Why Noah Couldn’t Build a Boat Small Enough

Theme Party for August 27 (’14)

Text: Genesis 6

Noah’s Ark.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hadn’t heard of this story, even when I lived in Muslim lands.  Many have an opinion on it; controversies and arguments abound.  Some of the controversies are these (no importance to the order):


“Daughters of Men” and “Sons of God”?

1. Who were the Nephilim (6:4)?
2. Who are the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” (6:4)?
3. Did angels have sexual relations with men (6:2-4)?
4. How could God be “sorry” for what he had made in Man (6:6 & 7)?
5. What had Noah done to “find favor” with Yahweh (6:8)?  (This might only be a controversy in branches of the church that preach salvation by mercy instead of salvation by works.)
6. How could an ark hold all the animals of the earth (6:19)?
7. Some of the above issues lead to a 7th controversy discussed by scholars and the rest of us: was the Flood universal, or was it localized?

We may write about these at a future time, but there’s one problem inherent in each of the above: they all miss the point.  The point of this passage is not to introduce controversies, but to proclaim God’s solution to a problem with the Earth and to a problem with Man.  Put another way, this chapter doesn’t give new problems, it solves old ones.  To focus on any of the above 7 completely misses the forest, but not because of focusing on trees.  Instead, it misses the forest while focusing on trees that don’t exist.

The first problem God solves in this text is a problem with the Earth: it had become corrupted and filled with violence.  6:13 says, “I have determined to make an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.”  6:12 says the earth was “…filled with violence” and was “corrupt.”  Moreover, it shouldn’t be a surprise this is the case when we are also told in 6:5 that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth….”  In short, wherever Man was, the earth had become tainted, stained, and corrupted to the point God’s view of it was anything but flattering: filled with violence.  Sin, then, had won.  It appears the promise of Genesis 3:15 had failed: there wasn’t any enmity between the Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman.  The former had an unqualified victory.  Satan had managed to build his anti-Kingdom.  If you miss this because you’re so concerned about whether angels are having sex with human beings, you may be part of the problem and may not appreciate the solution.

Noah's Ark

Fixed 1/2 the problem…

Greg Beale has argued persuasively that the earth was a temple (specifically, the Garden in Eden was a replica-reflection of God’s heavenly dwelling).  For his temple (Eden) to become filled with violence and corruption was a horrendous thought.  It would have been bad enough that the climax of his creation (Man and Woman) rebelled against him.  In Genesis 3, he had to act.  He could not leave them there with what was sure to occur: violence and further corruption (as we see in Genesis 4).  So, Yahweh threw out Man and Woman; he exiled them.  He preserved his sanctuary and the holiness of his temple by cursing the Serpent and casting out his people, yet doing so in a way that promised a future hope and redemption saying, “I will put enmity between your seed and her seed; you shall bruise his heel, but he (the seed of the woman) will crush your head” (Gen 3:15).  This is the first Gospel; the first good news and the hope of all God-fearing men coming out of Adam and Eve.  By Genesis 6, those God-fearers had been reduced to one.  Let that sink in.  No matter how evil Republicans are, no matter how Anti-Christ you think Democrats are, no matter how bad you think this world is, it is not remotely like that one was.

corruptionEverywhere Man and Woman went, corruption followed.  It is so bad by Genesis 6, God must act to cleanse the earth of corruption—he must purify the poisoned. It must be bigger than exile—worse than what came before—because there was no where else for Yahweh to exile Man. We had filled not Eden, but the whole earth. The cleansing had to be wherever we were, and we and our toxic sin had gone everywhere. A worldwide (whatever that means…) judgement event was predictable and logical, then, based on God’s prior cleansing in Eden as well as from his promise in Genesis 3:15 to restore what had become destroyed. This fact is clear considering that God soon would give Noah the same command he gave Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth” and the beasts will fear them (cf. Gen 9:1-3 with Gen 1:28-30). Check both those references and it is clear that Noah was a new Adam in a type of Eden.  So, while the Flood took care of an immediate consequence of violence upon the earth, and the unholy spread of man across the earth, it didn’t fix the core problem with Man.  Noah couldn’t build a boat small enough to cure Man’s heart and wicked nature.

