After telling us about the widespread wickedness in all the earth, we learn in Genesis 6:9 that among them, Noah was found to be a righteous man. Wait a minute! Noah was righteous?! Over in the New Testament, Paul said in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” So, what’s happening here? Who’s right—Moses or Paul? Paul seems to have gotten his line from Psalm 14. In verses 1 through 3 of that psalm we read,
“The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist.’ They are corrupt: they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.”
That psalm seems to move from the God-denying fool to the greater world of the whole human race to find everyone corrupt—no one who does good. Yet only two verses later in this very same psalm, we read, “[The evildoers] will be filled with terror, for God is with those who are righteous.” How can the psalmist say in one breath that there is no one who does good (not even one) and then in the next breath talk about the righteous? How do we make sense of this psalmist seemingly contradicting himself—and Paul contradicting Moses?
Actually, there are numerous OT examples in which the authors refer to the righteous one or ones. Psalm 5:12 tells us, “For you, Lord, bless the righteous one.” We read in Psalm 11:7 that “the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds. The upright [same Hebrew word translated else where as righteous] will see his face.” And in Psalm 32:11, 34:15, 34:19, 37:17, 37:29, 68:3, and in countless other examples both in the Psalms and sprinkled throughout the OT we find people identified as righteous. Not only are these groups of people called righteous; the Bible marks individuals as righteous. Noah is the only one so described in the OT, but in the NT, we have Joseph, Mary’s husband, called righteous (Mt 1:19); John the Baptist (Mk 6:20); John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk 1:6); Simeon (Lk 2:25); Joseph of Arimathea (Lk 23:50); Cornelius (Acts 10:22), Abel (He 11:4), and Lot (2 Pe 2:7).
Our confusion comes possibly because we understand the word righteous incorrectly. Righteous or righteousness does mean rightness, but we need to know context before understanding what the label righteous has measured; we need to know what the person is right about. Certainly, in Romans 3:10, Paul is discussing overall or ultimate standing with God. And no one is in a state of rightness about that. All humans, because of the sin curse on our essence, stand apart—are separated from God. None is in right standing, not even one. However, Noah (and Lot and Joseph and Abel and the rest) were right in whatever situation they were in when they looked in dependence on God. Lot was the only one to do that in Sodom. Joseph trusted in God. Abel gave his offering in trust of God’s care and supply. They, then, were righteous in those respects while still unrighteous in Paul’s explanation of overall stand based on their sin-cursed essence. So we need not find fault with Moses for recording that Noah was righteous.
It is certainly important to understand meanings and context in this way so that we don’t misunderstand and misappropriate the Bible’s revelation. We immediately have another interpretive difficulty as we read that Noah’s family enters the ark with him—Noah’s wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives. Earlier, we had discussed how the flood/ark story is an image of the end of our current age when Christ returns to judge, redeem the world, and rescue us from all evil. I insisted that God would not put an end to things until he knew (by his infinite knowledge of possibility) that no one living would still turn to him. To do so would be a violation of his infinite love. If the flood is a picture of that event, I also insisted that that scenario must have been true at the time—that no one who died in the flood would have (again based on God’s infinite knowledge of possibility) turned to God.
So, then, why was Noah’s family allowed on the ark? If Noah was the only one found to be righteous, how did Noah’s wife get rescued? If this scene is supposed to image Christ’s return, should we then think that by the righteousness of a family’s patriarch they will all be rescued into God’s kingdom despite their failure to individually turn to Christ? Well, no, on the basis of the Bible’s witness, that just cannot be. So what explanation is there for the family being allowed to take the ride.
Actually, there are several possibilities. The first and simplest is that images and analogies (and metaphors, symbols, and parables) cannot always match up in every detail those things or events they represent. Therefore, Noah’s wife, sons, and sons’ wives are extras to the imaging part of the story. The imaging part concerns only Noah, the people who died, the ark, the waters, and the renewed earth. God allowed Noah’s family to go along simply because they were necessary for the earth’s population to continue—something God wanted to ensure.
Another possibility is that Noah’s family did not fit with the character of those who would die in the flood. Remember, I insisted that based on God’s infinite knowledge of possibility, those who died would never have turned to God. Noah’s family may have been different. Perhaps they were not righteous (looking to God) at the time, but God knew the possibility that later they would. He therefore would not have limited their chance by sending them into the judgment of the flood. (This possibility is especially appropriate if I have the image a little off. If the image of the ark and flood is about our entire current age—instead of just the ending judgment—we would expect those with the possibility of repentance and faith to be carried along by the ark—the Christ symbol.)
Perhaps also all Noah’s family members were actually indeed already righteous. Chapter 6 verse 8 does state that Noah was righteous, but it does not state that no one else was righteous also. Even the intent of chapter 7 verse 1’s “you alone” may have included the entire family mentioned earlier in the sentence. With all these possibilities, we cannot find fault with God for including Noah’s family on the ark.
