Q. I heard that dinosaurs are mentioned in Job. If so, can you explain?
In His second speech to Job at the end of the book of Job, the LORD mentions two powerful and fearsome creatures, behemoth and leviathan. Some interpreters have taken these to be dinosaurs. However, here’s what I say about them in my study guide to Job:
The LORD’s first speech from the storm addressed two important concerns arising from Job’s opening speech. The LORD countered what Job said he wanted to do—un-create the day of his birth—by depicting the glories of the creation thriving and pulsating with life. The LORD also spoke to why Job wished he’d never been born. Job felt that his life wasn’t worth living if there was no coherence between his most deeply held beliefs and his actual experiences. The LORD showed him that his experiences were in fact coherent with a more profound and mysterious vision of the world, in which the cause and explanation of events within the human sphere may lie outside that sphere and may never be completely understood. Job responded to this first speech by admitting how limited a grasp he had of the world’s workings.
But there is still one more concern from Job’s opening speech that the LORD must address. There’s a serious problem with how Job wanted to accomplish his purpose. He called on those who could “rouse Leviathan” to unleash this chaos monster against the day of his birth so it would no longer be an ordered, bounded period of time and would dissolve back into nothingness. In response, the LORD describes two fearsome animals, behemoth and leviathan, and uses them to represent the chaos monster. He tells Job that no one should be foolhardy enough to rouse them. He asks, in effect, “Are you sure you want to turn such forces loose against my ordered creation? Once you got them started, how would you ever stop them?”
I explain further in the guide:
The LORD illustrates the limitations of Job’s power by describing two great beasts, which he calls behemoth and leviathan. Many interpreters believe that these descriptions are initially of the hippopotamus and the crocodile, two fearsome river creatures known from the Nile in Egypt. Simply by comparison with these, Job has to admit the limits of his own power. But the LORD then draws an even stronger contrast. Halfway through the long depiction of leviathan, after a significant transition in which the LORD warns against rousing such beasts and mentions Job’s case against him, the portrait moves from realistic to mythological. Leviathan now takes on the characteristics of a fire-breathing dragon and comes to represent the chaos monster. As the speech ends, the LORD describes humans trying every weapon they have against this monster—swords, spears, arrows, stones, clubs, etc.—to no avail. Leviathan swims powerfully off into the deep unvanquished, leaving the seas “churning like a boiling cauldron” in his wake. So how does Job think he can rouse this monster but then get it to stop destroying God’s creation after it has turned only one day of the year into chaos?
But even though Job believes that the chaos monster can be called upon selectively to undo specific aspects of the creation, the LORD explains that even behemoth and leviathan are not his eternal enemies, existing independently of him and forever opposed to his purposes. Rather, they are magnificent creatures of his own design and are under his power. God says that as behemoth’s Maker he can “approach it with his sword,” and he refers to leviathan as a “creature.” “Everything under heaven belongs to me,” he tells Job. The universe is not a battlefield where two opposing forces are locked in perpetual combat. Ultimately God controls everything, even forces of destruction that people are powerless to resist.
In other words, the descriptions of behemoth and leviathan are not of dinosaurs. They begin as poetic but realistic descriptions of actual animals, probably the hippopotamus and the crocodile, and they then move into mythological symbolism to make points that serve the larger themes of the book of Job. I hope this explanation is helpful to you.
Q. Do you read the conclusion to the book of Revelation as an indication that the canon of divine-inspired writings was concluded at that point? I’m specifically referring to the strict commands about not adding anything or taking anything away from what has been written. I understand the historical arguments concerning canonicity of Scripture, but my question is different from that. What I’m specifically asking is whether, in your view, God’s special revelation to John at the end of the book of Revelation was God’s way of saying (in essence) to humanity, “I will not be inspiring any more writings after this.” I’ve heard this argued before, but I’m undecided on it myself.
That statement in Revelation applies explicitly to “the words of the prophecy of this book,” so the original intention is not to close the canon of Scripture. It’s only when Revelation is placed last in the New Testament–where it does not always appear in the historical tradition–that the statement seems to take on this larger meaning.
