IN SEARCH OF NOAH'S ARK: Uniqueness of Noah account reveals important truths, professor says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Whether it's the biblical account of Noah and the flood or the latest disaster movie, people are intrigued by "man versus nature" stories -- and when you add God into the mix, the stories can hold us spellbound.

"Man, with God, versus the elements seems to be an intrinsically fascinating tale," said Timothy Pierce, professor of Old Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. "At least 60 different people groups have some version of a flood narrative. The Greek, Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian flood stories are some of the better known, but there also are accounts of a great flood in Native American and South Asian cultures."

The most famous, of course, is the biblical account of Noah and the flood -- and the controversial question of whether the Ark can be or has been located in the Mt. Ararat region of Turkey.

While many skeptics think the existence of other flood stories diminishes the significance of the Noah account, the uniqueness of the Bible narrative reveals several important realities about God and His relationship to mankind, Pierce said.

The Noah account most often is compared to the ancient Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, but the differences are profound, Pierce said.

"First, whereas in the Gilgamesh Epic the flood occurs because the gods are annoyed with man and man is not warned about the event, the biblical narrative records that the flood is the result of sin and that there were many years of warning before the catastrophic event," he said. "In other words, the biblical God is not capricious in His dealings with man and is gracious in providing time and an opportunity for response and repentance on the part of mankind.

"Second, whereas the hero of the Gilgamesh Epic, Ut-napishtim, is saved without explicit reason being offered, Noah is saved because of his righteousness.

"Third, whereas the Mesopotamian accounts of the flood involve the gods themselves becoming fearful of the flood, the biblical account maintains a God who is always in control and who is not challenged by the waters.

"Finally, Noah's survival results in the replenishment of the earth, whereas the hero of the Gilgamesh Epic is granted immortality. That is, the results of the biblical story reveal a God interested in real life, in mankind, in history -- as opposed to the more mythical outcome and expressions found in the extra-biblical accounts."

Another interesting aspect of the Noah account is that the flood happens in such a way that it can be understood as a reversal of creation, Pierce added.

"The firmaments that were separated at creation are brought back together to bring destruction," he noted. "Likewise, at the end of the flood, the earth is described in ways that suggest a re-creation of sorts and that Noah is indeed a new Adam.

"Again we see the inter-relatedness of both creation and judgment and that God has a vested interest in mankind, that He provides a gracious opportunity for mankind to be rescued from their destruction and His judgment and to find instead that they can become new creations," he said. "As the deliverer of mankind, Noah becomes the precursor to Moses (Ex. 2:3 KJV) -- and therefore to the ultimate deliverer and savior, Jesus."

Pierce concluded, "There is a reason that the flood narrative is utilized as the exemplary of the last days by Jesus. Like the flood, the destruction to come is thorough and deserved. Like the flood, the warnings are evident and clearly stated. And like the flood, the only escape is being in right relationship with the God of creation."

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