Facts About Noah's Ark


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Facts About Noah's Ark

Facts you may not know about Noah’s Ark

When all the flooding was happening in the UK there were lots of mentions of Noah and his Ark. It enters naturally into conversation when people think of it rather as a fairy story. If asked about its historicity, many would say that it would be physically impossible to save the animal kingdom in a sailing vessel made from wood. In this article Paul Tovell explains why the Biblical account can be believed.

How much do we think we know about the flood story? We’re very familiar with it, but let’s look a little deeper into it, to help us to imagine what it was really like.

Elbow room?

Let’s start with a question – how did all the animals get on board? or, to put it another way, how could you physically fit the world’s animal population into one vessel? This concept alone is enough to make many people dismiss it as myth.

A small boy once dismissed the whole thing by saying – “There’s no way Noah could have ever got all those animals into that ark.” When asked, how many animals were there, the boy said, “I don’t know.” When asked how big the ark was he said “I don’t know”.

But he was quite sure Noah could not have fitted an unknown quantity of animals into an unknown sized ship!

There are two parts to this question – the number of animals, and the size of the ark. Firstly, there are a lot of animals in the world – it’s estimated that there are between 1 and 3 million known species in the world today. But let’s just ask, which creatures did not need to get in the ark?


❖microscopic sea creatures

❖jellyfish, starfish and other marine creatures

❖whales, seals and other such mammals, and

❖molluscs (oysters, mussels).

Noah's ArkIt’s been said before that the vast majority of life on this planet is in the sea. A few years ago, a scientist who believes in the Bible estimated that the number of animals which needed to be in the ark in order for the natural world to have survived the flood would be 16,000.

How Big?

Let’s take the second question, how big was the ark? In Genesis 6:15 it says that the ark was 300 x 50 x 30 cubits, which makes it about 1.4 million cubic feet, or just under 40,000 cubic metres.

If you take the average size of these 16,000 animals to be a sheep, remembering that many are much, much smaller, his conclusion was that less than half of the ark’s three decks was needed for all these animals. That leaves plenty of room for food, waste, and many more people than the eight who chose this option. This really was a massive boat – so large that it was only in 1884 that anyone in the world had built a bigger sailing vessel!

The next question might be, how did they have enough food to feed all the animals and keep them exercised? A possible answer is hibernation. Nearly all reptiles and amphibians have the capacity to hibernate. Mammals don’t need to, but the latent ability to do so may still be there. Even some birds do it, although most migrate rather than hibernate.

The reason some animals hibernate is due to cold, poor oxygen, or poor food supplies at certain times of the year – in other words, environmental factors. So it is possible that they could have hibernated while they were on the ark. Another piece of evidence lies in a phrase from Genesis 6:14:

“make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.”

The Hebrew word for ‘rooms’, can also mean ‘compartments’.

“Two by Two”?

Noah's Ark Animals Two by TwoHow many of each species went into the ark? If you think the answer is two, then you’re only half right. In fact, a different number of clean beasts and unclean beasts went in. The record says that clean animals were to go in by sevens, and unclean by twos:

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).

Why this difference? And why is it important enough for us to be told about it? Genesis gives a clue when we read:

You shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them (Genesis 6:21).

The food on board the ark was for the people and the animals, and must have therefore consisted of herbs, vegetables and fruits. It is highly unlikely that the animals were there to provide food: that would take up far too much space anyway!

Right back in Genesis chapter 4 animals had been used for sacrifices − for offerings − to God. And they had to be designated ‘clean’ animals to be offered. They had to be animals that didn’t scavenge among the rubbish of the earth, to demonstrate the offerer’s understanding that the God of Heaven requires purity and separation from uncleanness in all who come to Him. That was the point of having this distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.

The first thing Noah did when the flood was over is recorded in Genesis chapter 8 – he offered a sacrifice to the Lord God. At the heart of this episode about God’s judgement upon the earth, and the faithful who survive it, we find the true worship of God in the form of the sacrifices that were offered to Him.

