You Probably Remember Noah, Right?

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Abby Norman -Noah-These Stories3

When I was eight, I was in a musical about the ark. The children’s choir wore solid colored T-shirts all the colors of the rainbow. A junior high girl put on a robe and a beard and pretended to be Noah. The little ones were dressed up as animals and escorted up the ramp into the giant cut-out ark on stage, two-by-two. There was narration and the choir served as sort of the Greek chorus. We were the rain. We were the family whining that they didn’t want to be on the boat anymore. We were the people mocking Noah for building a boat in the middle of the desert when we didn’t even know what rain was!

“No, no, Noah, are you crazy, Noah?” As the neighbors and friends, we mocked Noah and his family for believing in this ridiculous  thing that God said. Still, Noah persisted and was found faithful.

I am not the only one who remembers the story this way. Felt boards, Sunday school worksheets, children’s musicals, my cartoon kids’ Bible I got in the third grade, all of these tell the same story of Noah and all include a scene where Noah is mocked by his neighbors, but declares that he is faithful to God. Sometimes the neighbors beg to get into the boat, but it is too late. God already said to close it up. They missed their chance. Sometimes Noah says a lot to the neighbors. Sometimes Noah says very little, and just keeps working.

Do you know how many lines Noah would have in a biblically accurate account of the flood narrative found in Genesis? Zero.

Do you know how many neighbors there would be in a biblically accurate account of the flood narrative found in Genesis? Zero.

The neighbors, the mocking, the Noah-defending-God-despite-being-maligned-by-his-neighbors? None of that is in the actual biblical text, regardless of the translation. So why do almost all of us raised in the church remember that part so clearly?

It is called reception history. There is the way the story is in the Bible; then there is the way that everyone has told it since the Bible existed. Think about the family stories people tell over and over again. Maybe they aren’t 100 percent exactly what happened, but there is a way that everyone tells it, so everyone just keeps telling it that way. This happens to our biblical stories as well. Maybe the neighbors did mock Noah. Maybe he did have an epic reply for them about how good his God was. Maybe the family did become a whining mess after being in a stinky ark for so long. All of that might be true, but it isn’t in the Bible.

As people who follow a man who claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life, I think we need to at least know what parts are in our book and what parts are just traditionally added. Because y’all, the story about Noah, it isn’t about Noah! He isn’t mentioned very much because he doesn’t matter very much. The story of Noah wasn’t put in the Bible to talk about how good and faithful Noah was. (He actually has some messy stuff later in life that isn’t so awesome.) The same is true for David and Daniel and Jonah. These are not people you are supposed to be like. Their stories aren’t written for us to learn about them. These stories are written so we can learn about God.

The story of Noah is a story of a loving God who refuses to take down the whole world, even when we deserve it. It is a story about a God who doesn’t have to make a covenant with us, but does anyway, a God who gives up some of the power God rightfully possesses to make a loving covenant with people who don’t really deserve it.

The story of Noah isn’t about Noah, and y’all, that is good news.

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Abby Norman
Abby Norman lives, and loves in the city of Atlanta. She lives with her two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her biggest fan. When not mothering, teaching, parenting or “wifeing”, she blogs at accidentaldevotional.com. Abby loves to make up words and is excited by the idea that Miriam Webster says you can verb things.
Abby Norman

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  • Hmmmm . . . the Bible as a book about God.
    Fascinating concept.

    • Abby Norman

      I know? Right!

  • Sandy Hay

    Yeah Abby!!!!!

  • Booya! I love this!

  • What an important reminder that if we want to be bible-believing Jesus people we need to know what’s actually in the book.