The new Noah film starring Russell Crowe is getting a lot of attention, some negative and some positive. My take on it is a little different.
It’s hard to take a biblical story and turn it into a movie. It’s been tried many times with the meaning of the story lost in the layers that are necessary to develop a screenplay (e.g., Samson and Delilah, The Ten Commandments, Barabbas, Sodom and Gomorrah). The Bible is not a screenplay, and it can’t be made into one, so Hollywood needs to quit trying, and Christians need to quit insisting that these people get it right.
The 1959 film Ben-Hur does a good job incorporating the theology of the redemptive message of the Bible by wrapping a story around the person and work of Jesus Christ and the effect it had on a single family. The death and crucifixion of Jesus are told in a realistic way with little if any embellishment.
The biblical story of Noah is brief in terms of character development and what was going on in the broader culture. We do learn from the New Testament that the people “were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17). Most everything else is speculation. Essentially, they were doing what every generation has done for millennia.
The reason the Bible doesn’t tell us more is because the story is a type of Jesus Christ. The focus is on the redemptive message in the midst of profound evil.
The emphasis is on the ark. Here’s where many Christians go wrong. They often miss the theology of the ark, the eight people in the ark, the animals, the heavens and earth, the dove, raven, etc.
First, the ark. You are saved if you are in the ark. If you’re outside the ark, you are not saved. The film Gravity reminded me of this biblical principle. When Sandra Bullock’s character is left untethered, she must make her way to a place of refuge—an ark in space—first to the International Space Station (ISS) and the Soyuz capsule and eventually to the Shenzhou capsule which brings her safely to earth via a body of water from which she struggles to emerge.
But Noah’s ark can’t be just any kind of ark. It has to be an ark designed by God for a particular purpose. For example, Moses is saved by being put in an ark-like basket—the same Hebrew word used for Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:14-19: tevat). It’s even waterproofed the same way with “tar and pitch” (Ex. 2:2-3)—an ancient form of asphalt.
In a similar way, God saved Israel by manufacturing an ark out of water as the Israelites pass through the Red Sea. After their salvation, Pharaoh and his army are drowned as God pulls up the walls of the water ark.
Second, no ark but God’s prescribed ark can save. Sometime after the flood, the people decided to make their own ark—not a ship, but a tower.
When the men of Babel organize to build a tower reaching to heaven, they decide to use “tar for mortar” (Gen. 11:3; NASB). The Hebrew phrase repeats two different forms of the same root (chmr): The word for “tar” is chemar and the word for “mortar” is chomer, and the word is used elsewhere only in Genesis 14:10 (referring to “tar pits”) and Exodus 2:3 (referring to what was spread on the “ark” made for the baby Moses).
But this “ark” didn’t save anybody.
Third, there is ark imagery in the New Testament. The “in Christ” theme is an ark story. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” This is the fulfillment of the Noah’s Ark story. The animals, the eight people, the water, the heavens and earth—this is all new creation language. It’s the recreation of the world but looking forward to when Jesus will recreate everything, not in some distant eschatological sense but in the reality that comes from the cross, empty grave, and sitting at God’s right hand.
Peter repeats what is stated in Genesis 7:13 by declaring that there were eight persons who were saved from the flood (1 Peter 3:20). Also see 2 Peter 2:4-5: God “did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.”
The number eight often refers to recreation. James B. Jordan observes, “The eighth day signifies a new beginning, for it is the first day of man’s week after the completion of God’s.” Circumcision takes place on the eighth day signifying a new birth that will come in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was raised from the dead on the eighth day, the first day of the week following the seventh-day Sabbath. “After the 7 weeks of the spring harvest, the next day, the 50th day, is Pentecost. This day is also the eighth day of the seventh week.” We are told that the Jewish people would go into captivity for 70 (7×10) years before they would return to rebuild the city of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Jer. 25:11, 12; 29:10; Dan. 9:1-2; Zech. 7:5). That return would begin on the first day of the eighth decade.
Fourth, Paul tells the passengers on the ship that was taking him to Rome during a nearly week-long storm to remain on the ship if they want to be saved: “Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, ‘Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved’” (Acts 27:31).
Unless the Noah’s Ark story is told in this redemptive way leading to the cross of Jesus Christ, it’s nothing more than a story about a man and a big boat like so many ancient stories about a big boat and flood.