You are hereBeyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 11
Beyond Creation Science: How Preterism Refutes a Global Flood and Impacts the Genesis Debate – Part 11
by Timothy P. Martin
The Flood and the Tower of Babel
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar instead of mortar. Then they said, “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:1-9 (NIV)The Flood and the Tower of Babel
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar instead of mortar. Then they said, “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:1-9 (NIV)The universal language in the account of Babel is similar to both the language of the flood account as well as the universal language in the New Testament used to describe the Great Tribulation and Parousia of Christ. It should come as no surprise that Christians dedicated to both a global flood and a global fulfillment of New Testament prophecy in our future also see the events of Babel in universal terms involving a huge civilization. It is consistent to read both the flood and Babel as colossal events in physical scope, given the plain-literal hermeneutic to which futurists are committed. John Whitcomb, Jr. writes:
God’s judgment of the Tower of Babel was one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the world. In one moment, a massive, highly complex building project, involving the entire human race, came to an end. Thousands of workers suddenly found themselves incapable of communicating with anyone outside their extended family group. Overwhelmed by fear and frustration, each family group moved away from the others. Mankind has never recovered.
This is the standard Creation Science view of Babel. Not only is Babel viewed as a universal judgment, it is the harbinger of a global system to come in the last days. Henry Morris connects his understanding of Babel to dispensational futurist concepts of global events in the “last days.” He writes:
Just as pantheistic evolution served as the world's religion in the early days, so it will do again in the last days. The New Age is really nothing but a revival in modern garb of the Old Age—that is, the first age after the Flood, when King Nimrod led the world in a united rebellion against the Creator. And just as all the groups in the wide spectrum of New Age beliefs are founded upon a base of pantheistic evolutionism, so all have as their ultimate goal, just as Nimrod did, the development of a global system of government, culture, finance, and religion. The United Nations Organization is currently the focus of these plans, but it will eventually "evolve" into a much stronger international government in which all "the kings of the earth (will) set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His [Christ], saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us" (Psalm 2:2,3)...
[T]he most effective thing the remnant of believers in God and His Word can do to offset this is to believe and teach a soundly Biblical and scientific creationism. This must include the great truth that the Creator has now also become the Lamb of God, our sin-forgiving Savior, and soon will return as eternal King. In that day, "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (Revelation 17:14).
As we’ve already pointed out in part 10, advocates of Creation Science believe very strongly in evolution from the contents of Noah’s ark to all the biological life we witness today. The Creation Science explanation is impossible apart from radical evolution in the post-flood world. On the other hand, Morris’ concern for the secular humanist ideas behind the United Nations is not totally unfounded. Nor do we take issue with the truth that the Christian gospel offers solutions to international conflicts and relationships.
The problem with Morris’ approach is that he has promoted dispensational premillenial theology that is inherently false in its expectation of the Second Coming of Christ in our near future. The same plain-literal hermeneutic which leads Morris to premillenial eschatology also leads him to a global flood in Genesis. That plain-literalism has a ripple effect on how advocates of Creation Science understand the Tower of Babel as well.
Given the logical connection between the Creation Science view of Babel and dispensational futurism, a question arises for those who see the problem of building our understanding of biblical judgments simplistically from a plain-literal reading of the biblical text. If the Bible routinely uses global language, as it reads in our modern English, to describe non-global historical events such as the flood, Great Tribulation and Parousia of Christ, should we not read the account of Babel in a similar manner? The Hebrew text consistently uses “erets” (“ge” in the Septuagint) for what is usually translated as “whole world,” “earth,” and “face of the earth” in modern English. Why would preterists support the Creation Science understanding of the Tower of Babel?
Advocates for Creation Science generally overlook serious problems the account of Babel raises for the Creation Science system on their own assumptions. The biblical account of flood and Babel, taken together, vindicate a preterist hermeneutic applied to Genesis. The relationship between the flood and Babel provides internal evidence that neither judgment involved universal events.
