The “Window” of the Ark
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
After informing Noah about an upcoming worldwide flood, and commanding him to build a massive boat of gopher wood (approximately 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high), God instructed His faithful servant, saying, “You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above” (Genesis 6:16, emp. added; NOTE: A cubit is roughly 18 inches). Upon reading about this window in the ark, many people have contemplated its usefulness (or lack thereof). Since, historically, windows have served two basic purposes (that of lighting and ventilation), inquiring minds want to know what good one window 18 inches square would be on an ark with a capacity of about 1,400,000 cubic feet full of animals. Dennis McKinsey, the one-time editor of the journal Biblical Errancy (touted as “the only national periodical focusing on biblical errors”), once asked: “How could so many creatures breathe with only one small opening which was closed for at least 190 days? [sic]” (1983, p. 1). Other skeptics also have ridiculed the idea that sufficient ventilation for the whole ark could have come through this one window (see Wells, 2001). In fact, anyone even slightly familiar with animal-house ventilation needs would be somewhat taken aback by the apparent lack of airflow allowed by the ark’s design. Unless God miraculously ventilated the ark, one little window on a three-story-tall boat (which was a football-field-and-a-half long) simply would not do.
Questions regarding the “window” on Noah’s ark and the problem of ventilation have persisted largely because the Hebrew word translated window (tsohar) in Genesis 6:16 appears only here in the Old Testament, and linguistic scholars are unsure as to its exact meaning (see Hamilton, 1990, p. 282). Translators of the KJV and NKJV employ the word “window” to translate tsohar; however, according to Old Testament commentator Victor Hamilton, they “do so on the basis of the word’s possible connection with sahorayim, ‘noon, midday,’ thus an opening to let in the light of day” (p. 282). Hebrew scholar William Gesenius defined tsohar in his Hebrew lexicon as simply “light,” and translated Genesis 6:16 as “thou shalt make light for the ark” (1847, p. 704). He then surmised that this “light” represented, not a window, but windows (plural). The ASV translators also preferred “light” as the best translation for tsohar. Still more recent translations, including the RSV, NIV, and ESV, have translated Genesis 6:16 as “make a roof” for the ark, instead of make a “window” or “light.”
Such disagreement among translations is, admittedly, somewhat discouraging to the person who wants a definite answer as to how tsohar should be translated. What is clear, however, is that the word translated “window” two chapters later, which Noah is said to have “opened” (8:6), is translated from a different Hebrew word (challôwn) than what is used in Genesis 6:16. The word challôwn (8:6) is the standard Hebrew word for “window” (cf. Genesis 26:8; Joshua 2:18). Yet, interestingly, this is not the word used in 6:16. One wonders if these were two different entities, or if in 8:6, Noah opened one of a plurality of aligned windows that God instructed him to make in 6:16?
Another assumption often brought into a discussion regarding the “window” (tsohar) of 6:16 is that it was one square cubit. Although many people have imagined Noah’s ark as having one small window 18 inches high by 18 inches wide, the phrase “you shall finish it to a cubit from above” (6:16, NKJV; cf. RSV) does not give the Bible reader any clear dimensions of the opening. The text just says that Noah was to “finish it to a cubit from the top” (NASB; “upward,” ASV). The truth is, the size of the lighting apparatus mentioned in this verse is unspecified. The text seems to indicate only the distance the opening was from the top of the ark, rather than the actual size of the window. Thus we cannot form a definitive picture of it. But we do know that nothing in the text warrants an interpretation that the “window” was just a “small opening” (as skeptic Dennis McKinsey alleged). A more probable theory, which aligns itself appropriately with the text, is that the opening described in Genesis 6:16 extended around the ark’s circumference 18 inches from the top of the ark with an undeterminable height. According to John Woodmorappe, such an opening would have provided sufficient light and ventilation for the ark (1996, pp. 37-44).
When reading the Bible, it always is important to remember that many details about the events it records often are not revealed to the reader. So it is with the plans recorded in the Bible regarding Noah’s ark. As Henry Morris commented, “It was obviously not the intention of the writer to record the complete specifications for the ark’s construction, but only enough to assure later readers that it was quite adequate for its intended purpose...‘to preserve life on the earth’ ” (1976, p. 182). Truly, absolute certainty regarding the openings on the ark cannot be determined. We know of an opening mentioned in Genesis 6:16 (tsohar), as well as one (challôwn) mentioned in 8:6. And, since Noah, his family, as well as the animals on the ark, survived the Flood, it is only logical to conclude that God made proper ways to ventilate the ark in which they lived during the Flood. Although nothing in Scripture demands that those of us living millennia after the Flood need to know how it was ventilated, lighted, etc., it is very likely that God used the opening mentioned in Genesis 6:16.
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint).
Hamilton, Victor P. (1990), The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
McKinsey, Dennis (1983), “Commentary,” Biblical Errancy, pp. 1-2, November.
Morris, Henry M. (1976), The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com.
Woodmorappe, John (1996), Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study (Santee, CA: Institute for Creation Research).