Except . . . why is the focus on Noah? If Noah’s wife is also righteously wanting to trust in God, why does the biblical record only record Noah’s interaction with God? Is this a sign of patriarchal importance or significance to the almost disregard of women? Is God wanting, by this story, for us to understand men to be the spiritual leaders in their families while women’s roles are relegated to submissive followers?
That reasoning hardly seems possible. After what we read of the creation of women in Genesis 2 and our brief review of NT passages that could be misinterpreted in such a way, we need to hang on to the Bible’s overall thrust—both men and women are meant to be equally submissive, giving of themselves and their abilities to each other and their vulnerabilities for the sake of love relationship. But then, why does this story (along with so many other OT, male-dominated stories) seem so different? To answer this question, steeped in interpretive wonder, we must take the time to ensure we have a good interpretive outline as we march through both the difficult and the seemingly easier passages of Scripture.
There are three areas of interpretive understanding with which we must come to clarity: (1) understanding the status of the Bible, (2) understanding the meaning of the Bible, and (3) understanding the purpose of the Bible. We have touched a little on all of these before, but we’ll now try to define and organize them a bit more fully.
The status of the Bible begins with its inspiration. We learn in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” Certainly Paul was talking at least about the OT here. But he could also have been considering portions of the NT as well. For example, In his first letter to Timothy, chapter 5, verse18, Paul says, “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and, ‘The worker is worthy of his wages.’” Well, that second quotation is not found in the OT. But it is found (word for word in the Greek) in Luke 10:7. Therefore, Paul seems to have been calling the Gospels Scripture as well. And it could be Paul’s insistence on saying “All Scripture,” rather than simply “Scripture,” was specifically to include more than the OT. Furthermore, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). By God’s providential inclusion and protection of what we have now as both the OT and NT, we can be pretty assured that our Bible is all God inspired.
The Greek word in 2 Timothy 3:16 that covers the phrase “inspired by God” is theopneustos, made of theos (God) and pneo (breathe or blow). God’s breath reminds us of similar uses in Scripture talking of the breath of God. God breathed into the molded earth to make the first human a living creature. Jesus likened the Spirit making alive children born of God to the wind blowing in John 3. And in John 20:22, the risen Jesus breathed on his disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That breathing was less the coming of the person of the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost in Acts 2, and more the empowering of God’s purpose as it was at the first creation of humans.
The breathing out of the Scriptures by God was obviously through the biblical authors. Pick up any fairly conservative systematic theology book, and you’ll find a statement regarding inspiration described in somewhat similar concept as this one from Louis Berkhof: “God used biblical authors “just as they were, with their character and temperament, their gifts and talents, their education and culture, their vocabulary, diction, and style. He illumined their minds, prompted them to write, repressed the influence of sin on their literary activity, and guided them in an organic way in the choice of their words and in the expression of their thoughts.”
Note carefully that what Berkhof says contains a significant leap from what the Bible actually says. The Bible says Scripture is inspired by God. Berkhof has extrapolated that concept to say God “guided them . . . in the choice of their words.” How is this extrapolation defended? It starts by submitting another statement of inspiration, this time by Peter: “No prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were moved (or carried along) by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pe 1:21). Yet, while being moved or carried along by the Spirit presents support to the inspiration idea of breathing out, it does not bridge the gap to get to God choosing the exact words. However, the whole concept of inerrancy demands that God choose the exact words. For, after all, if God chose the words, and God knows all, the text must be perfectly without error. The point of pushing the idea of inspiration to include God choosing the exact words so as to get to the point of inerrancy seems to be so that we can sit back and trust that every word in the Bible is true and trustworthy. However, it creates a difficult (and possibly unwinnable) battle.
What do we mean by inerrant? Well, the word means without error. So if we quote Ecclesiastes 1:5 that tells us the sun rises and sets, have we just encountered an error? Technically, the earth turns making it only look as if the sun rises and sets. Inerrantists have therefore traditionally started qualifying what is meant by an error. The list usually includes the following eight points:
Inerrancy does not demand—
1. Strict adherence to the rules of grammar
2. Exclusion of the use of either figures of speech or literary genre
3. Historical or semantical precision
4. The technical or observational language of modern science
5. Verbal exactness in the citation of the OT by the NT
6. Sayings of Jesus contain exact words of Jesus (only the voice)
7. Comprehensiveness of any single or combined accounts
8. Infallibility of non-inspired sources used by the writers
However, by having to include a long list of qualifiers to the term, it makes the term rather useless in understanding our point. After all, if, as mentioned in #6, the exact words of Jesus are not necessary (only the general voice or intent), why are we insisting on exactness of words for other parts of the Bible? And if inspiration means that God did choose the exact words, why didn’t he choose the exact words Jesus actually said?
Further, how can our argument for the progression from inspiration to inerrancy be that God knows all, which means his choice of words makes it perfectly without error, when we claim in #8 that non-inspired sources were used that may have made “God’s exact choice of words” doubtful regarding truth?
Holding blindly to the word inerrancy actually tends to lessen confidence in our Bible, when we should be encouraged toward assurance not by the made-up inerrancy argument but rather by its claim of being God–breathed.