by Al Maxey

Issue #457 ------- September 24, 2010
Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches
take wings, those who cheer today will curse
tomorrow; only one thing endures: character.

Horace Greeley {1811-1872}

An Ark of Gopher Wood
Reflecting on an Ancient Mystery

We have all heard the story of Noah's ark countless times! Even our young children can recount the fascinating details of this ancient tale of God's matchless grace which resulted in the redemption of an elect remnant from out of a world immersed in wickedness. Simply stated, God was sorry that He had created man because of the wicked excesses rampant upon the earth. Thus, He determined to destroy them in a flood. However, Noah, a man of faith who sought to live righteously before His God, found favor in the sight of the Lord, who demonstrated that favor by informing him of coming judgment, and instructing him in the manner of his salvation (he and his household). In compliance with the divine directive, the faithful Noah constructed an ark. When it was completed, Noah began loading on board all those animals directed to him by God for preservation. Then he and his family went onto the ark, after which God rained down a vast destruction upon His creation. After floating upon the waters for many days, the ark finally settled upon dry land, and Noah and his party left the ark to begin life anew.

There are many similar stories among the ancient peoples of this world; accounts of "a great flood" and the salvation of a remnant in a floating sanctuary of some kind. There are also a host of pointed questions associated with the flood account. One of the primary ones has to do with the extent of the flood. Was the language of the text literal or figurative? If the former, this has led some to believe the waters of the flood covered the surface of the entire planet. The bulk of scholarship, however, believes the flood to have been extensive and devastating, but more regional in scope. I think there is much to commend such a view, and it's the one I personally accept, but we'll leave that study for a future Reflections. The focus of this particular article will be yet another puzzling portion of the tale -- what exactly was the material used to construct the ark? Can we even know for sure, and even if we could, does it really matter?! And just what have the legalistic patternists done with this particular part of the story? How have they twisted it to bolster their restrictive theological practices?

The passage in question is found in Genesis 6:14 -- "Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch" (KJV). That seems pretty simple and clear-cut, right? The ark was to be made of "gopher wood." So, Noah would just go out and get a bunch of it and build the ark. No problems. And, yes, it might indeed have been just that simple for Noah. The problem for us today is that nobody has a clue what is meant by "gopher wood." "The etymology of the Hebrew word is unknown, and there is no certainty as to the type of wood to which it refers. Even the earliest Bible translators were uncertain" [The Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 567]. John T. Willis, in his book Genesis, observed, "'Gopher' is simply the English transliteration of a Hebrew word, the meaning of which is uncertain" [p. 169]. Thus, the term "gopher" might give scholars some idea of how to pronounce the Hebrew word, but it provides no clue whatsoever as to its meaning. Nor may we see how the word is used elsewhere, for this is the only time the word is used in the entire Bible (or in the extra-biblical Hebrew literature). As one might imagine, therefore, this has led to great speculation among biblical scholars. Just what was "gopher wood"?!

Some of the older English translations (such as the KJV) chose not to try and identify the term "gopher," but merely transliterated it (leaving others to determine its meaning). The Greek Septuagint, which was produced prior to the Christian era, translated the term as "squared timber/beams," and the Latin Vulgate rendered it "smoothed/planed wood," thus suggesting that this term may not apply to a specific wood at all, but rather to a process of preparing a wood (any wood) for some building project, or to its shape. "It may be that the term 'gopher' describes the shape of the wood rather than the kind" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 83]. Similarly, some scholars detect a possible scribal error in the text, since there is only one letter different between "gopher" and "kopher" (pitch), the latter of which is also used in the verse. Thus, there is a possibility this may simply be referring to wood treated with pitch ("pitched wood"). Others think it may refer to a lamination process -- thus, "laminated wood." All of these are certainly possibilities, but there is no absolute certainty about any of them. They're only speculation.

