Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.—Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.—Genesis 6:11-13 (NJPS)

...

For My part, I am about to bring the Flood—waters upon the earth—to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.—Genesis 6:17-18 (NJPS)

In this passage, it says "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God." The phrase "blameless in his age" sounds as if we put him next to his contemporaries, he'd be the most ethic man in the bunch. But if you put in a group with righteous men of other ages, would Noah similarly stand out or was he merely good compared to the lawless men of his time?

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If we look at verses beyond Genesis 6, we get more information on Noah's righteousness.

Eze 14:13 Son of man, if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch out My hand against it, destroy its supply of bread, send famine against it and cut off from it both man and beast,

Eze 14:14 even though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves," declares the Lord GOD.

Eze 14:20 adds to 14 that they would not even be able to save their own sons and daughters by their own righteousness.

Noah also appears in the "Faith Hall of Fame" of Hebrews 11 along with Able, Enoch, and Abraham.

Heb 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

In both Ezekiel and Hebrews, he is ranked next to men we know to be very righteous (not sinless, but righteous). His name is next to Daniel, Job, Able, Enoch, and Abraham. According to those, I'd say he would still stand out as righteous and faithful among any age.

share|improve this answer

At all times any reference to someone's righteousness must be either a relative one, or one as a result of justification (the imputation of fulfilled justice as a result of God's mercy on the sinner). This is due to:

Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.

10 As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Which is in turn a reference to verses such as:

Psalm 143:2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

1 Kings 8:46 “When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to the land of the enemy, far or near;

Job 25:4 How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?

Psalm 14:3 They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.

and is reinforced with:

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

All men that were counted as righteous in the Tanach (Old Testament) were not as a result of their "goodness" or good behavior (as can be deduced from the above verses), but rather as the mercy of God being extended to them, as we can see in Genesis 15:6

Genesis 15:6 And he (Abram) believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Further, (and to lean a little more on theology) this is only as a result of God imputing the righteousness of Christ (who never sinned, as per 1 Peter 2:22) to all who trusted in the mercy of God, and yes, even for Old Testament believers. This is what the title of "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" is referring to.

Revelation 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

His righteousness is "applied", even retroactively, to those who lived before Him, including Noah. So Noah's righteousness, like that of Abra(ha)m's, was as a result of His trusting in the Mercy of God alone, and not their own righteous deeds. So to answer your question, Noah was relatively good, sure, but not blameless in his own behavior, he was blameless because God had already had his sins paid for by the Messiah who was to come (cf. Isaiah 53). This imputed righteousness is what allows God to treat us as righteous without his own righteousness (justice) being violated. Thus, he could find Noah to be "blameless" in the absolute sense, even if he wasn't blameless even in the relative sense.

share|improve this answer

The text tells us that he was both "a righteous man" and "blameless in his generation". The latter seems to be pretty clear that he was the best of that lot, as you comment in the question, but that still leaves us with "Noah was a righteous man". Also, he merited to be saved (with his family) when God could have wiped out everybody and restarted. So a close reading of the text suggests that he was righteous (whatever that means) and not just the least-evil of a bad lot (though that too).

Was he as righteous as the righteous of other ages? I don't think the text gives us enough information to say.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

share|improve this answer

The Midrash (as quoted by Rashi) records a disagreement about exactly this topic. Either it means “he was relatively righteous for his generation” or it means “he was righteous even in his perverted generation”.

Note that the two explanations are not quite contradictory; and a case can be made that this ambiguity in language is deliberately implying both at once: Although he was righteous even “in his generation”, he was influenced by his surroundings to be far less so than he might have been, so his actual perfection was only relative to “his generation”. (This explanation is from Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary.)

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. I wonder if you would mind fleshing out how he could be both at once? –  Jon Ericson Feb 7 '12 at 17:32
    
@JonEricson: How’s this? –  J. C. Salomon Feb 7 '12 at 19:19
    
That's helpful. Seems like a very nuanced position! –  Jon Ericson Feb 7 '12 at 19:51

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.