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Dinosaurs in the Bible?


The following question pertaining to the possibility of dinosaurs being mentioned in the Bible actually depends on how one may interpret a particular passage of Scripture. 


First, the Question & Answer.  Next, a rather detailed presentation of how the Age of Earth should be understood (The Study of Scripture by Arlen L. Chitwood, pp. 19-28).  Finally, a Personal Comment.


Question & Answer



Question: "What does the Bible say about dinosaurs? Are there dinosaurs in the Bible?"

Answer: The topic of dinosaurs in the Bible is part of a larger ongoing debate within the Christian community over the age of the earth, the proper interpretation of Genesis, and how to interpret the physical evidences we find all around us. Those who believe in an older age for the earth tend to agree that the Bible does not mention dinosaurs, because, according to their paradigm, dinosaurs died out millions of years before the first man ever walked the earth. The men who wrote the Bible could not have seen living dinosaurs.

Those who believe in a younger age for the earth tend to agree that the Bible does mention dinosaurs, though it never actually uses the word “dinosaur.” Instead, it uses the Hebrew word tanniyn, which is translated a few different ways in our English Bibles. Sometimes it’s “sea monster,” and sometimes it’s “serpent.” It is most commonly translated “dragon.” The tanniyn appear to have been some sort of giant reptile. These creatures are mentioned nearly thirty times in the Old Testament and were found both on land and in the water.

In addition to mentioning these giant reptiles, the Bible describes a couple of creatures in such a way that some scholars believe the writers may have been describing dinosaurs. The behemoth is said to be the mightiest of all God’s creatures, a giant whose tail is likened to a cedar tree (Job 40:15). Some scholars have tried to identify the behemoth as either an elephant or a hippopotamus. Others point out that elephants and hippopotamuses have very thin tails, nothing comparable to a cedar tree. Dinosaurs like the brachiosaurus and the diplodocus, on the other hand, had huge tails which could easily be compared to a cedar tree.

Nearly every ancient civilization has some sort of art depicting giant reptilian creatures. Petroglyphs, artifacts, and even little clay figurines found in North America resemble modern depictions of dinosaurs. Rock carvings in South America depict men riding diplodocus-like creatures and, amazingly, bear the familiar images of triceratops-like, pterodactyl-like, and tyrannosaurus rex-like creatures. Roman mosaics, Mayan pottery, and Babylonian city walls all testify to man’s trans-cultural, geographically unbounded fascination with these creatures. Sober accounts like those of Marco Polo’s Il Milione mingle with fantastic tales of treasure-hoarding beasts. In addition to the substantial amount of anthropic and historical evidences for the coexistence of dinosaurs and man, there are physical evidences, like the fossilized footprints of humans and dinosaurs found together at places in North America and West-Central Asia.

So, are there dinosaurs in the Bible? The matter is far from settled. It depends on how you interpret the available evidences and how you view the world around you. If the Bible is interpreted literally, a young earth interpretation will result, and the idea that dinosaurs and man coexisted can be accepted. If dinosaurs and human beings coexisted, what happened to the dinosaurs? While the Bible does not discuss the issue, dinosaurs likely died out sometime after the flood due to a combination of dramatic environmental shifts and the fact that they were relentlessly hunted to extinction by man.


Age of Earth

(The Study of Scripture)

(Arlen L. Chitwood)


“Was” or “Became”


It would go without saying that there has been a great deal of controversy over the years among theologians and Christians in general concerning exactly how the opening two chapters of Genesis should be understood.  And it would also go without saying that, as a result, confusion has reigned supreme in Christian circles concerning not only these chapters but the general tenor of the remainder of Scripture as well.

There are actually two major schools of thought surrounding these two opening chapters, though there are a number of variations within that are held by those in each school.


Those in one school (probably the position held by the majority today) view the six days in the first chapter as time revealing and describing God’s creative activity from verse one.


And those in the other school view these six days as time revealing God’s restoration of a ruined creation (creation seen in v. 1a ruin of this creation seen in v. 2a, and God’s restoration of the ruined creation seen in vv. 2bff).

