How many of each type of animal was there on the Ark? You’ll get the wrong impression if you look at any popular representation of Noah’s Ark. The Ark is often misrepresented to appear like a overloaded bathtub. It also shows animals boarding the Ark in inaccurate ways. Two lions and two tigers, two horses, two zebras, and two other animals are frequently seen boarding the Ark. Noah didn’t need to bring both horses or zebras, as they are both of the same species. He just needed two of each kind.
Many people believe there were only two Ark animals. However, God promised Noah that he would send “two of every type” of land animal to Noah (Genesis 6,20). The text continues to say, “Take seven pairs of clean animals, the male with his mate and one pair of animals that aren’t clean, the male with his mate and seven pairs from the birds of heavens, male and female to keep their offspring on the face of the entire earth.” (Genesis 7, 2 and 3).
Noah brought seven individuals, or seven pairs of each clean flying creature and animal?
This is true, despite what some skeptics claim. God did not state that only two of each type would be given to Noah in His original command (Genesis 6, 20). The Lord is allowed to add information to Noah’s original statement. Here’s the problem: Did Noah bring seven individuals of each flying and clean animal?
In Hebrew, the words “seven pairs” that are translated into ESV literallly mean “seven seven” ( Shiv’ah-shiv’ah). Is this seven pairs, seven each (NKJV), seven of each (ESV) or seven times seven? The third position is very rare, meaning that Noah took 49 animals on the Ark. However, there is no evidence in the Hebrew text to support this view. We will instead focus on the first two.
Are there Seven of Each Type?
The uncertain rendering of shiv’ah “seven each” or a similar phrase in English translations such as the KJV and NKJV supports the idea that seven clean animals boarded the Ark. The Bible also reveals that Noah sacrificed some of each clean animal and some birds to God after the flood (Genesis 8,20). If he brought seven animals, he could have sacrificed one from each type, leaving six (or three pairs) of each animal or bird to multiply and fill all of the earth. Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis stated that the seventh animal in each group was clearly meant for sacrificial purposes.
This proposal is intriguing, but it is not definitive. We must also be careful not to let our love for certain ideas override the text. It may seem appealing to imagine Noah taking seven people (six for repopulating, one for sacrifice), because this is consistent with 6+1 patterns found in Scripture. Ex. Ex. Exodus 23:10-11: The Israelites were told to work the land for six year and let it rest for one (Genesis 1:2-3). There is no explanation in the text about the animals arriving at the Ark and being able to board it. However, there are some texts that explain that an extra animal of each type was being taken along for sacrifice purposes. This idea is supported by those who draw an inference from a later passage (Genesis 8.20). But, is this inference valid? What number of animals did Noah sacrifice from each flying and clean creature? It does not say that Noah sacrificed only one animal from each type. Genesis 8:20 simply says that he “took of all clean animals and of all clean birds”. He could have sacrificed one male and one female from each pair. This would preserve the 6+1 pattern, which consists of six pairs for breeding and one for sacrifice. Sacrificing one pair of each bird would conform to the sacrifices required by Israelites who couldn’t afford a lamb for sin offering. Leviticus 12:8 and Leviticus 5/7 state that someone in such a situation must sacrifice two turtledoves and two pigeons. This is the same as what Joseph and Mary offered after Jesus’ birth (Luke 2 :22-24). The Bible does not explain why there had to be a 6+1 arrangement for the Ark’s clean and flying animals. Noah could have sacrificed several males from each clean type. However, since most animals don’t breed in monogamous pairs and there are fewer males than women, it could still be possible to quickly repopulate earth.
Technically speaking, “seven seven” does not refer to seven individuals. These words refer to either a group of people, objects, or individual members of a group. Hebrew does not have a word that means pair. The Hebrew language uses repetitions of cardinal numbers to express the idea.
Seven pairs of each type?
The Hebrew text clearly states that Noah would bring seven pairs of clean animals, and that each would consist of a male and a female. This supports the “seven pairs view.” Each male would have no mate if there were only seven animals of each type. This is the majority of English Bible translations. The majority of English Bible translations reflect this position, including the ESV, HCSB and NRSV.5 Additionally, almost all versions with just seven include a text note acknowledging that it could also refer to “seven pairings.”6
This “formula”, however, is not the same as the Hebrew text that discusses Genesis 7:2’s unclean animals. This verse does not say Noah should bring “two and a half” (a male or female), it just says “two” ( Shenayim). These numbers are all found in the same verse. Shouldn’t this be expected to show some consistency? Hebrew uses the word “two” to describe two unclean animals. So why would it use the number “seven seven” in the same verse to mean only “seven” clean animals?
