Welcome to my new blog series: Unanswered Questions. I am planning to address various issues in Scripture that I still have questions about, and I’m looking for insights others may have on the topic. If you have any of these types of questions, feel free to leave a comment explaining it, and maybe I’ll do an article on it at some point.
As an apologist and theologian, I like to have answers to any question about the Bible that someone may bring up. But sometimes I just have to say that I’m not really sure what the correct answer is. Perhaps the text is ambiguous, maybe it doesn’t actually address the question, maybe my failure to know the answer is due to my own ignorance, or perhaps it is something else. Please note: I have studied these issues to some degree, but for one reason or another, I have not reached a firm conclusion on these questions (but I would like to). So please be sure to read the entire post before leaving a comment.
Question #1: How many of each kind of clean animal did Noah take on the Ark?
When people think about the number of animals Noah brought on the Ark, they typically think that he brought two of each kind. After all, God told Noah that “two of every kind” of land animal would come to him (Genesis 6:20, NET). That settles it, right? Wrong.
In Genesis 7:2–3, the Bible provides some more information about certain kinds of animals. “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female…also seven each of birds of the air, male and female….(NKJV)” So Noah had to bring seven of every kind of clean animal and seven of every kind of bird. That was easy, right? No, it isn’t that easy, at least not for the clean animals. We know he brought two of every kind of unclean animal.
Before explaining the dilemma here, let me quickly add that this isn’t a contradiction at all. In God’s original command, He did not say that only two of each kind would come to Noah. It is perfectly appropriate for God to clarify the original statement by giving Noah some extra information, so there’s no problem on this point.
The real difficulty is figuring out whether Noah was supposed to bring seven or fourteen of each kind of clean animal on the Ark. The Hebrew words translated as “seven each” in the NKJV literally state “seven seven.” Does this mean seven pairs, seven of each, or even seven times seven? Very few hold the third position so I will focus on the other two options.
I favor the idea that Noah brought fourteen of each kind of clean animal on the Ark. The Hebrew text literally states that he would bring “seven seven” and that it would be a male and his female. If there were just seven of each kind of clean animal, then each male would not have a mate.
Several translations reflect this position. For example, the ESV states, “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds…” (Genesis 7:2–3, ESV). The NRSV does the same. Also, the Hebrew text doesn’t use a similar formula for the unclean animals mentioned in verse two. That is, it doesn’t say that Noah should bring “two two” (a male and his female)—it just has “two.”
On the other hand, the idea that Noah brought seven of each kind of clean animal is reflected in the majority of English translations. I think the strongest argument for this position is that Noah offered sacrifices “of every clean animal and of every clean bird” to God after the Flood (Genesis 8:20, NKJV). So if he brought seven aboard, then he could have sacrificed one of each kind, leaving six (three pairs) of each clean animal and bird.
So which one is it? Did Noah bring seven or fourteen of each kind of clean animal and bird of the air? I’m really not sure, because the text seems a bit ambiguous here, and a good argument can be made for each position. But like I mentioned earlier, I favor the idea that he brought fourteen of each. This seems to be the point in the immediate context (“the male and his mate”).
Commentators are somewhat evenly divided on this one, and I’m definitely open to correction here and any other insights my readers may have. Ultimately, this isn’t really a big deal. There would have been plenty of room on the Ark for either number, and I’m sure the original Hebrew audience would know exactly what was meant. As someone who likes to know the answer, it’s just one of those things that I wish I knew for certain. So I welcome your insights on this. What say you?