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5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Noah’s Flood

admin on March 24, 2014 - 3:45 pm in Bible

If you haven’t caught any of the hype, then consider yourselves hereby informed:  the movie Noah hits the big screen this week.  Billed as “vital and audacious”, the movie strikes a strange balance between semi-faithfulness to the biblical text (the flood really does wipe out most of an obviously evil humanity) and the invention of new, anachronistic details (humanity’s primary sin is portrayed as environmental abuse). 

Christians will undoubtedly find the film frustrating as it veers rather substantially off the tracks of the biblical narrative and even somehow manages to completely avoid mentioning the name of God.

However, the movie’s release will undoubtedly create conversation opportunities with non-believers, so in the interest of encouraging you to seize those opportunities and helping you see how to turn them to what matters most, here are five things most people don’t know about Noah’s Flood:

5. Noah took more than two of each kind of animal

Nearly everyone in the West, whether they grew up in a Christian church or not, knows that there were two of every kind of animal on the Ark...but that’s not what the Bible says.  What it actually says is that there was a single pair of every kind of unclean animal and seven pairs of every kind of clean animal:

2 "You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; Genesis 7:2   

Noah would have needed the larger number of clean animals for both sacrifice and, presumably, for eating.  It would be a little sad if an entire kind of animal went extinct simply because Noah and his family needed a snack!

The fact that Gen 7:2 speaks of seven pairs of clean animals while Gen 6:19-21 only speaks of two of every animal has sometimes been taken as evidence of a contradiction in the Bible, or evidence that the two chapters are actually a disjointed merging of two pre-existing stories by a later editor.  However, neither is the case.  First, if this was a true contradiction, it is difficult to see how the author/compiler of Genesis could have failed to miss such an obvious mistake and correct it.  It is far more likely that the author/compiler of Genesis did not see these two statements as contradictory and this should then guide our own interpretation.  Second, following a pattern that we see elsewhere in Genesis, [1]  Genesis 6 is best understood as giving a general overview of the generic command to gather the animals in breeding pairs while Genesis 7 drills down to reveal additional details of the command, including the additional detail that a larger number of clean animals would be required. 

4.  The Biblical Flood story is not unique

While most Westerners know the story of Noah’s Flood found in the Bible, they are often surprised to find that similar stories exist all over the world.  In fact, there are hundreds of distinct cultures with stories that often parallel the biblical Flood story in astonishing detail, including:

  • the destruction of all humanity save for a few individuals (Kamchadale in northeast Siberia, Raiatea in French Polynesia, et al.)
  • the building of an ark to save a few individuals (Masai of East Africa, ancient Greeks, et al.)
  • a special role for birds either warning of the flood or signaling its recession (Chaldeans, Mongolia, Kamar in Central India, et al.)

Of course, many of the details of these flood stories vary widely from culture to culture, as we would expect over centuries of oral transmission, but the persistence of such stories and of many of their key details across widely-separated cultures strongly suggests a common origin.  Skeptics who discount the biblical Flood story as an entirely fictitious event must contend with the considerable anthropological evidence that a great flood really did wipe out nearly all of the human population on earth at some point in the distant past.

3.  There is considerable scientific evidence that Noah’s Flood actually occurred.

For obvious reasons, a lot of the apologetic work on Noah’s Flood has been done by Creationist organizations like the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis.  These organizations have amassed a lot of scientific evidence for the Flood and their collections are worth perusing. 

However, a lot of people are surprised to learn that there is enough scientific evidence for the Flood to cause even scientists working from a non-Christian worldview to affirm much of the Genesis account’s essential accuracy. 

Scientific Diluvianism, the theory that the earth’s history had been shaped by a universal flood, lost credibility and was abandoned back in the early 19th century.  However, more recent archaeological and geological discoveries have caused some secular scientists to resurrect the theory.  In 1998, William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman, senior scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and recipients of the Shepard Medal of Excellence in marine geology, presented many of these findings in their book Noah’s Flood:  The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History (1998, Simon & Schuster).  This was a very important book and its evidence and interpretation have reverberated throughout the field of marine geology.  Ryan and Pitman are hardly alone, though, in acknowledging that the scientific evidence favors the essential[2] reliability of the Genesis Flood account.

