The Hebrew word אָרֶץ (erets) can mean "earth", "land", or "ground" (Strongs H776). For example, in Genesis 2:13, the river Gihon winds through the whole land (אָרֶץ) of Cush.

This word, אָרֶץ, is used throughout the flood account, where all major English translations take the account to be referring to the whole earth.

E.g., Gen 7:24:

The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. (NIV)

And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (ESV)

And the floodwaters covered the earth for 150 days. (NLT)

Since Bible translators are highly educated and all the major English translations seem to agree on this point, I assume there must be clear indications in the text that the author of the passage intended the flood to be understood as covering the whole earth rather than the whole land.

What are the compelling indications in the text itself that this is how the word אָרֶץ should be translated in this passage?

Note: I am not asking for scientific or theological arguments about the interpretation of this passage, but for arguments from this text itself.

  • 2
    Gen 7.19-20 says every mountain under the sky was at least fifteen cubits underwater. I don't see how that's remotely possible except under the premise of a worldwide flood. However, this begs the question of what the author(s) of the text even thought the 'world' was shaped like; by any indication, the ancient Israelites thought the earth was flat under a solid dome, not spherical. – user2910 Nov 9 '17 at 18:09
  • 1
    @MarkEdward the phrase "כָּל־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם" isn't any more conclusive than "כל־הארץ" Literally they mean "all of the heavens" and "all of the land" respectively. But the same terms are used to refer to goings on in a particular country. See, e.g., Genesis 13:9; Exodus 8:10, 9:5, 10:5, 10:12, 10:15; Deuteronomy 19:8; Joshua 2:3. – conceptualinertia Jan 8 '18 at 23:26

In addition to Matt Zabojnik's answer, the story leading up to 7:24 indicate the entire earth is in view. See chapter 6 verse 7, 12, 13, 17, and so on. God is displeased with all of mankind, and wants to kill all of them, and even all creatures.

  • 1
    The fact that God was displeased with all of mankind doesn't mean that the entire earth was in view here, given that we don't have to assume that the entire earth was populated at the time. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jan 8 '18 at 22:20
  • @EJoshuaS you're correct, I'm just saying that the context indicates the entire earth is in view. This is debatable. – Jason Fry Jan 10 '18 at 12:47

From ESV,

Genesis 9:11

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth (אָרֶץ).

Here,"earth" is the same Hebrew word אָרֶץ (erets)- you are referring to, but within the passage, all flesh is cut off. Perhaps more importantly, the statement "never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" demonstrates that the earth (or the land) will never be destroyed by a flood. We do have local floods that destroy the land, so this promise must not be referring to local flooding.

The word in question has 5 primary definitions used in scripture, two of which are 1) land, country, region (local) 2) earth (global)

(Full List of Definitions)

Definition, along with context, demonstrates that the meaning is the whole earth, rather than a local area or region. Definition and context together give meaning for words, while definition alone can lead to error.

Two examples of context where אָרֶץ is referring to the whole earth and not just a local area:

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.(אָרֶץ)

Isaiah 14:26

This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth (אָרֶץ), and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.

Within context, the definition must be the whole earth, not only local lands.

  • I agree that context is important, hence my question. And I see your point about a promise to destroy the earth vs. the land. But if the land vs. earth interpretation was built only on this one verse (Genesis 9:11), I would have expected some English translations to at least give a footnote of the alternative. If you read אָרֶץ in Gen 9:11 as "land" instead of "earth", the verse could still make sense if the flood was large enough to wipe out all humanity, depending on your intepretation of בָּשָׂר (flesh). – talljosh Nov 13 '17 at 1:34

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