Then there is a variation of the second school, which is held by quite a few individuals and could be looked upon as a third school of thought.  Those holding to this view see Genesis 1:1 as other than an absolute beginning.  They see this verse as an opening statement dealing with restoration, not creation.  That is, they see the verse dealing, not with God’s creation of the heavens and the earth in an absolute sense (as most view the verse), but with the beginning of God’s restoration (reforming, remolding, refashioning) of a previously perfect creation that had been reduced to a ruin (with the creation of the heavens and the earth per se not seen in these opening verses).

Much of the controversy surrounding these different views is centered in the linguistics of verse two.  Grammarians go back to the Hebrew text and deal with two areas, and good Hebrew grammarians reach different conclusions in both realms:


1)   The relationship of the three circumstantial clauses that form the second verse to that which is stated in the first verse.


2)   The meaning of the Hebrew word hayah in verse two (translated “was”).

1.  The Three Circumstantial Clauses


The three circumstantial clauses in Genesis 1:2 are simply the clauses that form the verse:


1)    The earth was without form, and void;


2)    and darkness was on the face of the deep.


3)    And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.


In the Hebrew text there is what is called a “waw” beginning verse two (a conjunctive or disjunctive particle [actually, a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the waw, prefixed to a word], usually translated “and” in most English texts).  Some grammarians view this particle beginning verse two in a conjunctive sense (showing a connection between v. 1 and v. 2), and other grammarians view it in a disjunctive sense (showing a separation between v. 1 and v. 2).


(The other two circumstantial clauses in verse two begin with “waw” as well, which will be discussed later.


The Hebrew text of the Old Testament uses the “waw” more frequently in a conjunctive [“and”] rather than a disjunctive [“but”] sense.  Of the approximately 28,000 usages of this particle, some 25,000 appear to be conjunctive and some 3,000 disjunctive.  Normally the context determines how the particle is to be understood.)

Those viewing the “waw” prefixed to the word beginning Genesis 1:2 in a conjunctive sense would usually see the three circumstantial clauses as inseparably connected with verse one, and those viewing the “waw” in a disjunctive sense would, instead, see a separation between these two verses.

If there is an inseparable connection of the clauses in verse two with verse one (in a conjunctive sense), and verse one describes an absolute beginning in relation to the heavens and the earth (God’s actual creation of the heavens and the earth in the beginning), then verse two would have to describe how God created the earth in the beginning (i.e., “without form, and void”).  


Understanding the structure of the Hebrew text after this fashion would necessitate viewing that which is described at the beginning of verse two as the condition of the earth at the time of the action described in verse one.  That is to say, God would have initially created the earth (v. 1) in the condition described in verse two.  Then the six subsequent days would have to be looked upon as time in which God, step by step, performed and completed His work of creation introduced in verse one.

The preceding view of the structure of the Hebrew text is the main reason for the position held by some that Genesis 1:1 describes the beginning of God’s restorative work rather than an absolute beginning.  Those holding this view see the three circumstantial clauses in verse two as inseparably connected with verse one.  But they also see that Scripture teaches a subsequent ruin of the earth following God’s creation of the heavens and the earth in the beginning (e.g., cf. Genesis 1:2 and Isaiah 45:18 [the Hebrew word tohu, translated “without form” in Genesis 1:2 is translated “in vain” in Isaiah 45:18; and this verse in Isaiah specifically states that God did not create the earth tohu, i.e., after the fashion in which it is seen in Genesis 1:2]).

Thus, those who see God’s perfect creation undergoing a subsequent ruin but also view the three circumstantial clauses in verse two as inseparably connected with verse one (in a conjunctive sense) are, in a respect, forced into a particular position concerning the interpretation of the opening verses of Genesis.  They are forced into the position of seeing the actual creation of the heavens and the earth, and also the ruin of the heavens and the earth, as occurring at a time prior to Genesis 1:1, events which they would see as not being dealt with per se in the opening verses of Scripture at all.

