|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:
Young-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)!
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