This study was originally presented in a slightly different form to the Adult Sunday School class of Pickering Standard Church in 1998 or 1999. It was accompanied by a 1/100 scale mock up of the ark built out of bristol board.


Genesis 5:32 - After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth.


Genesis 6:1-22 - When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.  Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years."  The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.  The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.  So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth— men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them."  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.  This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.  Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.  Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.  God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.  So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.  So make yourself an ark of cypress wood [KJV: Gopher wood]; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be [300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high].  Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within [a cubit] of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.  I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.  But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark — you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.  You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.  Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.  You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them."  Noah did everything just as God commanded him.


Genesis 7:6 - Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth.


Genesis 7:17-20 - For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.  The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.  They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.  The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than [fifteen cubits].


In Genesis 6:15 we are told that Noah was given the dimensions of the ark by God Himself.  The size of the ship was to be: 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits.  It is generally accepted that the cubit was 45.7 cm long and almost all modern Bible translations accept this value for all measurements given in cubits.  Therefore the length of the ark in modern terms would have been:


13,710 cm X 2,285 cm X 1,371 cm




137.1 m X 22.9 m X 13.7 m


for a total cubic volume of 42,949,796,850 cm3.  Of the total vertical height of the ark there is good reason to believe that 15 cubits of it was submerged (Genesis 7:20 records that the depth to which the mountains were submerged was at least 15 cubits thereby implying that the draught of the ark itself was no greater than this figure).  This was half the total height of the ark, giving a total displacement of 21,474,898,425 cm3.  Since there are 1,000 cm3 in a kg the total displacement of the ark would have been about 21.4 million kg (given the fact that 1 cm3 of water weighs 1 g).


Just for fun, let's compare this to Boeing's 747-400 freighter.  Boeing's literature indicates that this aircraft, among the largest in the world, is capable of carrying a payload of 109,800 kg.  Payload is the weight of the cargo that the aircraft has been designed to carry.  When we compare the payload of the 747-400 to the total displacement of the ark we find that the ark was generally able to carry the load that would take 195 of Boeing's great airliner to carry.  Please note that even though this comparison is a gross generalization as I have not taken into account  the the weight of the materials used in constructing the ark the capacity of the ark as a cargo vessel was staggering.  Indeed it was not until well into the 18th century that a ship was constructed that exceeded the size of the ark.  Prior to this time all cargo was shipped in smaller vessels which were additionally burdened with the masts, rigging, and manpower required to manipulate the sails which were their sole means of propulsion.  The ark, since it had been constructed as a barge, had none of this additional weight, nor did its shape restrict its ability to carry a significant load.  Contrary to the images most of us have grown up with the ark was almost certainly not a ship with a beautifully curved shape but more of a floating box, it was not required to move efficiently through water as much as it was required to float reliably upon water.  The word ark itself means box and is used elsewhere in the Bible to denote the box that cradled the baby Moses in the Nile river as well as the ark of the covenant that was used to contain the law and certain other items.


There is reason to believe, however, that the cubit used by Noah could have been as much as 7.5 cm longer for a total length 53.23 cm.  This would result in an increase of approximately 57% in the total displacement of the ark.  Compare:


45.73 = 95,444 cm3 in each cubit3




53.23 = 150,569 cm3 in each cubit3


There is an increase from 95.4 kg per cubit3 to 150.6 kg per cubit3.  The resulting increase in cargo capacity of the ark would allow it to carry 33.8 million kg, the equivalent to 307 Boeing 747-400 aircraft.


The ark therefore could have ranged in size from:


13,710 cm X 2,285 cm X 1,371 cm = 42,949,796,850 cm3 (or: 43,012.383 m3)




15,960 cm X 2,660 cm X 1,600 cm = 67,925,760,000 cm3 (or: 67,925.769 m3)


and it would have displaced from 21.4 million kg to 33.8 million kg.


To put this into terms that may be more approachable I have compared below the above analysis to a typical 16 m (53 feet) tractor trailer van (after all, how many of us have a good grasp of the cargo capacity of the 747-400).  These are the vans that we see on the highways all the time or parked as mobile stock rooms at factories throughout our cities





Standard tractor trailer van

101.3 m3

24,947.6 kg

The Ark

43,012.4 mto 67,925.8m3

21,400,000 kg to 33,800,000 kg

Number of vans that would fit in the Ark

424.6 to 670.5

857.8 to 1,354.8


By the chart above it can be seen that the volume of the Ark ranged from 424.6 to 670.5 standard vans.  That is: the Ark would take up the equivalent space of at least 420 vans.  The average van has a load limit of almost 25,000 kg.  When this is compared to the total displacement of the Ark of 21 million kg, as on our chart, we see that the load limit of the Ark was equivalent to a minimum of 857.8 vans.  If we assume an average length of a tractor trailer rig to be about 19.8 m then the total length of this number of tractor trailers parked bumper to bumper would be 16,994.7 km (or 10.5 miles).  Even by the standards of our day the cargo capacity of the Ark would be quite impressive.


Please note, however, that the larger cubit may merely have been the result of larger humans being the source of the measure (there is evidence that man in the distant past was significantly larger than he is today). If this is true then the larger size of the ark would be in proportion to the larger size of the man/men doing the measuring. It seems reasonable to assume that the animals on board the ark would have been larger as well, given recent findings of larger animal life in the distant past as well, but that the cargo capacity of the ark would have been greater than if it had been built using the standard cubit of 18 inches. If, as seems likely, Noah and his family loaded animals onto the ark that were not fully grown then by using the larger cubit (based on a proportional increase in human and animal size) the cargo capacity of the ark would be greater but not so much greater as the charts above would indicate.


Some other thoughts:


1/ Different translations of the Bible translate the wood used in the construction of the ark variously as: Gopher wood in the King James Version, Cypress wood in the New International Version, etc.  Matt Slick (at his excellent apologetics website: Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) presents an fascinating discussion of this matter which is worth looking into further.  Quite simply, he raises the point that Gopher wood may not have been wood from a specific tree, such as Oak or Maple, as much as it was wood of a specific style, such as Plywood or Particle Board.  Instead of being solid timbers from a specific tree Gopher wood may actually have been a laminate of some type.  Laminated wood is used today as an inexpensive yet strong construction material, plywood is used frequently as subfloor and roof sheeting in the construction of our homes.  If this is true then the strength of the Ark would have been tremendous since a laminated beam is much stronger than a solid beam of the same dimension.


2/ Regarding the preservation of the wood over the 100 year long construction period we know that God told Noah to coat the Ark with pitch or resin.  This material is a natural preservative and would be sufficient to ensure the preservation of the Ark during the 100 years or so that Noah and his sons were building the ark.  


3/ It is supposed that Noah and his sons took 100 years to build the Ark.  This number is arrived at quite simply by subtracting the age of Noah when we first hear of him (500 years old at the birth of Shem, Ham, and Japheth) from the age of Noah when he entered the ark (600 years) and is based on the assumption that Moses, in compiling Genesis, would have utilized documents written by those concerned.  Moses therefore incorporated Noah's personal journal into the work that bears his name.  Luke followed a similar process when he compiled the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts in the New Testament.  If Moses truly did make use of Noah's journal as source material from which he compiled the book of Genesis then it stands to reason that the first time a year is given in Noah's case represents his age when he began to build the Ark.


4/ The 120 years mentioned early in Genesis 6 seems to indicate the maximum number of years which God would permit humans to live in the post flood world.  This was the age to which Moses lived and is in keeping with the sudden and dramatic decline in life span after the flood.