I would be hesitant to endorse a position that requires a certain biblical book order, when that order was so fluid for so long, before the advent of printing. As I explain in my book After Chapters and Verses: “The books of the New Testament also appear historically in a variety of orders. Bruce Metzger observes [in The Canon of the New Testament] that these books are typically gathered into five groups, in this sequence: the gospels; Acts; Paul’s epistles; the general epistles; and Revelation. But Metzger then notes, “Prior to the invention of printing, however, there were many other sequences, not only of the five main groups of books, but also of the several books within each group. . . . A sequence in which the book of Revelation follows the gospels, instead of concluding the entire New Testament, is attested several times.”
Richmond Lattimore actually revived this presentation in our own day in the first volume of his New Testament translation, The Four Gospels and the Revelation (London: Hutchinson, 1980).
So, once again, since the argument that the warning at the end of Revelation closes the canon depends on a certain book order, but NT book order has varied considerably throughout the centuries, I would not accept that argument.
God gave Moses the power to turn his staff into a snake as a sign to authenticate his ministry before the Israelites. But I’m not sure that the snake itself represented the authority and power of God, or of Moses as God’s emissary. We find out shortly afterwards in Exodus that this was the kind of sign that Pharaoh’s magicians were also able to do, and when they pitted their arts against Moses, his snake consumed theirs, showing that God’s power was greater. But once again, I don’t think we need to look for symbolism in the snake itself.
I also don’t think there’s necessarily a connection between God giving Moses the power to turn his staff into a snake and God commanding Moses to make a brazen (brass) snake and put it on a pole. The simple purpose of this was to provide a visual focal point for those who wanted to turn from their rebellion against God and trust Him for healing from the poison of the snakebites.
If there’s any connection between the two incidents, it’s that venomous snakes are dangerous and potentially deadly; that’s why the magicians chose to produce them–to make a memorably scary impression on their audience–and that’s why God used them to send a plague among the people.
In other words, at least as I see it, just because there are snakes involved at two different points in Moses’ ministry, there’s not necessarily a symbolic significance to them, or connection between them, beyond their plain role in the narrative.
There are other places in the Bible where snakes do have a symbolic significance, but this is pointed out clearly in the text, for example, in the book of Revelation, “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”
A good interpretive principle to apply is not to look for symbolic significance in, or attribute it to, an element in narrative unless the text itself points you clearly in that direction.
Q. Newsweek just published an article called “The Bible: So Misunderstood That it’s a Sin” — I found the article so loaded with half-truths that it needs to be addressed. Could you be so kind to take a look at this? I really enjoy your Blog!
Thanks for alerting me to this article, which I see was published provocatively only two days before Christmas! Its basic premises are summarized at the end:
“The Bible is a very human book. It was written, assembled, copied and translated by people. That explains the flaws, the contradictions, and the theological disagreements in its pages. Once that is understood, it is possible to find out which parts of the Bible were not in the earliest Greek manuscripts, which are the bad translations, and what one book says in comparison to another, and then try to discern the message for yourself. And embrace what modern Bible experts know to be the true sections of the New Testament.”
But these so-called “modern Bible experts”–only three of them–turn out to be skeptical, critical scholars like Bart Ehrman whose work reflects a strong bias against belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God and as a coherent and faithful reflection of God’s dealings and communications with the community of faith over the centuries. It’s no wonder that with sources like these, the article reaches the conclusions it does.
By relying only on sources that hold one view of the issue, the article violates one of the basic tenets of journalism, which is to tell both sides of a story objectively.
Others have had the space and opportunity to respond to this article at more length and in more depth than I will be able to. (Here, for example, is an articulate response by Albert Mohler, and here is another fine one from New Testament Greek scholar Daniel B. Wallace.) But let me at least acknowledge the accuracy of your perception that the Newsweek article is “loaded with half-truths.” Here’s just one example.
The article says of the pericope of the woman caught in adultery, “Scribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages.” By contrast, Bruce Metzger, a universally respected expert in New Testament textual criticism, says in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament, “The account has all the earmarks of historical veracity,” even if it is not considered to have been an original part of the gospel of John. The international committee he served with to edit a critical text of the N.T. therefore decided, “in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage,” to include it “within double square brackets at its traditional place” in John. Virtually every other claim in the Newsweek article could be similarly examined and critiqued.
