The ESV Study Bible on creation — Dinosaurs in Job?

The ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, and is certainly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever produced. It has been out for only three years, but it looks like it will be a highly influential reference work for decades to come.One potential positive impact of the ESVSB relates to its treatment of the doctrine of creation. The ESVSB does not take a stand on geological issues such as the age of the Earth or the extent of the flood. In both of these cases it offers cautionary notes that could open the doors to old-Earth interpretations for many readers. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.My hope and prayer is that, just as the Scofield Reference Bible led many to accept the Gap Theory (rather than young-Earth interpretations) a century ago, so the ESVSB will introduce Christians of our day to alternative viewpoints on Genesis 1, such as the analogical days and day-age interpretations.

This is my fourth article on the ESV Study Bible’s coverage of issues related to the doctrine of creation. My previous posts were:

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Noah’s flood

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

ESVStudyBibleYoung-Earth creationists (YECs) commonly assert that dinosaurs lived in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and that they are even described in the Old Testament book of Job. If the Earth is only six to ten thousand years old, as YECs claim, and if dinosaurs were created on the same 24-hour day as Adam and Eve, and if Noah took two of each kind of animal that lived on Earth onto the Ark, and if dinosaurs came off of the Ark and survived for some time afterward, then it follows that dinosaurs could have wandered the Earth for a while after the flood, only a few thousand years ago. Of course I disagree with most of these premises, as they are Biblically unnecessary. Because of this, I don’t have to be looking for dinosaurs in the Bible or anyplace else, other than in the fossil record.

Chapter 40 of Job describes a creature called “behemoth”, and Job 41 depicts another fearsome creature called “leviathan.” It is often claimed by YECs that both of these refer to giant extinct reptiles, such as dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, or giant crocodiles. Many Christians, raised on a steady diet of YEC materials, don’t know that most Biblical scholars (including conservative Evangelicals) offer alternative understandings of the identities of both behemoth and leviathan that make more sense than the YEC interpretations.


In regards to behemoth, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis writes:

If the different kinds of dinosaurs survived the Flood, then they must have come off the Ark and lived in the post-Flood world.

In the Bible, in Job 40:15–24, God describes to Job (who lived after the Flood) a great beast with which Job was familiar. This great animal, called “behemoth,” is described as “the chief of the ways of God,” perhaps the biggest land animal God had created. Impressively, he moved his tail like a cedar tree! Although some Bible commentaries say this may have been an elephant or hippopotamus, the description actually fits that of a dinosaur like Brachiosaurus. Elephants and hippos certainly do not have tails like cedar trees!

Actually, very few animals are singled out in the Bible for such a detailed description. Contrary to what many may think, what we know now as dinosaurs get more mention in the Scriptures than most animals! So dinosaurs—all the different kinds—must have lived alongside of people after the Flood.

The ESV study notes on behemoth in Job 40:15-24 offer a more straight-forward interpretation of this creature:

Job 40:15 Behemoth usually refers to cattle, but in at least one other reference it most likely signifies a hippopotamus (see esv footnote). It is almost universally so interpreted in this passage, taking the description of vv. 16–18 as poetical extravagance. Some, however, suppose that the description requires some kind of mythical beast to be in view, as a parallel to Leviathan (41:1); the first option is simpler.

Job 40:17 tail stiff like a cedar. “Tail” is a common euphemism for phallus. It is to be so interpreted in this verse, considering the description of the anatomy of the animal. Potency is often associated with procreative power. In the medieval period, Behemoth was conceived as a symbol of sensuality and sin. sinews of his thighs. The word for “sinews” is otherwise unknown. Some ancient versions (see Targum, Latin) took it to mean “testicle,” in keeping with the interpretation of the first line.

There seems to be no reason to suppose that behemoth is a Brachiosaurus rather than a hippopotamus. YECs say that “tail like a cedar tree” points to a dinosaur rather than a hippo with its diminutive tail, but they may very well not even be thinking about the right piece of anatomy. “Penis” and “testicles” aren’t words you will find in any AIG/ICR childrens’ books, but the Old Testament authors weren’t squeamish about using such terminology.

