Noah’s Ark

March 28, 2014

Darren Aronofsky’s movie, Noah, may have people wondering about the biblical account. So what was the ark like?

The Hebrew word for ark means box. In the Old Testament, the word is also used of the papyrus (or bullrushes) ark in which Moses was placed as an infant (Exodus 2:3, 5). In fact, the word choice may have reminded the readers of the safety of Noah’s ark. A different word in Hebrew is used for the Ark of the Covenant, although both words mean box in some sense. Noah’s ark is not a ship in the normal sense of the word. It had no means of propulsion, and it may have had limited or no means of navigation. It was simply intended to rescue from the flood.

The text says that the ark was to be made of gopher wood. We do not know what gopher wood was. The “gopher” of the text of Genesis is a transliteration of the Hebrew word. (By the way there is no relationship in the Hebrew word to our English word gopher.) The etymology of the word is unknown. Several suggestions are made: cypress, pitch-pine, or simply some kind of resinous wood. The suggestions make sense given its use. The Greek Septuagint has “squared wood” which seems to be their attempt to translate gopher wood.

The dimensions of the ark were 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide by 30 cubits high which comes to about 450 feet by 75 feet by 45 feet. The proportions of the ark are correct for a cargo ship. It size is about as large as a wooden ship could be built. Sailing ships in the Western world generally did not get much above 330 feet long, but the Greeks were able to build ships of this size. China in the 1400s built ships which may have been as long as the ark.

The ark was made into rooms (literally the Hebrew word is nests). We are not told how many or how big. The ark was covered with pitch inside and out, which would have been used as a water seal. “A window” of the KJV in Genesis 6:16 is now thought to mean roof or skylight. The word only occurs once in the Old Testament making it more difficult to define. It may refer to a window all the way around with a height of a cubit (or about 18 inches), which may have been covered or opened as needed. The ark had three decks and one door.

If you like details, Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study by John Woodmorappe may be of interest. He concludes that the ark was not beyond the building skills of the period and goes into details about how it might have been done.

Sixty-eight different people groups are known to have flood stories. Varying flood accounts are found around the world.

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Go and Make Disciples

March 21, 2014

I have heard in a few sermons the following remark: “Although our English Bible says ‘Go and make disciples,’ the Greek would be better translated ‘As you go, make disciples.’” However, there are good reasons why most of our English translations actually say “Go and make disciples.”

The remark contains a partial truth. The verb translated “go” is actually an aorist participle in Greek. It is followed by an aorist imperative (make disciples). But knowing that the first word is a participle is just the beginning. The question is what does it mean in this construction with a command immediately following.

I thought about this recently because of Daniel Wallace’s blog on this subject which I happened to read after I had read Matthew 28. (Wallace is the author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and his blog will give a fuller explanation. It may better to hear it from someone who has written a grammar than merely one who has read one.) I had noticed that Matthew 28:7 has the same construction as Matthew 28:19: an aorist participle with an aorist imperative. The ESV reads: “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead” (Matthew 28:7).

I don’t think the message of the angel to the women was “As you go quickly, tell his disciples…” It is a bit more purposeful than that. I don’t think the women thought they could do anything they wanted before finding the apostles. Similar constructions can be found in Matthew (this is from a quick check in Accordance and only listing the other occasions in Matthew).

  • 2:8 — Go and search diligently
  • 2:13 — Rise, take the child and his mother
  • 2:20 — Rise, take the child and his mother
  • 9:6 — Rise, pick up your bed
  • 9:18 — come and lay your hand on her
  • 11:4 — Go and tell John
  • 17:27 — Take that and give it
  • 21:2 — Untie, bring to me.

In each of these narratives, the participle is usually rendered into English as a command. That is because in this kind of construction the participle takes on the force of the command that follows it.

To say that it would be better translated “As you go” is to make what is probably a first or second year Greek student’s error. By the way, I’ve made those kinds of errors too. I’ve even made this error at a point in my life. As several professors have warned: “a little Greek is a dangerous thing.” The bottom line is: “Go and make disciples” is the better way to say it in English.


Was Baptism Unimportant to Paul?

March 14, 2014

In arguing against the divisions in Corinth, Paul questions “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul” (1 Cor. 1:13, ESV)? Paul then begins a digression where he is thankful that he hadn’t baptized many of the Corinthians, so they couldn’t claim to have been baptized into Paul. He notes that he had baptized Crispus and Gaius and then remembers he must add the household of Stephanas to the list, and he is a bit uncertain of how many more. But he concludes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17, ESV). Does this statement mean that baptism was unimportant to Paul?

How do we go about answering the question? The context of the Bible must be our source of evidence. First, let us examine Paul’s teaching on baptism.

  • Romans 6:1-6. In baptism, we are united with Christ. We are united to his death, and therefore, we have the hope of being united with his resurrection.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism is the occasion for our being united in the body of Christ and is linked with the reception of the Holy Spirit.
  • Galatians 3:27-29. Baptism is when we put on Christ and become heirs.
  • Ephesians 4:4-5. Paul places one baptism in a list which includes one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, and one God.
  • Colossians 2:11-12. Baptism unites us with the burial and resurrection of Christ, and it is also linked with the spiritual, circumcision of Christ (i.e., regeneration). Grammatically, the “having been buried” is antecedent or contemporaneous to the main verb “were circumcised.” That means the spiritual, circumcision of Christ occurs at the same time as the baptism or following it as far as the grammar of the sentence is concerned.

The clear teaching of Paul prevents me from saying that baptism was unimportant to Paul. So how am I to understand Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1? Again, the context of scripture helps us.

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. (John 4:1–3 ESV)

This is a passage which shows a division of labor between Jesus who is doing the preaching and his disciples who are doing the baptizing. Does a division of labor approach to preaching and baptizing explain Paul’s comment? It certainly does, and it fits with what Paul says about the differing functions in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

Was baptism unimportant to Paul? Paul’s clear teaching on baptism and the broader context of scripture must cause us to answer no. Baptism is clearly important to Paul.