Ask most children who are somewhat familiar with the biblical account of the Flood how many animals of each kind Noah took into the ark, and the answer you likely will hear is, “Two!” These 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. 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 it may be that “there can be no certainty on this point” (Willis, 1979, p. 171), some have been more decisive on the matter, believing real purpose and reason to the interpretation that there were only seven of every clean kind on the ark, rather than seven pairs. 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, clothing, and possibly more animals to sacrifice in the immediate future. The pattern, as Matthew Henry noted, could be following 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). Admittedly, however, no concrete conclusion can be made in this particular matter.
Still, another allegation is brought up concerning Genesis 7:2. According to the skeptic, “Clean and unclean animals were not delineated until the eleventh chapter of Leviticus. The Mosaic law arose 600 years after the Flood. There were no Jews, Israelites, or clean/unclean animals in Noah’s time” (McKinsey, p. 1). Thus, regardless of how one answers the question concerning the number of animals on the ark, this second allegation still lingers in the minds of skeptics. Supposedly, instructions regarding clean and unclean animals were not given until hundreds of years after the Flood (see Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14).
What skeptics refuse to see is that just because Moses made laws concerning clean and unclean animals at a much later time than the Flood, does not mean that such rules concerning animals could not have existed prior to Moses—yes, even prior to the Flood. As commentator John Willis noted: “A law or a truth does not have to have its origin with a certain individual or religion to be a vital part of that religion or to be distinctive in that religion” (p. 170). Jesus, for example, was not the first person to teach that man needed to love God with all of his heart (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5), or that man must love his neighbor (cf. Leviticus 19:18), and his enemies (cf. Proverbs 25:21-22). Yet these teachings were central to Christ’s message (cf. Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 5:43-48). Likewise, simply because God chose circumcision as a sign between Himself and Abraham’s descendants, does not mean that no male in the history of mankind had ever been circumcised before the circumcision of Abraham and his household (Genesis 17). What’s more, Moses wrote in the book of Leviticus years after Abraham lived, saying, “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (12:2-3, emp. added). I have never heard a person allege that Moses believed he was writing a new law here. On the contrary, he knew very well what was expected from God concerning the matter of circumcision, even before he included this sort of instruction as part of Mosaic Law (read Exodus 4:24-26).
For skeptics to allege that differentiation between clean and unclean animals did not exist before the time of Moses is totally unsubstantiated. Mankind had been sacrificing animals since the fall of man (cf. Genesis 3:20). That God had given laws concerning animal sacrifices since the time of Cain and Abel is evident from the fact that the second son of Adam was able to offer an animal sacrifice “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4; Genesis 4:4). Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), Abel must have received revelation from God on how to offer acceptable animal sacrifices. Such revelation easily could have dealt with which sacrificial animals were acceptable (“clean”), and which were unacceptable (“not clean”). Furthermore, more than 400 hundred years before Moses gave the Israelites laws differentiating clean and unclean animals, God made a covenant with Abraham concerning the land that his descendants eventually would possess (Genesis 15). Part of the “sign” that Abraham was given at that time involved the killing of a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon (Genesis 15:9). “It just so happens” that all of these animals were later considered clean under the Law of Moses (cf. Leviticus 1:2,10,14).
Without doubt, the distinction between clean and unclean animals existed long before the Law of Moses was given. Although this distinction did not include all of the details and applications given by Moses (since prior to the Flood the distinction seems only to have applied to the matter of animals suitable for sacrifice, not for consumption—cf. Genesis 9:2-3), animal sacrifice to God was practiced during the Patriarchal Age, and it is apparent that the faithful were able to distinguish between the clean and unclean. Noah certainly knew of the difference.
Henry, Matthew (no date), Genesis to Deuteronomy (MacLean, VA: MacDonald).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Lyons, Eric (2002), “Did God Create Animals or Man First,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/513.
McKinsey, Dennis (1983), “Commentary,” Biblical Errancy, p. 1, December.
Willis, John T. (1979), “Genesis,” The Living Word Commentary (Austin, TX: Sweet).
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