In part 1, we found that we can learn much about the history of dinosaurs from Scripture, even though the term ‘dinosaur’ is modern and therefore not to be found in the ancient text. Yet, the King James Bible uses the word ‘dragon’ or ‘dragons’ 35 times. Could some of these be dinosaurs?
Thirteen of these references to ‘dragon’ are in the book of Revelation, which uses nonliteral dramatic imagery to convey its message; the dragon symbolizes Satan (Revelation 12:9). The remaining 22 are found in the Old Testament. These are translated from three different Hebrew words; tannin (or its plural form: tanninim), tannim, and tannoth. Tannim and tannoth are the plural forms of the Hebrew word tan, which means “jackal.” So, tannim really should have been rendered “jackals” rather than “dragons.” However, all the biblical references to tannin seem to refer to great reptiles, and so the translation “dragon” is quite appropriate. The word tannin (or its plural form tanninim) occurs approximately 15 times in the Old Testament. Not all of these are translated as “dragon” in English versions, but perhaps they should be.
What does ‘tannin’ really mean, and does it ever refer to dinosaurs? From the biblical context, the Hebrew word ‘tannin’ seems to mean ‘great reptile’ and therefore represents a large category of creatures, rather than one specific species. The term would include dinosaurs but also many non-dinosaurs, such as plesiosaurs – monstrous reptiles that once swam in Earth’s oceans. Plesiosaurs are often depicted in dinosaur books, but are not true dinosaurs because dinosaurs are, by definition, land animals. In fact, the very first use of ‘tannin’ in Scripture refers to water-dwelling creatures. The passage is Genesis 1:21 which the NASB77 renders as “And God created the great sea monsters [tanninim],….” Other examples of ‘tannin’ referring to water-dwelling reptiles include Job 7:12, Psalm 74:13, 148:7, Isaiah 27:1.
However, land-reptiles are also indicated by the word ‘tannin.’ One example is Exodus 7:9-12, when Moses demonstrates God’s power by having Aaron throw down his rod and the rod became a serpent [tannin]. This may not refer to a dinosaur specifically, but it is referring to a land-reptile. Other examples of land-dwelling reptiles include Deuteronomy 32:33, Psalm 91:13. In some cases, context does not clearly indicate whether the creature is land-dwelling or ocean-dwelling; but an impressive reptile is suggested in passages like Nehemiah 2:13, Isaiah 51:9, and Jeremiah 51:34.
Since modern dinosaur names are of recent origin, we would not expect to find those terms used in Scripture. But we do find some creatures whose description matches that of known kinds of dinosaurs. One example is found in Job 40:15 where we read about a creature called behemoth. The word ‘behemoth’ is a Hebrew term which most Bible versions leave untranslated. It seems to have the meaning of “beast of beasts” – an impressive creature. The description provided in Job 40:15-24 matches that of a sauropod dinosaur: one of the four-footed, long-neck, long tail varieties such as Diplodocus.
Verse 15 indicates that the creature “eats grass like an ox.” So, it is an herbivore. Fossil evidence suggests that sauropod dinosaurs like Diplodocus remained herbivores even by the flood year. Their coprolites contain grass, which was a shocking discovery to evolutionists who believed that grass had not yet evolved at the time such creatures lived. Verse 16 states that behemoth’s strength and power is in the muscles of its belly. This is true of sauropods which required powerful muscles along the belly to support their long head and long tail. Verse 17 indicates that when this creature swings its tail, it is like swinging a cedar tree. Indeed, sauropod dinosaurs had massive tails, comparable to a tree in length and thickness.
Verse 18 speaks of the strength of its bones. Verse 19 indicates that the creature is the “first of the ways of God” indicating that it is the most impressive, or perhaps largest land creature that the Lord has made. As far as we know, sauropod dinosaurs were the largest land animal to ever walk on Earth. Verse 19 continues to state that only God could bring His sword near this creature: a poetic way of saying that no mortal human could dare attack this creature successfully. Verse 23 indicates that behemoth could drink with no difficulty from the Jordan even when the river is flooded and raging. Verse 24 rhetorically asks if anyone can capture this creature.