We wonder if Noah asked himself or God, “What happens when the earth is filled again?” Noah did, in fact, bring temporary “rest.” He and only his family were left. Violence stops temporarily.  But what about after he and his sons had been obedient to Yahweh’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”?

23578792For all their talk of Jesus’ blood being necessary to atone for man, some evangelicals seem to think it vital that the Flood be universal/world-wide.  I’ve heard it said at a prominent Bible college I attended, “If you don’t believe the Flood was worldwide, you’re a liberal who undermines the Gospel.”  Not quite.  It is absolutely true that blood is needed to save us; water couldn’t do it.  But even if the Flood was over the entire globe, it still wouldn’t have done the job of fixing the problem with Man.  Even with a worldwide flood, it would not fix the problem of a globe filled with violence and corruption; it was temporary.  Temporary judgment for a temporary fix to a long-term problem.  Notice later in 9:12-17 that God says he won’t ever destroy the earth again with water. He’ll still destroy the earth, and he’ll do it with fire (see 2 Peter 3:1-7 where the future destruction of earth is directly compared to the earlier destruction by water in Noah’s day).  World-wide flood?  Sure, but that wasn’t the point.  The point of the flood was to preserve the promise of Genesis 3:15….The point of the flood, whether local or universal, was to cleanse the Earth and preserve the Seed of the Woman/God.  This is why it was Noah who was preserved.  Noah was from the Line of Seth, the replacement for Abel (Gen 4:25), and it was Seth’s line that began true worship of the Living God (4:26).  Noah is a direct descendent, and, from all accounts, the only one left willing to give such worship.  Genesis 5 gives way to Genesis 6, and there is Noah, pleasing Yahweh in his worship.  Atonement is still needed, and it would be given.

Many years later, another son of Seth would talk of worship—the kind that pleases the Heavenly Father, that of spirit and truth.  There was great confusion and violence upon the earth then, too, and relief and rest were needed.  But a boat wouldn’t float this time.  A permanent solution was needed, and a permanent solution was accomplished.  In the fullness of time—when the time was just right—this Son did what no other could or had done.  Instead of a wooden boat to save only one man and his family, God gave a wooden cross to save the entire human judgment_day_los_angeles_being_destroyed_terminator_2family, and to save them to worship in spirit and truth.

There is also another judgment coming.  As referenced earlier, 2 Peter 3 is clear.  This can’t be written off as apocalyptic symbolism. There is a real judgment coming.  Peter writes a letter; it isn’t a vision like Revelation.  But like the ark and Noah, those who trust in the Messiah will be preserved.




7 thoughts on “Why Noah Couldn’t Build a Boat Small Enough

  1. I find it a little odd that you are perfectly comfortable with taking the Bible completely literally when it comes to future judgment, but yet feel compelled to scoff at a literal interpretation of the kind of judgment which occurred in the past (the Flood…) Why do you seem to have concluded that a belief in a literal, global flood (which the Bible says covered the tops of the mountains, pretty specific there…) is somehow in contrast with the gospel which preaches that sin is only forgiven and done away with through the shed blood of Christ?


  2. Thanks for commenting. I believe it was a global flood. I wondered if I should make that clear, but decided to leave things as is in the final edit. I don’t think making that the point of the passage is helpful, which was my overall point. This said, I do find the evidence for a local flood more compelling than many conservative Christians (of which I am one). Throughout Scripture, and in narrative portions as well, the point of view of the speaker is important. It is possible—though I find it very unlikely— “covered the tops of the mountains” could be from the author’s point of view (I also take Moses as the author, by the way). Again, I don’t find this at all convincing, but simply more compelling than most conservatives.

    I don’t think I said anything that is scoffing. It would certainly be odd to scoff at one’s own point of view. Can you point to specific spots?

    I did try to leave the question of beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt proof for global flooding aside since the controversy itself tends to obscure the point of God moving sky and earth to preserve his promise given in Gen 3:15, and preserving the Seed of the Woman. This was my main focus.

