How Many Clean Animals Get Onto the Ark? Is it Seven or Seven Pair?

In Genesis 7:2, 3, how many of the clean animals get onto the ark? Is it seven, or seven pair?

Ancient, modern, conservative, and liberal scholars alike are divided about 50/50 on this question. The text says, “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.” If we start with the assumption that God commanded Noah to bring one male and one female of each kind (as seems to be indicated in chapter six), then the conclusion would seem to be that just as there were two total in the unclean, then there should be seven total in the clean. But this does not make for an even division of clean animals. If three were male and three were female, that is just six and we need one more to make seven. Those who choose this interpretation say that the extra one would be a male for the purpose of sacrifice.

On the other hand, if we start with the assumption of seven pair of clean animals meaning seven male and seven female, then we are left with the equally perplexing problem of suggesting that there were two male and two female of the unclean animals. This would suggest that Noah had twice as many unclean animals on the ark as we have previously thought.

I am not sure that I can come to any definite conclusions about this particular matter. After studying the issue, I am personally inclined to understand the number as one male and one female of the unclean and then four males and three females of the clean as well as the fowls. Economy of space within the ark would also support this conclusion. The important thing to understand about this passage was that there were more clean animals than there were unclean. This seems to be the primary purpose for the passage. God inspired Moses to write the book of Genesis to the children of Israel who were wandering in the wilderness. This book explained how they got into their present situation. The distinction between clean and unclean animals was instructive for them because they were to recognize that distinction as well in their worship and service to God. Understanding that this distinction predated Moses would go a long way toward helping them accept the distinction and live in the way that God wanted them to live as His covenanted people.

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