A Righteous Man
These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 6:9–11).
The now familiar toledot formula (“these are the generations of”) begins today’s passage and signals a new story line. Until the end of chapter 9, Moses focuses on Noah and his salvation from the flood.
Verse 9 elaborates on 6:8, telling us the divine favor Noah enjoys is due to his righteous and blameless disposition. The Hebrew word translated “blameless” is also used for animals without blemish and fit for sacrifice. Noah is a good man; from a human perspective he might even be called “perfect,” as some translations render verse 9.
This raises questions because other biblical passages clearly assert there is no person who is righteous (Ps. 14:1–3; Rom. 3:9–18). Does Moses therefore contradict the rest of the Bible in Genesis 6?
Distinguishing between the two ways the Bible speaks of righteousness solves our dilemma. The first type of righteousness is the absolute perfection the Lord demands of us to stand before Him in glory. Only those who always precisely obey God’s law in thought, word, and deed possess such excellence. The Bible laments our lack of this kind of righteousness, for only Christ meets this standard (Rom. 3:21–22a; 2 Cor. 5:21). When we trust in Jesus alone, His merit is imputed to our account, and we are justified in God’s sight.
The second type of righteousness results from our sanctification. Even though we will not perfectly practice God’s law in this life, those who have been justified will live uprightly. We will bear holy fruit, loving God and neighbor, if we have true faith (James 2:14–26). This is the kind of righteousness that Noah possessed, one that comes from walking with God (Ps. 1). It is a “relative” righteousness, for compared to his generation, Noah did practice real goodness, even though his obedience was imperfect and not the basis of his justification. As a result of God’s grace, we manifest this experiential righteousness, and it is brought to completion in our glorification. As Augustine says in the City of God (15.26): Noah was “perfect in his generation—not indeed with the perfection of the citizens of the city of God in that immortal condition in which they equal the angels, but in so far as they can be perfect in their sojourn in this world.”
John Calvin comments on this passage, “They are called just and upright, not who are in every respect perfect, and in whom there is no defect; but who cultivate righteousness purely, and from their heart.” Are you cultivating holiness in your life, not only by avoiding sin but in actively working to do good works for your neighbor? Your righteous works will not justify you, but if you lack them totally, you may conclude, along with James, that your faith is dead.