Then there are those grammarians who see the “waw” prefixed to the word beginning verse two as disjunctive.  These grammarians would understand this Hebrew “waw” in a similar sense to the way in which the Greek word de is used in the New Testament (normally disjunctive), as opposed to the Greek word kai (the word usually used to show a conjunctive sense).  In this respect, the translators of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) used de to translate the first “waw” in what was apparently meant to be a disjunctive sense beginning Genesis 1:2 (with the conjunctive kai used to translate the remaining two “waws” prefixed to the words beginning the other two circumstantial clauses in the verse).


Using the King James Version (KJV) text to illustrate, the translators of the Septuagint used de and kai to translate the three Hebrew “waws” in this manner:


And [De, lit., But] the earth was without form, and void; and [kai] darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And [kai] the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.


And, viewing the verse beginning in a disjunctive sense of the preceding nature, there would be no connection between the first two verses of Genesis.  Rather, a separation would exist instead.  Within this view, one would normally see verse one revealing an absolute beginning, with verse two (along with the following verses) revealing events occurring at later points in time.


(Most holding this linguistic view see verse two as a description of God’s perfect creation [from verse one] being brought into a ruined state, separated from verse one by an unrevealed period of time.  And they would, accordingly, see God’s activity during the six days as activity surrounding the restoration of this ruined creation.


Some holding this linguistic view though still see the six days as time revealing God’s creative activity.  They view verse one as describing a “grand summary declaration that God created the universe in the beginning.”  Then, apart from seeing a connection between v. and v. 2, they view God’s activity during the six days as a revelation concerning how God accomplished that which He had previously stated in verse one.)

2. The Hebrew Word Hayah

 is the Hebrew word translated “was” in most English versions of Genesis 1:2 (“The earth was. . . .”). The word is found twenty-seven times throughout chapter one and about 3,570 times in the entire Old Testament.

The etymology of the word is somewhat questionable (most look at the probable primary meaning of hayah as “falling” or “to fall”).  Hebrew scholars though see the word used over and over in the Old Testament in the sense of “to be,” “to become,” or “to come to pass.”  And by attempting to trace the etymology of the word, comparing Hebrew with Arabic (a related Semitic language), and seeing how the word is used in the Old Testament, many scholars have come to look upon the word in the sense of a verb of being” (“to be”).  But scholars also recognize that it is not completely accurate to equate the word with the English verb of being after this fashion.

The word is translated different ways in English versions — e.g., “was” or “were” (Genesis 1:2, 3578, 913, etc.), “be” (Genesis 1:36, 14, 29, etc.), “became [or, ‘to become’]” (Genesis 2:710; 3:22, etc.).  But that’s in English versions.  In the Latin Vulgate there are thirteen instances where hayah has been translated in the sense of “became” in Genesis chapter one alone; and in the Septuagint there are twenty-two such instances in this one chapter (out of the twenty-seven times hayah appears in chapter one).

The first use of hayah in Scripture is in Genesis 1:2 — the verse being discussed.  But going beyond this verse for a moment, note how the word is used elsewhere in chapter one.

Hayah appears twice in verse three, translated “be” and “was.” And translating, “Let light be [or ‘become’]: and light became,” would actually best convey the thought of that which occurred.

Then note verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31.  The word hayah appears two times in the latter part of each verse (both translated in a combined sense in the English text by the one word, “were”).  Translating literally from the Hebrew, using “was” in the translation, the text would read, “. . . And there was evening and there was morning, [comprising] the first day . . . the second day . . . the third day,” etc.

Actually though, “became” would really better convey the thought surrounding that which occurred, for evening and morning came to pass, “became,” comprising each of the six different days.


(Leupold, a Hebrew grammarian from past years, in his commentary on Genesis, appears to capture the overall thought of hayah to mark beginning and/or ending points in each day quite well by translating, “. . . Then came evening, then came morning — the first day the second day . . . the third day,” etc.)


Then note the words, “. . . and it was so,” at the end of verses 7, 9, 11152430.  “Was” in each reference is a translation of the word hayah, and it is easy to see that “became” rather than “was” would really provide a better description of that which occurred in each instance, translating, “. . . and it became so” (cf. “Let there be [a translation of hayah] . . . .” [vv. 3, 614]).