The details in the account of Babel are sparse. One detail which the writer thought was significant has been completely ignored in Creation Science literature. Notice the builders used fired (baked) bricks instead of stone and tar instead of mortar (Genesis 11:3). Why would the biblical account stress these details? Why would the builders choose these difficult and expensive options? After all, Mesopotamia did not have an abundance of trees to fuel brick kilns.
These details in the account indicate the builders of Babel tried to waterproof their structure. In Hebrew the “tar” in the Babel account is the same as what was used to waterproof the ark. Fired bricks are waterproof and would maintain their integrity when wet, unlike normal mud brick.
The city and tower of Babel were constructed for the practical purpose of creating immunity from God’s judgment in case God sent another flood. They wanted protection from any future flood as they settled in the plain of Shinar.
Today, few think of Babel as a defiant response to the flood. Yet this understanding was common a hundred years ago. One old American history book for children explains it this way:
Somewhere in Babylonia the people built a great tower called the Tower of Babel, which you have probably heard about. It was more like a mountain than a tower... Some say the Tower of Babel and others like it were built so that the people might have a high place to which they could climb in case of another flood.
This understanding of the account of Babel is corroborated by Josephus who writes:
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God... He said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers! Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower... It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. (emphasis ours)
Josephus’ account gives slightly different details than Genesis, but it is perfectly compatible with the biblical account. Both Scripture and Josephus specify that the tower was built of burnt brick instead of stone; tar instead of common mortar.
Josephus includes another relevant detail that further explains his understanding of the Babel event. Notice that Nimrod’s intent was to avenge himself on God’s destruction of their forefathers. But according to the Creation Science model, Noah is Nimrod’s forefather! How can Nimrod, or anyone else alive at the time, avenge themselves on God for the destruction of their forefathers if no one lived on planet earth after the flood beside Noah’s family? Given Josephus’ account, it appears the rebellion at Babel was fueled, at least in part, by the children of those destroyed in the flood. If true, that means the flood was a local event.
The logical relationship between the flood and Babel suggest the two events happened close together in biblical history. The textual evidence in Genesis agrees. The flood and Babel represent contiguous accounts in Genesis. The flood is recorded in Genesis 6-9. Genesis 10 is filled with genealogical information. Genesis 11 carries on with the account of Babel. The Creation Science reading of the Genesis account generally assumes the flood and Babel were separated by a vast time period. Yet there is no gap of this magnitude in Genesis between the flood and Babel.
How much time lapsed between the flood and Babel? If we take the genealogical text of Genesis 11 literally, as Creation Scientists uniformly demand elsewhere in Genesis, the time between the flood and the birth of Abraham amount to just under 300 years.
This is the account of Shem. Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. … When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber. … When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg. … When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu. ... When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug. ... When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor. ... When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah. ... After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. Genesis 11:10-26 (NIV)
Babel occurs somewhere in this period of time. Most Creation Scientists suggest the events of Babel occurred around the birth of Peleg because of the division spoken of in Genesis 10:25.
Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan. Genesis 10:25.
The chronology appears to be straightforward if we grant a plain-literal reading of the text. By adding the years, Peleg was born about 101 years after the flood and Abram (Abraham) was born about 292 years after the flood. The genealogy is shown in the figure below.
One leading Creation Scientist, Ken Ham, defends a flood relatively close to the days of Abraham. He senses the logical implications of wandering from a plain-literal reading of the post-flood genealogies. When dealing with the suggestion of gaps in the genealogies of both Genesis 5 and 11 he claims:
This is not so. The language is clear that they are strict chronologies, especially because they give the age of the father at the birth of the next name in line. So the earth is only about 6000 years old.
Ham does not seem to realize what this means for the chronology of the flood and Babel. Ham’s approach creates an unsolvable problem: time. If the flood destroyed absolutely all human life on planet earth except the 8 people of Noah’s family, then how can there possibly be another huge civilization in existence within three generations of the flood? The common perception of Babel as a great civilization or the repopulation of planet earth to pre-flood levels is mathematically impossible within that period of time (roughly 100 years if Babel occurred at the birth of Peleg).