Perhaps John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, gave the best response: "Noah, doubtless, knew what sort of wood that was, though now we do not." Matthew Henry said almost exactly the same thing, word-for-word, though he listed both cedar and cypress as possibilities. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, in their Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, stated that gopher wood was "probably cypress, remarkable for its durability and abounding on the Armenian mountains." The 16th century Geneva Bible translated it: "pine trees." The NIV, as well as several others (such as the New Living Translation), translated the term as "cypress." The Douay-Rheims Bible renders it "timber planks." Various other commentators have attempted to classify this gopher wood as cedar, fir, ebony, wicker, juniper, acacia, boxwood and even slimed bulrushes. The Jewish Encyclopedia assumes it to have been "cedar beams." "Probably some resinous wood is implied; most botanical authorities favor the evergreen cypress, an extremely durable species found throughout ancient Palestine and used by the Egyptians for making coffins" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2 p. 528]. Gopher wood points to "the cypress: a tall, upright evergreen tree, of great durability, and anciently much valued for shipbuilding" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 37]. Dr. Paul Kretzmann states that it "seems to have been a cypress wood, very strong and able to withstand the influence of moisture very well" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 16]. "Gopher wood is most likely cypress. ... It is no proof to the contrary that in later Hebrew the cypress is called 'berosh,' for 'gopher' belongs to the pre-Hebraic times" [Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, p. 142]. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine both thought that pine or cypress might have been intended in the text. The Pulpit Commentary states it was "pitch trees, resinous trees, such as are used in shipbuilding; most likely cypress" [vol. 1, p. 109]. In the final analysis, however, the Expositor's Bible Commentary probably says it best: "The exact nature of the material from which the structure was made is unknown. ... its meaning remains a mystery" [vol. 2, p. 83].

So, you might be wondering what possible difference it makes what wood ... or shape of wood ... Noah used in the construction of the ark. Well, to us today, it makes very little difference at all. You and I are not commanded to construct this ark, so we have no need to go and discover what precisely "gopher" wood is. It's an interesting historical and biblical tidbit, and it certainly is a point of curiosity, but other than that it truly matters little in the eternal scheme of things. All we need to know is that God specified a particular type of wood for the ark (whether it referred to a species of wood or a process of preparation), Noah apparently knew very well what God meant, and Noah complied with the command. So, what God specified, Noah sought out and utilized. The principle to be learned? If God specifies something -- i.e., commands something of us specifically -- then we have an obligation to obey, just as Noah did. I have no idea what "gopher wood" was/is, but Noah did, and he used it ... and that's all that matters.

The legalistic patternists have latched onto this passage as one of their major "proof-texts" for the so-called "Law of Silence." They maintain that this account proves beyond any doubt that our Lord's silence prohibits and excludes!! God was silent about using balsa wood to build the ark, they maintain --- therefore, based upon that silence, balsa wood is forever forbidden; it is excluded!! Even a child can see through the failed logic of such a statement. Balsa wood is not prohibited because God said nothing about balsa wood ... balsa wood is excluded because God specified gopher wood. Therefore, it is specificity that excludes, and NOT silence. In fact, when God speaks, when God specifies, there IS NO SILENCE. Why these legalists cannot grasp this principle is beyond me!! Yet, for some strange reason, they are almost universally blinded to it; it is simply beyond their comprehension.

But their confusion does not stop here. They further fail to grasp exactly what it is that is supposedly prohibited and excluded. Rightly do they declare that something other than gopher wood would be excluded as the material from which the ark should be constructed, although they fail to perceive that it is God's specificity, rather than God's silence, that serves as the authority here. Nevertheless, these legalists and patternists are not content with the scope of prohibition. They will extend that prohibition to anything and everything that might serve to aid or accompany that which was specified, even though there is no legitimate hermeneutical basis for ever doing so (unless, of course, the aid or accompaniment is something that they approve and practice, in which case these aids and accompaniments will be embraced as "expedients"). What if Noah decided to build a scaffold of mahogany wood to aid him in the construction of the ark? Would that have been a violation of God's will? What if Mrs. Noah wanted tables, chairs and beds made of cherry wood to accompany them on the ark? Would that have been a violation of God's will? Do aids and accompaniments to that which is specified constitute SIN? If so, in what way?!

This same ridiculous lack of logic is paraded before us with respect to our singing. "God said to SING," they declare. Therefore, based upon their humanly devised "Law of Silence" (God didn't mention a piano), we must conclude that all musical instruments are forever forbidden by God as sinful. Why? Because of the "Law of Silence." God said nothing, therefore they are excluded! God said nothing about song books with musical notes in them, and words written by "denominationalists" either. Are these forbidden by the "Law of Silence"? God said nothing about four-part harmony. Is this excluded? God said nothing about a song leader pitching the song with a pitch pipe or tuning fork. Are these forever banned? We could go on and on with this, but most people can see through the absurdities quite easily. The reality is -- God's specificity is only violated if we take something entirely different and replace, negate or invalidate that which is specified with it. If God said "sing," for example, and I REPLACE singing with cliff diving, then God will quite likely have a problem with me. However, my aids and accompaniments to singing in no way negate, replace or invalidate my singing. I'm still completely complying with that which has been specified by the Lord. Again, for some really weird reason, the legalists and patternists simply cannot seem to grasp this concept; it is absolutely beyond them. You can explain this to them until you are blue in the face, and they will just stare at you with a blank look. They just don't get it.

