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.
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.