A later verse uses similar phrasing. Genesis 7:9, 15 uses “two two” ( Shenayim).
Each male was accompanied by a female, so it seems that seven pairs of clean and unclean animals and birds boarded Ark. shenayim shenayim They (male and female) entered the Ark with Noah as God had commanded Noah…They entered the Ark with Noah, two and two. shenayim shenayim ) of all flesh that had the breath of life. (Genesis 7:8-9, 15).
These verses don’t tell us how many animals were slated to be on Ark. They tell us how the animals boarded for the Ark. Because each male was accompanied by a female, it seems that seven pairs of clean birds and animals boarded the Ark.
How many flying creatures are there?
Another issue is the flying creatures. Many Christians believe that Noah brought only seven to seven pairs of clean birds. This is often based on Genesis 8:20 which says that Noah sacrificed some of each type of clean animal or bird. As mentioned, the later verse should not be used in order to reinterpret an obvious passage from the previous chapter. Genesis 8:20 clearly stated that an odd number only clean animals were brought aboard the Ark to be sacrificed. Genesis 7:2-3 is unclear about the number unclean flying creatures. These conditions are not true. Take a look at Genesis 7 once more.
You will need seven clean pairs, one for the male and the mate and one for the pair of animals that aren’t clean. Seven pairs of birds of heaven (Genesis 7:2-3, emphasis added) (Genesis 7, 2-3, emphasis added). Verse 3 clearly states that Noah was to have seven pairs (or seven “of the birds in the heavens”). It doesn’t say that this was for only clean birds.
Verse 3 clearly states Noah was to take seven pairs, or seven “of the birds in the heavens.” However, it does not state that this was for clean birds. In this instance, the word bird is not actually used. The Hebrew word for bird, which is translated from the ESV, is more nuanced and complex than the English word. It refers to any type of flying creature. Noah was to bring seven pairs of each type of flying creature, including bats, on the Ark.7 This would also signify that flightless birds such as ostriches or cassowaries were represented only by one pair, even though their species were flightless originally.
Why did God send seven pairs each of every flying creature or clean animal to Noah’s house? The Genesis 8:20 sacrifice is not the only reason we should be able to answer this question. He did not sacrifice any unclean flying creatures and no one believes he sacrificed six of each clean animal. Whatever one’s opinion about the sacrifice and the seven-to-14 issue, each type of clean animal or flying creature was more common on the Ark than any kind of non-flying unclean animal. Although the Bible doesn’t explain why this is so, we can make some reasonable assumptions.
First, clean animals were usually domesticated animals that could be used for food and work, especially after the flood (Genesis 9,3). Noah’s family would likely have depended on animals for food, especially the clean ones, until they could plant new crops.
A second reason God sent seven pairs each of these flying creatures was to help prepare the environment for other animals and humans as they spread across the globe. Flying creatures can spread faster and reach distant places like islands. Many birds also eat seeds and scatter them through their waste. According to one study, seeds that are passed through birds’ digestive systems have a 370% higher survival rate than seeds that don’t.8 This suggests that the Ark had more to do the Arking of flying creatures.
Let’s get back to the original question. Is it possible that Noah brought seven to seven pairs of each type of clean animal or flying creature? There is strong evidence to support the view that Noah brought seven pairs each of clean animals and flying creatures onto the Ark. This seems to be the correct way to interpret the “seven seven” in this context, especially since it is immediately followed with the qualifier, “the male & his mate.”
Whatever view you may have, it is certain that Noah knew the right answer. . .
There are many Christians who faithfully interpret the text and can be found on both sides of the issue. Whatever our views, we know that Noah knew the right answer. There would have been ample food and space on the Ark to accommodate the animals.
God’s Word is truthful, even in areas where Christians disagree. It is not the text that is wrong in such situations. The differences are due to our limited understandings and biases, as well as other factors. As we try to handle the “word of truth”, may we all pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 2:25).