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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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Boat or water vessel and in particular one built by Noah under God's direction to save Noah, his family, and representatives of all animal life from the flood. Old Testament—Genesis 6:14-9:18; Exodus 2:3-5; New Testament—Matthew 24:38; Luke 17:27; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20 .

Old Testament God warned Noah of His intentions to destroy the earth because of the wickedness of humanity. Noah was commanded to build an ark to God's specifications to save his family and representatives of all animals from the flood (Genesis 6:18-19 ). As such, the ark became both a symbol of a faith on the part of Noah and a symbol of grace on the part of God (Genesis 6:8 ,Genesis 6:8,6:22 ).

The shape of the ark was unusual. Although the Bible does not give enough detail to enable a full model to be made, the ark was apparently not shaped like a boat, either ancient or modern. The shape more closely approximates a giant block. The length was 300 cubits (about 450 feet), the width was 50 cubits (about 75 feet), and the height was 30 cubits (about 45 feet), overall dimensions that resemble the dimensions of a giant house (Genesis 6:15 ). The ark had three floors filled with rooms (Genesis 6:14 ,Genesis 6:14,6:16 ) and one window and one door (Genesis 6:16 ).

The ark was built of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14 ) which may have been a variety of cypress. It has also been suggested that gopher wood referred to a particular shape or type of plank or beam, rather than a type of wood. Our limited knowledge makes it impossible to make a final conclusion.

The ark was a testimony of Noah's faith because no large body of water stood nearby on which Noah could have floated such a large boat. Hence people could see no obvious or visible need for such a vessel. To have built such a vessel at that place and at that time was clearly an act of tremendous faith in the message of God that the vessel would be needed (Genesis 6:17-19 ). Noah dared to believe that he had properly understood God and that God could be depended upon (Genesis 6:22 ).

The ark was also a symbol of God's grace. Obviously, the ark was intended by God as an instrument of deliverance to preserve both human and animal life upon the earth (Genesis 6:17-18 ). As such, it came to be understood as a symbol of His grace and mercy (Hebrews 11:7 ). The ark showed that God still cared for the people whom He had created in spite of their stubborn sinful rebellion. The ark as symbol of both faith and grace teaches the importance of obedience. God offered the ark to save Noah. Noah's obedience allowed him to experience that grace.

New Testament The gospel references to the ark are in connection with Jesus' teachings regarding the second coming. The expectancy of some at the second coming is likened to those who were destroyed by the flood. In the Book of Hebrews, the preacher lists Noah as a man of faith who prepared an ark even though the danger was at that point unseen. The last New Testament reference to the ark points to the evil of humanity and God's patient salvation (1 Peter 3:20 ).

Extra-biblical Sources The Babylonian flood story, called the Gilgamesh epic, also tells of a large boat by which its hero survived the flood. There, however, the ark was not a symbol of the grace of the gods but of their folly and faulty planning. In the Sumerian and Babylonian traditions, we are given more details concerning the size and shape of the ark. These details may be of interest, but are of far less significance than the message of the biblical ark itself as testimony to God's unmerited grace.

Searches for the ark have proven fruitless. Numerous newspaper articles and paperback books record attempts to discover the ruins of Noah's ark. While the ark has not yet been recovered, the discovery of such remains are unnecessary to demonstrate the authenticity of the story. Faith which requires proof is not faith at all. See Flood; Noah .

Robert Cate

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Ark'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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