Noah and the Animals—Part 3: Seven or Fourteen?

by Ark Encounter on May 25, 2014

This series of blog posts addresses some of the many questions people have asked about the Ark animals before, during, and after the Flood.

Question: Some Bibles say that Noah took seven of each clean animal while others state he brought seven pairs. Which view is accurate?

This is one of those interesting questions where we must be tentative in our answer. A cursory look at multiple Bible translations reveals that the translators are pretty evenly divided. Consider how ten of the most popular English Bibles render the passage in question—Genesis 7:2.

Seven of each kind:

  • KJV*
  • NKJV
  • NASB*
  • NET*
  • NIV (1984)*

Seven pairs of each kind:

  • NLT
  • ESV*
  • HCSB
  • NRSV
  • NIV (2011)

The asterisks indicate that a textual note has been provided in these Bibles indicating the possibility of the other view. It is also interesting to see that the NIV translators switched their position in their recent update. What are we to make of these differences?

It’s important to note that the differences in the translations are not due to an attempt by translators to undermine the authority of Scripture. The translators are simply trying to rightly interpret a seemingly ambiguous Hebrew phrase. The text literally states that Noah was to take “seven seven” of each clean animal, “a male and his female” (Genesis 7:2), as well as “seven seven” of the winged creatures, “male and female” (Genesis 7:3). So which view is right? It depends on who you ask.

In favor of the “seven” view is that Genesis 8:20 reveals that “Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offering on the altar.” While it doesn’t say that Noah sacrificed just one animal of each clean kind, those who hold to the “seven” view could point to the common “six and one” pattern seen in the Old Testament. For example, God created the world in six days and rested for one (Genesis 1; Exodus 20:11), and the Israelites were to work the land for six years and let it lie fallow during the seventh year (Exodus 23:10–11). Perhaps six of each clean animal was to be for man’s use while dedicating one to the Lord.

Furthermore, if fourteen animals were in view, “seven seven” seems to be a unique way to express the number. Nowhere else does the Old Testament express the number fourteen in this manner. In response, one could point out that none of the other passages in which fourteen appears discuss the number in the context of pairs.

In favor of the “seven pairs” view is the text’s mention that there would be a male and “his female” for the clean animals. If an odd number was brought to Noah, then plenty of animals did not have a mate. Moreover, the Hebrew text does not use similar wording with the unclean animals in verse two. That is, we know that one pair of unclean animals was in view, but the text does not say “two two, a male and his female”—it just has the word for two.

While “seven seven” may be a unique way to express the number fourteen it would also be an unusual way to indicate just seven animals—no other place in Scripture uses duplicate “sevens” to indicate seven.

So which one is the correct view? This is one of those areas where we just can’t be completely certain and that’s okay—even the translation committees made up of experts in Hebrew are undecided on it. We know that God brought the correct number of clean animals and winged creatures to Noah, whether it was seven or seven pairs. We also know there was plenty of room on the Ark for either option as we plan to demonstrate at the Ark Encounter. Please pray for us and consider partnering with us as we endeavor to build this gospel-proclaiming attraction.