Even individuals who feel no particular fondness for reptiles describe an almost irresistible fascination with dinosaurs. These large (and a few small) reptile species dominated Earth’s land and sea life from around 250 million to 65 million years ago. Their creation probably belongs to the fifth creation day in Genesis 1.
Perhaps because of dinosaurs’ sheer enormity and longevity, people have difficulty imagining that the Bible wouldn’t give them special mention. However, we must take into account not only the theme of the text but also our own historical context.
The theme of the account is the preparation of Earth for Adam, Eve, and their progeny. From a historical perspective, only a few of the people to ever hear or read the Bible would also possess any awareness of or interest in dinosaurs’ existence—people living mostly in Western cultures since the nineteenth century.
“Terrible Lizards” in Job’s Story?
Some Christians assert that the Bible does speak of dinosaurs. They see the “behemoth” and “leviathan” of Job 40–41 as references to such fearsome creatures as Triceratops or Tyrannosaurus. One problem with this interpretation, which proponents would call “literal,” is that no creatures on Earth, alive or extinct, fit the literal descriptions. No dinosaur, for example, ever breathed fire or smoke or had bones of iron and brass.
The author of these descriptions indicated they are to be taken figuratively. The comparative words as and like appear in this passage fifteen times in the New International Version and seventeen times in the New American Standard Bible. The point of the passage is to convey the impression that these creatures struck terror in the hearts of humans who may have encountered them.
A look at the Hebrew language gives further insight. The Hebrew word for “behemoth” appears in its singular form, behema, as part of the description of certain land mammals created on the sixth creation day. Because dinosaurs were reptiles, not mammals, “behemoth” probably wouldn’t refer to them.
Two animals present on Earth today strike terror and cause mayhem matching the descriptions in Job 40–41: the hippopotamus and the crocodile. In some parts of Africa these species account for more human deaths than all the other large animals combined.
If we consider God’s purpose for the biblical creation accounts—to communicate a memorable and concise report to all people throughout history—the dinosaurs’ importance dims.
For further reference, visit RTB101: Dinosaurs
Resource: Adapted from The Genesis Question, available for purchase at our webstore.