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Author: Ron Graham

Old Testament

The Size of Noah’s Ark
—Was Noah’s Ark Too Small?

An argument against a universal flood is that no ark could contain so many species of animals as existed world-wide. This page, as a supplement to the previous lesson The Great Flood, questions the validity of this argument.

1 The Length of a Cubit

The ark measured 300 x 50 x 30 cubits (Genesis 6:14-16). That's not far off half a million cubic cubits. Sounds impressive, but how big is it? Nobody knows the length of a "cubit". So how can anyone say with confidence, "The ark was too small..." when they can only guess at how big it was?

An ”educated“ guess for a "cubit" is about 45cm or eighteen inches. That's based on a common-sense analysis of the numerous measurements (in cubits) of the tabernacle in Moses’s time, and the temple in Ezekiel’s visions. To apply that guess to Noah’s ark, an assumption is made that the cubit that Noah used was the same as the cubit that Moses used (Exodus 25-38, Ezekiel 40-43).

2 Room for the Animals

Not only is there speculation about the size of the ark, but also about the animals that went into it and the room they would need. All the Bible says is that “every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind” went into the ark (Genesis 7:13-16).

Nothing is said there about aquatic, plant, or microbial life. Only “all flesh in which is the breath of life, everything that is on the earth...” (Genesis 6:17). Beasts, birds, and creeping things are mentioned, but no list is given. Nor is anything said about food other than “You shall take for yourself all food that is eaten...for you and for them” (Genesis 6:21).

There is endless discussion and speculation, all based on so-called science, about why it was “impossible” for the animals to get to the ark, to fit in the ark, and to survive in the ark.

Noah was to take animals "according to their families... after their kind" (Genesis 6:19-20, 8:19). This is the same language as used in the account of creation (Genesis 1:20-25). The Bible mentions no significant changes from the types of birds and beasts of the land that were originally created and those that existed in Noah’s time. The purpose of Noah’s Ark was to preserve those.

It isn't sensible to imagine that Noah’s Ark was intended to hold all the species in today’s world, including sea creatures, plant life, and creatures now extinct but still evident as fossils. Noah was never commanded to fit all that into the ark.

Nobody knows in any detail what went into the ark. So how can anyone reasonably say, "The ark was too small", when there is barely a jot of hard data about the number, size, and requirements of the animals involved? Only when you have got a passenger list, can you decide whether the boat is too small.

3 The Miraculous Component

It is most obvious that the account of Noah’s Ark involves the work of God as well as the work of man. The account does not attempt to describe in detail what was achieved by divine miracle and what by human sweat.

Of course the account has man building the ark, and God causing the flood. But we are not told how much God did in bringing animals into the ark, and keeping them alive and safe there. When it was time for the rain, “the Lord shut Noah in” (Genesis 7:16). Do we suppose that God did nothing else for those inside the ark but to shut them in?

As for those creatures not commanded to be in the ark, do we suppose that God left them to the mercy of the flood without doing anything to preserve a remnant? We should suppose nothing, but leave it to God to know what he did.

If you believe in miracles, then the account of Noah’s Ark is believable. If you don't believe in miracles, the account is nonsense and “impossible”. It's as simple as that. I don't know how much was miraculous and how much was human effort. Nobody does. But enough of it was miraculous to make it happen as told.

You can make nonsense of the story using this or that “ology” of science. But you are not addressing the story as given —which includes miracles and omits details. Rather you meddle with the story, excluding miracles, and supposing details, rendering the story “impossible” and therefore a myth.

I find it hard to understand how someone can be regarded as an expert on Noah’s Ark who doesn't know how long a cubit is, doesn't know what animals were in the ark, and doesn't even believe in the God who works miracles.

Noah’s Example

Before we leave Noah, the ark, and the flood, let us not overlook the example Noah set for us, who are all his children. "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" because "Noah did according to all that God commanded him" (Genesis 6:8,22). So may we do likewise.

The longsuffering of God is waiting now, as it did in the days of Noah while Noah prepared the ark and preached salvation from the coming flood. So Jesus Christ, Noah’s antitype, came preaching salvation from destruction at the end of this present world. Like Noah, Jesus was rejected by the world at large.

Noah passed through the waters of the flood, the antitype of which is baptism. Just as the passengers of the ark left the doomed world, and passed through the waters into a new world, so we, through the waters of baptism, pass from death into life, from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. In this sense, the waters of baptism save us, as the waters of the flood, paradoxically, saved the occupants of the ark (1Peter 3:18-22).

Through baptism, sin is done away with on account of the death of Christ, and we walk in newness of life on account of his resurrection (Romans 6:3-6). In that new life, we should be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth in the spiritual sense of evangelising all the world and multiplying the family of Christ, so that "whosoever will" may enter that new heavens and new earth beyond the rainbow, beyond our blue-green orb, and beyond the stars.

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