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Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages

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How Many Clean Animals Did Noah Take into the Ark—Seven or Fourteen?

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Q.

Genesis 7:2 says that God told Noah to take clean animals into the Ark “seven by seven.” Does this mean Noah took fourteen of each clean animal into the boat?

A.

In Genesis 7, God instructed Noah to take onboard the ark certain animals in order to save them from the Flood. Concerning clean animals, He said:

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, the male and his female; and of the beasts that are not clean two, the male and his female (7:2).

Through the years, serious Bible students have wondered: How many clean animals did Noah take into the ark—seven, or fourteen? Generally, there are two opposing views on the precise number of each kind of animal involved. One view is expressed by the following statement from John T. Willis:

It is impossible to determine certainly whether the Hebrew phrase, shibb’ah shibbah means “by sevens” (KJV), that is, seven animals of all clean species, or “seven and seven” (ASV) or seven pairs (RSV, NEB), that is fourteen animals of all clean species.... There can be no certainty on this point (1979, p. 171).

However, others have been more decisive on the matter, suggesting real purpose and reason to the interpretation that there were only seven of every clean kind on the ark. Animal sacrifice to God was practiced during the Patriarchal Age, and it is apparent that the faithful could distinguish between the clean and unclean. Thus, it is suggested that when Noah left the ark and offered a sacrifice to God “of every clean animal” (Genesis 8:20), three pairs were left for domestication by man so that he would have food and clothing. The pattern, as Matthew Henry noted, then follows that of the working week and Sabbath day, in that “God gives us six for one in earthly things, as in the days of the week,” while the seventh is for devotion to God (n.d., p. 61).

On the actual exegesis of the passage, H.C. Leupold, in his Exposition of Genesis, argued:

The Hebrew expression “take seven seven” means “seven each” [here he refers to Koenig’s syntax and Gesenius’ Grammatik—BT/TM]. Hebrew parallels support this explanation. In any case, it would be a most clumsy method of trying to say “fourteen” (1990, 1:290).

While it is difficult to speak dogmatically on this issue, it is clear that the opinion of many conservative scholars weighs heavily in favor of the interpretation that there were seven clean, and two unclean, of every animal kind on Noah’s ark.

REFERENCES

Henry, Matthew (no date), Genesis to Deuteronomy (MacLean, VA: MacDonald).

Leupold, H.C. (1990 reprint), Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), reprint of 1942 Wartsburg Press edition.

Willis, John T. (1979), “Genesis,” The Living Word Commentary (Austin, TX: Sweet).




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