It is written:

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
-- Genesis 9:18-19 (NIV)

Does this mean that every person living today has as an ancestor either Shem or Ham or Japheth?

This should be true, if:

  1. after coming out of the ark till the day he died, Noah had no more children; and

  2. the only people who survived the flood were those who were in the ark.

  • 2
    I think that this is a fine question to ask on tis site. I see no reason for the answer to be primarily opinion based. A possible answer could include references to later genealogies traceable to Shem, Ham and Yafeth and how the text relates to each of these and an a description of the picture that that text appears to be presenting to us. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim May 2 '17 at 18:07
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    @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim - unfortunately, any answer also depends on pre-existing positions on a local/global flood. I would contest that there's no way to write an in-depth answer to this Question from this text alone which isn't just a matter of validating pre-conceived perspectives on the larger narrative of scripture. – Steve Taylor May 3 '17 at 8:21
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    Here's my take, FWIW: I think this is readily answerable from within the framework of the Hebrew Bible. I think people are (inappropriately) conflating historical/scientific ideas with coming to an understanding of the biblical text. I've voted to re-open. – Dɑvïd May 3 '17 at 11:43
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    @Dɑvïd - I'm not sure that people are capable of separating historical/scientific ideas about the text from the text itself and I also think that history should inform the hermeneutic method here and coverage of that is too broad. Regardless, this question has been asked before in various forms - 3 good reasons to close IMHO. I just don't see any good answers coming out of this question and it seems like click-bait for one line drive-bys by for new users. – James Shewey May 3 '17 at 14:12
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    Personally, I don't see this question as opinion-based. I believe Gen 9 and Gen 10 give a fairly clear answer. – John Martin May 3 '17 at 14:22

The short answer is…Yes. According to the text in Genesis 5 through Genesis 10, every person living today is a descendant of Shem, Ham, or Japheth.

Reading Gen 5:32 through Gen 10:32 reveals that Noah only had three sons (i.e. Shem, Ham, and Japheth). Noah and they were the only males who entered the ark, survived the flood, and exited the ark. Right after the flood, God addressed only Noah and his three sons, but their names aren’t given until Gen 9:18-19.

Gen 5:32 (NASB)

Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

After the flood:

Gen 9:1 (NASB)

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.

Gen 9:7-9 (NASB)

“As for you, be fruitful and multiply; [f]Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” 8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your [g]descendants after you;

Gen 9:18-19 (NASB)

Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was [i]populated.

Noah’s death is in Gen 9:28-29. However, Gen 10 then confirms he did not have any sons after the flood as it shows the three sons’ descendants. They’re grouped/shown with Japheth’s first, Ham’s next, and Shem’s last. That ends with “These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations. 32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.” (Gen 10:31-32 NASB)

In summary, since (1)-Noah had only those three sons, (2)-the only males who survived the flood were Noah and his three sons, (3)-only they were present after the flood when God told them to multiply, and (4)-“from these the whole earth was [i]populated.” (Gen 9:19 NASB), everyone today must be a descendant of Shem, Ham, or Japheth.

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    It is also notable as evidence for your answer that all the patriarchs prior to Noah are listed in their genealogies as "having [other] sons and daughters." The line of Shem beginning in Genesis 11:10 also includes "[other] sons and daughters" for its entries. The listings in Gen 10 are more detailed, listing out many sons for each father, and do not have the "other" clauses. – Frank Luke May 4 '17 at 13:42

I just found in the Luke 17:27 (all quotes are from NIV):

People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

and also in 1 Peter 3:20:

to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,

I think that it is safe (is it?) to assume that those eight people were Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth and their wives, which gives us a number of eight.

So from this it follows that only those that were in the ark survived the flood, and if Noah did not have any more children after the flood (if he had that would be written in Bible, I believe) it follows (is it?) that every living person today has as its ancestor either Shem or Ham or Japheth.

This is by no means complete and thorough answer but only a try.

  • @BehindEnemyLines Your assumption is a fact. There were only 8 living humans who entered the ark (i.e. those you mention above); only those 8 exited the ark. An interesting note that proves nothing but I found interesting is this. The last 5 generations of men in Genesis have their lives spread over the last 40 chapters; of the 18 generations prior to that, where “and he had other sons and daughters” is so often shown over 7 chapters, the only forefather for whom it isn’t shown is Noah. – John Martin May 4 '17 at 12:49

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