This is the third installment of the Genesis Controversy items. After this, we will look at less controversial yet still deeply meaningful topics regarding the book of Genesis. If you’re like me, most of the time when I read the Old Testament, I don’t take the time to hammer out the finer details of the narrative. This has largely been because either 1, I was reading it out of a sense of duty or to get an overall gist of the story or 2. I wasn’t going into the reading to find anomalies or contradictions (not thinking through the text critically. Having said that, here are my thoughts on traditional issues with Noah’s Ark, as I have delved into the research of all things Genesis.
There Is a Discrepancy Regarding the Numbers of Animals And Length of the Flood
If we read the Flood Narrative with a critical eye, we may find something the feels just a little bit off. Most of the time, when I sense something slightly off in the Bible, I tend to pass over it and move on. I think that has mostly been because I assumed there were things I’d never be able to know about it because I deemed it ‘in the realm of academia.” Then I started reading books from “academia” and noticed the questions about details they were asking. Among such questions lay the numeric discrepancy of creatures admitted to the ark.
If we read the Genesis account with our childhood Sunday school lessons in mind, we come away with the idea that there were a male and a female of each creature placed on the ark.
“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.” (Gen. 6:19).
However, when Noah and company disembark from the ark, they sacrifice some animals. So we look a little closer and find that there were 7 pairs of “clean” animals and 1 pair of unclean animals. “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals,[a] the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, 3 and seven pairs[b] of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth” (Gen. 7:2).
Then in addition to the number of animals on the ark, Genesis 8 tends to get the number of days confused about the floodwaters. If the rain stopped and receded on the 17th day of the 7th month and continued until the 1st day of the 10th month, it is 2.5 months, roughly 10 weeks (70 days). Then verse 6 mentions it being a 40 day wait for the water to recede. So you can see, the numbers don’t really match up. This has led some scholars to believe that what the author of Genesis did was splice together 2 separate accounts (probably oral) into one. There are other factors that led to that decision. In the end, given what we find in Genesis, it seems to be the most likely scenario.
2. A Wooden Boat That Size Cannot Be Seaworthy
The next anomalous issue in the Flood Narrative lies with the ark itself. As John Walton pointed out in his recent book “Lost World of the Flood,” the size of the ark is quite impressive. In fact, Ken Ham’s ministry “Answers in Genesis” undertook the task of replicating a life-size ark with the dimensions given in Genesis 6-10. The replica ark, known as the “Ark Encounter” is located in Williamstown, KY. Yet, Walton points out a few important details. 1. The builders used modern power tools to build it, whereas Noah would be using primitive tools. 2. It is landlocked in KY. Its seaworthiness will never be tested. 3. To date, the largest recorded ship to be used was the USS Wyoming at 450 ft. It was supported by steel, leaked so badly steam pumps had to drain the water. It eventually sunk, as it couldn’t handle heavy seas. All hands were lost. You can read about it here. Noah’s ark was even larger than that. So on a purely physical plane, if Noah’s ark had been build entirely by hand and with wood, it would have splintered apart during the tumultuous storms that devastated all life on earth.
So where does that leave us with the story of Noah’s Ark? A likely explanation comes when we begin to look at the narratives in the Primeval Period of Genesis (Chs. 1-11). They are not arranged chronologically (genealogies are clearly not all encompassing). In fact, historical documents didn’t contain a great deal of chronological importance until Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). This tells us that Genesis was likely arranged for a different purpose, namely theological. When we look at the primeval period of Genesis, we see a repeated pattern of: sin, judgement pronouncement, token of grace, judgement enacted.
|Sin||Judgement Pronouncement||token of grace||Judgement enacted|
|Adam and Eve||Fruit||Curses||Animal skin coverings||Expelled from Garden|
|Cain||Fratricide||Inhospitable Agriculture||Mark of Cain||Bound to Wander|
|Humanity||Wickedness||Flood Warning||Noah’s Ark||Flood|
|People of Babel||Become Godlike||Lord will confuse language||Communication possible||Languages confused|
What does this have to do with the seaworthiness of Noah’s ark? Good question. Given that it is quite likely impossible to build a boat that big all out of wood (even with tar as a sealant) and make it seaworthy, the author may be using a very common literary style to prove a theological point–hyperbole. Hypberbole is used often in the Bible. 2 examples come to mind: 1. When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land through warfare, the author recorded that every single inhabitant had been destroyed. Yet at the end of Joshua’s life, they were still fighting strongholds of remaining inhabitants. So either the author of the initial story lied or used a the rhetorical (hyperbole) to express Israel’s degree of victory. 2. Jesus said, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Better to enter heaven lame than go to hell with two good hands.” As far as we know, there is no historical record of Christians condoning the act of self-mutilation in such a manner. From the outset, it was generally recognized as a hyperbolic statement. So it isn’t out of the purview of Scripture that the account of Noah’s ark may by an example of hyperbole–especially given the impossibility of making an ark bigger than the largest wooden ship made with industrial technology, that still proved unseaworthy.