Another difficulty of the “dinosaur” interpretation of behemoth, not mentioned in the ESVSB notes, is found in verse 21, which states

Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him. (ESV)

With this description, it seems much more likely that behemoth is something like a hippopotamus. Brachiosauruses wouldn’t have been able to hide among the reeds along the Jordan River (v. 23)!


To some young-Earth creationists, the leviathan in Job 41 is not only a giant marine reptile, but a fire-breathing one at that! CreationWiki states:

Leviathan […] is an animal that is described by God in the book of Job as a terrifying fire-breathing sea monster. The creature is described as a strong beast with a tough outer “armor”. He cannot be pulled out with a fishhook and no one dares to fight him. It is also said to have breathed fire and snorted out smoke! (Job 41) Some believe that Leviathan is a reference to an extinct animal that was alive and known to those that lived during the days of the Old Testament. Some that hold to this view suggest it was a plesiosaur, such as the Kronosaurus, others have proposes it was the giant armored crocodile Sarcosuchus.

In regards to leviathan, the ESVSB notes are somewhat brief:

Job 41:1–34 The Lord describes the power of Leviathan by focusing on the inability of man to subdue him, then applies such power analogously to himself (vv. 9–11).

Job 41:1 Leviathan. The animal described in this section may be the crocodile (see esv footnote). Interpreters sometimes suggest it is a mythical creature representing forces overcome by God’s power in creation (see 3:8 and note). However, the focus of this section is on the fact that, whatever powerful creature is being referred to, it is a part of God’s creation and is governed by his power (see note on Ps. 74:14).

Job 41:9–11 If it is futile for people to presume that they could lay their hands on Leviathan, who is a part of God’s creation (vv. 9, 11), then how much more should Job be cautious about his presumption in wanting to bring his case and stand before God.

Again, it is quite possible that this refers to a crocodile, and it is unnecessary to see any sort of dinosaur or other extinct reptile in this passage.

The description in Job 41 seems to fit a crocodile pretty well:

  • lived in the area
  • fierce and quick
  • has a tough hide
  • has fearsome teeth
  • has a strong neck
  • has strong jaws

The ESVSB doesn’t comment on the “fire-breathing” passage of verses 19-21, but given the poetic nature of most of Job, there is no reason to read “fire-breathing dragon” into the the description of this beast. Most interpreters see this as a picture of the steam coming out of the creatures nostrils on a cool morning; no flames needed.


There are a number of reasons to question the YEC interpretation of behemoth and leviathan being dinosaurs. First, there are perfectly plausible options. We know that hippopotamuses and crocodiles lived in the area in the second millennium B.C., and the descriptions fit them well. Second, there is absolutely no evidence that organisms such as Brachiosaurus lived in the Middle East in historical times. If such organisms the size of school buses were around back then, we would surely find their remains somewhere, such as in archeological sites. And finally, this interpretation is only necessary if young-Earth creationism is true. If young-Earth creationism isn’t true—and I believe that it isn’t necessary Biblically nor plausible scientifically—then there is no need to try to read dinosaurs into the book of Job.

What does it matter? Many Christians are not harmed by accepting questionable interpretations on secondary (or even tertiary) matters such as the identities of behemoth or leviathan. On a broader scale, however, any time we use poor arguments to defend the reliability of the Bible, we create unnecessary stumbling blocks that make it harder for people to accept the gospel of Christ.

The notes of the ESV Study Bible make it clear that one can hold firmly to the truthfulness of the Bible, to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and not be a young-Earth creationist.

Grace and Peace

14 thoughts on “The ESV Study Bible on creation — Dinosaurs in Job?

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. I use the ESV, but don’t have a copy of the study version. Having grown up under YEC teaching backed up by AIG and ICR books/pamphlets, etc., I wasn’t really sure what to do with the behemoth and leviathan passages now that I’m growing into a different understanding of the development of the universe. For the record, in that process (the process of learning that YEC isn’t a scriptural necessity and finally learning what science has to say about biology and evolution), I have found your blog quite helpful. I really appreciate it. Having been taught all my life that only YEC is truly Biblical, I relish thoughtful resources discussing the alliance of old-earth/evolutionary science and Biblical understanding. Thanks for being a part of that.


