The biblical description of the origin of the universe has several significant implications, one of them being that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. In fact, the Bible explicitly says humans and all land-dwelling creatures (including dinosaurs) were created on the same day (Genesis 1:24-31). While not the most important lesson learned from the first chapter of Genesis, discussions like this are still essential in the larger conversation on the origin of earth and the credibility of the Word of God. All this leads to the inevitable question: “Why doesn’t the Bible talk about dinosaurs?” In fact, the Bible does speak of dinosaurs, perhaps more often than we might imagine.
BEHEMOTH AND LEVIATHAN
The references in the book of Job to these two magnificent creatures should be compelling evidence in itself. God describes these giants in Job 40 and 41. The creature he names behemoth is called “first of the ways of God.” He is the greatest. He eats grass like an ox (40:15), yet no one dares disturb him (40:23). His power is evident in the strength of his muscle and bones. He has a tail that he moves like a cedar tree (40:16-18). Leviathan is equally impressive and unlike any creature we might lay eyes on today. He is violent and untamable. He is unaffected by snares, hooks, and harpoons (41:1-7). To lay a hand on him is regrettable (41:8). The scales of his skin cannot be penetrated by any of man’s devices. He blows fire from his nostrils (41:19).
These were real, terrifying creatures. No one could tame them. Their size and proportions were in themselves intimidating. What was behemoth? A hippopotamus? An elephant? What was leviathan? An alligator? Unfortunately, these modern creatures just don’t fit the bill. Not even close. Even if we allow for significant poetic hyperbole, we still have no reasonable explanation for the descriptions of these beasts. What modern creature could appropriately be described as breathing fire from its mouth? The fact that God is describing two species of dinosaur is the easiest and most obvious explanation.
TANNIYN: The Hebrew Word for Dinosaur?
If behemoth and leviathan aren’t enough for you, here is another tantalizing idea. The ancient Hebrew language might have had a word for dinosaur: “TANNIYN” (Strong’s #08577). The noun tanniyn is not well defined, but in the Bible it is used to describe a variety of creatures that otherwise would not seem to have much in common. Consider the uses of this word in the following scriptures.
Genesis 1:21: “So God created great sea creatures (tanniyn) and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”
Exodus 7:9: “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent (tanniyn).’” (see also Exodus 7:10, 12)
Deuteronomy 32:33: Concerning the unfaithfulness of Israel, “Their wine is the poison of serpents (tanniyn), And the cruel venom of cobras.”
Psalm 74:13: “You divided the sea by Your strength; You broke the heads of the sea serpents (tanniyn) in the waters.”
Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the LORD with His severe sword, great and strong, Will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; And He will slay the reptile (tanniyn) that is in the sea.”
Jeremiah 9:11: “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a den of jackals (tanniyn). I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.”
Jeremiah 14:6: “And the wild donkeys stood in the desolate heights; They sniffed at the wind like jackals (tanniyn); Their eyes failed because there was no grass.”
Micah 1:8: “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like the jackals (tanniyn) And a mourning like the ostriches.”
The single noun is used to describe a diverse set of animals: monstrous sea-creature, snake-like sea creatures, land-dwelling wailing animals, a land-dwelling venomous snake-like creature, and in Isaiah 27:1, leviathan is actually called a tanniyn.
As evidenced above, the true definition of the word tanniyn has been evading translators for centuries. Older translations, such as the KJV and even the Septuagint, simply translate the word “dragon”. Newer translations do not even attempt consistency and just render the word as some modern animal that fits the immediate context, such as jackal, serpent, whale, etc. Despite the confusion ushered in by modern translators, a tanniyn is not a specific creature but is a type of creature. How else could the term apply to animals that are both giant and small, marine and terrestrial, snake-like and wailing? What class of creatures could all be marked by these descriptions? Dinosaurs.
The case is not at all closed on the meaning of tanniyn, but the evidence certainly suggests that we might be missing something in our English Bibles. At a minimum, the use of the word throughout the Old Testament allows for the not-so-surprising possibility that the Bible actually makes numerous references to a group of creatures that we know today as dinosaurs.