Donald W. Parry argues for a worldwide Genesis Flood.

Jan 1998
Donald W. Parry

Donald W. Parry, "The Flood and the Tower of Babel," Ensign, January 1998, accessed February 24, 2022

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Donald W. Parry
Latter-day Saints

The Flood

Many of us have fond memories learning about Noah and his ark during our days at home and in Primary. Perhaps our parents and teachers held up a picture of Noah preaching to laughing and mocking people as he stood in front of the partially built ark, or perhaps they showed us a picture portraying the ark filled with animals standing on the deck as the great vessel rested in the water. Later, our Sunday School or seminary teachers added to our knowledge of this great man, his righteousness, his missionary work, and the revelations surrounding the building of the ark. As Latter-day Saints, we treasure this sacred, true account of one of God’s great prophets who lived so long ago.

Not everyone throughout the modern world, however, accepts the story of Noah and the Flood. Many totally disbelieve the story, seeing it as a simple myth or fiction. Typical of some modern scholars, one author recently discounted the events of the Flood by using such terms as “implausible,” “unacceptable,” and “impossible”; he stated that believers who would hope to provide geologic or other evidence regarding the historicity of the Flood “can be given no assurance that their effort, however sustained, will be successful.” Another author titled his book The Noah’s Ark Nonsense, revealing his disbelief that the Flood actually took place.

Still other people accept parts of the Flood story, acknowledging that there may have been a local, charismatic preacher, such as Noah, and a localized flood that covered only a specific area of the world, such as the region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers or perhaps even the whole of Mesopotamia. Yet these people do not believe in a worldwide or global flood. Both of these groups—those who totally deny the historicity of Noah and the Flood and those who accept parts of the story—are persuaded in their disbelief by the way they interpret modern science. They rely upon geological considerations and theories that postulate it would be impossible for a flood to cover earth’s highest mountains, that the geologic evidence (primarily in the fields of stratigraphy and sedimentation) does not indicate a worldwide flood occurred any time during the earth’s existence.

There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.

Scriptural Evidence for a Worldwide Flood

Many prophets from two different continents and different eras have identified Noah as a historical, not a mythical, character. These include Enoch (see Moses 7:42–43), Abraham (see Abr. 1:19), Amulek (see Alma 10:22), Moroni (see Ether 6:7), Matthew (see JS—M 1:41–42), Peter (see 2 Pet. 2:5), Joseph Smith (see D&C 84:14–15; D&C 133:54), and Joseph F. Smith (see D&C 138:9, 41). The Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke to the Nephites of the “waters of Noah” (3 Ne. 22:9). Recent latter-day prophets and apostles have similarly spoken of Noah. For example, Elder Howard W. Hunter, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, asked, “Because modernists now declare the story of the flood is unreasonable and impossible, should we disbelieve the account of Noah and the flood as related in the Old Testament?”

The most voluminous scriptural witness to Noah and the Flood is recorded in the writings of Moses, who dedicated a total of 57 verses in the King James Version to the account (Gen. 6:9–8:19). It is instructive to note that some of Noah’s actual words are preserved in the book of Moses, which introduces them with “And it came to pass that Noah continued his preaching unto the people, saying”—followed by his words: “Hearken, and give heed unto my words; Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost, that ye may have all things made manifest; and if ye do not this, the floods will come in upon you” (Moses 8:23–24). This text is significant in that it confirms that Noah, like his predecessors, understood the gospel covenant, including the baptismal ordinance and Jesus Christ’s role as Savior.

Moses may have received his information about Noah through direct revelation, or perhaps he used ancient records that were written by one of the eyewitnesses to the Flood, such as Noah himself or one of his sons. Such records, presuming they once existed, are now lost to the world. In the book of Genesis, Moses clearly states that a flood occurred, and the terminology definitely refers to a worldwide flood, as opposed to a localized flood. The Joseph Smith Translation backs up the Genesis account, modifying the wording only slightly.

Said the Lord, “I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die” (Gen. 6:17; emphasis added in this and other scriptures in this article). The phrases “all flesh … from under heaven” and “every thing that is in the earth” indicate a worldwide destruction of all creatures that lived on land. Note that the Inspired Version, translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, changes “in the earth” to “on the earth” (JST, Gen. 8:22).

Genesis 7:19–20 [Gen. 7:19–20] states, “All the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered … ; and the mountains were covered.” These verses explicitly state that all of earth’s high mountains (“hills” should read “mountains” here; Hebrew harim) were covered by the waters. Lest one believe that the statement “under the whole heaven” is figurative and can be read or interpreted in different ways, a scriptural search through the entire Old Testament reveals that the phrase is used elsewhere only in a universal sense, as it is here; the phrase does not refer to a geographically restricted area (see Deut. 2:25; Deut. 4:19; Job 28:24; Job 37:3; Dan. 9:12). For instance, Job 28:24 also uses the phrase when referring to God’s omniscience, which is certainly not restricted to a specific geographical region on the earth.

Genesis 7:21 [Gen. 7:21] states, “All flesh died that moved upon the earth, … every creeping thing … every man.” The phrase “all flesh” refers to all land animals, creeping things, and fowls and all of humanity, with the exception of those in the ark (see Gen. 7:23). The entry every in the Oxford American Dictionary reads: “each single one, without exception.” Moses is clearly trying to let us understand that the Flood was universal.

Verse 22 [Gen. 7:22] states, “All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.” Again the term “all” expresses a sum total. The term “dry land” should be read literally here, having reference to the land masses of our planet.

Verse 23 [Gen. 7:23] states, “Every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl.” Moses’ list of those destroyed by the Flood is inclusive; only Noah “remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”

Genesis 8:5 [Gen. 8:5] states, “In the tenth month … were the tops of the mountains seen.” After the flood, the “waters decreased” until Noah and his group were able to once again see mountaintops.

Verse 9 states, “The waters were on the face of the whole earth.” The phrase “on the face of the whole earth” refers to a worldwide flood (see Gen. 1:29; Gen. 11:4, 8, 9).

Taken altogether, these statements should convince every believer in the Bible that the great Deluge was a worldwide event, not a localized flood that filled only the Mesopotamian or some other region.


Some cite geological data to argue against the Flood. The issue for them, perhaps, revolves around the concept of 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, 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. The science that uses the idea has found for us such things as gas, oil, and certain types of minerals.

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.

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.

Though we cannot yet explain the physics or dynamics behind those events, we look forward to the time when the Lord will come and explain them. In the Millennium—a time of great physical change in the earth—he will “reveal all things—

“Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—

“Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven” (D&C 101:32–34).

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