Old Testament

What Was the Population of Earth Before the Flood?

Depending on who you ask, the global population is somewhere around 7.9 billion people. That is a lot of people. Is this the highest population the earth has ever experienced? In the spirit of investigation I want to consider what the population of the earth was before the flood.

photo of earth -- what was its population before the flood?

The Earth’s Population at the Very Beginning

A straightforward reading of the Bible begins with two human beings, Adam and Eve, created by God and put in charge of the garden to take care of it and work it (Gen 2:15). Their offspring include Cain, Abel, and Seth, although Genesis makes clear Adam and Eve have other sons and daughters as well (Gen 5:4).

Cain kills his brother in one of the most appalling acts of violence recorded in Scripture, and is banished from his immediate family. While in exile, Cain finds a wife, marries, and has children. Although some people wonder who Cain’s wife was, the simple answer is that Cain’s wife was one of his sisters. Apparently his family had grown fast enough that there were other siblings around that he could marry at that time.

A Methodology for Determining the Earth’s Population Before the Flood

To begin our investigation in earnest, we will use the genealogy of Genesis 5 to calculate how much time passed from creation until the flood. In doing so we arrive at 1,656 years (there may also be room in the genealogies for additional years but we will use 1,656 years for a baseline).

How many people could have been born in 1,656 years? If we simply use the population growth percentage of recent years (e.g., 1.13% population growth rate in 2016), that would give us an earth population of around 241 million at the time of Noah.

However, given the fact that the average age was much higher, and environmental conditions were much more stable and conducive to life, it seems that a higher rate of population growth would be expected. If we increase the rate even by the tiniest amount (from 1.13% to 1.30%) we would arrive at a population of around 3.9 billion. However, it is much more likely that the population increase would have been far greater than this.

Israel’s Population Growth Rate in Egypt

Consider, for example, Israel’s population increase while in the land of Egypt. Israel came into Egypt as 70 persons (Gen 46:27), and yet when they left Egypt 400 years later, their numbers conservatively estimated around 2 million. This is at least a 2.5650% growth rate per year. If we use this same growth rate for the pre-flood world, the numbers would be astronomical.

Even if we use a much smaller growth rate than the previous example for the pre-flood world (e.g., 1.5% per year) that would still get us to 122 billion people at the time of the flood. I have a hard time believing that there were that many people on the planet, but I also realize that the world was made to be a home for many people. Minimally, we should acknowledge that there is a high likelihood that the earth’s pre-flood population may be significantly higher than we sometimes think.

Concluding Thoughts on Earth’s Pre-flood Population

  • Given the longer lifespans of pre-flood life (e.g., Adam 930 yrs, Jared 962 yrs, etc.), as well as the optimal living conditions, we should expect a faster population growth rate than we currently have today.
  • Taking into account that man was inherently bent on evil (as he is today) it is beyond doubt that there was much violence, war, and murder which impacted or slowed population growth. Thus, the actual number may be well below 122 billion.
  • However, given the above information, it is reasonable that the pre-flood world had a population that may have exceeded the current day. Perhaps even greatly so.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

11 Comments

  • D.M. Hoffmann

    Re my previous post… Sorry I forgot to explain that the adjustments needed to be inserted into the assumptions/theories would include the 2000 yrs used for the average calculation to be multiplied by 2 for the actual figure of 4000 post-flood.

  • D.M. Hoffmann

    Some people think/believe/assume that the pre-flood population was about the same as today… however that is not likely, based on the pre-flood and post-flood being around the same period of time — i.e. average 1850 years (using 1700 yrs pre-flood and 2000 yrs today post-flood). The pre-flood period population began with 1 couple whereas the post-flood 4 couples. So with that as a starting point, adjustments need to be inserted into the assumptions/theories. DMH

  • William Wright

    The technology in the days of Noah may have been similar or superior to the technology we have today. How else could you build such an advanced vessel that could hold and sustain eight human beings and numerous species of animals in a confined space for over a year?

    You would also need food , water, ventilation, lights, sanitation, etc for at least a year.

    There also had to be in place a post flood plan to sustain Noah , his family, and all the creatures right after the waters receded.

