How Many Animals of Each Kind did Noah Take into the Ark?
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Ask children who are even vaguely familiar with the biblical account of the Flood how many animals of each kind Noah took into the ark, and you likely will hear, “Two!” Most Bible students are familiar with the instructions recorded in Genesis 6:19 that God gave to Noah: “And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female” (Genesis 6:19, emp. added; cf. 7:15). It seems that fewer people, however, are aware that God also instructed Noah, saying, “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:2-3, emp. added). According to Bible critics, these verses are contradictory. “Are clean beasts to enter by 2’s or by 7’s?” asked skeptic Dennis McKinsey (1983, p. 1).
To answer McKinsey’s question, the clean beasts and birds entered the ark “by sevens” (KJV), while the unclean animals went into the ark by twos. There is no contradiction here. Genesis 6:19 indicates that Noah was to take “two of every sort into the ark.” Then, four verses later, God supplemented this original instruction, informing Noah in a more detailed manner to take more of the clean animals. If a farmer told his son to take two of every kind of farm animal to the state fair, and then instructed his son to take several extra chickens and two extra pigs for a barbecue, would anyone accuse the farmer of contradicting himself? Certainly not. It was necessary for Noah to take additional clean animals because, upon his departure from the ark after the Flood, he “built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the alter” (Genesis 8:20). If Noah had taken only two clean animals from which to choose when sacrificing to God after departing the ark, then he would have driven the various kinds of clean beasts and birds into extinction by sacrificing one of each pair. Thus, after God told Noah to take two of every kind of animal into the ark, He then instructed him to take extras of the clean animals. Similar to how Genesis chapter 2 supplements the first chapter of Genesis by giving a more detailed account of the Creation (see Lyons, 2002), the first portion of Genesis 7 merely supplements the end of the preceding chapter, “containing several particulars of a minute description which were not embraced in the general directions first given to Noah” (Jamieson, et al., 1997).
One translation difficulty that should not trouble a person’s faith, but one of which a person might want to be aware, revolves around the actual number of clean animals taken into the ark. Through the years, serious Bible students have wondered whether this number was seven, or fourteen (Genesis 7:2). The Hebrew phrase shibb’ah shibb’ah is translated somewhat vaguely in both the King James and American Standard Versions. [According to the King James Version, clean animals were taken into the ark “by sevens” (Genesis 7:2). The American Standard Version says that the clean animals were taken “seven and seven.”] Newer translations are worded more clearly, but there is general disagreement among them. The New King James and New International Versions both agree that Noah took seven of each clean animal into the ark, whereas the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, and the English Standard Version all translate shibb’ah shibb’ah to mean “seven pairs” of clean animals. Although some beleive “there can be no certainty on this point” (Willis, 1979, p. 171), H.C. Leupold argued that the Hebrew phrase shibb’ah shibb’ah “would be a most clumsy method of trying to say ‘fourteen’ (1990, 1:290). Comparing similar language within Genesis 7, Whitcomb and Morris persuasively argued: “The Hebrew phrase ‘seven and seven’ no more means fourteen than does the parallel phrase ‘two and two’ (Gen. 7:9,15) mean four!” (1961, p. 65).
Though it may be that no concrete conclusion can be drawn regarding exactly how many clean animals entered Noah's ark (whether seven or fourteen), we can be certain that no contradiction has been demonstrated. Noah took different numbers of clean and unclean animals on the ark, just as the text of Genesis indicates.
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Leupold, H.C. (1990 reprint), Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Lyons, Eric (2002), “Did God Create Animals or Man First,” http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/513.
McKinsey, Dennis (1983), “Commentary,” Biblical Errancy, p. 1, December.
Whitcomb, John C. and Henry M. Morris (1961 reprint), The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Willis, John T. (1979), “Genesis,” The Living Word Commentary (Austin, TX: Sweet).