Sorry, Mark Driscoll, Noah Was Righteous

Let me preface this by saying that I used to be a huge Mark Driscoll fanboy. Seriously. My friends would ask me how I felt about a certain theological issue, and my answers all started with the words, “Mark Driscoll said one time…”

I read his post about the Noah movie. It was incredible. Just mind-blowing. The only way I could think to respond was to copy-paste his entire post below, with my responses in bold red. Here it is.

This post is about one of my pet peeves.

It bugs me so much that I have gone through my kids’ picture Bibles over the years with a Sharpie, scratching out the error so my kids can get the story straight. With all the buzz about Noah lately, it seemed like a good time to connect Noah to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Uh… Okay? But why? And, more importantly, how?

THE WRONG MORAL

The most common way Christians butcher the story of Noah is by misreading what the Bible actually says. This is ironic, because that’s exactly what he’s about to do. The story is wrongly told that there were a bunch of bad guys who drowned and one good guy who got a boat. This is ironic, because that’s exactly what the Bible says. The moral of the story is that if you are a good guy then God will save you from death and wrath. I’m gonna let that one go.

The problem?

This is not the gospel.

The problem?

You can’t retrofit your soteriology onto every story in the Bible.

This is just good old-fashioned works. “Be a good person and you can get saved, otherwise you can just die.” That’s not exactly what this is. It’s a much more rich and complicated story. But if I had to argue for a simple moral, that’s probably what I’d go with.

The story is wrongly told that there were a bunch of bad guys who drowned and one good guy who got a boat. Not sure I’d say “wrongly.”

NOT A GOOD GUY

NoahsSacrificeSlow and careful Bible reading is really important everywhere, including here. If you don’t read slowly and carefully, you won’t fall for the sleight-of-hand he’s about to attempt. The order of events is very important and deliberate. The order of events is about to allow him to make some very improbable statements.

Genesis 6:5–9 says,

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.

First, Genesis 6:5–7 states the total depravity of everyone on the earth with one of the most negative declarations about human sin in all of Scripture. We are told that God saw that every person was only evil all of the time. God was grieved that he had made humanity because they filled his heart with pain. This statement does include Noah, who was simply one of the sinfully wicked men on the earth who grieved God.

Everyone was a sinner in Noah’s day, just like everyone is a sinner in our day.

Watch this. It’s incredible. Just incredible.

Second, Genesis 6:8 then explains the process by which God chose to save and bless Noah. It says, “But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the LORD.”

Noah did not begin as a righteous man, but rather he began as a sinner not unlike everyone else on the earth in his day. The only difference between Noah and the other sinners who died in the flood of judgment was that God gave grace to Noah.

Noah was not a good guy, but a graced guy.

Yes, that actually happened. Mark Driscoll managed to eisegete his own theology into the text because of the order in which scripture records Noah’s (a) finding grace in the Lord’s eyes and (b) being a righteous man, blameless in his generation. It’s mind-blowing. And it does ridiculous violence to the text. The folks who wrote this story weren’t writing with a doctrine of original sin in mind; this silliness happened when Mark read his theology into it. But no biggie. If the text doesn’t match what you want it to say, keep your inerrancy and read the text in a way that manages to avoid it saying what it actually says.

But wait! It gets better. Or worse, whichever.

GRACE AND FAVOR

Beautifully, the word “favor” is the same Hebrew word for grace that appears here for the first time in the Bible. It’s the same word that is echoed repeatedly by Paul and other authors throughout the New Testament as they proclaim that salvation is by grace through faith alone.

That’s not even possible! Has he abandoned the idea that his readership has a clue that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek? It can’t be the same word because it’s not even the same language.

Everyone was a sinner in Noah’s day, just like everyone is a sinner in our day. Agree to disagree. God had no good person to work through to accomplish his plan of redemption. Oh wait. Except for Noah, who the Bible says was blameless in his generation. But he doesn’t count because, due to MD’s theology of reading the Bible, Noah wasn’t blameless either, even though the Bible says he was. God worked, as he always has, by saving an undeserving sinner through grace, thereby enabling them to live a righteous life by grace, as is taught in the next verse. Except that it doesn’t say anything about Noah being an undeserving sinner. 

Let’s take a moment to unpack that. Mark explains that because the Bible says that everyone was wicked, it automatically includes Noah, who is LATER described as righteous. Mark’s logic looks like this:

1. The Bible says that everyone was wicked.
2. Noah was part of everyone.
3. Therefore, Noah was wicked.
4. The Bible says that Noah was righteous.
5. Therefore, Noah’s righteousness happened after his wickedness.

