Unanswered Questions: How Many of Each Clean Animal Went on the Ark?

Was Noah commanded to bring 7 of each clean animal or 14 of them? (artwork is a concept design from the Ark Encounter)

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?


Comments

Unanswered Questions: How Many of Each Clean Animal Went on the Ark? — 10 Comments

  1. I think the real question is how Noah knew what animals were clean or not when those directions weren’t given until Moses’ time, several hundred years after the flood.

    Maybe I missed something. It does happen from time to time.

    • Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your comments. There are a few plausible solutions to the issue you raised. First, although this isn’t the view I hold, it is possible that what was viewed as clean for Noah was different than what was viewed as clean in Moses’ day. God had certain regulations for the nation of Israel that He didn’t impose on others, so this is plausible. Second, God could have told Noah which ones were clean and which ones weren’t. Maybe He didn’t choose to reveal that part in the Bible at the point because He knew He would be revealing it later on following the Exodus. Finally, God told Noah that the animals would come to him (Genesis 6:20). So Noah didn’t necessarily need to know which ones were clean and which ones weren’t. If God brought seven pairs of the cow kind, then they were clean. If He brought two tyrannosaurs, they were unclean. God knew which animals were clean and which ones weren’t, so this isn’t too difficult after all.
      I certainly miss things from time to time too.

  2. One other thing. God obviously wants us to know how many of each clean animal He wanted Noah to bring on the Ark, otherwise He wouldn’t have used a specific number. If God wanted Noah (and us) to know it was fourteen and not seven, why not simply say “four ten” (fourteen) in Gen 7:2, just as the Old Testament says “four ten” the 21 other times the number 14 is meant, clarifying that number by keeping the expression “the male and his female” to show He means pairs? See esp. 1 Kings 8:65 where Solomon is clearly speaking of two sets of seven days, but instead of saying “seven seven” he says, “seven of days and seven of days four ten day”.
    Oh, and I believe (this is my opinion) that the reason God waited until it was time to load the animals on the Ark before telling Noah to bring “seven seven” clean animals is because He left open the possibility of there being other people on the Ark besides Noah’s family of eight until the very last minute, just seven days before the Flood. If Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), there existed at least the theoretical possibility that others might be converted through his preaching. None were, of course; but God made sure there would be plenty of space for last minute converts. I don’t know how many clean animals in total there ended up being on the Ark, but if you divide that number by seven, that would have left that much more room for additional people, had anybody else wanted to come. Sadly, none did, and God filled the extra space with extra clean animals, know that, though Noah didn’t absolutely have to have them, they certainly would come in handy after the Flood.

  3. I have always accepted that it meant 14 animals, seven pairs. It seems to me to be the first thing that occurs to you when you read the text fresh. Does it really matter? Probably not-if I’m wrong I believe I’ll still get into heaven! But it’s interesting to investigate ideas. I just think that seven pairs is the simplest, easiest interpretation of it.

  4. Tim,
    Yes, I did notice that you mentioned that fact about the sacrifice. I just repeated it as a way to introduce the idea that the sacrifice verse also clarifies what kind of birds had to be brought in sets of seven, which you did not mention. It sounds at first as if God wanted Noah to bring “seven seven” of all birds, but according to 8:20 we see He only meant “seven seven” of clean birds, since not all birds are clean. It seems pretty clear to me, if we want to know what the Bible means when it doubles up a number (does “seven seven” mean “sets of seven” or “seven plus seven” or “seven times seven”?), all we have to do is look for another place where we see a number repeated like that, and see if it is clear there what is meant. Despite what you said, (“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.””) Genesis 7:9,15 certainly does use the expression “two two” (which obviously means “sets of two” and not “four”), so why wouldn’t the expression “seven seven” mean “sets of seven”? Perhaps we should do a search of the whole Bible to see if there are any other places where numbers are repeated like that. I looked for all the obvious ones (two, three, seven, twelve, seventy, forty) and could find any except two and seven in Genesis.

  5. And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Genesis 8:20)

    There is no number of animals in that verse to tell us how many Noah sacrificed, so forcing an imagined one beast from every kind (to clean up the (7)) is not correct. There were pairs: seven of the clean, and fowls; and two of the unclean. And all the pairs entered side by side. And Noah sacrificed several, but unnumbered clean animals as an offering.

    Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3)

    There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. (Genesis 7:9)

  6. I forgot to add: The reason there had to be one extra (the seventh clean animal, a male without its mate) was because that one would be required for sacrifice after they came off the Ark after the Flood (Genesis 8:20). That verse also clarifies Genesis 7:3. It was only of the clean birds that Noah was to bring groups of seven, not of all birds. Noah was to select one of each clean animal and one of each clean bird to sacrifice, and did not have to break up any pairs.

    • Tom,
      I mentioned this fact in the post (that the additional animal would be used for the sacrifices in Genesis 8:20). That seems to be the most natural way to take the passage. If you are right that there were just seven of each clean animal, then I would agree that we could probably use 8:20 to clarify 7:3, but as is, I think that may be a stretch (in light of my post and previous comment). Also, the text doesn’t really tell us how many of each animal Noah sacrificed. Could he have sacrificed a pair of each (I know many of the sacrifices in the later Levitical law were supposed to be male, but I’m not sure if all of them were). Or it could be that he sacrificed the male, leaving an extra female for breeding purposes–obviously most animals don’t stick with one mate, so I don’t think this would be an issue.

  7. Hi Tim,
    I think it’s very clear that the expression ???????? ???????? (seven seven) in Genesis 7:2,3 means “groups of seven”, not fourteen. That’s because the similar expression ???????? ???????? (two two) in Genesis 7:9,15 clearly means “groups of two” or “pairs”, two of each kind (Genesis 6:20) the male and its female (Genesis 7:2), and does not mean four.

    • Tom,
      Thanks for your comments. The idea that verses 9 and 15 (“two two”) proves that it was seven of each kind rather than fourteen seems strong at first glance. I had considered that, but there’s a problem that could be used by those who favor the “fourteen” position. That is, verses 8–9 and 14–15 mention that every kind (both clean and unclean) went on board “two by two.” This would seem to indicate that there was an even number of animals and that they boarded by mating pairs. It seems like no matter what argument is raised in this discussion, an equally good argument could be made from the same statement for the other position. But it is a fun one to think about.

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