Birds of the Bible – Seven By Seven

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) pair by Ray

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) pair by Ray

When the birds and animals came to Noah and the Ark, the “clean critters” came “seven by seven.” Noah was told in Genesis 7:1-3:

And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:1-3 KJV)

Indian Scops Owl (Otus bakkamoena) pair by Nikhil Devasar

Indian Scops Owl (Otus bakkamoena) pair by Nikhil Devasar

Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3 ESV)

Pair of Sandhill Cranes by Mike Bader

Pair of Sandhill Cranes by Mike Bader

And from the winged creatures of the heaven, of the clean, seven by seven, male and female; and from all the winged creatures of the ones not clean, two by two, male and female, to maintain seed upon all the earth. (Genesis 7:3 APG)

These verses are interesting to look at because they give two different ideas about what the LORD said to Noah. The APG (Apostolic Bible Polyglot), from which I took the “seven by seven” for the title, indicates that the birds came in as seven pairs of “clean birds” and one pair of “unclean birds.” Most of the other translations seem to indicate that all the birds came in with seven pairs.

Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata) by Ian

Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata) by Ian

The King James and the English Standard Versions quoted above do not specify “clean or unclean”, only that there are to be seven pairs, the male and his female. I am inclined to lean toward this understanding of these verses. Birds are more fragile than the beast or land animals and that could be why the LORD would have protected them more. Also, reading the commentary by Matthew Henry about why there were more “clean than unclean”, I almost had to chuckle.

“3. Yet more of the clean were preserved than of the unclean. (1.) Because the clean were most for the service of man; and therefore, in favour to him, more of them were preserved and are still propagated. Thanks be to God, there are not herds of lions as there are of oxen, nor flocks of tigers as there are of sheep. (2.) Because the clean were for sacrifice to God; and therefore, in honour to him, more of them were preserved, three couple for breed, and the odd seventh (pair) for sacrifice, Gen_8:20. God gives us six for one in earthly things, as in the distribution of the days of the week, that in spiritual things we should be all for him. What is devoted to God’s honour, and used in his service, is particularly blessed and increased.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Gen 7:2)

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) by Ian-2

Strutting Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) by Ian

Digging into my e-Sword Bible Program to see about this difference, here are how the different versions describe Gen 7:3 –

Those indicating all birds and seven pairs of them:
(ASV) of the birds also of the heavens, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
(BBE) And of the birds of the air, seven males and seven females, so that their seed may still be living on the face of the earth.
(CEV) Also take seven pairs of every kind of bird with you. Do this so there will always be animals and birds on the earth.
(Darby) Also of the fowl of the heavens by sevens, male and female; to keep seed alive on the face of all the earth.
(DRB) But of the beasts that are unclean two and two, the male and the female. Of the fowls also of the air seven and seven, the male and the female: that seed may be saved upon the face of the whole earth.
(ERV) Get seven pairs (seven males and seven females) of all the birds. This will allow all these animals to continue living on the earth after the other animals are destroyed.
(ESV) and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth.
(GNB) Take also seven pairs of each kind of bird. Do this so that every kind of animal and bird will be kept alive to reproduce again on the earth.
(GW) Also, take seven pairs of every kind of bird (a male and a female of each) to preserve animal life all over the earth after the flood.
(JPS) of the fowl also of the air, seven and seven, male and female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
(KJV) Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
(KJV-1611) Of fowles also of the aire, by seuens, the male & the female; to keepe seed aliue vpon the face of all the earth.
(LITV) And take of the fowl of the heavens by sevens, male and female, to keep alive seed on the face of the earth.
(MKJV) Also take of the fowls of the air by sevens, the male and the female, to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
(NAS77) also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.
(NASB) also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.
(NKJV) also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth.
(RV) of the fowl also of the air, seven and seven, male and female: to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.
(Webster) Of fowls of the air also by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive on the face of all the earth.
(YLT) also, of fowl of the heavens seven pairs, a male and a female, to keep alive seed on the face of all the earth;

Red-whiskered Bulbul Proud Parents by TAJA

Red-whiskered Bulbul Proud Parents by TAJA

Those indicating “clean and unclean”
(APG) And from the winged creatures of the heaven, of the clean, seven by seven, male and female; and from all the winged creatures of the ones not clean, two by two, male and female, to maintain seed upon all the earth.
(Brenton) And of clean flying creatures of the sky sevens, male and female, and of all unclean flying creatures pairs, male and female, to maintain seed on all the earth.

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) by W Kwong

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) by W Kwong

All of the translations agree on two things for sure. They all agree that they came by male and female pairs. Not male and male pairs or female and female pairs. They also all agree that they were being preserved to keep the species and their future offspring alive. When they left the ark, they were told:

Then God spoke to Noah, saying, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every animal, every creeping thing, every bird, and whatever creeps on the earth, according to their families, went out of the ark. (Genesis 8:15-19 NKJV)

See also: Birds of the Bible – Foundation #3
More Birds of the Bible Articles

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