  2. geochristian


    The “mythical creature” interpretation is certainly a possibility, or it could be that in some places leviathan refers to a mythical creature, while in others it refers to a crocodile. It is certainly a better interpretation than that offered by the YECs.

    Thanks for your input.


  3. james dietderich

    Before I purchase a study bible, and I have many, the first thing I do is look at the notes in Job regarding behemoth and leviathon. The ESV study bible is the first I have found that mentions that the beast’s tail could be it’s phallus. WOW! – that’s one I haven’t read before. It’s amazing that it took 2000 years to come up with that. The truth is, while there are many opinions, no man really knows what behemoth and leviathon are. If the study bible writers aren’t honest enough to say so, then I question what other opinions they may have in their bible. And no, I did not purchase this version of the ESV.


  4. geochristian

    James Dietderich:

    What do you look for in a study Bible in regards to Job 40-41? Do you look for the standard YEC “dinosaur” interpretation?

    If you read the ESV notes, you should have caught that the “testicles” interpretation is indeed 2000 years old. The Targum is a translation of the OT into Aramaic, with fragments from Job dating before Christ. The Targum uses “penis” and “testicles” in this passage.

    It is not the phallic interpretation that “took 2000 years to come up with,” but the YEC “dinosaur” interpretation. I suggest that you give the ESV Study Bible a second look.


  5. WebMonk

    James Dietrich, if you’ve just now heard of the phallus being what is referenced in Job 40, I suspect you’ve never looked at anything outside the YEC interpretation.

    Way back in college my OT class mentioned that, and I looked it up because I had never heard of that before. I found a statement that phallus was being referenced by Job 40 in an 1800s treatise.

    Since then, I’ve found it to be one of the standard interpretations outside of the YEC camps. I also suspect it was the understood meaning of the KJV writers.

    In the KJV, verses 16-17 reference in order:
    “loins” aka penis
    “navel” aka groin
    tail aka _____
    “sinews of his stones” aka balls

    I think you can fill in the blank there. :-)

    That’s the problem with euphemisms – when they are seen outside their culture they can be pretty confusing.

    Think of English euphemisms like “kick the bucket”. Want to try describing those to someone 2000 years from now?

    “Tail” meaning “phallus” in Job 40 is far from being a novel, fringe, or new interpretation. Certainly in the 1800s it was mentioned, and it was probably the generally understood euphemism back in the 1600s when the KJV was translated.


  6. geochristian

    Alkitabiah — Thanks for your comment. I don’t see dinosaurs in the KJV any more than I do in modern translations.

    “He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.” — KJV

    “He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;the sinews of his thighs are knit together.” — ESV

    “Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.” — NIV

    They all say about the same thing, but the KJV seems to most closely match the ancient penis and testicles interpretation that the ESV Study Bible refers to. “Sinews of his stones” sounds a lot like testicles, while “sinews of this thighs” is a bit ambiguous.

    As far as the ESV being based on the “wrong Bible,” would you say that the New Testament authors used the wrong Bible when they quoted the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew Masoretic text? I think the apostles themselves were less concerned about the issue than some modern scholars are.


  7. Pingback: An old-Earth Christian film review of Genesis: Paradise Lost « The GeoChristian

  8. Carbon-14 dating may be applied to a wide range of animal remains. But when we come to look at dinosaur remains, even so-called “soft tissue”, there are no cases of radiocarbon dating yielding dates that are compatible with a young earth creationist (YEC) “chronology”. None whatsoever. Plenty of mammals and birds. None at all for dinosaurs. Yet if YEC was correct, they should all date to this timescale. Why don’t they?


  9. Barry, as much as I have researched it, I have found not a single radio-carbon dating test done on any soft tissue remains of a dinosaur, more than likely because the dates wouldn’t match up with the evolution timeline.


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