It certainly sounds like a dinosaur. Yet, certain critics have argued that this creature is merely mythical; a poetic and non-literal animal. However, context disallows such a position. The context of the passage indicates that God is humbling Job by pointing out that Job cannot even contend with a mere creature that God made. Therefore, how much more absurd would it be for Job to contend with the Almighty (Job 40:1-2)? The creature would have to be real in order for God’s point to be rational.
Furthermore, the surrounding context deals only with real creatures. Beginning in Job 38:1, God explains that Job is in no position to argue with Him, and God begins asking a series of questions that Job cannot answer. Note that God refers to real phenomena, and in Job 38:39 He begins asking questions about real animals to humble Job. God mentions lions (Job 38:39), ravens (41), mountain goats and deer (Job 39:1), the wild donkey (5), the wild ox (9), the ostrich (13), the horse (19), the hawk (26), and the eagle (27). Now, these are all real creatures, and they would have to be in order for God’s argument to make sense. From context, we see that behemoth was a real creature, one that fits the description of a dinosaur, yet it was a creature that Job must have known about, and had apparently seen.
Unfortunately, many people have bought into the secular bias that dinosaurs did not live at the same time as people. They claim that behemoth cannot be a dinosaur, but was probably a hippopotamus or elephant. Some Bibles even have “possibly an elephant or hippopotamus” as a footnote to the term ‘behemoth.’ But does the description match? Does an elephant have a tail like a cedar tree? Hardly. An elephant’s tail is like a small rope. Does a hippopotamus have a tail like a cedar tree? Again no. A hippopotamus tail is a small flap. The critics sometimes defend the elephant interpretation by saying that its tail is like a small branch of a cedar, or a very young cedar: a sapling with only a year or two of growth. But does this explanation fit the context? God is describing the mighty features of this magnificent animal to illustrate His power and to humble Job: its bones like iron, its powerful muscles, and so on. Would it then make sense to add, “And it has a tail like a tiny twig?” A sauropod dinosaur fits Job 40:15-24 as written.
And what about large swimming reptiles such as plesiosaurs? The Bible seems to describe these as well, again using an ancient word rather than the modern taxonomic term. In Job chapter 41, God continues to humble Job by reminding him of a creature called leviathan. Again, the term is untranslated from the Hebrew word, but describes an enormous water-dwelling, air-breathing reptile. This could be a true dinosaur such as Spinosaurus which had legs for walking on land, but spent a great deal of time in the water. But the description may better match a Plesiosaur. Plesiosaurs were a group of long-necked marine reptiles found in the same rock layers as dinosaurs. There were several varieties, including Elasmosaurus which had up to 76 vertebrae in its 40-foot long neck! The leviathan of Job 41 seems to describe such an impressive reptile.
In Job 41:1, God rhetorically asks Job if he can catch leviathan with a fishing hook. “Of course not” is the intended response. From this and the following verses, we infer that Leviathan is an imposing water-dwelling creature, one that cannot be easily capture by mankind. Verse 8 indicates that any who even lay a hand on this creature will regret it. In verse 10, God indicates that no one would be so foolish as to intentionally disturb this creature. The Lord here uses an a fortiori argument, reasoning from the lesser to the greater. In other words, if it would be foolish to disturb this mere creature, how much more foolish would it be to stand against the creature’s Maker! Note that this argument is only rational if leviathan is a real animal. It would make no sense for God to compare His power to a work of fiction.
Job 41:12 refers to the strength of this mighty leviathan. Verse 15 refers to the creature’s scales – indicating that this is unquestionably a reptile since it is air-breathing on account of its nostrils (mentioned in verse 20). Verse 22 refers to the strength of this creature’s neck: a fitting description of the long-necked Elasmosaurus. Verse 25 indicates that the creature “raises himself up” such that even the mighty are afraid. Verse 26 teaches that attacking the creature with swords, spears, darts, or javelins would be useless. The rest of the chapter continues to elaborate on the strength of this mighty reptile. Note that Isaiah 27:1 refers to leviathan as the dragon [tannin] who lives in the sea – indicating that indeed tannin indeed refers to a ‘great reptile’ of which leviathan is one specific variety.
