Does the Catholic Church recognize the story of Noah and the flood as being literally true?

If so, how could that be? And please, not the ‘All things are possible through God’. If I’m to explain catholic theology to non-catholics, I’d better come better equipped than that. :slight_smile:
And if not, on what basis is it considered allegorical and not true? Why would Noah’s story be false, and our original parents Adam and Eve be true?
How do you reconcile the similarities between the story of Noah and other ancient flood stories?
Any insight would be most helpful. Thanks!

Ironically, as unbelievable as it may seem, there may in fact have been a “world-drowning” flood. There may have even been an ark.

But the story isn’t intent on teaching history.

Its intent is to typologically teach theology. For example, the dove “carrying” Noah’s hand into the ark is a picture of the Holy Spirit delivering Christ to the Church at the time of the Incarnation. The crow which flies up and doesn’t fly down until after the flood is Christ ascending to Heaven and not returning until the Second Coming at the end of time. The dove bearing the olive twig to the ark is the Paraclete deliuvering the grace of the cross to the Church, in the interim.

Don’t worry about whether the flood is fictional. You are reading it for the wrong reason.

Please take care to not confuse allegory with metaphor.

Metaphor is a true event with the nouns (not verbs) changed. An allegory is a fictional story that typifies real events.

The Noah story was metaphor, not allegory.

But do note that I am not Catholic (yet). :smiley:

As a Catholic, one is free to believe it literally, or metaphorically (mythologically), or both. Either way, the Catholic Church teaches that all Scripture is inspired and true. See the Catechism para 101-127.

that story is from God, written by an inspired hand, and that is good enough for me.

At a time when only a few thousand human beings were alive, and centered in one area, a “world destroying flood” need not have covered more than a few thousand square miles. The story is about the flood’s effect upon, and GOD’s grace to, HUMAN life; not the results in the natural world.

There is not enough water on the planet to cover it to 30,000’ of depth (the height of the “highest mountains”), and the ark would not have held all of the planet’s animal species. But for the story to work as a record of GOD’s works in history, neither is needed. What is important is how Noah and his family were saved, along with the animals they needed for survival.

After the waters receded, the descendants of Noah, scattering in all directions, would have developed their own mythologies surrounding this cataclysm whence their history began.


Not necessarily, in Scripture studies.

In Genesis 2-3, just one example, God is portrayed, metaphorically, as “planting” and “moving about” (among other verbs).

Allegorical* interpretations* can be faithful and true understanding of Scripture passages that are in and of themselves not (or not only) allegorical. Literal (factual) passages may be interpreted allegorically.

See the Catechism para 115-119.

Noah’s ark was real. The rainbow which we still see today is the sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Genesis 9:13-17

Some of the people, who were drowning, repented before they died and Jesus then preached to them in prison (purgatory) during the time period between His own death and His own resurrection.

1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit;
19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison,
20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah
, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

God saved the lives of the eight persons and their animals who were in the ark. Some of the evil persons, who were left on earth to drown, repented while they were drowning and after they died they went to purgatory (prison) and remained there. Jesus then preached to them during the three days before He rose again from the dead. They were in purgatory over 2000 years before Jesus went there and preached to them!!! :eek:

The righteous persons, who were not in purgatory at the time of Jesus’ death, were waiting in Abraham’s bosom for Jesus to open the gates of heaven for them in order for them to enter into heaven. Adam’s sin closed the gates of heaven; Jesus’ sacrifice re-opened them.

Luke 16:22-23
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried;
23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom.

Interesting theory. Still, in answer to the question, the Catholic Church does not require Catholics to hold that the story of Noah and the ark is literally true.


THe Hebrew story of Noah and the Flood was copied from a much older Sumarian legend of which two cruniform copies are extant.

The original in on the Web.

Tablet 11
O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubartutu:
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.
I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea:
'My lord, thus is the command which you have uttered
I will heed and will do it.

But you probably should consider the literal truth of it, rather than trying to rationalize your faith for a number of reasons. For starters, the flood is a pre-figuration of baptism, if the flood is nothing but a alagory or “bed time story”, then what does that mean for baptism? This is similar to the Israelites passing through the red sea in exodus.

More over, if you start by rationalizing your faith here, where does it stop? Do you start rejecting the miricles of Christ? Because you figure no one can clean an leper, so why should God be able to? Very quickly you start rationalizing your faith to the point of being aboslutly irrational.

Don’t let modernism and materialism dictate what you should believe. These concepts reject God funamentally, why would you let philophies which reject God dictate what you believe about God? This is a slippery slope.

