by Bob Burridge ©2017
We often picture the great ark built by Noah as a large boat. Even the “replicas” made for many Bible tourist attractions have a rounded hull and pointed bow. But that’s not consistent with the description we have of it in the Bible.
Genesis 6:14 and the verses that follow describe the ark God told Noah to make. The Hebrew word used there for “ark” is תבה (tevah). It’s the same word used to describe the basket Moses was placed in as a baby (Exodus 2:3). The word used for the “Ark of the Covenant” in the books of Moses is “aron” (ארון), which is a synonym meaning a box or chest. This was the chest into which Moses placed the Ten Commandments, the Manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded (Exodus 25:10 and many other verses). In the New Testament the Ark of the Covenant is referred to in Hebrews 9:4 by the Greek word “kibōtos” (κιβωτός), the same word used in Matthew 24:38 to refer to the Ark of Noah.
When a “boat” is mentioned in the Old Testament the Hebrew word used is עברה (‛ăbârâh). It’s used in 2 Samuel 19:18 referring to a ferry boat. When a “ship” is mentioned in the Old Testament it uses a few different words translated as “ship” [Proverbs 30:19 אניּה (‘onı̂yâh), Isaiah 32:21צי (tsı̂y), and Jonah’s ship to Tarsus in Jonah 1:3 אניּה (‘onı̂yâh)]. The Hebrew word for “ark” (tevah) is never used for a sea-going vessel such as a ship or boat. It is always used to describe a rectangular chest, box, or basket.
When the New Testament refers to a “boat” or “ship” it uses several Greek words depending upon the kind of vessel it was [πλοιάριον (ploiarion), σκάφη (skaphae), πλοῖον (ploion)], but it does not use the word “kibotos” for a boat or ship.
Since the ark was designed to simply float out the storm and flood there would be no purpose in a rounded streamlined hull or a pointed bow. It was not going to be cutting through the water on a path to some destination. There were no instructions from God to design it in any way except what the simple ordinary meaning of the word for “ark” describes.
It appears that the ark of Noah was a large box shaped structure. According to Genesis 6:15 it was 450 feet long (300 cubits) which is the length of one and a half football fields not counting the end-zones. It was 75 feet wide (a little less than half the width of a football field which is 160 feet wide), and 45 feet tall (a little higher than a four-story building). That makes it’s interior space as large as 1,518,750 cubic feet.
Genesis 6:16 tells us that it also had a roof set one cubit (18 inches) above the structure. A door was cut into the side of the ark, and the interior was divided into three decks. After Noah’s family and the gathered animals entered the ark it says in Genesis 7:16 that God shut them in. Whatever kind of door was cut out, it was sealed shut effectively by God himself to assure that no water would seep in.
Genesis 8:6 mentions Noah opening a window in the ark through which he released doves to bring back vegetation indicating that the waters had sufficiently subsided.
Pictures and models used as teaching materials for children and new believers are very helpful. However, when explaining the events recorded in God’s word it’s helpful to be as accurate as possible to teach the way things really were, and to show respect for the final authority and accuracy of the Bible. I urge teachers and theme parks to make and use illustrations and models that better present things in the way they are actually recorded in God’s word.