Again, due to the bias of deep time, critics suggest that this leviathan must be a modern animal, perhaps a crocodile. The suggestion is even found in the footnotes of some Bibles. But does the description fit? Can crocodiles be overcome with swords and spears? Of course – but not leviathan. Can the crocodile “raise himself up?” No – their sprawling posture keeps them at ground-level, but not leviathan (verse 25). And while there is tremendous strength in the neck of an Elasmosaurus, crocodiles really don’t have much of a neck (see verse 22). The description of leviathan just doesn’t fit that of any known living reptile, but it does match a Plesiosaur.
Note that Job 41:19-21 indicates that this creature could produce some sort of flames from its mouth. So not only do we have a dragon, but a fire-breathing dragon! At this point, many critics cry foul and insist that such a creature couldn’t possible exist. And to this I must ask, “why not?” Is there any rational, scientific reason why a flame-producing animal cannot exist? Or is the objection merely a knee-jerk emotional response? In fact, there are living animals that can produce intense heat as a defense mechanism. When threatened, the bombardier beetle mixes two chemicals along with a catalyst which produces a highly exothermic reaction, resulting in a hot spray that can be fatal to any attacking insects. There is no scientific reason why God could not design such a mechanism on a much larger scale for a larger animal. Have you ever wondered why there are so many legends around the world of fire-breathing dragons? These are apparently based on a real animal.
In fact, many animals today have astonishing abilities that we probably would not know about if we had only their fossils. From the fossilized bones of an electric eel, would we ever know that it could produce 800 volts of electricity? If we found only fossils of fireflies, would we ever know that they can produce light? Likewise, any flame-producing abilities of large reptiles would probably not be deduced from their bones – only from recorded history. Its flame-producing ability is further confirmation that leviathan is not a crocodile nor any known modern animal.
And what about flying reptiles? These also are explicitly mentioned in Scripture. In Isaiah 14:29, and Isaiah 30:6 we read of a “fiery flying serpent.” Normally, the Hebrew word translated “serpent” is ‘nachash’ (as in Genesis 3:1). But in these two verses the Hebrew word is ‘saraph’ which is rarely used in Scripture. It seems to refer to a particular class of reptiles – “fiery serpents.” The verb form of the word ‘saraph’ means “to burn.” The noun seems to imply either that these particular serpents were poisonous (hence “fiery” from the burning effect of poison), or possibly copper-colored (and thus “fiery” in appearance). The text specifically states that they are flying serpents.
Interestingly, the only other place where the term ‘saraph’ is used for ‘serpents’ is in the account of Numbers 21:6-9 (and referenced in Deuteronomy 8:15) where the Israelites were plagued with serpents in the wilderness. Recall that many people died from the poisonous bites of these serpents, but Moses interceded. The Lord told Moses to construct a bronze serpent and set it on a standard such that anyone who looked at the bronze serpent would live. Both terms are used in this account, ‘saraph’ in verses 6 and 8, and ‘nachash’ in verses 7 and 9, suggesting that ‘saraph’ is a specific type of reptile/serpent – possibly the flying kind. It is possible therefore that these were flying serpents rather than terrestrial serpents, although the word for ‘flying’ used in Isaiah 14:29 and 30:6 is not present here.
We note that the Behemoth and Leviathan in Job, and the flying reptiles in Isaiah (and possibly in Numbers) are all events that occur after the global flood. So at least some classes of dinosaurs and/or other now-extinct reptiles were still extant at the time. The global flood did not cause their extinction, at least not directly or immediately. So how and when did dinosaurs go extinct? And are their any other historical accounts of dinosaurs that might shed light on the issue? Continued in Part 3.
 The earliest English translators seem to have thought that tannim and tannin were interchangeable; the confusion is understandable given the similarity of these two words.
 Thirteen of these are definite. Two are textual variants that have tannim but for which grammar and context indicate that tannin was the word used in the original autographs. See: https://answersingenesis.org/dinosaurs/tannin-sea-serpent-dinosaur-snake-dragon-or-jackal/
 The King James version translates this as “unicorn.” However, the Hebrew word ‘reem’ seems to indicate a wild ox, buffalo, or a creature with one or more horns, such as a rhinoceros.
 The word is also used in the plural “saraphim” to refer to a particular class of angelic beings (seraphim) in Isaiah 6:2, and 6:6.