Could this be why there were many more clean animals on board than unclean, to prepare for what would happen after the flood? Noah showed how important his relationship with God was in the things that he took with him on this life-saving trip.

Speed or stability?

Some boats are built for speed, some for stability, some for capacity. Noah’s ark was not about getting anywhere.

Other than survival, there was no need for it to travel great distances. All it had to do was stay afloat, and that wasn’t easy! The water wasn’t calm. We know there was a wind (Genesis 8:1) and this volume of water appearing and disappearing would have made for some very rough conditions. But the ark’s dimensions were just right for stability in the rough waters. In fact, it’s more accurate to think of the ark being shaped like a box.

Remember it didn’t have to get anywhere, so it didn’t need steering or an engine. It just needed to float and stay upright.

A living countdown

Noah's AncestorsDid you know that there was a living countdown to the flood? One of Noah’s ancestors was Methuselah, whose name means “After him, it shall come”. So when he died, something was going to happen. People had nearly 1,000 years to wonder what his name meant. Genesis chapter 5 provides us with information to work this out.

Look at the chart above and you’ll see that Methuselah died in the same year the flood started. So people could have linked the two together quite easily. God wanted people to know that He required obedience, and that there were consequences for not obeying. It was up to individuals whether or not to take the way out that was on offer for those who wanted to serve Him.

Lamech (Noah’s father, who died 5 years before the flood) and Methuselah perhaps helped to build the ark.

But there’s this crucial point in the genealogy that none of Noah’s ancestors were alive at the time of the flood.

That explains why none of them were on board.

If we stick with the family tree for a moment, another amazing fact is just how long there was a firsthand account of the flood for anyone who wanted to ask about it. People lived a long time in those days! Noah didn’t die until virtually Abraham’s time – and Shem didn’t die until well into Isaac’s lifetime. So anyone could verify the facts with him if they weren’t sure of them. There was a first-hand witness until Isaac’s day, hundreds of years later. That’s a big point in favour of the truth of the Noah’s ark episode in the Bible. We can’t accept these later chapters of Genesis about Abraham without accepting that he would have believed in the truth of the flood story.

“Saved by Water”

You needed to get in the ark in order to be saved. And anyone could have opted for the salvation that God was offering – the door was open to all.

Here is a picture of the mercy of God. Genesis chapter 7 tells us that the process of getting all the animals on the ark went on for seven whole days. In verses 7 and 8 we read of Noah and his family boarding, and then we read:

"It came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth" (Genesis 7:10).

All that time there were lots of people around, watching and wondering what was going on. They all had a chance to get in the ark. It’s as though God left this last final opportunity for people to say, “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you at first Noah, but now I’m willing to trust you”.

The last time I took the train to London, there was an announcement that the train doors would only stay open for 30 seconds for people who wanted to get on. After that, the doors would be closed and no-one else would be able to board. For Noah’s generation, there was a seven day period when the ark was open to receive people who wanted to be saved. But once it started raining, it was too late. The door was shut. It was no good waiting until the rain started to fall. You needed to believe what God had said and get on board! Otherwise you would miss your chance.

How many people?

Finally, how many righteous or faithful people were there in the world in the days of the flood? The answer is one, as far as we know. There were eight people who went in the ark – all members of Noah’s family – but all we know is that: “Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations.”

We have no idea what his sons and their wives were like at this stage. But because of Noah’s character, God accepted his whole family as being good and upright in His sight.

“Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation (Genesis 7:1).

What an amazing statement.

Because of Noah’s righteousness and faith, his whole family were invited to enter the ark. We know that God always thinks in terms of families, because that’s exactly how it works with Christ. His family – his followers who are said to be his brothers and sisters – are saved not because of any righteousness of their own, but because of Christ’s.

As long as we get into our spiritual ark (by being baptised ‘into Christ’) and stay there, safely on board, we too have the wonderful hope of surviving the coming destruction of this present world, and living in a brand new one: the Kingdom of God.

By Paul Tovell