Genesis vs 2nd Peter:
Did Noah Preach a Message of Repentance and Salvation?
We've all seen the image above, showing righteous Noah taking precious time out of his busy ark-constructing day to preach a message of repentance to the mocking, jeering crowd who lived in the days before the Flood. There's Noah, hoping his oratory skills would be persuasive enough to get at least a FEW 'interested ones' to repent of their sins and find salvation aboard the Ark.
Instead, Noah encountered the ancient World's equivalent of doors being slammed in his face (AKA those 'not interested' and 'not-at-homes', in the lingo of Jehovah's Witnesses). Per Genesis, no mortal outside of Noah's immediate family accepted his life-saving message; the entire World's population were too busy "eating, drinking, and being given in marriage" to take his offer seriously.
That's how the story goes, right?
But in looking at the original account in Genesis 6, did it actually happen that way?
Does the Bible actually say Noah preached of the need for repentance and salvation, as 2nd Peter claims? Was Noah actually a "preacher of righteousness", or was his preaching delivering ANOTHER message?
This question is critical, since the Flood is held by many groups (including Jehovah's Witnesses) as being a dry run-through for Armageddon (well, more like a 'wet' run-through: sorry, I couldn't pass up the pun!). But if Noah didn't give the population fair warning and an opportunity for salvation, then the entire basis of YHWH being a just and fair God is in question.
This article will re-examine the account of Noah in Genesis 6, then look at the words of Jesus where he discussed the Flood. Finally, we'll look at 2nd Peter's account of the same event, considering if there's any ulterior motives that might explain 2nd Peter's claim.
BTW, this article WON'T be addressing those elements of the Flood that require an endless stream of miracles being performed by God to explain the unbelievable aspects of the account, e.g. asking where all the water came from, where it went, the sea-worthiness of an all-wood vessel having similar dimensions, the type of wood that's resistant to water-logging and able to retain buoyancy for an entire year at sea, the fresh water/food supplies needed for an entire year, etc. By definition, these factors are easily excused on the grounds of having been disclosed to be 'miracles', so they're already given an exception to policy: God has free reign to violate the physical laws that otherwise would apply. That's what a miracle is, by definition, so any challenge to those events are easily overcome by believers reciting three magic words: "God Dun It!" So it's pointless to pursue, since you either believe in miracles or you don't.
Instead, I'll be focusing on the very words of Genesis 6 itself, looking at the sequence of events, what God told Noah, and what Noah did; we'll see if there's any evidence for Noah having preached to others, as 2nd Peter claims.
Let's start at the beginning of the Flood account:
Genesis 6 (KJV):
The Wickedness of Man
1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. 3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. 4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
This is the prologue, the back-story, where apparently those fallen 'sons of God' have contributed to the delinquency of mortals. Duly noted, and since it's mentioned in the account upfront, it clearly has something to do with why God was disappointed in mankind (perhaps suggestive of another attempt to blame the women (daughters of men) for everything that goes wrong on Earth, just like was done with Eve?).
Moving on, though, we now get to the 'meat' of the story:
5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
We're told why YHWH wants to wipe the slate clean: man's great wickedness, and the constant evil thoughts in the hearts of men.
Notice in verse 7: it's where God has made up His mind to destroy ALL life (along with beasts, birds, and creeping spiders! What did THEY do wrong to warrant being placed on God's naughty list?).
Don't overlook that immutable God made His decision to destroy all life even BEFORE notifying Noah of His plans to drive all species (including mankind) to near-extinction, since God has ALREADY PASSED judgment, condemning the World He created. There'd be no point in Noah offering salvation if God's mind had already made, handing down a death sentence to ALL life on Earth.
Unlike Abraham, who later in Genesis appeals on behalf of any unknown righteous men, Noah doesn't say a word. In fact, look closely and you'll discover that Noah doesn't say ANYTHING throughout the entire Flood narrative, where the only words Noah utters in the Bible is when he delivers the 'curse of Ham' to punish Canaan for the sins of his father.
the sentence before Noah dies).
