You are hereBeyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 3
Beyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 3
by Timothy P. Martin
Biblical Analysis of a Global Flood - The Problem of the Language and Teaching of Jesus
Preterists recognize that the Olivet Discourse is the key to understanding New Testament prophecy properly. A cursory reading of Matthew 24 shows that Jesus uses the Greek equivalent of the same terminology in Genesis 7 throughout the Olivet Discourse. One example in Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse is Luke 21:35, “For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” What are we to make of that “global” statement? Biblical Analysis of a Global Flood - The Problem of the Language and Teaching of Jesus
Preterists recognize that the Olivet Discourse is the key to understanding New Testament prophecy properly. A cursory reading of Matthew 24 shows that Jesus uses the Greek equivalent of the same terminology in Genesis 7 throughout the Olivet Discourse. One example in Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse is Luke 21:35, “For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” What are we to make of that “global” statement? Dispensationalists and most other futurists place the Olivet Discourse in the future precisely because it contains many “global” indicators. Not only is the “face of the earth” language prominent, there is reference to the “whole world,” “earth,” as well as the mention of absolute destruction of human life if the days of tribulation were not cut short. Also in the Olivet Discourse is phenomenon that appears from a surface, literal reading to be global. Preterists who remain dedicated to Creation Science may object, but the Olivet Discourse should be taken globally once a commitment to plain literalism is made in the Genesis flood account.
Note how the very same type of global language is Henry Morris’ clinching reason why the flood account must be global in nature:
Our third and impelling reason for interpreting our universal terms of Genesis 6-9 literally is that the physical phenomena described in those chapters would be quite inconceivable if the Flood had been confined to one section of the earth.
Many Creation Science advocates continue to reject preterist claims that Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the regional destruction of Judea and Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They do so because they are logically consistent in applying their literal hermeneutic. If the flood of Genesis 7 is global by virtue of the language in the account, then consistency demands the Great Tribulation must be global as well! That is the main reason so many Christians continue to place the events spoken of in Matthew 24 into our future. The language and physical phenomena is every bit global in Matthew 24 as it is in Genesis 6-9.
What I am pointing out is a problem for preterists who hold to a global interpretation of the Genesis flood and then switch to a regional interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. Literal-futurists who believe in a global flood are more consistent in the application of their hermeneutic principles. But preterists know Luke 21:35 was fulfilled in A.D. 70. If it wasn’t, then Jesus was mistaken. Shouldn’t Jesus’ use of global language in reference to a regional destruction in A.D. 70 aid our understanding of the same type of biblical language in Genesis 7? To what hermeneutic are we preterists committed? Preterists who cling to the theory of a global flood must deal honestly with these questions.
The linguistic phrase “upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth” is not the only connection in Jesus’ words to the flood and time of Noah. He parallels His parousia with the days of Noah in Matthew 24:37-41. Jesus says:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Jesus explicitly compares the coming of the flood which “took them all away” with His coming in A.D. 70. He states clearly that as it was in Noah’s day so it would be at his coming. Preterists already know that the coming of Jesus in judgment did not involve global physical events and destruction. So why would preterists believe the Genesis flood involved global events and destruction?
Jesus’ parallel between the flood and his coming presents a serious issue for those committed to a preterist understanding of these texts while supporting the Creation Science movement. Does continued support for a global flood subvert a preterist understanding of the Olivet Discourse and New Testament prophecy?
How will someone who is taught Creation Science methods of reading the Bible ever be convinced of a first century, regional fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecies? The entire Creation Science paradigm hinges on the belief that global language and global physical phenomena in the Bible must mean physically global events. Futurists are so dedicated to a global interpretation of that language they will routinely ignore or redefine the time texts in the Olivet Discourse. They get hung up on the global language of New Testament prophecy. The last thing preterists should do is reinforce Creation Science hermeneutics if they want preterism to succeed in our day.
I believe it is past time for preterists to admit that continued support for the Creation Science movement naturally hardens Christians against a preterist understanding of New Testament prophecy. Creation Science methods of reading the Genesis flood are incompatible with a preterist reading of the Olivet Discourse. It is no wonder Creation Scientists remain predominantly dispensational futurists in their eschatology. They are quite consistent in requiring a global interpretation of both the Genesis flood and the Olivet Discourse.
The Problem of the Language and Teaching of Peter
Jesus is not the only one to link the flood of Genesis 7 with the end of the age. Like his teacher, Peter parallels the deluge of the old world with the final destruction of his current world (Old Covenant age). He writes:
By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:6-7.
The symmetry is obvious. So obvious, in fact, Creation Scientists use this text as one of the prime biblical arguments for a global flood. Morris and Whitcomb write:
Let us now consider the implications of this passage with respect to the geographical extent of the Flood... Peter uses the terms ‘heavens from of old, and an earth’ in a sense that is obviously universal. By the same token, no one can deny that Peter also uses the terms ‘heavens that now are, and the earth’ in the strictly universal sense. Otherwise, Peter would be speaking of the creation and final destruction of only a part of the earth!
