Are there fire breathing dragons in the Bible? Folklore from ancient cultures includes magnificent creatures such as fire-breathing dragons, and these mythological creatures have crept into imaginary stories of all types, written for enjoyment, and a brief escape from our everyday lives.
But the question remains to the curious mind, was this type of creature created exclusively in the minds of ancient story tellers and passed down through the centuries, or was there at some point in time actual dragons from which the fictional descriptions evolved? God’s Word addresses this subject.
Hebrew Word Tannin
The word dinosaur, which means “terrible lizard,” is a relatively recent word. But an older word, used in the Bible and studied by creation scientists, allude to the idea of a dragon-like creature, a monster, perhaps a dinosaur, is the Hebrew word “tannin.”
Tannin has been translated differently in various Bible references. But considering the ways of how tannin is translated, it gives an overview of monsters in the Bible, raising more questions than answers.
The first use of the Hebrew word tannin is translated as “great whales” (KJV) in Genesis 1:21. The category of “great whales” refers to sea animals. This group of animals could have included all types of huge creatures, including great reptiles such as dinosaurs, fire-breathing sea monsters, and even the whales we know today.
Another verse where “tannin” has been translated as “whale” is found in Job 7:12. Here Job complained to God and said, “Am I a sea, or a whale, (tannin) that thou settest a watch over me?” (KJV). Both the sea and the whale that lived in such a body of water can be considered monstrous.
But the sea monster, the great fish that swallowed Jonah, referred to as a whale by Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:40 (KJV), was not from the Hebrew word tannin.
The word tannin has also been translated as “serpent.” One of the verses is Exodus 7:10 says “And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.” (KJV).
Interestingly, the word “tannin” is not used in to name the ancient serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In Psalm 74:13, “Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.”(KJV) The word “dragons” comes from the plural form of “tannin”; these dragons were sea monsters. Were they huge whales or were they the serpentine dragons of ancient legends?
Whatever these dragons were, God created them. In Psalm 148:7, the psalmist instructs them to praise the LORD! “Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons [tannin], and all deeps” (KJV). How wonderful that all of the works of God, even monsters, praise Him!
In Lamentations 4:3, sea monsters (again, the Hebrew word tannin) nursed their young. “Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones” (KJV). This reference seems to allude to whale-like mammals.
Dragons vs. Leviathan
Isaiah 27:1 introduces two monsters. “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” (KJV).
The word dragon is translated from the Hebrew word tannin, but this animal, referred to as “leviathan,” is called a serpent. While we may classify leviathan as a “monster” today, the Bible does not put this serpentine creature into this classification. This verse seems to indicate two distinct monsters. It is very common in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, to utilize Hebrew poetry, repeating the same idea while using similar, but different, words. But while there are similarities between “leviathan” and “the dragon,” this verse makes a difference between these two great monsters.
Pharaoh – King of Egypt – The Great Dragon?
Jehovah calls Pharaoh “the great dragon.”
Ezekiel 29:3 Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. (KJV)
The word dragon in this verse is not from the word tannin.
The nation of Egypt, an ancient enemy of Israel represented by their leader, Pharaoh, is compared to a lion and a whale (tannin).
Ezekiel 32:2 Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers. (KJV)
Fiery Flying Serpents
Twice the Bible mentions a fiery, flying serpent. Here are the verses:
Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. (KJV)
The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them. (KJV)
Interestingly enough, some depictions of the deceiving serpent in the Garden of Eden portray him as a serpent with wings. These verses from Isaiah about a “fiery flying serpent” may be a reference to Satan himself.
While these snakes did not have wings, as a judgement on God’s complaining people, God sent fiery serpents among them. The term “fiery” may indicate the painfulness of their bite, as well as the lethalness of it.