    The artwork we see is quite misleading regarding this event as we are lead to believe that man was in a primitive state with little or no technology or technical skills in the “days of Noah”.

    I believe the Bible and the Word of YHVH states that man was very sinful and his thoughts were only evil continually.

    There may have been an enormous amount of technical skills in all sciences at the time of the flood.

  • Timothy Bateman

    Rather than a percentage figure which isn’t very informative (except for comparison) I considered how many children they might have who would live long enough to have children. If they had two then the number would stay stable. If more then it would increase.
    The other thing though to bear in mind is the age at which we have children, and the age they had children.
    This means the percentage doesn’t really work – rather we need to consider how many generations there were. As Gen 6 and Luke 4 have 9 generations from Adam to Noah then if each generation had 4 children, then the multiplication is by 2 (as you have two people to make one baby), which is 2 to the power of 9 (assuming no deaths) so only 1024 people. Increase this to having 6 children and you move this to 3 to the power of 9 which equals 19,683 people. Increase this to 8 children and this goes to the power of 4 which equals 262,144 people. As you can see if you increase this to 10 children (Gen 11 has roughly this figure assuming one girl for each boy mentioned) and this becomes the power of 5 or a total population of around 2 million people (1,953,125).
    This is a more realistic figure based on the lack of remains of people who would otherwise have been buried in the Flood (like the dinosaurs).

    • Alexander Krause

      Your calculation is a more reasonable number, in my opinion. I still think 2 mil. is way too high. My evidence relies on the American Continent’s colonization. There were hardly any animals that were out of balance as today, such as deer. The historical accounts speak of many instances of near starvation if bad conditions occurred or from mismanagement of resources. Remember animals threatened humans during that time is another factor which would keep the population down. The advancement of agriculture today is unprecedented compared to the low yields and climate losses of yesterday. Coupled with the lack of mechanization, feeding one’s family was a challenge, one must conclude.
      Scant evidence exists for large families in Antediluvian times, they probably struggled due to the curse on the ground. Human sinfulness and infant mortality undoubtedly also took it’s toll. Noah’s three children was probably the norm and only real piece of evidence of family size.

  • Sagenge Jackson

    Iam confusing concerning your thought , a middle East by that time can not hold such number of people , this means people were scattered everywhere around the globe , how did noah managed to reach all people during his sermon of preaching warning people to escape incoming flood , ?? How did noah managed to reach , China , Africa , Europe , America etc ? For which technology,? Did noah arc was big enough to hold even 200 mil peole ??

    • Peter Goeman

      (1) I think we can assume the pre-flood world was pristine and very capable of supporting great populations in one area. But, there is no reason to restrict everything to the current day Middle East (although, I think the present day geological makeup of the present day middle east is less conducive to larger populations than in the pre-flood world).

      (2) No reason to think Noah had to talk to every individual before the flood came.

      (3) No reason Noah’s ark had to be big enough for 200 mil people–he built the ark according to the specifics God gave him, who knew only Noah’s family would need it.

    • Ws

      Watch Video The Days of Noah: Parts 1-4. There is evidence of the flood on different continents. The flood caused destruction in vast areas of the earth that are no livable by humans (I.e Grand Canyon).

  • Frank R Allen

    Your thought process of what the population of the earth was at the time of the flood is excellent. There is no prefect way of knowing, but the different methods you used gives excellent possibilities of why and what the population may have been. I personally believe the population of the earth of the earth at the time of the flood was about 7 billion, close to what it is today. I wonder if that may have something to do with our Father again is about to say enough is enough, and come and remove his children from all the chaos here on earth and take us home, just as he removed Noah and his family.

    • Mark Aubart

      8,888,888,888.
      World population before the flood will equal the world population just before the end.
      I say just before the end because God will take his Church just before the Day of the Lord, but the body will, of course, be with Christ when he returns to earth on the Day of the Lord. God’s Word says every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
      God’s Word is heptadic, but keep in mind Jesus is the living Word, Christ’s number is 8 and I believe mankind is octadic as is Christ. There is but one body, the body of Christ, I believe it was 8,888,888,888 cells, but millions, perhaps billions of those cells are cancerous and will be removed from the body in order to save the body.

Leave a Reply to Ws Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.