So God has already examined the hearts of the entire human population, and condemned everyone to death. No preaching or fair notice is needed, just punishment, AKA carrying out the execution.
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
So out of all men on the Planet, Noah ALONE was found deserving of grace. And what earned Noah salvation?
9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Noah was "just" and "perfect in his generations": the omniscient narrator is telling us God's favorable assessment of Noah, based on his PAST behavior.
God formed this favorable impression of Noah BEFORE having decided to carry out the Flood, and even BEFORE God informed Noah of his plans to wipe the slate clean.
Hence we know that Noah's being saved could NOT be based on Noah having preached of the need for salvation to others about the upcoming Flood, since God made His determination even BEFORE telling Noah of his plans to Flood the Earth! Noah couldn't possibly have known about the Flood until AFTER being told about YHWH's plan, just as Noah couldn't possibly warn of an upcoming punishment which he didn't even know about!
Restated, the passage makes it clear that God's favorable impression was made based on what he saw of Noah BEFORE YHWH decided to Flood the Earth, BEFORE He told Noah of his plan. Thus, finding favor in God's eyes wasn't based on Noah's preaching activity, as he didn't even know what God had up his sleeve.
And notice how verse 9 makes a point of mentioning how "perfect" Noah's bloodline is; some have suggested that fallen angels had corrupted the bloodline of mankind, and hence there was a need to wipe out all humans, due to tainted blood. However, that kind of idea would also mean there's no REASON to offer repentance and salvation, either, since the only cure for corrupted DNA was to remove those individuals from the gene pool, and since Noah was "perfect", that would mean everyone ELSE had to be eliminated.
11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.
13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
(Realize that the Genesis redactors stitched two parallel narratives together, as there were multiple accounts; hence the final composite version lends a sense of repetition to the story, although the wording is slightly different.)
Verse 13 is where God first tells Noah of his plans to destroy ALL life. Noah is likely scared, as he may assume that would include him and his family.
(Genesis 6:14-16 gives details about the dimensions of the Ark, which I'm skipping, it's irrelevant to the point I'm making.)
When verse 17 commences, note YHWH's words confirming the extent of his anger, stating who's to be killed (in bold):
17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
"ALL flesh", "EVERY thing....shall die".
At this point, Noah hasn't been told if he and his family are going to be destroyed in the Flood, along with the others: "all flesh" means everyone, including Noah. That sounds pretty conclusive: God is not allowing ANYONE to survive.
However, God quickly clarifies there will be SOME survivors, as verse 18 mentions the word 'but', connoting an exception to an otherwise-universal policy):
18 But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.
There it is: God has extended an offer to spare Noah and his family.
God had already decided on the final passenger manifest of the Ark, and it includes exactly EIGHT (8) souls. No other survivors are mentioned. There's no extras or over-flow seating. There's no open-ended terms in the contract, allowing room for last-minute modifications, eg "The final passenger manifest may change, depending on mankind's reception to Noah's message". Notice God gives no orders to warn others; there's nothing like that at all in the account.
This is a covenant, which is the Biblical name for a 'contract': I do this for you, and you in return must do this for me (quid pro quo). That's how covenants work, and once a contract is accepted, neither party is allowed to modify the terms without the expressed approval of the other party, who agrees to a modification (and if either side fails to keep up their end of the bargain, they can be sued for non-performance).
In modern legal parlance, this type of agreement is known as a 'performance contract', where one party agrees to perform some action for the benefit of the other, receiving something of benefit in exchange. This is contract law 101, and understanding contract law is key to understanding the Torah: it was written by people who know a thing or two about law, having produced many talented Jewish lawyers over the centuries.