It was the Flood to which Peter appealed as his final and incontrovertible answer to those who chose to remain in willful ignorance of the fact that God at one time in the past demonstrated His holy wrath and omnipotence by subjecting “all things” to an overwhelming, cosmic catastrophe that was on an absolute par with the final day of judgment, in which God will yet consume the earth with fire and will cause the very elements to dissolve with fervent heat.
Morris and Whitcomb are not alone in relying heavily on 2 Peter 3 to prove a global flood in Genesis. Ken Ham devotes an entire chapter called “Creation, Flood and Coming Fire” to the very same issue in his book The Lie: Evolution. He opens that chapter by saying, “There is a prophecy in II Peter 3 concerning the last days of this earth’s history, and it very much relates to the whole Creation/Evolution issue.”
Astute preterists should recognize a problem with Ham’s argument. The problem is that Ham’s discussion is based entirely on a dispensational futurist reading of 2 Peter 3. Ham’s argument is based on the very approach which is diametrically opposed to a preterist understanding of that passage. One statement captures his futurism. In reference to widely accepted uniformitarian scientific principles Ham confidently states, “The prophecy of II Peter 3 is being fulfilled before our very eyes.”
Later in that chapter, Ham also mentions Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the connection to Noah’s Flood. Ham writes in reference to modern unbelievers:
Since Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:37-39 uses the event of Noah’s Flood as a warning that God has judged the earth, and will judge it again, they would have to agree that God is going to come back as Judge. The next time He will use fire as the method of judgment rather than water.
These examples illustrate how the Creation Science movement is based from beginning to end on the dispensational hermeneutic of futurist eschatology. The way we read the flood account is logically related to our eschatological paradigm. On this point the Creation Scientist writers are absolutely correct. There is a clear parallel between the flood of Noah and the parousia of Jesus. The problem for Ham and Morris and Whitcomb is that from the preterist paradigm, this connection hardly proves a global flood. It disproves it. If the preterist understanding of New Testament prophecy is true, it soundly refutes the underlying position of all Creation Science ideology; that the flood of Noah was a global cataclysm.
There is no reason to assume 2 Peter 3 is written about the end of planet earth, given a preterist understanding of the Olivet Discourse. It makes no sense to understand it that way since Peter has already written, “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). The dispensationalist overlooks the one important fact about 2 Peter 3. The destruction of the heavens and the earth is covenantal language referring to the end of the Old Covenant age in A.D. 70 – an apocalyptic destruction of a limited region of the globe. It is the same type of language, “global” destruction by fire, the prophet Zephaniah used concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
Logical preterists see the connection Peter makes to the Olivet Discourse. The key is to understand the language in its primary covenantal sense instead of geo-physically. Speaking of 2 Peter 3, Douglas Wilson writes:
Many would want to argue that surely this, if nothing else, is referring to the destruction of the material universe. Not at all. There are three reasons to be found in the text which taken together prohibit such an application to the physical world. First, Peter attaches these words to God’s promise.... Secondly, the word element does not have to refer to the physical elements at all. The word is stoikion, and appears in the New Testament only 7 times. Paul uses it twice in Galatians 4, in verses 3 and 9... Colossians 2:8, 20... Hebrews 5:12.... What are the elements here? They are not the periodic table. The reference is to an old system.... Third, the New Testament requires us to hold that the new heavens and new earth were shortly to appear – at that time, two thousand years ago.
What is interesting is that Mr. Wilson, a proponent of the global flood view, sees the connection Peter emphasizes between the flood and the destruction of Jerusalem. But Mr. Wilson never sees the implications of his preterism:
A few verses above, he has stated that the antediluvian world perished in water. That age abruptly ended. In the same way, he argues, the present heaven and earth will end in fire – which it did in the cataclysm of 70 A.D. [emphasis mine]
Another preterist that inadvertently lets the regional flood cat out of the bag is the late David Chilton. In an appendix to Gary DeMar’s Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, Chilton said:
As Jesus had repeatedly warned, upon this evil and perverse generation would come the great “Day of Judgment” foretold in the prophets, a “destruction of ungodly men” like that suffered by the wicked of Noah’s day (2 Peter 3:5-7). Throughout His ministry Jesus drew this analogy (see Matthew 24:37-39 and Luke 17:26-27). Just as God destroyed the “world” of the antediluvian era by the Flood, so would the “world” of first century Israel be destroyed by fire in the fall of Jerusalem.
Chilton points out that the subject in the biblical parallel is covenant “worlds.” The subject is not planet earth. Preterists need to recognize something obvious. The destruction of the flood by water is as surely regional as was the destruction of Jerusalem and the land of Israel by fire! Both the linguistic and theological parallelism throughout the entire New Testament demands it.
The global flood idea is essentially a dispensational futurist concept born out of the naïve method of literalism. Although it predates the system we now know as dispensationalism, the hermeneutic method used to argue for the doctrine is entirely dispensational.
