Bernard Ramm’s book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, is perhaps one of the most popular evangelical writings on the nature of a local flood as opposed to a universal flood.
Quite extensively, Hugh Ross has been challenging the notion of a universal flood in the book of Genesis. Both men are correct in asserting that a universal flood would be unlikely to occur in the modern age because the balance of oceans and continents would not allow for a universal flood to occur suddenly as in the book of Genesis. There simply is no known natural force that could elevate oceans and submerge continents suddenly as took place according to the Genesis record. However, because such a universal flood would not occur today, this does not mean that such a flood did not occur in the past given that the physical world was quite different than it is today.
For instance, the universal flood was one of the results when “all the fountains of the great deep [were] broken up” (Gen. 7:11). This resulted in the elevation of the waters of the ocean and included “all the fountains of the great deep.” The elevation of the oceanic waters happened on “the same day” being the “six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month.” The breaking up of the oceanic waters created great changes in the earth’s balance and brought about a worldwide catastrophe (cf. 2 Pet. 3:6).
The elevation of the oceanic waters of “the great deep” coincided with the submerging of certain continents. “The waters increased…and the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth…and the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered” (Gen. 7:17-19). After 40 days, “fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered” (7:20). According to the Genesis record, an additional 110 days (150 days total) prevailed until “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died” including “every living substance” (7:21-24). The unique nature of this event is clearly seen in the Lord’s statement of Genesis 8:21-22: “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake…neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” The Noahic covenant that God would never again produce a universal flood again is given in Genesis 9:8-19. The token of the covenant will be a rainbow in the cloud.
Not only did the elevation of the oceanic waters result in a great catastrophe upon the physical earth, but also the breaking of the waters above added to the universal flood. Genesis 1:7 records God creating a “firmament in the midst of the waters, and [He] let it divide the waters from the waters.” Comparing Genesis 1:7 with 7:11-12 (“the windows of heaven were opened…. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights”) one is able to note a distinct difference between the clouds of the sky and something much like a water canopy that originally encircled the entire earth before the flood of Noah’s day. Certainly, this canopy was quite extraordinary since it took 40 days and nights for the water within it to be exhausted upon the earth. The water canopy had much the same effect as a greenhouse.
The water canopy that was created on the second day of creation would have resulted in a remarkable difference in conditions of the climate than currently exist today after the flood. According to Genesis 2:5-6, it never rained upon the earth prior to the flood but a mist came from the earth to water the ground. There were also no season or temperature variations in parts of the earth (i.e. equator and polar regions) prior to the flood. Genesis 8:1 records that after the flood, “God made a wind to pass over the earth.” The apostle Peter made a clear distinction between “the world that then was, being overflowed with water” and “the heavens and the earth, which are now” (2 Pet. 3:6-7). As a result of the collapse of this water canopy, there were profound physical changes in the earth.
If God were not in control of the flood, the waters would have never ceased to cover the earth. Scripture states, “the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained” (Gen. 8:3). It would appear that the “high hills” (7:19) are the result of the uplifting of the ocean basins during the flood and then the subsequent lowering of the ocean basins after the flood. The fragmenting of the “fountains of the great deep” is the record of the uplifting of the ocean basins. It was when the “fountains of the deep” and “windows of heaven” were assuaged that the subsequent lowering of the ocean basins resulted which formed much of the present mountainous regions. Once the floodwaters “returned from off the earth continually [Heb. in going and decreasing, margin note],” the submerging of the continents was reversed and God “let the dry land appear” as on the third day of creation (1:9).
Scripture compares the eschatological worldwide judgment of fire upon “ungodly men” and “the heavens and the earth” with the past worldwide judgment of the flood (cf. 2 Pet. 3:6-13). Christians are to fix their hope on the eschatological day of God when He will fashion the “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” It is this appeal that is to have a purifying effect on believers to seek to “be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless…. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” Just as there was a transformation that ended “the world that then was” and resulted in the present world, there will come to pass a sudden eschatological judgment (not of a worldwide flood but of a worldwide judgment of fire) upon this present world that will result in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).