The Creation Science explanation of these events has a related problem of inadequate population in light of the biblical account of Nimrod, the one who instigated the building of Babel. Notice what Nimrod was able to accomplish right after the flood.
This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons, who themselves had sons after the flood. … The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteca. … Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. … The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. Genesis 10:1-11 (NIV)
A plain and direct reading of the genealogical tables declares Nimrod the son of Cush who is the son of Ham, one of the three sons of Noah. Nimrod was involved in the construction of Babel. Yet after God thwarted that plan, he built eight more cities, creating an empire set against God. The account also mentions that Nimrod was a “mighty warrior” which means he had to have killed some of Noah’s progeny in battle! This further reduces the meager post-flood population. In light of all these biblical details, how is it physically possible for a grandson of Noah to build nine cities if the flood left only eight people on planet earth?
Advocates of Creation Science imply people grew numerous virtually instantaneously after the flood. When we look carefully at the details in Genesis should it not surprise us that by about 367 years after the flood (when Abraham left Haran), there were numerous peoples with numerous national identities, some of whom had sold thousands of their own countrymen to Terah and Abram? Some of these servants in Abraham’s household were brought from as far as 1000 miles away. Hagar came from Egypt (Gen. 16:1). Eliezer came from Damascus (Gen. 15:2).
Creation Science advocates have yet to put together a story that includes all these details in conformity with the natural flow of the Genesis story. They tend take each piece of information in Genesis (i.e. the flood, Babel and story of Abraham) as if it has no bearing or relationship to the rest of the story. When the biblical information about the post-flood world is considered fully, a universal flood makes nonsense of the post-flood story according to the hermeneutic assumptions of Creation Science advocates.
One way to alleviate this problem of time and population between the flood and Babel is to rely on the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic text which underlies most English Bibles. The Septuagint provides an extra 500 or so years between Noah and Peleg. This would help solve the problem of time needed between the flood and Babel in order for an advanced civilization to develop. What makes this option unworkable for the Creation Science view is that the Septuagint places the flood years before Methuselah dies – a fatal problem for a global flood view. This point alone causes most Creation Scientists to essentially demonize the genealogical accounting in the Septuagint. Answers in Genesis warns their followers against the Septuagint. Their website explains their problem with making use of the Septuagint:
‘The Septuagint records the correct Genesis chronology.’ This is not so. The Septuagint chronologies are demonstrably inflated, and contain the (obvious) error that Methuselah lived 17 years after the Flood.
Very few stop to consider that the Septuagint may actually strengthen the case for a regional flood. Could it be that the Septuagint translators accepted a limited flood that did not affect Methuselah? Creation Scientists automatically assume the Septuagint should be dismissed rather than their global flood doctrine. In other words, Creation Scientists have assumed their position without question, even if it means rejecting a venerable ancient translation of the Old Testament. Their standard for judging biblical texts is a worldwide flood interpretation!
The bottom line is the Masoretic text creates a thorny difficulty of time between the flood and Babel. The Septuagint alleviates this problem slightly, but creates an altogether different problem with the chronology of the flood and Methuselah. Neither text indicates a universal flood when we consider the wider story of the flood and Babel.
The difficulties for the Creation Science paradigm do not end there. Creation Science advocates must logically affirm a strange belief about Noah and Abraham if they stick to their plain-literal approach. Genesis 9 ends with the statement, “Noah lived 350 years after the flood.” If the genealogies in Genesis 11:10-26 (Masoretic text) are meant to be understood literally, adding the years from the flood to the birth of Abraham we would arrive at the conclusion that Noah and Abraham were, at the end of Noah’s life, contemporaries. Noah lived longer after the flood than the entire gap between the flood and birth of Abraham!
Other Creation Science leaders acknowledge this curious conclusion. Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, Jr. explain:
If the strict-chronological interpretation of Genesis 11 is correct, all the postdiluvian patriarchs, including Noah, would still have been living when Abraham was fifty years old...
