Animals on the Ark
A troubling conundrum for compromise views
Published: 23 February 2021 (GMT+10)
Promoters of compromise views such as old earth creationism, progressive creationism (i.e., the viewpoint of Hugh Ross), as well as theistic evolutionists (a.k.a. “evolutionary creationists”) all have one thing in common: their adherence to secular views of history and geology forces them to discount the possibility that Noah’s Flood was a global event. They all postulate that Noah’s Flood was a local/regional event that could somehow be harmonized with secular gradualistic views of geology, even if they have wildly differing ideas on how exactly that harmonization is supposedly achieved.
There are many avenues one could take in rebutting this, and of course the most direct way is to simply point out that the text of the Bible is not unclear on this matter! The Flood was universal/global in scope. That’s what the Bible clearly says, so we need not go any further.
Another way, however, is to point out the strange and absurd results that flow from their interpretation (reductio ad absurdum). One such absurdity I have found is a bit under-reported in my experience thus far: the absurdity of bringing animals onto the Ark. Why did God instruct Noah to take animals on the Ark if God knew the Flood would not cover the whole earth?
In a local or even a regional flood, with 120 years’ advance notice, both Noah and all the animals could have simply walked to safety. This has of course been pointed out many times by biblical creationists, and as a result the various compromise camps have had to come up with explanations for why God would have chosen to instruct the building of an Ark with animals on it.
Why animals—why an ark?
The question of “Why animals?” is closely tied to another, more common, question: “Why an ark?” Creationist writers have been pointing out the futility of building a massive ark just to escape a local flood for decades, so old earthers have had plenty of time to come up with answers to this challenge.
The most theologically-sound (but incomplete) answer I’ve heard from an old earther is simply, “To act as a foreshadowing, or prefiguring, of the salvation of Jesus Christ.” Of course, we do know that baptism and Christ’s Second Coming are directly compared to the events of the Flood in multiple places in the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 3:19-21, 2 Peter 3:5-7, Matthew 24:37-39). But did God instruct Noah to build an ark exclusively for symbolic reasons? Nothing in the text suggests it was symbolic only, especially since the text indicates the Flood was universal, and thus the ark was practical in saving Noah and his family from the deluge. But worse, if the Ark were merely symbolic, why would God have instructed Noah to place animals aboard, when animals are not in need of a spiritual savior? Would such an action not result in misleading symbolism? Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer, and mankind is not kin to animals.
A huge preaching pulpit for Noah?
Another perspective on the supposed purpose for the ark in a local Flood scenario is that of Hugh Ross, as he writes in The Genesis Question:
“First, when God pours out judgment, He gives ample warning ahead of time. He sends a spokesperson, a prophet, and gives that prophet a kind of platform from which to be heard. For the antediluvians, Noah was that prophet and the scaffolding around the ark was his platform. The efforts … to build an enormous vessel in the middle of a desert plain that receives scant rainfall certainly would have commanded attention.”1
As Dr Jonathan Sarfati has pointed out, however, this creative solution is bizarre considering that no other prophet in all of biblical history was deemed to require such a ‘platform’ from which to preach.2 Nor did any of the other prophets seem to need to call special attention to themselves by way of huge, unnecessary building projects. Ross’ explanation here is ultimately a sidestep, since it wasn’t the ark itself that allegedly served as a preaching platform, but the scaffolding around it. The question of, “Why build an ark?” remains completely untouched by Ross, this subtle misdirection notwithstanding.
Let us, for a moment, grant that Noah did need a preaching platform. Why not simply build a large pulpit? Then, at just the right moment before the beginning of the Flood, Noah and his family could make their escape to high ground. No ark needed, and Noah could still have performed his assigned duty as a prophet to the antediluvian people. Ross’ response is very obviously insufficient.
Worse still, Ross’ explanation for the ark as a giant attention-getting device makes God into an implicit deceiver, since the implication would be that such an ark would be necessary. Nobody undertakes a giant ship-building project many decades in advance just to avoid a coming local flood. The very idea of it is absurd.
Pertaining to the question of why God had Noah build an ark large enough for animals, and actually load them aboard it, Ross continues:
“The reason for sheltering these animals probably had more to do with economics than with ecology. Few of the creatures on board would have had a habitat range as limited as the humans. Therefore, few of them faced imminent extinction from the Flood. We see that God commanded Noah to take on board seven pairs of those bird and mammal species domesticated for agricultural and economic purposes, creatures also used as sacrificial worship.
God could have made life simpler for Noah in the short run by making him wait for birds and mammals to return to Mesopotamia. Instead, he helped Noah take a stock of birds and mammals, more of some than of others, that would allow him and his family to restore rapidly their economy, culture, and worship.”3
It’s ironic that Ross would talk about God making life simpler for Noah here. What could have been simpler than simply relocating outside the area affected by the Flood? Ross must stretch credibility beyond the breaking point in attempting to make apologies for the absurd nature of this story, when lifted outside its correct, global, interpretation. Ross’ explanation that the animals were on board for the convenience of Noah and his family certainly doesn’t fit the bill. As Ross himself notes, God instructed Noah to bring more of the ceremonially clean animals, compared to the unclean ones. This likely was indeed for Noah’s benefit, as these animals would have been immediately needed to restore civilization afterwards. But why the others? Ross again sidesteps this question, giving the misleading impression that it has been addressed. If the Flood were local, there would have been no need whatsoever to bring aboard animals that would not have been immediately necessary following the Flood. By instructing Noah to bring aboard two of “every living thing of all flesh” (Gen 6:19), God clearly indicated the global scale of the impending Flood. Ross has yet another maneuver in his playbook, however, claiming, “Nothing in the Genesis text compels us to conclude that Noah’s passengers included anything other than birds and mammals.”4 This claim is manifestly untrue. Genesis 6:19 uses the word “chay”, which is a generic term for something alive (in the biblical sense).There is absolutely no biblical justification for saying that Noah took only mammals aboard—Ross is engaging in fanciful eisegesis.5
Ross gives us the ‘progressive creationist’ viewpoint; but what do theistic evolutionists say about these things? Michael Jones is a theistic evolutionist Christian apologist who runs the YouTube channel Inspiring Philosophy. He promotes liberal scholarship and compromise views on Genesis from an evolutionary perspective, especially those of John Walton. Like Ross, Jones denies that Noah’s Flood was global. His explanation for why Noah had to build an ark is that it would have been too dangerous for him to try to leave the region (since the Bible says the earth was filled with violence). He also repeats Ross’ claim that Noah could not leave because he was supposed to act as a prophet and a preacher of repentance.6 I will note that none of these considerations prevented God from working through Moses in the time of the Exodus, wherein Moses was able to both act as a prophet and escape dangerous regional circumstances by means of God’s supernatural help, all without needing to build an ark (or needing a giant pulpit).
Concerning the question of why Noah brought animals on this ark, Jones has a very different idea than Ross. Jones concludes that the animals on the ark symbolically represented “chaotic wilderness”. Allegedly, these pre-Flood people looked down on nature, and therefore God was sending a message to these sinful people that they were worth less than the animals.7 In other words, they were there for no practical purpose at all, but partially as a derogatory gesture toward the people of Noah’s time. Now, even if this theory is plausible, it doesn’t rule out a global flood interpretation. It’s perfectly consistent with a global flood interpretation. Still, I wonder: could Jones point to any exegetes throughout the long history of the church who saw this alleged symbolic message there? Jones’ logic here is highly speculative and is not found anywhere in the text itself, which means it’s extremely suspect—especially given the apparent newness of this interpretive idea. The text never hints at the idea that the animals were brought aboard for any reason other than practical necessity. Why take two of every kind? Why not only two of the most revolting or symbolically meaningful ones? It is for these reasons that even liberal exegetes like Walton admit this story is depicting a universal flood (they simply deny it was intended to teach literal history).
Jones mentions another kind of symbolism: Noah is being cast as a “new Adam” and the post-Flood world as a sort of second Eden, or new creation. There is certainly an element of truth to the comparison, since God was in essence starting over with a new Earth and a new history following the Flood. But this comparison creates a problem for Jones, who wishes to see the Flood as local only. Was God’s original creation “local”? Certainly not. If this comparison is valid, we have yet another piece of evidence that the Flood was global! The symbolism Jones appeals to in the Flood runs exactly counter to his local-only view of the Flood: the original creation was global, and therefore so was the Flood.
The opposite of “straightforward”
There is no end to the amount of speculation and alleged symbolism that one could potentially find in Scripture. If one has a desire to find something, and if they are creative enough, they are bound to find it. That’s why the concept of perspicuity in the Bible is so important. It means what it says. When the Bible says that all flesh would be wiped out by the Flood, that’s what it means. When it says all the highest mountains under the whole heaven would be covered, that’s what it means. Jones, Ross, and the myriad of other ‘exegetes’ like them would prefer we trust their speculations to override the plain meaning of what God actually said. In the final analysis, we find little agreement among the various attempts to ‘harmonize’ the interpretation of the Flood with a local event. The only interpretive option that is not on the table for people like Jones and Ross is the simplest and most elegant one: that the Bible really means what it says and both the symbolic and historical meaning are in harmony with one another. They are like the horse from C.S. Lewis’ fictional tale, ‘The Horse and His Boy’. They are ultimately surprised to find that Aslan really is a lion.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Shaun Doyle for his insights in preparing this article.
References and notes
- Ross, H., The Genesis Question, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, 1998, p. 160. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise (2ndEd), Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2011, p. 254. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, p. 164. Return to text.
- Ref 1, p. 163. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Exposé of The Genesis Question, Journal of Creation 13(2):22–30, August 1999. Return to text.
- www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BzkoFpnAVk, 8:48-9:45. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, 12:05-14:15. Return to text.