One of the problems of a local flood is that it doesn’t seem to have an adequate argument in reply to how the Genesis Flood is treated in the New Testament. One can understand an argument that all mankind or all the animals and birds may be understood in terms less than universal, just like all in Matthew 3:5 couldn’t mean every last person in Judea. The Bible often uses superlative terms as a literary exaggeration, and is meant to be taken as a metaphor—something like what we would say today when we wish to express the importance of an upcoming event, namely: “Everyone is going to be there!” Certainly every last person in the neighborhood, city, work location, school or to whatever the context of our statement refers, is not going to be there. Most or many will be there, but not all.
Although such an argument can be understood—not necessarily agreed upon—but it is possible that the use of the word “all” in Genesis 7:19 could mean many, several or a significant amount within a local context—if all we had in the Bible that described the Noahic Flood was that single verse and nothing more. The problem is that we have much more to consider, and I believe the rest of the evidence precludes the local flood argument and shows it was, indeed, universal. For example, Jesus refers to the Genesis Flood in his Olivet Prophecy:
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matthew 24:37-39 KJV)
Jesus drew a comparison of the universal judgment coming upon the world at his Second Coming with the judgment of God concerning the Genesis Flood. For the comparison to be a true one, both would need to have something in common with the other, and that point would be the point of emphasis. It would seem that the point of similarity would be their universality. After all, Jesus is not simply the judge over a local community, but over the whole world (Revelation 11:15), which seems to be the point Jesus is making in Matthew 24. Another consideration would be the method of judgment, and this is shown Luke 17:28-30 where he describes God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, which was judgment by fire.
I believe Peter’s point has to do with how God intended to judge the world and destroy the heavens and the earth that stood from the time of the Flood to Peter’s day. If water covered even one mountain, the flood would need to be universal, because water seeks its own level. This is not so with fire. A whole mountain could be on fire, but other mountains wouldn’t necessarily be affected in the same way. Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities in the plain perished, yet other cities remained, but were aware of God’s judgment upon those cities, so they feared.
Peter’s mention of fire as the modus operandi of God’s judgment in his second epistle addressed the problem of scoffers wondering where the promise of Jesus’ coming was:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2Peter 3:3-7 KJV—emphasis mine)
Notice that Peter says, “by the word of God the heavens were of old and the earth standing out of the water and in the water” (a reference to creation). The implication is that after the Flood there was “new heavens and a new earth”. This is de-creation language — “the heavens that then were” (2Peter 3:5) and recreation language–“behold I make new heavens and a new earth” (2Peter 3:13). The language is covenantal. That is, God dealt with the antediluvian age one way, but after the Flood he dealt with man in a different way. After the Flood there were laws that would govern men’s behavior (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20), while there isn’t any mention of law or government before the Flood.
We need to understand that it was the same earth after the Flood and the same heavens were above. The universal judgment was a covenantal judgment. The “new heavens and new earth” indicated a change in God’s modus-operandi or how God dealt with mankind.
In the same manner, Peter shows that the time of Christ’s coming would also represent a universal (covenantal) judgment—a time when the heavens and the earth would pass away by fire (2Peter 3:10). The language appears to be apocalyptic in nature–the heavens passing away and earth burning etc. (cf. Matthew 24:35). The heavens and the earth passed away, because the Old Covenant ended. The new heavens and the new earth (2Peter 3:13) had to do with the establishment of the New Covenant at Christ’s coming cir. 70 AD.