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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

27 February 2006

Biblical Dragons

Q: What does Job 41 describe? The animal sure sounds like a dragon to me.

LeviathanA: Whatever “Leviathan” was, it doesn’t seem that any of them still wander the earth. Some Bible scholars and natural historians, especially those seeking to synthesize theology and paleontology, suggest that the Lord was talking to Job about some type of dinosaur. I’d be willing to grant this — if, by dinosaur, we include fire-breathing creatures of great might. I’m certainly not willing to relegate dragons and Levithan to the realm of mythology.

Lest readers remark that fiery-breathed critters are impossible, we must realize that “impossible” and “unknown” are two different things. Just because something has passed from existence doesn’t mean that it never existed. Creation has ample supply of other marvelous creatures which host elaborate defense mechanisms and extravagant feeding and mating phenomena.

Consider the simple firefly or lightning bug. Chemicals mix in its abdomen, causing a glow that shines forth through its exoskeleton. Through series of flashes, these insects attract mates or, by mimicking other species, lure unwary fireflies into becoming the evening’s dinner. Other types of organisms, including many deep-sea creatures, also display bioluminescence.

Electric EelIf you’d never heard of an electric eel, could you conceive of a snake-shaped fish producing up to 600 volts? Imagine stunning or killing your prey with a self-generated charge while remaining unharmed yourself! Returning to the insect world, what about the bombardier beetle? These creatures shoot a superheated chemical stream out of their backsides, killing or driving off predators without harming themselves.

With these examples in hand, why would we say that God exaggerated the powers of Leviathan? And since I believe that Job is God’s inspired Word, I wouldn’t reject the description regardless of modern evidence. God spoke of a creature with “mighty strength, (v. 12)” armored with “rows of shields. (v. 15)” Verses 18-21 clearly describe something we don’t see today: “His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth.”

Let’s review: Powerful, armored, fire-breathing. Sounds like a dragon to me!

NB: A much shorter post on the topic appeared in October 2005, answering the question, Are Dinosaurs in the Bible?

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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