    I do not find belief in a global flood incompatible with the necessity for substitutionary atonement. In fact, I tried to make clear that such an atonement is automatically necessary given the fact that the Flood did not, nor ever could, cure the problem, and that Noah should’ve reasoned accordingly. This may be a bit unfair to Noah, but nonetheless, guys like Abraham were able to reason to the Resurrection based on the promise, and so I tend to think Noah may have known more than the text presents. As this is unprovable, I’ll leave it at that.

    I also tried to make clear, and I don’t think I did in hindsight, that God never was trying to cure the problem; he was trying to preserve the earth so that, in the fullness of time, his plan would be fulfilled. Even saying it that way makes it seem like God was merely a reactionary—a bystander almost—instead of the God conservative Reformed orthodoxy confesses him to be, and I stand squarely in the Reformed camp and do not intend to diminish Him.

    I appreciate your comments. They’ve helped me think more clearly.


    • Perhaps I jumped to some conclusions too quickly, or just misunderstood some of your points. But then again, there were several things you said just in your response comment which I found a little confusing… You say you DO believe in a global flood, but yet you find the evidence for a local flood more compelling? As for the point about “the author’s point of view” being that the flood went over the tops of the mountains… How exactly would Moses (or even Noah for that matter) been able to even determine, from the perspective of an individual human walking along the earth, that the flood did or didn’t “cover the tops of the mountains”…? How could such a thing even be “observed” objectively from a human point of view? I take it to be more a point of divine revelation. I also don’t at all understand the point you’re driving at by saying “Noah should’ve reasoned accordingly” in regards to him being able to understand that the flood wouldn’t actually cure sin once and for all. I don’t see why you feel compelled to even make such an argument in the first place. Who ever said Noah believed that the flood was intended to completely deal with sin nature? Are you suggesting that perhaps Noah should’ve understood the redemptive plan that was to come (as Abraham and Moses did) and NOT built the Ark…? That would seem to suggest that you think that building the Ark was Noah’s own idea, which again, I find a tad bizarre, considering the fact that the Bible says that God was the one who told Noah to built it (and not only that, but exactly HOW to build it….)

      The “localized” flood theory is one that I simply can’t understand how people really try to rationalize in their minds. I mean… We can see what massive, regionalized flooding looks like today, and even when torrents of rain produce enough water to wash away whole towns, how long does that water “hang around”? Water, (as we all intuitively know) “flows downhill”. So how much water do you think it would’ve taken to actually lift that big ark full animals just off the ground by a few feet? A lot! But if it wasn’t really a true, global flood, covering the tops of the highest mountains and lasting for MONTHS, then what would’ve happened, had the boat still been held afloat but only by “localized” flood waters? The ark would’ve either had to A) run aground again somewhere shortly after the rain stopped, or B) somehow floated along on massive gushes of water which were emptying out into the lower elevations. (right?) Because of that whole “gravity” thing, water won’t just sit around in higher elevations if there is lower ground to fill. That’s like Kindergarten level science! So maybe Noah and Co. could’ve eventually ended up being dumped out into a sea or ocean. Only… the Bible says that it eventually landed in the mountains of Ararat… So, again, either the Bible is just totally wrong, or else a LOT of water had to be on the earth for a LONG time to get the ark up there, even if was just the “foothills” and not necessarily up on the peak somewhere.

      Anyways… maybe that was sort of a wasted argument if you actually believe in a global flood anyhow, I guess I just don’t quite get why you would then turn around and mention “compelling evidence” for a local flood.

      In the end, I should probably say that what originally drew me to this post was your mentioning of the Genesis 6 aspect. Personally I would recommend going back and taking a closer look at all of that, as I myself eventually had to come to the conclusion that in fact, the “Sons of God” are indeed angels, and did indeed mate with human women, and produce offspring, and that this was in fact a major factor in why the Flood had to be so severe. (because, you’re right, the Flood didn’t deal with sin nature, and the Nephilim aren’t in and of themselves a “bigger problem” that the underlying issue of man’s sinfulness, but nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they don’t have any significance either…)


      • Well, I said I find the evidence for a local flood “more compelling than many conservative Christians,” not that I find it “more compelling than evidence for a worldwide flood.” Generally, I don’t find enough evangelicals thinking carefully about the text in a nuanced way that thoroughly deals with authorial context. I may agree with their conclusions, but not necessarily the way they always get there.

