Question: Genesis 7:1 and Romans 3:10 seem to contradict each other. Noah is called “righteous” in Genesis, yet Romans says “no one is righteous.” Can man be righteous in God’s eyes or not?
To be fair to the question, it must also be pointed out that there are others in the Bible besides Noah whom God has described as “righteous,” including Job (Job 2:3) and Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:6). In addition, the Bible also teaches that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Ja. 5:16b), and “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous” (1Jn. 3:7b).
In the light of these very specific examples of human righteousness, how can it be accurately said that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10)?
As is so often the case in apparent Bible contradictions, context is everything. The apostle Paul is arguing in Romans 3 that God alone is so purely righteous that He alone is qualified to judge the world (Rom. 3:1-6). In comparison to God, Paul is arguing “no one is righteous, not even one.”
The examples of Noah, Job, Zechariah and Elizabeth on the other hand are people God Himself elevates in comparison to other people as being righteous. In the case of Job, for example, “the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him…” (Job 2:3a). Likewise, God says of Noah and his family: “I have found you righteous in this generation” (Gen. 7:1a). And the same can be said of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
When Paul, a highly educated, biblically literate Jew, quoted from the Old Testament “no one is righteous,” he was not ignorant of the examples of righteous people in Scripture. He was making the point that even the most righteous among men, such as Noah and Job, are still unrighteous in comparison to God and in need of His saving grace that comes through faith alone. It is that salvation in Jesus Christ that gives us a righteousness we do not possess in ourselves:
Rom. 3:22-23a “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
So the apostle John could accurately say, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous” (1Jn.3:7). John is talking to people who have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 3:2). As Christians, we are “in Him” (i.e., in Christ”), who is sinless (1Jn. 3:5). Consequently, “he who is doing what is right”[i] is acting out of the righteous nature of Jesus Christ who indwells those who believe in Him. Therefore, because we are “in Him,” our actions flow from Jesus’ righteousness, not our own.
Compared to other people, one person might be considered more righteous than another. But compared to God…? Not so much!