Well, according to a site I found a while back (, there are 500+ flood stories from around the world. To me, that’s extraordinary, and it lends credibility. Maybe they occured at the same time, maybe they didn’t. Maybe it wasn’t literally the however-many cubits deep flood, but still deeper than the people could understand and quantify. But none of those “maybe’s” about the details change the real content of the story. Don’t get hung up on the details and miss the story. Some flood beyond imaging actually happened, IMO.

And as for the “how”, well, the way I was taught it, God created all the laws of physics and whatnot that we’re confined by. They’re a cinch for Him. He can use and tweak them however He pleases. We don’t get to understand the how of some things. I’m reminded of a quote from a show, where a scientific-minded girl was looking at a Bible:

“Noah’s ark is a problem.”
“We’ll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of mammal on the same boat.”

Hey, maybe it was. We’ll never know. The writer couldn’t really have written in “And then as Noah was loading the ark, God initiated a quantum state phenomenon”. The concept was beyond their comprehension at the time, and so, so much is still beyond our comprehension. Sometimes you have to just accept that it’s a mystery to us, and it may always be.

Whether one interprets the story literally or otherwise (or both) has no necessary bearing on the theology and sacrament of Baptism.

I am not letting modernism and materialism dictate my beliefs, I am letting the Church. The Church allows Catholics to interpret it literally, allegorically, both, etc.

I think it is history. I also recognize the fact that it was in fact given to Moses by the Angel of the Lord-making it written centuries before the “other” flood stories.

The main reason I think it is historical is because God talks about it in Isaiah and at least one other Prophet(can’t remember who).

Did you know that the Chinese have a flood story that reads nearly identically to the Bible one? (The only real difference is the names of the people).

Here are some quotes I found from history regarding the Ark’s remains:

Doesn’t the Fatima Miracle “defy” science. . .yet it happened! 70,000 people saw the sun dace in the sky! That defies all logic!

The Church does take this literally. There was a covenant between God and Noah and it is still in force today.

from CCC @

After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part. The covenant with Noah after the flood gives expression to the principle of the divine economy toward the “nations,” in other words, toward men grouped "in their lands, each with [its] own LANGUAGE, by their families, in their nations."9

This state of division into many nations is at once cosmic, social, and religious. It is intended to limit the pride of fallen humanity,10 united only in its perverse ambition to forge its own unity as at Babel.11 But, because of sin, both polytheism and the idolatry of the nation and of its rulers constantly threaten this provisional economy with the perversion of paganism.12

**The covenant with Noah remains in force during the times of the Gentiles, until the universal proclamation of the Gospel.**13 The Bible venerates several great figures among the Gentiles: Abel the just, the king-priest Melchizedek—a figure of Christ—and the upright "Noah, Daniel, and Job."14 Scripture thus expresses the heights of sanctity that can be reached by those who live according to the covenant of Noah, waiting for Christ to "gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad."15

If there was no flood, then there would be no need for a covenant with Noah. And, as you can see from the Catechism, there is indeed a covenant just as Genesis states.

Genesis 9:13-17
I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,
15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."
17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

I don’t think you understand how the church defines the senses, you can not interpet allegorically with out first interpeting literally. From the Catechism:

According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  1. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction."85
  1. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

And yes, it affects baptism. No washing away of the the sinful in the flood? No salvation through the water? Then what does baptism even mean?

What does it matter if the Sumerians wrote down their own version of the flood “story” first? They heard this story from the progeny of Noah and his family since we are all, including them, descended from Noah’s family! All other human beings were drowned by the flood. Our common ancestor is Noah (and his family).

Moses was the first to write down the first five books of the Bible and many of the events chronicled in these five books happened a long, long time before Moses was born.

Every culture had its oral histories, and also its myths to explain the unknown (or the partially known). God’s chosen people just did not happen to write down their revelation from God until God told Moses to do it.

I never denied there is a covenant.

Interpreting the literal sense, yes, of course. We have to understand the literal sense of the words. That is different than saying that the meaning of the literal sense is required for faith. Just like we have to understand the literal meaning of the parables Jesus told, which does not mean we have to believe the stories he told actually happened.

Baptism means what the Church teaches it means. Baptism depends on Christ, not on reading the story of Noah and the Ark literally. If we never had that story in the Bible we would still have baptism.

How do you know that the Israelites/Jews “copied” the Sumerians?

The sons of Abraham/Israelites/Jews have their own written explanation for creation and many other events in human history, including the flood; and they claim that it was given to them by God and written down on scrolls by Moses who was chosen by God to do this task.

It really does not matter if the Sumerians have an earlier written record about a flood. As Christians, we only need to be concerned about our own written record about it: the Bible.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit