Did Noah have to take on board the ark creatures that lived their entire life cycles in water?
Without a doubt, one of the most intriguing sections of Scripture is the account of the Genesis Flood, recorded in Genesis 6-8. Over the years, various questions have arisen in regard to the specific details of that account. For example, how did Noah get the animals to the ark? How could Noah have constructed a vessel large enough to carry all these creatures? How did he (and the seven people who accompanied him) care for them during a year-long trip? And so on.
One question that frequently arises has to do with whether Noah was required to take water-living creatures into the ark. Common sense alone would dictate that Noah was not required to do so, since such creatures already were accustomed to living in water. But the Bible provides the answer—which raises this issue above the level of mere “common sense.”
Let us examine what the biblical text itself has to say on this subject. Genesis 6:19 reads: “And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female” (emp. added). The phrase “all flesh” has been interpreted on occasion to mean that God commanded Noah to take even water-living creatures on board the ark. What is the meaning—in the context—of the phrase “all flesh”? The text that follows in Genesis 6:20 goes on to explain. “Of the birds after their kind, and of the cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.” God therefore limited “all flesh” by specifying three categories: (1) birds; (or fowl); (2) cattle; and (3) creeping things. In her book, Science in the Bible, Jean S. Morton presented an excellent treatise on how the Bible classifies animals, and the differences between biblical classification schemes and modern-day classification schemes. “Animals,” she wrote, “are classified in Scripture according to simple characteristics that give quick recognition. For example, animals are classified as creeping, crawling, flying, and so forth” (1978, p. 154). Biblical commentator Adam Clarke noted that God’s command to Noah in Genesis 6:19-20 was that “a male and female of all kinds of animals that could not live in the waters [were] to be brought into the ark” (n.d., 1:68). Furthermore, Genesis 7:21-22 records: “All flesh died that moved upon the earth, both birds, and cattle, and beasts, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, of all that was on the dry land, died” (emp. added).
The English word for birds (or fowl) is the translation of the Hebrew ‘owph, which means flying creatures, fowl, or birds. Therefore, the first classification clearly is referring to those creatures that fly. Water-living creatures, by definition, would be omitted from this group.
The word “cattle” (King James/American Standard versions) is a generic term that can refer to domesticated (or wild) land animals or beasts. The Hebrew term (behemah) is used 188 times in the Old Testament. In the KJV, it is translated as beast 136 times and as cattle 52 times, depending on the specific context (Young, 1974). Neither of these two terms is descriptive of water-living creatures; therefore, water-living creatures clearly may be omitted from the second category as well.
The final classification, “creeping things” (Hebrew, remes), refers to reptiles, insects, and other small creatures (Strong, 1996). Davidson, in his Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, defined remes as “a reptile; that which moves on the earth; ...any land animal, in opposition to fowls” (1970, p. 685b). Remes is used in a variety of ways in the Bible. In Genesis 9:3, it refers to the realm of living, moving creatures—in contrast to plants. In not a single instance in which the word remes is used is a specific creature described. T.C. Mitchell of the British Museum of Natural History noted that remes “is unlikely to correspond exactly to any modern scientific category, referring rather to all creatures which appear to the observer to move close to the ground” (1974, p. 274). The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon suggests that the word remes conveys the idea of anything that has the motion of creeping, crawling, etc. (Brown, et al., 1979, pp. 942b-943a). H.C. Leupold, in his Exposition of Genesis, defined remes as:
...from the root meaning “to move about lightly” or to “glide about.” “Creepers” almost covers the term, however, “creeping things” is too narrow, for it does not seem to allow for bigger creatures like reptiles. “Reptiles” again is too narrow, for it does not allow for the smaller types of life. Everything, therefore, large or small, that moves upon the earth or close to the earth, having but short legs, may be said to be included (1942, 1:83-84).
Remes, used in reference to land creatures, is different from the Hebrew sherets, which apparently includes a broader spectrum of creatures. In Leviticus 11:20, for example, sherets is used to describe certain animals. The word describes “teeming, swarming, creeping things” (see Harris, et al., 1980, 1:957). The word remes is used to describe the movement of those animals under the category of sherets. So, God said: “Let there be moving creatures [sherets],” and He created creatures that moved by creeping (remes). Remes (a noun) includes reptiles and most insects (sherets) because they remes (a verb). As it is employed in Genesis 6:20, the term remes clearly excludes water-living creatures.
Furthermore, the terms used in Genesis 6:20 must be interpreted in light of their use in previous verses. In Genesis 1:26, for example, the terms are used in contrast to other animal groups that specifically include fish: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish [dagah] of the sea, and over the birds [‘owph] of the heavens, and over the cattle [behemah], and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing [remes] that creepeth upon the earth’” (emp. added). The same three terms are used in Genesis 6:7, where God pledged to destroy “man, and beast [behemah], and creeping things [remes], and birds [‘owph] of the heavens.” With the exception of man, the other three categories in Genesis 6:7 match those used in 6:20 where God told Noah which creatures were to be taken on board the Ark. God never pledged to destroy fish in the first place. Water-living creatures were not among the categories of living creatures that God told Noah to take into the ark.
The question sometimes is asked as to how fresh-water fish could survive in the salty seawater that covered the Earth during the Flood. Obviously, fresh-water deposits would have been contaminated with salt water as the flood waters covered “every high mountain over the whole earth” (Genesis 7:19-20). One of the problems here, of course, is that we cannot speak with certainty regarding the salinity of the oceans before the Flood. Nor do we know very much about the predecessors of many present-day fresh-water fish. Thus, any suggestion that fresh-water fish could not have survived in a post-Flood world assumes three things not in evidence: (1) that the salinity of the oceans and seas in Noah’s day was the same as the salinity of those today; (2) that fresh-water fish cannot live in diluted salt water; and (3) that the ability of water-living creatures in Noah’s day to survive in saline environments was the same as that of creatures found in today’s oceans and seas.
The first assumption—that the salinity of the oceans and seas of Noah’s day has remained constant—does not agree with the available scientific evidence. Based on a study of various factors of the past and present, some scientists believe that the salinity of the oceans may have been one-half of what they are currently (see, for example, Austin and Humphreys, 1990, 2:27, and Walter Lammerts as quoted in Whitcomb and Morris, 1961, p. 70). There is no reason that the fresh-water fish of Noah’s day could not have survived, provided the salinity of the waters was less than it is today. Leonard Brand has noted: “[W]e would expect changes in the chemistry of seas and lakes—from mixing fresh and salt water.... Each species of aquatic organism would have its own physiological tolerance for these changes” (1997, p. 283). In addition, as Brand commented regarding the fresh/salt water mixture that would have ensued during and immediately after the Flood: “[T]he less dense fresh water may not mix quickly with the salt water and it stays on top long enough to provide a temporary refuge for fresh-water organisms. Perhaps, too, many animals have a greater potential for adaptation to changing water conditions than we have recognized” (1997, p. 301-302).
The second assumption—that fresh-water fish cannot live in diluted salt water—is now known to be false, as Whitcomb and Morris point out as long ago as 1961 in their classic text, The Genesis Flood (p. 387, footnote).
The third assumption—that the ability of water-living creatures in Noah’s day to survive in saline environments was the same as that of creatures found in today’s oceans and seas—similarly is known to be incorrect. Many fresh-water fish have relatives that once lived in saline environments (see Batten and Sarfati, 2000). Furthermore, even today there are fish (e.g., large-mouth bass) that thrive in brackish waters such as those where the Mississippi River dumps its fresh water into the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, in the end, the skeptics’ claim that Noah’s ark likely included giant fish tanks is wrong.
Austin, Steven A. and D. Russell Humphreys (1990), “The Sea’s Missing Salt: A Dilemma for Evolutionists,” Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism—1990, ed. R.E. Walsh and C.L. Brooks (Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship).
Batten, Don and Jonathan Sarfati (2000), “How Did Fish and Plants Survive the Genesis Flood?,” [Online], (Answers in Genesis), http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/444.asp.
Brand, Leonard (1997), Faith, Reason, & Earth History: A Paradigm of Earth and Biological Origins by Intelligent Design (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press).
Brown, F., S.R. Driver, and C.A. Briggs (1979), The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Clarke, Adam (no date), Clarke’s Commentary: Genesis—Deuteronomy (New York: Abingdon).
Davidson, Benjamin (1970), The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Harris, R.L., G.L. Archer, and B.K. Waltke (1980), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Leupold, H.C. (1942), Exposition of Genesis (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press).
Mitchell, T.C. (1974), The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Morton, Jean Sloat (1978), Science in the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Strong, James (1996 reprint), The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Nelson).
Whitcomb, John C. and Henry M. Morris (1961 reprint), The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Young, Robert (1974 reprint), Analytical Concordance to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).