessity of baptism he would base it on an historical event. If the Genesis account of the great flood is not historical but just a myth or worst a story patterned from pagan literary works then Peter’s argument for baptism cannot hold water. But the very reason why Peter use the great flood as a typology for the Sacrament of baptism is because of its historical nature. No apologist would use a myth or fable as a basis for his arguments Peter himself is an apologist (1 Peter 3:15) and he is using a historical event to prove his teaching on baptism. In the Genesis account of the Great flood what is striking is not the flood itself but the even that took place after the flood. In Genesis chapter 9 after the flood God established a Covenant between Noah and himself, in the Covenant God promised that the earth will no longer be destroyed by a flood. When God establishes a covenant between himself and mankind it is always a historical event, not a myth, not a fable but historical! Speaking of the Great flood the Catholic Bible Dictionary says that “For much of Christian history, it was accepted unquestioningly as historical” (The Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.292, Hahn).
The Pagan Sources
If the Flood account is an actual historical event then how do we explain the similarities of Flood account in the book of Genesis with pagan literature that also contains accounts of a great flood? At first it would sound that the author of the Flood account in the book of Genesis just copied the story from its neighboring culture but the fact is he didn’t. Prior to the account written in the book of Genesis there are already three pagan sources that contain a story of the great flood the Eridu Genesis, Atrahasis and the Gilgamesh, however it must not be concluded that the author of the book of Genesis copied his account of the Great flood from these pagan sources. The global flood that occurred during the time of Noah happened thousands of years ago before the authorship of these three pagan writings. The story about Noah and the great flood was handed down from one generation to the next through oral tradition and it was this tradition that serves as the basis of these pagan writings about the flood. Henceforth, the Genesis account of the flood must not be accuse of having a pagan origin because its basis is the oral tradition of the flood that took place thousands of years ago.
The Great Flood Global or Local?
The book of Genesis is very clear that the flood during Noah’s time is global (Gen.7:17-23). In almost every culture in the world there is always a story through forms of myth or other literary device of a great flood that happened thousands of years ago. It is quite impossible that various cultures from different places in the world could have collaborated to create a story about a great flood. However, it is possible that their ancestors could have experience this flood and passed down the story to the next generation. There are also evidences of oceanic fossils found deep in land and on top of mountains. Some fossils of land animals are also found deep in the ocean or sea floors. These extra-biblical evidences suggests that the great flood historically happened thousands of years ago.