        My point about Noah reasoning from the evidence around him and based on God’s character (whom I believe he knew based on the evidence given in Genesis 5-6) was that the Flood would not cure the problem of sin and more would be needed. I may be reaching, but there are other situations in which OT saints did just this. Abraham reasoned there had to be a Resurrection because God told him to kill Isaac, yet God had promised a future seed through Isaac (see Heb 11:19). Lamech, Noah’s father, reasoned that God would bring relief from the curse of painful toil, and believed so much that his son’s name reflected the father’s faith. Of course, this is all based on God’s promise—revelation—but it is also based on what the Line of Seth had seen and not just been promised: the faithfulness of God, his ability to keep them from dying (Enoch), etc. I think it is reasonable to ask questions like, “How much did Noah know? What might I have been thinking in his place?” This is, of course, speculation, which can be dangerous, but it is not inherently so, and I don’t think my comments demean Noah, the Scriptures, or damage our walk with Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith talks about truth we can deduce through good and necessary consequence, and I find it intriguing to ask the question, “What might Noah have thought regarding the problem (the earth getting filled with corruption) and the solution, and the need for a more thorough lasting salvation from God?”

        I don’t believe the ark was Noah’s idea, and I’m not arguing that point. Our posts on Wednesdays are designed to show the connected nature of themes in the Old Testament coming to full revelation in the New, i.e., how themes and shadows in the OT are developed over time and find their reality in Christ. I believe the ark story does this in two ways. First, sin wasn’t really dealt with permanently: there needed to be a permanent redemption. I think this is clear especially considering the events immediately following the disembarking from the ark: Noah gets drunk and his son acts wickedly. There’s only 4 men. 1/4 show themselves evil and of the line of Cain. The problem is still there. Second, and I only touched on this briefly, the theme of permanent judgment against sin picked up in the prophetic texts and spoken of clearly by Peter.

        I really do believe in a global flood. Like I said, I’m more sympathetic than most to the local flood idea, even though I agree with you: not good enough. I’d have to have overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and it isn’t close.

        In short, I don’t think it’s angels marrying or having relations with women, but I do think Doug Wilson presents just about the best case I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot) for the view you espouse as well. You can read it here:


        I genuinely appreciate you reading and making thorough comments.


      • (are you a seminary student perhaps? Or were one?) You talk like one… 🙂

        I hear you, but then still don’t quite understand why you’d think Noah would have to do or say more to show that he’d figured out that the Flood was going to provide ultimate redemption. God told him what to do, he obeyed, (act of faith), but like you said, he was still a sinner! They all were. Anyhow…

        If that presentation by this Doug Wilson guy is the “best case you’ve heard”, then that sucks! He hits some good points, but it’s not exactly what I would call an “in-depth” study. More like your typical dumbed-down sermon for the masses kind of thing. (of course, it comes on the heals of that infernal “Noah” movie…)

        I could go on for ages ripping apart things like this “godly sons of Seth” concept, but I’ll restrain myself. 🙂 I’ll only add that it’s quite interesting, how if you look into what the early church fathers believed about the topic, virtually all of them believed Gen 6 described human/angelic “mingling”, (in fact it wasn’t even something they really debated, but more seemed to all take as a fact that everyone understood) so, if it really is just a total false teaching, that it would seem that it’s one that somehow crept into the minds of the first generations of Christians right off the bat, but yet somehow didn’t distort their understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross, the need for a sacrifice for sin, etc…..


  3. Well, the Wilson post is certainly short. I grant that it isn’t an in-depth analysis (which should cover the Fathers’ view as well as rabbinic and midrashic thought—which you’re right to mention the former—and go far deeper exegetically) But I think it highlights what needs to be highlighted biblically.

    For instance, the article to which I linked is certainly in-depth, but I find his analysis of Scripture painfully inadequate in key places, especially when it comes to recognizing the use of metaphorical language in various genres in Scripture (like his use of Amos to prove Genesis 6’s creatures were angels).

    If you’d like, write a counter post, and I’ll publish it on a Thursday.


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