Bryan D. Estelle
Wednesday, September 1st 2010
Sep/Oct 2010

Recovering the Message of Scripture

In this special section of our "Rightly Dividing the Word" issue, nine pastor-theologians help shed light on some popular texts of Scripture that tend to lose their true redemptive-historical significance in a culture of interpretive narcissism.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (Gen. 6:9b)

Then the Lord said to Noah, 'Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. (Gen. 7:1)

These statements are shocking, or at least puzzling to Protestant sensibilities. How can any man be "righteous" before God? Did not Adam, our federal head, cast the human race into a state of sin and misery? Are the statements in Romans 3 and elsewhere about the wickedness of human beings true or not?

Let it be stated up front that no mere man of himself can render something meritorious before God of such a nature that it would earn one salvation or entitlement to heaven. As I stated in a book review in Modern Reformation four years ago: "Of course, after the Fall, a mere man is never able to merit anything whatsoever from God. Whatever good proceeds from us is anticipated by God's work within us." Indeed, these are confessional commitments from which we must not waver (e.g., the WCF XVI: 5-6 and Heidelberg Catechism #60).

Did Noah find standing before God, in the sense of getting into heaven or gaining personal salvation, by virtue of his righteousness? By no means! After all, it is immortalized in the biblical record that Noah became drunk, which probably contributed to other sins on the part of his family. Noah was a sinner. Noah is going to get into heaven only by grace and by means of faith in Christ. He is a son of Adam and as such there can be no communion with God apart from forgiving grace. However, on another level–a typologically instructive level–his family is going to get into the ark by means of his integrity, and his family is going to be delivered from God's wrath. Therefore, Noah is a type of Christ in this sense: by his obedience he secures deliverance for his family. This is what the exegesis demands, which can be discussed only briefly in this article.

The Noahic flood cycle, a beautifully arranged literary masterpiece, teaches the people of God that judgment came due to sin. Remember, sin had waxed so strong that we are told, "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 was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:5-6). Even so, the Noahic flood narrative also teaches that God would deliver his own people by "shutting them in" safe and sound inside the ark to avoid his wrath that is going to be poured out on mankind. Just as Noah safely delivered his family through that judgment, so also Christ will deliver all those who belong to him through the judgment of God's wrath poured out upon mankind for sin. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, "By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith" (Heb. 11:7).

What's the point? As Meredith Kline taught, this is an arrangement in which God was pleased to designate the exemplary righteousness of a human being to be a typological signifier of a greater deliverer to come. Another would lead God's family through a greater ordeal of judgment wrath on sin, safe and sound out the other side, so to speak: the coming Messianic Servant-King would win and secure the kingdom for himself and for his people.

Now, how can we say that Noah is a type of Christ? Isn't there a great disparity between his righteousness and Christ's? Absolutely! Types and shadows in the Old Testament often occur through certain events, institutions, and people. With regard to people, nowhere are the differences more magnified between types (the shadow) and antitypes (the fulfillment) than in the degree of righteousness involved in the type (in this case, Noah) and the antitype (namely, Christ). Noah was a sinner. Christ was not.

Notice that there are other differences between Noah and Christ here. There is no imputation of righteousness between Noah and his family (unlike Jesus). Moreover, there is no sacrifice for sins between Noah and his family, which is unlike Christ who was the spotless lamb offered for sin on behalf of his people. Nevertheless, in Noah, we see prefigured the great Savior-King who will save his people from the judgment to come. Christ Jesus is the one who came and offered up on the cross his perfect atonement. As such, he took upon himself all of God's deserved wrath on behalf of his own people. He won the kingdom for his people. Therefore, when you are reading that Noah was a righteous person, you are reading about Christ.

Wednesday, September 1st 2010

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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