We have compiled a list of secular resources that support the historical accuracy of the Genesis Flood account here.

2.  Noah's Ark points towards Jesus.

We tend to miss the point of the Flood account on multiple levels.  It’s not a nice story about God’s preservation of Noah and the animals but rather a story that speaks directly and sobering-ly of God’s intolerance of sin.  However, there’s even more to the story than that.

A number of biblical scholars have noted that there are significant parallels between the Flood narrative in Genesis 6-8 and  Exodus 25-40 which describes the process by which the Israelites built and dedicated the tabernacle.  Such parallels include:

  • Both structures were built because God ordered their construction
  • Both structures were built according to a design that God revealed
  • Both building stories follow a similar narrative and linguistic pattern:  God speaks, an action is commanded and the command is carried out according to God’s will[3]
  • Both narratives conclude with a divine blessing
  • Both narratives are closely connected to a covenant
  • Both stories emphasize the presence of clean animals
  • Both stories emphasize the sacrifice of the clean animals
  • Noah was in the Ark for 40 days and nights while Moses received the instructions for building the tabernacle while he was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights.

Since the tabernacle was intended to allow for God’s continual presence among the Israelites, it is not difficult to see a connection between the tabernacle and Jesus who was Emmanuel, “God with-us”.  Indeed, the apostle John even went so far as to describe Jesus as God “tabernacle-ing” among us (John 1:14[4]). Furthermore, we note that 1 Peter 3:20 connects God’s salvation of Noah to the salvation provided through Christ, suggesting that the Ark was a kind of symbolic prefiguring of Jesus’ coming sacrifice which saves those who “enter” it by faith.

Biblically speaking, then, the account of Noah’s Flood is not merely a story of God’s destruction of the wicked but also a foreshadowing of Jesus' incarnation and the atonement.

1.  Jesus taught that Noah’s Flood foreshadowed the end of the world.

Ok, that’s a little melodramatic.  Truth is, the Bible really doesn’t teach the “end of the world” as we tend to think of it, but only the end of particular eras of history.  What we usually think of as the “end of the world” is really a description we find in the Bible about cataclysmic events that will surround God’s judgment of sinful humanity and the Second Coming of Jesus.  But the Bible never teaches that the world or physical universe will cease to exist.  According to the Bible, there is a time coming when God will make a final judgment against wickedness (see Revelation 20) and restore the physical universe to its original, intended form (see Revelation 21), but it never says the world will “end”.

However, Jesus did teach that certain circumstances surrounding Noah’s Flood foreshadow circumstances that will also accompany his Second Coming, particularly in regards to the unexpected destruction of sinful men and women:

Matthew 24:37-44   37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

The story of Noah's ark, then, speaks directly to the question of whether or not we are ready for the judgment that is coming. 


So there you go.  The movie Noah may not get all (or any) of its facts straight, but that doesn't mean we can't use it to point people to the Truth!




[1] For instance, we see the same pattern in Genesis 1 where 1:1 is an overview of the entire creation and the subsequent verses drill down to additional details.  Similarly, Genesis 1:26-28 gives an overview of the creation of human beings, but Genesis 2 drills down to the additional details.

[2] I am using the term “essential” here, not to suggest any inaccuracy in the biblical account but merely to acknowledge that these secular resources do not affirm the entire accuracy of the Genesis account.  Rather, they typically limit their affirmations of the Genesis account to a true “core” preserved in the text.

[3] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 82.  The parallels extend to particular Hebrew terms used in both accounts.

[4] The Greek term here, skenaō, is a verbalized form of the noun skēnē which was used by the LXX to translate the Hebrew term for tabernacle.

So there you go.  The Noah movie may not get all its fact straight, but that doesn't mean we can't use it as an opportunity to steer people to the truth! 

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Secular Scientific Support for Noah's Flood

Note:  Shepherd Project does not endorse the worldview or assumptions present in the following resources.  They ...
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