But I think that those who believe in the Bible as the trustworthy and inspired word of God can still take some legitimate challenge from this article. At the start it presents some research by organizations that, if anything, are favorable towards this view, rather than hostile to it, and who found the following:
“A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. ‘Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.”
These findings, rather than the biased and inflammatory claims about the Bible, are what should really make us upset–with ourselves. If we truly love and honor the Bible, then let’s read it, become immersed in its teachings–supremely those of Jesus–and then live them out. In that sense I do accept a valid challenge from at least this small part of the Newsweek article.
Thanks again for your question!
The original questioner comments: My friend Stephen M. Miller (love his books) also commented on the Newsweek article — thought you would enjoy his blog entry. Blessed New Year to you!
One “good question” I’ve explored in recent years, working with Bible publishers and translators, is this: How can we illustrate the structure and composition of the biblical writings by the way we lay out the text on the page? My most recent layout experiment has been with the episode in the book of Samuel-Kings that tells how Adonijah tried to claim the throne when his father David was dying.
As a rule, such episodes are the basic building blocks of that book—its “atoms,” if you will. This particular episode is one of several that make up the succession narrative that describes how Solomon followed David on the throne of ancient Israel. (Readers find out shortly afterwards how Solomon dealt definitively with the threat of Adonijah.) This narrative, in turn, is part of the long history of the Israelite monarchy in Samuel-Kings. But we can sometimes get a glimpse of literary “sub-atomic particles,” that is, even smaller pre-existing literary units that have been drawn into the composition to provide the structure and framework of an individual episode. I believe that’s the case here.
David swore an oath to Bathsheba that her son Solomon would succeed him. As was common in this culture, David made this a solemn pronouncement by speaking it in poetry. (I discuss that practice in this post.) David’s original poetic couplet is quoted five times over the course of this episode, guiding the narrative flow as the words move from the mouth of one character to another. The oath is quoted:
– By Nathan to Bathsheba;
– By Bathsheba to David;
– By Nathan to David (with a delightful ironic twist);
– By David to Bathsheba, reasserted in slightly lengthened form;
– By David to his officials, as a fresh assertion in renewed language, embedded in a series of instructions that will actually make Solomon king.
When we see the episode through this lens, we recognize that the concern is not just “Who will be king?” but “Will the king’s word be upheld?” This thematic perspective connects the episode to one of the largest concerns running all through the Bible, the memory of God’s sovereign words and the hope of their ultimate fulfillment.
To highlight the function of this oath within the narrative, in the layout below I’ve set it off as poetry in each case. Have a read through and see what you think. Particularly if you’ve read this episode before, does seeing the oath set off as poetry help you “catch the flow” any better?
(This is how the episode comes out in the WordPress template. A typesetter might decide to use different line spacing for a printed version, but I personally think this works well for online reading. Also, I’ve used the ESV translation because it presents the oath as a direct quotation in the first four cases. The Hebrew original could also be rendered as an indirect quotation in certain of these cases, as in other translations.)
– – – – –
Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David’s mighty men were not with Adonijah.
Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother.
Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying,
“Solomon your son shall reign after me, He shall sit on my throne”?
Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”
So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying,
‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, He shall sit on my throne’?
And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”
While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said,
‘Adonijah shall reign after me, He shall sit on my throne’?
For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”
Then King David answered, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. And the king swore, saying, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my soul out of every adversity, as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, saying,
‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, He shall sit on my throne in my place,’
even so will I do this day.” Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground and paid homage to the king and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”
King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ You shall then come up after him,
And he shall come and sit on my throne, For he shall be king in my place.
And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so. As the Lord has been with my lord the king, even so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”
So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.
Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. And when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “What does this uproar in the city mean?” While he was still speaking, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came. And Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and bring good news.” Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king, and the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites. And they had him ride on the king’s mule. And Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon, and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you have heard. Solomon sits on the royal throne. Moreover, the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May your God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ And the king bowed himself on the bed. And the king also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.’”
Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way. And Adonijah feared Solomon. So he arose and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. Then it was told Solomon, “Behold, Adonijah fears King Solomon, for behold, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’” And Solomon said, “If he will show himself a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth, but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” So King Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and paid homage to King Solomon, and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house.”