So what is happening? The author could be using hyperbole to drive home his theological point (given that the pattern has already emerged) that is in line with the theological cycle in Genesis 1-11.
3. How Genesis’ Author’s Worldview Influences the Narrative
We in the modern world read most older documents the same. That means we’ll read the Bill of Rights the same way we read Leviticus. And likewise, we will sit in judgment of their stipulations based on our “modern” ethics and morals. In the end, we lose much of the true meanings of the passages as well as how it spoke to the original audience. When we consider the world that Genesis’ author lived in, we may come away from reading Genesis with a different view. They lived in a world where stories were pregnant with deep ontological meaning (“Purpose Driven Life,” anyone?). Each story held truth, not just in historical reality, but in defining life. Since the Enlightenment, our worlds have strayed away from this king of understanding. Our stories are devoid of meaning, because they are now regarded as superficial. In that sense, we have become “unenlightened.” We have lost the deeper meaning of these stories.
When we consider the world that Genesis’ author lived in, we may come away from reading Genesis with a different view. They lived in a world where stories were pregnant with deep ontological meaning.
Were we to try and recapture the deeper meanings found in the events of Primeval Genesis, we would know that its truth transcends mere historicity. Did these events happen? Yes, in one form or another. The exact details we find in Genesis are, in the end, insignificant. It is the deeper truths that are eternal. In ancient Israel, no one would have believed that the first man was simply named “Man” and the first woman named “Living.” They knew Adam and Eve played a representative role. They likely existed, as did all the characters of Genesis. But in the end, their birth names were probably not “Man” and “Living.” In the end, to truly understand Genesis, we have to try and capture the worldview of the writer and original audience. That is a difficult task, especially starting from the fact that we all interpret everything within our own worldview, usually unknowingly.
To truly understand Genesis, we have to try and capture the worldview of the writer and original audience. That is a difficult task, especially starting from the fact that we all interpret everything within our own worldview, usually unknowingly.
Can these controversial items be harmonized with a belief in Sola Scriptura and the Inerrancy of Scripture?
Yes. In the end, it is possible to acknowledge that the accounts in Genesis 1-11 may not have happened in the exact details that we read, yet still happened in some way historically. Concluding that the first couple may not have been named Adam and Eve doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of the first couple (or their archetypal role). Understanding that Noah’s Ark may not have been as massive as Genesis says it is doesn’t deny the reality of God destroying the world and recreating it through destructive waters (even if it may not be a global flood). Given these controversial topics, it is worthwhile to visit the Evangelical doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Inerrancy.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is often assumed to mean, by the untrained, that everything we need to know is found in Scripture. It is our go-to for all foundational knowledge. However, that is not what the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is. It means that all things necessary for understanding the way of Salvation is found in Scripture. It isn’t the source of all knowledge; it is the only source where knowledge of salvation through Jesus is found.
Similarly the Doctrine of Inerrancy is often believed the mean there is absolutely no errors in the Bible, neither numeric, logical, nor grammatical. And that simply isn’t true. There are plenty of incongruities in Scripture. Just look at the Flood narrative timeline above. The Doctrine of Inerrancy holds to everything that is needed for salvation and faithful living found in Scripture is inerrant. There is nothing lacking in the Bible about the way of salvation.
The Bible is still God’s Word. It is still Inerrant. It is still the only complete compendium that chronicles the plan of salvation from beginning to end. What is not inerrant is how we interpret Scripture. Whether we choose to read the Flood Narrative as an exact historical account or whether we choose to read it as a hyperbole only determines 1 thing: how we chose to read it. That doesn’t go against the doctrine of inerrancy, though some may think it does. It simply means humanity’s approach to scripture can be flawed. However, all who hold to the doctrine of inerrancy generally hold to the preserving power of the Holy Spirit. We may get parts of our interpretations wrong, however, Scripture is clear enough that salvation can still be found in its pages and the Holy Spirit is still powerful enough to convict hearts. In all the Bible, that has shown to be the case again and again. The Bible is still God’s word, even if the evidence points to a localized flood or a pre-Adamic humanity.
Thank you for joining me on this last month and a half of Controversial Topics regarding Genesis. For some readers, this may have felt like an attack on their very faith. For others, it may be an intellectual challenge. Through it all, we grow in our faith as we undergo challenges against it. That is something these 3 posts have set out to do. So with that, I hope this post has helped you
Expand Your Mind Through the Power of Words
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