Morris and Whitcomb probably gave more thought to the issue of time in the chronology of the flood and Babel than Ken Ham. They sense the problem of having a huge civilization at Babel within about a hundred years after a universal flood as well as the oddity of Noah and Abraham living simultaneously. They struggled with the issue of chronology in a long appendix to The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. What is their solution to the problem of the short time between the flood and Babel? They simply abandon a plain-literal approach to the genealogical material in Genesis. They write:
The strict-chronology interpretation of Genesis 11 has been shown to be unnecessary for various reasons. Thus, it seems Biblically possible, or even probable, that the flood occurred several millenia before Abraham.
The Flood may have occurred as much as three to five thousand years before Abraham.
This is a double-standard hermeneutic. What do Creation Scientists say about all those who find a strict-chronology interpretation unnecessary in other portions of early Genesis? If a strict-chronology interpretation is unnecessary in Genesis 11, might a strict-chronology interpretation also be unnecessary for Genesis 1? Like dispensational-futurist eschatology, Whitcomb and Morris’ plain-literal hermeneutic only applies when convenient. If plain-literalism makes nonsense out of their system, they quickly abandon it.
What’s more, Creation Science advocates throw blistering criticism at those who support the Gap Theory in Genesis 1. Yet those who follow Morris and Whitcomb must manufacture gaps of undetermined length in the genealogical records to create more time between the flood and Babel. Creation Scientists are forced to invent a huge time gap between the flood and Babel because of their pre-commitment to a global flood. This is another example of gap theology (much like the supposed gap in Daniel’s 70 weeks) forced on the biblical text by dispensational methodology in order to defend global preconceptions.
It is interesting to note precisely why Morris and Whitcomb rejected a plain literal chronology of Genesis 11. They sense the problem referenced above in regard to the details recorded in the account of Abraham. They reason like this:
If we accept 2167 B.C. as the year of Abram’s birth, the Flood must have occurred in the year 2459 B.C. and the judgment of the Tower of Babel between 2358 and 2119 B.C. (the lifetime of Peleg) according to a strict-chronology interpretation.
When we turn to the Genesis account of Abram’s journeys, however, we discover the international scene to have been quite different from that suggested by the above-mentioned dates for the Flood and judgment of Babel. Abram is certainly not depicted as one of the early pioneers from the land of Shinar who migrated to western territories that were only beginning to be settled 200 years after the judgment of Babel. Quite to the contrary, the Bible implies that the world of Abram’s day, with its civilizations and cities, was ancient already…
That is a powerful admission by the fathers of the Creation Science movement. The more obvious explanation is simply that the flood did not wipe out every human civilization on planet earth. That would explain why the civilizations and cities referenced in the biblical account of Abraham appeared ancient by the time of Abraham. They were!
The account of Babel either disproves a worldwide flood which must have taken place little more than a 100 years before Babel, or the account of Babel reveals the inconsistency of the plain-literal hermeneutic at the heart of the Creation Science system. The Septuagint, if trustworthy, disproves a worldwide flood outright. Any way you slice the textual evidence, the account of Babel creates tremendous problems for the Creation Science view of Noah’s flood.
All these problems evaporate once we understand that the flood was not universal in an absolute, global sense. If the flood is recorded in phenomenal language, extending out past the vision of Noah in all directions, it would not intend to convey the idea that the flood destroyed all human beings on planet earth or all civilizations. The flood account referenced the complete destruction within Noah’s covenant context with the line of Seth. This contextual understanding of the flood is corroborated by Josephus, who begins his account of the flood by saying:
Now this posterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations; but in the process of time they were perverted, and forsook the practices of their forefathers, and did neither pay those honours to God which were appointed to them, nor had they any concern to do justice toward men. But for what degree of zeal they had formerly shewn for virtue, they now shewed by their actions a double degree of wickedness, whereby they made God to be their enemy. (emphasis ours)
The account of Babel involves people who lived outside of the immediate region where the flood took place, yet who hardened themselves against God’s righteous judgment at the instigation of Nimrod. Some of Noah’s progeny may also have been involved in the construction of Babel, but just as the flood took place within a covenant context, the account of Babel speaks of similar regional events in biblical Mesopotamia that do not apply to the entire globe or other continents. People who lived in other parts of planet earth are simply beyond the purview of the biblical account much the preterist view of the limited context of the Great Tribulation.