Yes, the whole gopher wood incident has been taken and twisted to nefarious purposes by religionists for centuries. Some will grasp at virtually anything in an effort to validate what most disciples of Christ know only too well has nothing whatsoever to do with God's divine purpose for His people. Some have elevated their own preferences and traditions to the level of divine law, and the only way they can even begin to "prove" such nonsense is by appealing to what God NEVER SAID. I would like to ask each one of these people to answer just one question for me (and this question was provided by one of my readers) --- "What Truth has God ever revealed to His people by saying absolutely nothing about it?!!" Those of you reading this who advocate the "Law of Silence," would you please take a moment and send me your answer to this question. I sincerely and genuinely want to know if there is an answer to this, as I have thought about this long and hard, and I cannot think of even ONE Truth our God has revealed to mankind by saying absolutely nothing about it. So, all of you "silence authorizes" advocates, put that list of items together for me. I will print it in an upcoming Reflections.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Kansas:

Brother Al, One Cup man here. I see the hounds are still snapping at your heels. Well, they have nothing else to do but attack their own brethren. I wonder if these people do anything else -- like trying to persuade the lost, encourage the brethren, feed the hungry, or help the weak. I've been a member of the Body of Christ for 32 years, and I have heard more about the "Law of Silence" than I have heard about Jesus Christ! I'm tired of hearing about a "law" that isn't even mentioned in the Bible!! Brother Al, please keep the faith. We appreciate you!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I had never heard of David Brown or his work, but after reading his attack on you I think he would do well to meditate on Prov. 15:2 -- "The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness." Such "cutesy" ad hominem rants as he let loose on you are not only unattractive, they invalidate any possibility of such a person's motives being truly Spirit-driven. David Brown's narrow, bitter and personality-driven rant was an obvious effort to appeal to, and gain the approval of, a small constituency of fellow legalists.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, I completely failed to find any hint of Love or Concern evidenced in David Brown's or Dub McClish's emails to their buddies (with a copy to you). They most certainly do not sound like brothers-in-Christ, what with their name-calling attitude. It is obvious, however, that they consider you to have already died and gone to hell. Al, please keep up the good work of exposing such legalism. It has never saved anyone, and never will.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, After reading David Brown's and Dub McClish's comments about you, I want to become a subscriber to your weekly Reflections articles! I already knew how badly these guys mishandle Scripture in order to maintain their traditions, but their personal assaults against you further tell me that they have NO sound biblical arguments to refute what you have written --- otherwise, why would they ever resort to such devilish tactics?!! The hatred that these guys have for anyone who dares to differ with them is absolutely shameful. May God continue to use your writings to help unshackle all those who have been held in legalistic bondage by such wicked men as these!

From a Minister in Virginia:

Brother Al, Both Brown and McClish came up with "Allah Al" and "Ex-Lax Al"?!! Surely they can see just how ludicrous, petty and childish they sound ... can't they?! Then again, maybe not. I suggested in our Bible class last night that people who burn the Koran and who picket the funerals of soldiers, carrying "God Hates Fags" signs, don't care one bit about the people around them; they are only playing to their own little constituency and trying to bolster their own power base among those who already agree with them. I believe this is also true of these who have attacked you. Keep up the good work, brother!

