Did the Fish Die in the Flood?

by John P. Pratt

Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (Mar. 26, 1999)
©1999 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Index, Home

When I was about twelve years old, I remember being sent home from Sunday School more than once for asking irritating and/or embarassing questions. At that time I was not seeking the greater truths in life, but rather simply trying to harass the teacher and get a laugh from the class. Once such question that distinctly took the teacher off guard was, "Did the fish die in the Flood?"

The teacher's expression told me my torpedo had hit the mark. She obviously had never asked herself that, and suddenly her picture of the animals coming two by two to the ark was no longer the center of attention. When she tried to brush the question aside as rude, the class chimed in that they thought it was a good question. I don't remember much after that because I believe I was ejected from the class for being disruptive. But I at that stage in my life I definitely came away with the impression that there must have been no answer to my question found in the scriptures, and that Sunday School teachers get so nervous at such questions that they wish no one had ever asked them.

Later on I discovered that so-called philosophers love to ask similar questions simply to harass believers and make a mockery of religion. They assume there is no answer and when the faithful agree with them, then a little hole is torn in the fabric of their belief. All too often that little tear is then enlarged by similar faith-challenging questions until the believer falls right through the rip and right out of the faith.

That question stayed in the back of my mind for years. After all, it really was a fair question. Did the fish die or didn't they? Years later I discovered the answer was right there all the time in the story in Genesis which we had been reading in that class. The account clearly states,

"And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
"All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
"And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark."(Genesis 7:21-23)

So even though my teacher had never thought of that question, the author of Genesis clearly had. It clearly states which kinds of animals died, and it makes a point of mentioning "nostrils" to make it clear that "breath of life," which can either mean "spirit" or simply "breath," refers to actual breathing. Fish use gills instead of breathing with nostrils, and fish are not listed among the dead after the Deluge. That they are not listed is probably not just an oversight, because they are usually explicitly mentioned in other lists of kinds of animals, as when man was given "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Gen. 1:28).

So the scriptural answer is clearly, "No, the fish did not all die in the Flood."

What if the teacher had replied to my salvo with a counter-attack? What if she had had the flexibility to temporarily abandon her prepared lesson and reply with, "What an interesting question! I've never thought about that before. Let's look in the scriptures and see if we can find the answer." If our class had found the answer by simply reading the text carefully, my belief in the Book of Genesis would have been greatly strengthened. Even if the answer had not been there, at least I would have come away believing that the teacher really expected it to be there and that searching the scriptures can be like a detective story, where we actually seek to find answers. It has since been my experience that all such questions have real answers, and they can often be found if we but seek.

Here are three such "philosophical" questions, which must have real answers, all of which have the answer given in our L.D.S. scriptures.

  1. Do we resurrect with the same atoms that now compose our bodies? What about people who are cremated? If we see an Egyptian mummy, does that mean that person has not yet resurrected?
  2. Is the length of our year a more or less random number left over from the Big Bang, or was it carefully designed?
  3. Did God write the laws of physics or are they self-existent and God just follows them perfectly?
Can you find the answers in the scriptures? The answers may be in several places, but the references I'm thinking of will be discussed in next month's article.