There is no reason to make the jump to (5). Plus there’s one itty-bitty problem: The Bible doesn’t say that everyone was wicked. Genesis 6:5 is the closest it gets, and all that verse says is that every inclination of mankind was evil continually. The only reason to believe that it included everyone is to retrofit “for all have sinned” onto the story. It doesn’t work. It wasn’t supposed to. Still, props to MD for trying. This is a laudable effort.

As one former pastor of mine always says, “There is one book that has more issues with modern-day Christianity than any other book: The Bible.” Genesis 6 is no exception.

But I ask you: Have you ever told your parents, “But everybody’s doing it!” And then your parents say, “You’re still not.” Your parents don’t assume that you’re among the group who’s doing it. But you said “Everybody’s doing it.” They’re not doing. Those kids’ parents aren’t doing it. The hermeneutical rule here is that if there is a list of people who are of a certain disposition followed by the name of someone who isn’t, that person was never on the list to begin with. When it says “everyone,” it means “everyone.” Unless there are clearly specified members of a group who are not “everyone,” which, in the Noah story, there are: Noah.

When applied to the Noah story, it looks like this:

1. The Bible says everyone was wicked.
2. The Bible says that Noah was righteous.
3. Therefore, Noah was not a part of the “everyone” who was wicked.

But this creates massive theological issues for Mark’s doctrine, the first of which being that we have a righteous person strolling the earth before Jesus strolled the earth! That doesn’t work with Mark’s theology. That creates a massive black hole right in the middle of it. So it must be destroyed.

But wait. Even if you destroy that hole, you have to destroy all the others. In Genesis 18:23, Abraham asks God if God will destroy the righteous with the wicked – assuming that there were righteous people to be spared! II Peter 2:7 declares Lot to have been righteous.

Exodus 23:7 warns against killing the righteous – assuming there are righteous people, in spite of Romans 3:10’s boldfaced declaration that there is none righteous, no not one.

I Kings 3:6 declares David to have been a righteous man – the same David who committed adultery and murder and couldn’t build the temple because he was a man of bloodshed. Job repeatedly declared himself to be righteous, and though his three friends argued that he wasn’t, in the end, God made them offer a sacrifice for their sin of speaking wrongly about Job.

The point is, righteousness is a finicky business in the Bible. Just when you think you understand it and you know that nobody is righteous, no not one, a righteous person shows up. It doesn’t have anything to do with a hermeneutic of grace or with Abraham believing God and it being counted as righteousness. The Bible simply declares certain people to be righteous, and a hermeneutic of original sin can’t make that complication go away.

Back to you, Mark.

The only difference between Noah and the other sinners who died in the flood of judgment was that God gave grace to Noah.

Well, that and the Bible’s declaration that Noah was righteous. Not only righteous, but the first person in the whole Bible to get that designation. There are two words here, one for “righteous, and one for “blameless.” “Blameless” is the Hebrew word תמים (taw-meem’), and Righteous is the Hebrew word צַדִּיק (tsa DEEK) and though both shows up repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible, the first appearance of both words is to describe Noah. Taw MEEM and tsa DEEK  both show up frequently enough to effectively wreck a theology of original sin, if it’s based on the appearances of those words.

Genesis 6:9 then explains the effects of God’s grace to Noah saying, “This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”

Indeed, Noah was a blameless and righteous man who, like Enoch, “walked with God” (Gen. 5:24). But Noah was only this sort of man because God saved him by grace and empowered him to live a new life of obedience to God by that same grace. Because that’s exactly what the text says. …Oh wait. No it isn’t. That was you reading your theology into the text. But it’s not there. Please stop pretending that it is. Gosh. This is coming from the guy who once told other people to “Skip your systematic theology; read the text. It says [x]. [X].” Or to paraphrase, “It says he was righteous. He was righteous.”

The good news of Noah is that a bad guy received God’s good grace, and that same God still saves the same way today.

Wouldn’t you like to believe that’s what it says?

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.

  • Your posts always show me the other side of things. Thanks so much!

    • Thank you so much! By the way, I love your URL.

  • Brief note: Original sin is not personal sin. So far as we know, it is true that Noah had original sin, and it is also true that he was blameless. Original sin is the deprivation of the original sanctifying grace (and other graces), all of which we would have kept as humanity through propogation since Adam but for the sin of Adam. It is not personal sin.

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