From an Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, As a long-time member of the Lord's Body, and a current shepherd in the -------, Florida Church of Christ, I am utterly amazed at the vitriol directed toward you by David Brown, the editor and publisher of "Contending for the Faith" magazine. I would not talk to a dog like that, much less to a servant of the Lord such as yourself. Clearly, he is feeling threatened by your ability to lay waste to their tired and muddled arguments. I glean much from your Reflections and appreciate the clarity of your writings. May God continue to bless you in every aspect of your ministries.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Dear Bro. Al, I would suggest at least two reasons Bro. Tant and others cling to the "silence" argument: (1) they are more committed to tradition than to Truth, and (2) being established in a particular tradition, they fear the repercussions that would result from change. I know ... I have been there!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, Thanks for your continued diligence in exposing the deadly "Law of Silence" argument. I have often used the following question in discussions with brothers on this issue: "What Truth has God revealed to His people by saying absolutely nothing about it?!!" Keep on keeping on, brother.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Legalism needs to be fought at its every appearance, and you, Bro. Al, are doing a magnificent and sorely needed job!! May God give you the greatest success in your efforts!

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, It looks to me like David Brown clearly has something to lose (like his job and/or his friends) if your teachings are correct ... otherwise he wouldn't be doing so much name-calling!! Mr. Brown, if you are reading this, please show us the "errors" in Al Maxey's Reflections.

From My Oldest Son in New Mexico:

"Allah Al" -- that's hilarious! This David Brown guy is creative, I'll give him that. That was a good Reflections, by the way!! I am proud to have a Dad that can see the Truth in what the Bible really says, and who is not blinded by the "perceptions and preferences of his religious forefathers." I don't want my kids growing up with someone else's ideas of what the Bible says. I want them to have their own views and understandings of the Bible by actually reading it.

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Brother Al, I think that you've summed up perfectly the heart of the issue that the legalistic patternists have used for generations to divide and to cripple the church. Regarding silence, you wrote, "If, in fact, silence is prohibitive, as these people claim, then they are certainly not consistent in the application of this principle." When one steps back and looks at that statement, just how much clearer could it be?!! How can one honestly claim that silence prohibits one thing, but then turn around and engage in and practice countless other things that God has also been "silent" about?! That is nothing other than a "buffet" religion --- pick and choose! My wife read this issue of Reflections this morning, and then she looked at me like a light bulb had just come on!! She said she had never thought about it like that, and, after a lifetime in legalism, had never even heard that point of view. She has been smiling all day!!! Thank you for standing strong for Truth!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, "Silence Before the Bench" was an excellent article; well-written and to the point. It should be a real eye-opener ... although, sadly, some will continue to preach their "gospel" rather than the Lord's. It is amazing how well we have brain-washed ourselves in just four or five generations. We have gone from believing that all who trust in Christ Jesus are our brethren, to excluding everyone but ourselves! Even then, we further narrow our sights to only accepting as true Christians those who embrace our particular brand of legalism!! We have stopped teaching the "unity" of the 1800's, and now tout instead the "Church of Christ" divisions as our Scriptural pattern. Our manmade hermeneutic (CENI - the Law of Silence) has increased our division with each new decade, made our message into little more than selfish wrangling, portrayed us to the world as childish megalomaniacs, and reduced us to little more than a cult. Brother Al, although the likes of David Brown and Dub McClish rant against you, their barbs are useless against the Christian armor that you wear. Soldier on, brother, soldier on!!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, It doesn't surprise me in the least to read the comments you made regarding Bro. J. D. Tant. I have never met him, but I knew his father, Yater Tant, rather well. My wife and I have a picture somewhere inside of one of our many photo albums of my wife trimming Yater's hair at my mother's house. When I finished my graduate degree in counseling, I went to Birmingham, Alabama to meet with Yater, as he was a very well-respected hypno-therapist in that area, and an adjunct professor for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical School. I heard Yater preach on several occasions, and he always had such a gracious attitude toward all believers, particularly those with whom he disagreed. I never heard him say anything about others after the fashion of the comments from David Brown and Dub McClish. Yater didn't back down an inch from his convictions, yet he always treated others with respect. He and I had almost nothing in common theologically, other than both being from the Churches of Christ, but we were friends, and I could call him for advice or counsel, and he was always willing to help. When I resigned from preaching after 30 years, I needed to get rid of several thousand books, simply because I had no room for them. One of the couple hundred books that I kept is my signed copy of Yater's biography of his father. He shared many, many stories of the old Texas circuit-riding preachers that fascinated all of us. Love you, brother!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I would be ashamed and embarrassed if anyone at our congregation (especially our leaders) behaved in the manner that David Brown and Dub McClish did toward you!! Keep up the good work, brother. God is doing great works through your ministry.