The Problem of the Language and Teaching of John
The most obvious of all arguments to a preterist is the referent “world” and “earth” in the entire book of Revelation. These are generally taken as the literal globe by the Creation Scientists. This is the only logical conclusion for those who begin with a dispensational hermeneutic in Genesis 7. Once the seed of scientific literalism is planted in Genesis 7, the fruit of scientific literalism in the Olivet Discourse, 2 Peter 3, and Revelation follows naturally. Or to put it another way, mistakes made in Genesis ripple across the rest of the Bible.
Here is a good example of global language in Revelation that does not refer to global events. Jesus says:
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. Revelation 3:10.
This is only one of many, many passages in Revelation that dispensationalists believe teaches of worldwide events to come. They do this in large part because the language of Revelation is the same as the flood account of Genesis.
Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:10, “... going to come upon the whole world,” are virtually the same as in Luke 21:35, “...will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” Neither passage refers to global events. They both speak of the Great Tribulation which took place in the disciple’s generation culminating with the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem. Gary DeMar explains why this language has nothing to do with global events:
Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:10 that the "hour of testing is about to come upon the whole world." The Greek word translated "world" is not kosmos but oikoumenes, "the inhabited earth," the kingdom boundaries of the Roman Empire (see Luke 2:1 for confirmation of this). But doesn't the qualifier "earth" make this judgment broader than the land of Israel? Not at all since the Greek word for "earth" (ge or ges) is the same word often translated "soil" (Matthew 13:5, 8, 23), "ground" or "earth" (= dirt; 25:25), "land" (27:45), or "earth" (= world; 16:10). A more accurate translation of Revelation 3:10 would be: "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the inhabited earth, to test those who dwell upon the land." God's testing was reserved for the land of Israel and the destruction of their temple. That judgment is in the past.
DeMar’s explanation of the Greek word “ge” is also relevant to the debate over the scope of the Genesis flood. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses “ge” exclusively throughout the flood account in Genesis 6-9. Once we accept a regional understanding of “ge” in the New Testament we should apply the same understanding to the Genesis flood.
I want to emphasize, again, that Creation Scientists are consistent with their global, futurist apocalyptic views in light of their global views of the Genesis flood. Preterists who simultaneously demand a global reading of the flood and a regional reading of Revelation are faced with acute internal inconsistency. Preterists know the referent throughout Revelation is not the physical globe, but a regional judgment on Israel the harlot in A.D. 70.
Preterists devoted to a global flood never seem to ask themselves how the referent of Genesis 7 can be the globe, while, at the same time, the referent of the book of Revelation is a limited region – Palestine. What legitimate textual basis do we have for this radical shift in biblical interpretation from Genesis 7 to the book of Revelation? Removing last days goofiness from our thinking logically calls for removing global flood goofiness from our thinking. Preterism refutes the global flood doctrine and the entire Creation Science movement.
To be continued…
Copyright 2005 by Timothy P. Martin. All rights reserved. Reprinted by Permission
[Beyond Creation Science (2nd Edition) will be available at the Planetpreterist bookstore.]
Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:27; Luke 21:25.
Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20.
Matthew 24:30, 35; Mark 13:24, 31; Luke 21:25.
John C. Whitcomb, Jr. & Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 60.
See Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32.
I realize some preterists try to force a separation between Matthew 24:1-35 and v.36ff (e.g. Ken Gentry in his work He Shall Have Dominion). It is not my purpose to engage in an intramural preterist debate, but I will point out this distinction does not exist in the parallel account of Luke. The same question in Matthew 24:3 which some think differentiates comings in Matthew 24 is phrased in Luke 21:7 in such a way to render this method impossible and absurd. To my knowledge, Ken Gentry has never addressed this problem of the parallel question of Luke 21:7 in print.
John C. Whitcomb, Jr. & Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 15.
Ken Ham, The Lie, p. 123.
Ibid., p. 125.
Ibid., p. 127.
The focus on a global flood obfuscates the heart of this covenantal story. The real covenantal point of this historical account is that God removes the wicked from the land, or cleans the earth, so his people may prosper in it. The pattern in Scripture points clearly to a progressive, not instantaneous accomplishment of this task (Eden, Canaan and the parable of leaven). The idea that one family inherits the entire globe abruptly simply can’t be reconciled with this biblical pattern.
Douglas Wilson, And It Came to Pass (Moscow ID: Canon Press, 1993), pp. 30-32.
Ibid., p. 32.
David Chilton, “Looking for New Heavens and a New Earth” as quoted in Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta: American Vision, 1997), p. 485.
 Consider how “literalists” read these limited examples. Revelation 1:7; 9:1; 11:6,10; 13:3,14; 16:14; 17:8; 21:1.
 Gary DeMar, No Fear of the Text, located at www.preteristarchive.com/PartialPreterism/demar‑gary_pp_03.html (2005).