We have more good evidence for this non-universal approach when we examine the theological parallelism between the account of Babel and the events of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. God cursed Babel and confused the languages of the people scattering them over the “face of the whole earth.” At Pentecost the curse is reversed as God’s Spirit is poured out in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy about the last days.
The same universal language is used in Acts 2 which says Jews were in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven.” This refers to the known world, not universally to every group of people on every continent of the globe at the time. In contrast to Babel where one language was confused, at Pentecost the confusion of many languages is ended in Christ by the outpouring of the Spirit. God’s grace at Pentecost triumphs over God’s curse at Babel. Once we understand that parallel in covenant history we should logically see both accounts in their proper context. It is inconsistent to demand the language of Babel demands universal events, when it is clear the same type of universal language in Acts 2 speaks of events limited to the Roman Empire.
The biblical relationship between the flood, Babel, and Abraham forces an impossible dilemma on Creation Science ideology. If they maintain their plain-literalism consistently, they must explain how a huge civilization could appear on earth a little more than a hundred years later. On the other hand, if they abandon a literal reading of the Genesis genealogical texts in order to have more time between the flood, Babel, and Abraham, they abandon the plain-literal method on which all their theories are built. None of these problems apply to a regional flood view, no matter how the genealogical material in Genesis is read.
All forms of plain-literal futurism confound the biblical record from Genesis through Revelation. A preterist hermeneutic applied to Genesis brings consistency to biblical accounts by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Preterism revolutionizes the Genesis debate.
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]
 Compare Genesis 6:14 with 11:3.
 V.M. Hillyer, revised by Edward G. Huey, A Child’s History of the World (Baltimore: Calvert School,  1997) p. 49.
Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 2-3.
 Genesis 14:14 states that Abram had 318 fighting men born in his household. This implies at least 3000 people in Abram’s household (see Gen. 14:14).
 See the chart at http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v12/i1/chronology.asp#f18 for a table of comparisons between the Masoretic and Septuagint.
 Some variance between Old Testament manuscripts and ambiguity in the Hebrew makes a precise calculation problematic.
 John C. Whitcomb, Jr. & Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 477.
 Ibid., p. 483.
 Ibid., p. 489.
 This curious, though necessary conclusion pits some Creation Science leaders against each other in their view of the chronology of the Tower of Babel and Abraham. Apparently some Creation Scientists handle Genesis more literally than others!
 Whitcomb and Morris, The Genesis Flood, p. 478.
 Genesis 5:6ff sets the context of the flood account in relation to the line of Seth.
 Antiquities: Book 1, Chapter 3, Section 1.
 Though the precise dates are hard to pin down, it is interesting to note that sometime before 2000 B.C. Akkadian, the parent language to Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and several other languages, divided into separate recognizable languages. Perhaps Babel relates to this linguistic split? Sumerian, the other dominant language of Mesopotamia, died out shortly after this split.
 For an intriguing alternative explanation of the meaning of the long life spans in Genesis see Duane L. Christensen, The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, Ronald F. Youngblood, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990) p. 166-183. Christensen shows patterns in the life spans in Genesis that implies the record is intended as symbolical numerology rather than an arithmetic record. There may be a connection in the Genesis genealogies to the same type of numerology in Revelation, most notably the 144,000 of Revelation 7. The genealogical material in Genesis may also be communicating by prophetic symbolism in the same manner long life spans in Isaiah 65:20 symbolize redeemed life in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Editor’s Note: this article was produced by Timothy P. Martin and Jeffrey L. Vaughn