Though hayah has been translated “was,” “were,” or “be” throughout the first chapter of Genesis, the word is actually used mainly throughout this chapter in the sense of “be,” “became,” or “had become.”


Attention is called to this fact because numerous individuals look at translating hayah “became [or ‘had become’]” as so rare in the Old Testament that serious consideration should not be given to the thought of translating Genesis 1:2, “And [or ‘But’] the earth became [or ‘had become’] . . . .” But the rarity is in the English translations, not in a literal Hebrew rendering or in certain other translations (e.g., in the King James Version there are only 17 instances in all of Genesis where hayah has been translated “became [or, ‘become’ [2:7, 10; 3:22; 9:15; 18:18; 19:26; 20:12; 21:20; 24:67; 32:10; 34:16; 37:20; 47:20, 26; 48:19]; but in the Septuagint there are at least 146 instances [and some 1,500 in the entire Old Testament]).

3. The Hebrew Text Alone

Can linguistic questions surrounding the first two verses of Genesis be resolved from the Hebrew text alone?  Can one determine from the Hebrew text alone whether the “waw” beginning verse two should be understood as conjunctive or disjunctive?  Or can one determine from the Hebrew text alone how the word hayah should be translated in verse two?  Or can one determine from the Hebrew structure of verse two alone how the remainder of the first chapter should be understood in an overall sense?

Some Hebrew scholars would answer in the affirmative.  But, because of the different ways a number of Hebrew scholars view the matter at hand, using the Hebrew text alone, the issue could only be resolved within their minds and possibly within the minds of others who follow their same line of reasoning.  And note that the issue would be resolved by different scholars after entirely different fashions, all based on their understanding of the grammatical structure of the Hebrew text.

However, there is another way to approach the matter; and that other way is to see how the whole of Scripture deals with the issue at hand.  If the whole of Scripture can be shown to support one view alone — which it can — then the correct linguistic understanding of Genesis 1:2 and the corresponding correct interpretation of chapter one can easily and unquestionably be demonstrated.

This is not to say that Genesis 1:2 or the first chapter of Genesis as a whole cannot be understood correctly apart from first going to the remainder of Scripture, for that cannot be the case.  God would not have begun His revelation to man after a fashion that man could not have understood apart from subsequent revelation (requiring approx. 1,500 years to complete).  


But this is to say that the correct linguistic position for Genesis 1:2 and the correct corresponding interpretation of the entire chapter — which can be shown by going to the remainder of Scripture — is a position that God would have expected man to see as evident when he began reading at this point in Genesis, though man many times has not done so (past) and does not do so (present).

Thus, in this respect, knowledge of the way in which the Hebrew text is structured is really not going to resolve the issue at hand.  And time has been spent in the Hebrew construction of Genesis 1:2 and other related passages, not in an attempt to resolve the issue, but to demonstrate two basic things:


1)   There are good, reputable Hebrew scholars who hold varying views on the opening verses of Genesis, which are many times based strictly on their understanding of the structure of the Hebrew text, apart from contextual considerations.


2)   Though the linguistics of the Hebrew text (within the different ways scholars understand the linguistics of the text) will support any one of these views, all but one are out of line with the remainder of Scripture and are, consequently, wrong.


That is to say, though it may be possible to support different views from the structure of the Hebrew text alone (the way different scholars understand the syntax of the Hebrew text), different views cannot be supported when the remainder of Scripture is taken into consideration — with or without the Hebrew text.  Scripture will support only one view, and that one view is the position alluded to in the opening portion of this chapter.

Scripture will support:


1)   “Creation” (an absolute creation [v. 1]).


2)   “Ruin” of the creation (which means that the “waw” prefixed to the word beginning v. 2 must be understood in a disjunctive sense [“But”], and the Hebrew word hayah must be understood in the sense of “became [or ‘had become’]” [v. 2a]).


3)   “Restoration” of the ruined creation (vv. 2b-25).


4)   “Rest,” following six days of restorative work (1:2b-2:3).


