Unicorns, the Bible, and education

This item was originally posted in November, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries. This entry about “unicorns in the Bible” points out the silliness of some arguments against the reliability of the Biblical text.

unicorn.jpg
Fresco in Rome, probably by Domenichino, 1602, from Wikipedia

What do you make of a statement like this comment by a person who goes by the display name “kwatson?” It is from a discussion on World Magazine Blog regarding extraterrestrial life:

[I]n the case of aliens and extraterrestrial life, far less crazy than talking about a mythical being who looks like us, who created the universe in seven days, and sacrificed his only son (virgin born) to allow us the opportunity to live in paradise forever.

At least one can have an intelligent conversation about how many planets in our galaxy may harbor life, or about how many millions of years it would take a spacfaring [sic] species to fill the galaxy. In contrast, a conversation about, say, heaven and hell, is based on revelation from a two thousand year old book that features, among other things, dragons, unicorns, and a talking donkey.

I find it humorous that the question is, “might it be time for the church to figure out what to do with this stuff?” What you need to do is get a science education so you know how to use evidence to evaluate such claims. Otherwise you risk looking foolish. (emphasis added)

This guy (I’m asuming its a “he”) believes (1) that supernatural religion is irrational, (2) that the Bible contains rediculous things, and (3) that we Christians are a bunch of ignorant, fools in need of a science education.

Here was my response:

kwatson (#14) states What you need to do is get a science education so you know how to use evidence to evaluate such claims.

Some of us do have science educations, and yet have a strong belief in the truthfulness of the Bible and faith in Jesus Christ. I have an M.S. in geology, and have been strengthened in my faith by understanding the creation. Christians at times say foolish things about science, and non-Christians sometimes say foolish things about the Bible (e.g. kwatson’s comment about unicorns). I would rather ignore the foolishness and get down to the heart of the matter. The problems between science and Christianity then become much smaller.

Grace and Peace

Kwatson replied with:

Kevin N,

I’m sorry, but your [sic] mistaken about unicorns in the bible, see Isaiah 34. So, perhaps you should do a little double-checking before you call someone foolish, or else you risk looking foolish yourself.

At this point, I had him cornered, but he didn’t know it yet:

kwatson (#29):

I’ll stick with what I said. The KJV translates the animals in Isaiah 34:7 as “unicorns,” but modern translations have “wild oxen.” This is clear in the Hebrew Old Testament. The KJV translators apparently took the Greek Septuagint word, which is “monokeros,” and translated it as “unicorn” even though it could have also been translated as “rhinoceros.” But the Hebrew word clearly refers to a two-horned animal, and “wild oxen” is a much better translation.

Even atheist Isaac Azimov agrees with this explanation in his book Azimov’s Guide to the Bible. See the explanation at Apologetics Press if you are really interested in an explanation.

When something seems wrong in the Bible, I’ve found that digging deeper clears up the problem.

Grace and Peace

Why do I do get involved in discussions like this? Why do I blog at all? Here are a few thoughts:

  • On a site like World Magazine Blog, there is a mix of Christians and non-Christians. The non-Christians need answers to silly statements like this.

But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

  • Christians need answers as well. I’m sure that there are plenty of Christians who hear a mocker talking about unicorns in the Bible who have no idea how to answer.
  • Additionally, this points out the value of education. I was able to answer this accusation against the reliability of the Bible because I have a broad background. After discussing this exchange about unicorns with my 12th-grade physics students this week, I told them that the function of education is not to get them to remember for forever all this stuff they are learning. What I want to establish in their lives is a pattern of learning, and a way of thinking about the world. When I read kwatson’s entry, I remembered that I had heard something, somewhere about unicorns in the Bible, and that it had something to do with a poor translation in the KJV. But I had to do research; I couldn’t give the complete answer on the spot. But that was OK. I knew the answer was out there, and that it would not be difficult to find. Much of the value of education is in giving us a framework in which to live. That is my hope and prayer for my children and the students God has placed under me.

Grace and Peace

4 thoughts on “Unicorns, the Bible, and education

  1. Thank you for recycling! It is good for the environment and gives me an opportunity to enjoy good posts like this one. :)

    Your comment about education is crucial. Unless we know how to reason about the things of life, our witness will be reactionary or silent.

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  2. carl branch

    the symbolism of the unicorn has always been fascinating, to me. the purity, elusiveness, and split hooves, etc, etc, etc.

    Like

  3. Roxanne S.

    I read on a blog that a lot of the problems between christians and science are caused moreso by the translation errors from Hebrew to english. I tend to agree since history states that there is a big difference in time from the conception of the original Bible and christianity in Europe. Not to mention that historians have proven over and over again that both the original version and KJV was changed at the leisure of the Monarchies of the times, making it virtually impossible to know what it originally contained.
    Myself, I do not believe God is some white haired bearded fella that sits on a cloud writing down every mistake I make in life. Seriously, if that is the summarization of him, he really doesn’t have the time to be watching the rest of you!

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  4. why would you post somehting like this when you have no idea what it is you are talking about. when the bible talks about the “dragon” he is using it as a symbol of the devil. as you know the devil does appear as alot of reptiles, i guess he preferes it. and the unicorn may have been a misstranslatrion, but i think he was using the ‘proper’ term for it as one-horn, as the one horn that will blow and all who bewleive will hear. and this is where i love explaining to people like you. get a scienc education? first, science is one of many that proves the bible to be true, based on fact, and why listen to scientists when all they do is make guesses on places they have never enev been to. yes, there are hundreds of facts and artifacts that PROVE the bible and god to be real but our world is hushing us to keep quit (if i spelled that right, sorry) about what we do know. i know some people that know so much they are risking their lives thinking about it!

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