Verse 18 is YHWH's offer to save Noah and his family from the destruction of the Flood, BUT ONLY IF Noah agrees to build the ark, loading two of every type of animal on-board. The contract is valid only if Noah keeps his end of the agreement; otherwise, God is fully-justified in drowning Noah and family for their failure-to-perform.
It's a blessing, followed by an obligation: that's the classic form of a covenant.
God offers explicit terms, giving detailed instructions for what Noah must do:
19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. 20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.
Verse 21 mentions the stipulation of stowing enough provisions for (8) humans and the animals:
21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.
There's no mention of bringing extra provisions in case anybody decides to repent at the last minute. Instead, the contract says, "it shall be food for YOU, and for them (the animals)".
Verse 22 tells us Noah upheld his end of the agreement to the tee, meeting his obligations under the covenant offered by God:
22 Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.
It even repeats the statement twice ("Thus did Noah....So did he"), just to drive the point home that Noah did all that was asked to do By God in the covenant.
Note there's NO mention of the need to preach of repentance and salvation to others, since God HAD ALREADY DECIDED, back in verse 7 ("I have decided"), and he condemned ALL mankind to death. The verdict had already been rendered, and justice was being served, just as soon as the ark was finished: death penalty for ALL mankind, except for Noah and his family (and don't forget the mention of Nephilim when the story opened, so there's the tainted Nephilim blood that needed to be scrubbed off the face of the Earth).
So any interpretation of Genesis that tries to add terms to the covenant between God and Noah is classic 'eisegesis', AKA reading additional details into an account that simply aren't there, in the first place. In this case, it would constitute adding terms to a covenant, changing the terms in the Bible long afterwards: who was it that said, "woe to you lying scribes"?
And what did Jesus have to say on the issue of Noah's preaching before the Flood?
36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Per Jesus, no man or angel knew the day and hour until the Flood came, but notice that Jesus didn't claim that Noah preached, and he certainly didn't say that Noah offered an opportunity for repentance and salvation, as if the Ark was built to serve as a life-boat to all who repented.
Of course, it makes sense that men wouldn't know the day and hour if they didn't even expect a Flood; hence it came as a shock to them, being completely unexpected! God had already examined their hearts, so there was nothing to be decided except for the day and hour the death sentence was to be carried out (which only God knew).
Now, let's look at 2nd Peter 2:4-5 (KJV):
4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
Note how 2nd Peter makes a claim that Noah was "a preacher of righteousness", which surpasses the words of Jesus, and clearly exceeds the details offered in the covenant found in the Genesis account.
It seems 'Peter' (the pseudonymous author of 2nd Peter) is engaging in a bit of eisegesis, AKA making stuff up to support blossoming Christian doctrine.
(And if you haven't yet read my 3-part series on 'Peter's' rehabilitation of the intentionally-libelous depiction of Lot found in Genesis, then it might behoove you to read it after finishing this article.)
The reason for the claim of Noah's preaching salvation should be obvious:
One of the cornerstone doctrines of the early Christian church was that God's destruction of the Earth requires giving humans fair notice, i.e. people must be given a chance to repent before being destroyed at God's hands (after all, it wouldn't be sporting NOT to give them fair warning). This idea drives the Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs, since they follow Jesus' command found in Matt 28: "Go therefore and make disciples in all the Nations....and THEN the end will come".
It is reflected in Paul's words stated before the Aeropagus, in Acts 17:
30 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
So the concept of Noah preaching a message of salvation was needed to support Christianity's belief in fair notice to all inhabitants of the Earth, except much like the Lot story, the original Genesis account of Noah doesn't actually support the concept.
However, even Paul didn't make the claim that Noah preached a message of repentance before the Flood to save others: instead, Paul in Hebrews 11:7 said this:
"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith."
"Save his own family" and "condemning the world" is a far-cry from what JWs claim as the Flood serving as a proto-Armageddon with Noah offering an opportunity for salvation. That's not what the message of the Genesis account is, and it's not what Paul says above in Hebrews.