Q. I was reading in Chronicles today and it references “the records of Samuel the seer,” “the records of Nathan the prophet,” and “the records of Gad the seer.” Are these books in evidence in the historical record anywhere? And what is a “seer,” from a biblical perspective?
There are no surviving copies of the actual books listed there in Chronicles. Nor do we have copies of other books mentioned as sources in the Bible, for example, “the book of Jashar” that is referenced in Joshua and Samuel-Kings. It’s clear, however, that these books once were available to the believing community and that they were among the sources that went into writing the long history of the monarchy in Samuel-Kings as well as the parallel history you’re reading now in Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah.
While we don’t have these books, the references to them within the Bible do show that the biblical authors used available written sources as they composed their own works. (To give another example, Luke explains in the dedication to his gospel that he has examined the “accounts” that others have undertaken to “draw up” about the life of Jesus and the early growth of the community of his followers.)
In other words, the biblical books didn’t just drop fully formed out of heaven. They are in many cases the product of the same kind of research that goes into scholarly historical works today. The statement you’re asking about, in fact, is the ancient equivalent of a footnote, acknowledging the sources that were used for a certain part of the history and referring readers to them for further information.
As for the meaning of the term “seer,” it is an older term that, as the narrative in Samuel-Kings explains, means the same thing as “prophet”: “Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer,’ because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.” So the titles in Chronicles actually mean, for example, ”the records of Samuel the prophet,” etc. The use of the archaic term “seer,” which has to be explained to later readers, suggests that the source books themselves are significantly older than the final products–more evidence that biblical books like these are the result of careful historical research. Here we see the human side of the Bible’s composition.
Q. If what you say is true, then why doesn’t the Christian community periodically open debate/discussion on what additional Christian literature could be included in the present library (canon)? That is, additional (not to be read “supplemental”) literature that, as time rolls on, more and more contemporarily brings greater global value to the witness of that outworking of the divine-human relationship?
Even though I said in my last post that “God inspired the Bible while human authors were in the process of writing to address concerns that had arisen within the believing community,” and even though to this day the ongoing life of that community raises new concerns well worth addressing authoritatively, I would nevertheless argue that the canon of Christian Scripture should be considered closed. And I would argue this on the very same basis that I answered the original question about the uniqueness of the Bible.
Specifically, while I also said in that post that the human authors of the Bible “used their God-given abilities to a significant degree to shape not just the form but arguably even the content of the sacred books,” I also noted that “it can be recognized in retrospect that the impulse for them to do this actually came from God.” And this happened in such a way that, paradoxically, we can also say that much of the initiative behind the creation of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures was divine, even though the initiative behind the composition of the actual books themselves was ostensibly human.
Here’s what I mean. The biblical books, in terms of when and why they were written (as opposed to simply what parts of the story they tell), are actually clustered around significant redemptive-historical events: the exodus of ancient Israel from Egypt; the establishment of the Davidic monarchy; the exile and return; and—consummately—the coming of Jesus Christ to “fulfill” all that came before and bring the unfolding story of redemption to its climax. When we see the Bible in this light, we recognize that God’s contribution to the creation of the Scriptures was to initiate these events; the human contribution was to reflect on them under divine tutelage and express how the community should conduct and reorient its ongoing life in response to them.
Moreover, also when seen in this light, the biblical books, taken together, tell a story that has already reached its conclusion, that is, its dramatic resolution, even though it has not reached its actual ending. To borrow some images from the biblical story itself, the rightful king has now taken his throne; what remains is for his whole realm to acknowledge his authority. Alternatively, we might say that the marriage has already taken place; now the bride and groom must work out how to “live happily ever after,” which (as in a real marriage) will require significant character transformation, at least on the part of Christ’s bride the church—that is the part of the story we are in now.
And the ultimate ending, the return of Christ as acknowledged ruler of his entire realm, is already anticipated and depicted within the biblical story. So our part today is not to add more books to the Bible, as if its story needed more filling out. Rather, our part is to live out the section of the story between its dramatic conclusion and its actual ending—the section between the “already” and the “not yet.” This will necessarily involve more working out, including in writing, of concerns that arise within the believing community. But as valuable and worthwhile as many of these writings will be, they do not need to be added to the Bible. Its story is complete.