And to illustrate this is not difficult at all.  In fact, the opposite is true.  It is a very simple matter to illustrate, from other Scripture, exactly how the opening verses of Genesis must be understood.


Tohu Wavohu


In this respect, first note the words tohu wavohu from the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:2.


The words tohu wavohu are translated “without form and void” in the KJV English text (“formless and void,” NASB; “formless and empty,” NIV; “waste and void,” ASV).  These two Hebrew words are used together only two other places throughout all of the Old Testament — in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23.  And both of these passages present a ruin of that previously seen existing in an orderly state.


In Isaiah 34:11, “Edom” (vv. 56), representing all nations in the future Lords Day (vv. 28), was destined to become tohu wavohu (translated “confusion” and “emptiness” [KJV], “desolation” and “emptiness” [NASB]).


And in Jeremiah 4:23-28, there is a comparison of that which had previously occurred relative to the earth in Genesis 1:2a to that which was about to occur relative to the land of Israel.


The land of Israel was about to become tohu wavohu.  That is, as seen in Jeremiah 4:23-28, God was about to do the same thing to the land of Israel (cf. vv. 14:22that He had previously done to the earth in Genesis 1:2a.  And the reason for both of these actions — that which God had done to the earth, and that which He was about to do to the land of Israel — was the same.  Sin had entered (sin on the part of Satan in the former, and sin on the part of the Jewish people in the latter). 


And, in complete keeping with this type of understanding of the use of tohu wavohu in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23Isaiah 45:18 (where the Hebrew word tohu is used, translated “in vain”) clearly states that God did not create the earth (in Genesis 1:1) in the manner described in Genesis 1:2a.  Isaiah 45:18 states that God “created it [the earth] not in vain [not ‘tohu,’ not ‘without form,’].” 


Thus, if Genesis 1:2a is to be understood in the light of related Scripture bearing on the subject (which it must be [cf. Psalm12:6Isaiah 8:2028:101 Corinthians 2:13]), there can be only one possible interpretation — the ruin of a prior existing creation (from v. 1), because of sin.  The earth from verse one “became” tohu wavohu.


The ruin seen in both Genesis 1:2a and Jeremiah 4:23, for a purpose, is with a view to eventual restoration.  And the restoration seen in the continuing text of Genesis 1:2 (vv. 2b-25) and in the overall passage of Jeremiah 4:23ff (v. 27b), as well as in related Scripture (e.g., Isaiah 35:1ff), is also for a purpose. 


Then, the whole of subsequent Scripture is perfectly in line with this type of understanding of the opening section of Scripture.  The whole of subsequent Scripture is built on a septenary structure, with the foundation established and set in an unchangeable fashion at the beginning, in Genesis 1:1-2:3.


That is to say:


The heavens and the earth were created, there was ruin of the material creation (because of sin), God took six days to restore the ruined creation, and He rested the seventh day.


Man was created on the sixth day, man fell into a state of ruin (because of sin), God is presently taking six days [6,000 years] to restore man, and God will rest the seventh day (the seventh 1,000-year period [cf. 2 Peter 1:15-18; 3:3-8]).


And the latter restoration, patterned after the former restoration, is what the whole of Scripture is about.  The whole of Scripture is about the same thing initially introduced and established in an unchangeable fashion in the opening thirty-four verses of Genesis (1:1-2:3).  The whole of Scripture is about the creation of man, his ruin, his restoration over a six-day period (over a 6,000-year period), followed by a seventh day of rest (a seventh 1,000-year period — the Sabbath rest awaiting the people of God [Hebrew 4:9; cf. vv. 34], the Messianic Era).


As previously stated, man would have been expected to understand this opening section of Scripture after the preceding fashion at the time it was written.  And subsequent Scripture simply verifies the correctness of the way man would have been expected to understand this opening section at that time, apart from other revelation.


Personal Comment



It is entirely reasonable in light of science (e.g., unearthed dinosaur skeletons) to believe that once in time dinosaurs did indeed live upon earth.  But it is also just as reasonable to understand that they existed prior to the renovation of earth as depicted in the first two verses in the first chapter of Holy Scripture.