From a Reader in Nevada:

Dear Brother Al, It is 3:08 a.m. and what a laugh I have just had while reading David Brown's and Dub McClish's remarks!! If they would like a stage for their comedy act, please have them contact me. Las Vegas needs good comedy acts. By the way, "Silence Before the Bench" is another good Reflections. I thank God for His many blessings ... and that includes YOU.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Brother Al, Thanks for that article on "silence." I am continually astounded by the intemperate comments that leaders of the "Contentious for the Faith" bunch make. I have always figured that when people resort to name-calling it is just a sign that they don't have any real answers or constructive thoughts to share.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, That poor attempt at "humor" (it was humor, wasn't it? ... surely they weren't serious!!) by David Brown and Dub McClish is more apt to be found in 6th grade boys on a school playground than in grown men who stand in the pulpit and claim to teach God's Word. Please don't ever stoop to their level; be above such juvenile taunting!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, It was very hard to contain the anger that welled up inside of me when I read the comments by Brown and McClish comparing you to a terrorist!! How disrespectful to one such as yourself who served our country in combat in Vietnam!! I will never understand why people can't have civil discourse about things over which they disagree. However, I was always taught that when someone is losing an argument, they will quite often resort to name-calling and spitting!! So sad. Al, I appreciate you and all that you do out of genuine love for God's people. "Silence Before the Bench" was a great article, by the way!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, If you keep on your present course, many of us here are convinced that there is no telling just how many souls from around the world you will bring to God's Truth through your weekly teachings in Reflections. We love you, brother!! We are also really excited, for we've just heard through the grapevine that you will again be one of the speakers at the upcoming Tulsa Workshop in March, 2011. We'll be there!!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Brother Al, I just wanted to drop a line to let you know how timely your latest Reflections topics have been for me!! I can't even recall who brought it up or where (maybe in a sermon or Bible study), but they went after instrumental music again, which has made me really uneasy. It makes we wonder again if I'm really where I should be as far as church family goes! I feel really down at times over just how legalistic this group of Church of Christ people can be. But then, at the time when I needed it most, your Reflections articles #454 and #455 arrived -- not to mention #450 and your latest: #456. They were just what God knew I needed to lift me up with Grace above the legalistic attitudes and teachings around here on this subject. I've also been listening to Patrick Mead's podcast. You two guys are quite a tag team for me!! Thanks, brother, for all you do. By the way, are you going to be in Tulsa again next year for the workshop?

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I read the emails that David Brown and Dub McClish recently sent to you, and I must say that I feel very sorry for the people that are being led into darkness by these men. These guys are just downright evil. It is very apparent that they are using religion as a means to spread hate and anguish and harm to as many of God's people as their time upon this earth will permit. Their religion is merely a tool that they use to carry out their evil deeds! But take heart, Al, in the fact that these men are also not very bright, for they unwittingly expose their wickedness to the world as they attempt to make themselves appear to be righteous. They do not even realize that every time they attack you, they just reveal their wickedness for all to see. I'm sorry that you have to be the one on the receiving end of their attacks, but in doing so you do a great service to our Lord. By setting yourself out there as a target, you lure these enemies of God into the light where they can be defeated. You allow yourself to be bitten by the venomous snakes so that others will recognize the danger and be able to steer clear of these evil serpents!! Thank You, Al, for all that you do for the Lord.

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I'd just been wondering this week whether you were still catching the attention of the watchdogs!! I thought perhaps you might be "slipping." The recent emails in which you are monikered as "Allah Al" and "Ex-lax Al," however, have dispelled this notion! It is the old "name game" -- a typical method designed to ridicule and denigrate those with whom one disagrees. Keep up the good fight, brother!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Maxey, After reading "Silence Before the Bench," I noticed that you have been repeating yourself an awful lot lately! What I mean is, this has got to be the umpteenth time that you have addressed the same old issues and examples about Noah's Ark, Nadab & Abihu, etc. And to that I say -- AMEN!!! You can never keep repeating these things enough -- and for your faithful readers, it serves to further cement these principles in our minds and equip us with the knowledge needed to counter the "Calloused Calcified Recalcitrants." If every Reflections you write deals with these same arguments, showing us how to defeat the flawed "Law of Silence," it would not be enough!! In Luke, Jesus repeated Himself over and over again, saying, "Woe to you, Pharisees (scribes, lawyers, etc.)..." Keep emancipating, my brother! And keep drilling the same points. I believe this is essential to our freedom!

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