Hence yet another solution provided by the last writing to be added to the New Testament, the epistle of 2nd Peter; it was needed to rectify some stubborn holes in the Hebrew Bible, and support the concept of Noah being a preacher of righteousness (vs being only a preacher of CONDEMNATION) who gave the World an opportunity for salvation. The epistle of 2nd Peter serves a purpose quite similar to the upgrade of declaring Lot as "righteous" to explain why he was saved from Sodom.
I'd encourage readers to investigate the evolution of the claim that Noah preached, as of you read the article on Lot's account, the Noah follows a now-familiar pattern: Ezekiel 33:8-9 created a duty to warn sinners to avoid sharing in their blood-guilt (an idea found in ancient Hebrew law), and this led to a desire to alter what were likely seen as mistakes in the original Genesis 6 Flood account; Jewish rabbis were wrestling with such issues in their literature (eg b. Sanhedrin 108a) and early church fathers (eg Clement) felt the need to fix these "problematic" stories by inserting doctrinal shifts that had emerged in intertestamental literature. The problem was fixed when the fraudulent 'Epistle of 2nd Peter' finally got past the goalie, and was officially canonized into the New Testament circa 400 CE.
As with the story of Lot, the unknown author of 2nd Peter took it upon himself to tie up some loose ends in the Torah, helping 'Moses' patch some of the theological problems facing Christianity in the original accounts of both Lot and Noah. 'Peter' added some key elements and simply ignored other pesky details to force the original stories to fit into the emerging doctrinal mold of Christianity.
As explained in Pt 2 of the story of Lot, the authenticity of 2nd Peter is questioned almost universally by New Testament scholars, and not even on these grounds that I've discussed (as far as I know, the issue of Lot and Noah hasn't been identified elsewhere, although it sure seems to be the 'smoking gun' that would explain the doctrinal additions).
Of course, the author of the far-older 17th Cent BC Babylonian account of Atrahasis (the archetype upon which the Noah character is based) would be honored to find that the Flood story has gained such traction and longevity by having been incorporated into the Bible, the most influential book ever written. He likely had no idea of the chain of events he unintentionally set off by recording the story in cuneiform tablets, about 1,000 yrs before Genesis was written onto scrolls (although the story has likely existed much longer than the tablet version, having been handed down via oral traditions for 1000's of years before).
The real story behind the story of Noah and Atrahasis (an Akkadian name which means 'exceedingly wise') is much more fascinating than the later Hebraic adaptation added to the Torah, and even 2 Peter's later-addition which was needed to force the story to fit into emerging Christian theology.
Here's a good start for any who aren't aware of the older story of Atrahasis:
(There's also information on that page about the much-younger and more-famous tablet containing the Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 7th Cent BC)
The capricious God Enlil (who wanted to destroy mankind with a flood) and the benevolent God Enki (who wanted to save mankind) worked fine within the Babylonian theological framework, but the story doesn't work so well when YHWH was recast into a combined role, and the tale needed additional modification for Christianity by giving the mortals an opportunity to repent, which they refused (which is exactly the function of the element added to the story in 2nd Peter).
BTW, those who want a version of the Flood account where Noah preached and saved others should consider converting to Islam, since the Qur'an contains a version where Noah preaches and saves 76 others aboard the Ark. However, the logistical challenges faced by Noah in the Muslim version are much simpler, since the Flood is not global and lasts just 7 days (vs Genesis, which lasts a YEAR), so there's less concern of having sufficient supplies to keep all survivors alive.
In a follow-up article (Does Jehovah's Witnesses Blood Policy Reflect They Understand Noah's Flood?) I examine the biblical account in Genesis to explain the THREE-STEP solution that YHWH used to address the problem of "evil thoughts in the hearts of men" (and there's MORE to it than the easy answer you already know: wiping out all the evil men with the Flood was only the first of a three-step solution).