Numbers 21:6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. (KJV)
Leviathan — A Fire Breathing Monster
The King James version of the Bible introduces a dinosaur-like creature called leviathan. In Psalm 104:26, the writer, presumably David, wrote this: “There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.” (KJV)
According to some Bible scholars, the term leviathan means a “wreathed animal,” the idea of a twisting serpent. As fearsome as this sea monster is, it is not associated with the root word tannin. This verse gives the idea of a playful marine animal.
But while this sea dragon liked to frolic in the water, another verse from Psalms gives some more information about this sea creature.
“Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” Psalm 74:14 (KJV).
The plural of the word “head” is interesting. Did this dragon-like creature have more than one head? Or is the word leviathan in this verse referring to more than one of these creatures? Regardless, it seems that only its Creator could destroy this fearsome marine animal. Since God created it, He could dispatch it at will.
A fuller and more terrifying description of this sea creature is found in the Book of Job chapter 41. The LORD God (Jehovah), in talking with Job, describes leviathan as the original, fire-breathing dragon of the deep.
The entire chapter of Job 41 is devoted to the description of leviathan. In particular, verses 18 through 21 record the fire-breathing element of dragons.
“By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.” Job 41:18-21(KJV)
His mouth and nose, the openings of the respiratory system, produced intense heat, making him what we would describe as a “fire-breathing dragon.” The word “neesings” used in the King James version, are the microscopic water droplets expelled from the nose after a sneeze.
When leviathan sneezed, he lit up the area around him, just like a fire that lights up the night. Jehovah said that heavy smoke, similar to what would be expected from a large, boiling container, came out of his nose. Leviathan’s mouth also produced flames and “sparks of fire.”
His breath was so intense that it could set coal on fire. Leviathan’s eyes may not have produced heat, but they were extremely bright, possibly producing light, instead of merely reflecting it.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) leviathan and all of his offspring are extinct. As powerful and as terrible as these creatures were, God allowed them to perish. Interestingly enough, among dinosaur fossils, there is a 33-foot-long ichthyosaur skeleton, a marine animal which seems to fit the description of levitation in the Bible.
Unlike behemoth, another dinosaur-like creature mentioned in the Bible which consumed a lot of vegetable material, leviathan’s diet is unknown. But with its ability to breathe fire, it is reasonable to assume that it ate other animals — after it cooked them.
Some would argue that the description of a creature that produced fire was written in figurative language because such an animal would be in danger of igniting itself. However, there is a present-day example of an animal that produces a boiling spray while keeping itself safe.
The example of the bombardier beetle show God’s wisdom in intelligent design. The fantastic design of this little bug has threatened the theory of evolution and is used as an example by many creationist scientists to showcase God as Creator.
The bombardier beetle defends itself against predators by spraying a mixture of boiling chemicals from its abdomen onto whatever is threatening it. The intricate, protective design of this fire bug includes two separate chambers in the beetle’s abdomen. One chamber produces the chemical hydroquinone and the other hydrogen peroxide.
When this beetle is stressed, it initiates a chemical reaction. The chemical in one compartment is produced and passed into the next compartment. There, with the help of an enzyme, the two chemicals are mixed and ignited to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then the beetle shoots out this fiery spray at a rate of about 500 pulses per second — long enough to deter predators, but short enough to so that the bug itself is not harmed.
This fiery bug that is alive today gives both credence and clues to both biblical dragons and ancient legends of fire-breathing dragons.
Great Red Dragon of Revelation
Throughout the Bible, dragons represent evil. The Old Testament deceiving serpent in Genesis appears in the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter 12, but this time as a great red dragon. The Apostle John saw this great wonder.
“And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.” (KJV).
While this is symbolic language, what John saw and recorded was a condensed vision of events that occurred in heaven in the past and what would happen in the future. After God finished His week of creation, He looked at all He did and saw that it was “very good.” Genesis 1:31 (KJV)
Sometime after this, Lucifer, became Satan, rebelled against God, and in his rebellion one-third of the angelic host followed him. The third part of the stars which were cast to the Earth here in Revelation, represent the angels that followed Satan. The woman represents the people of God, primarily in this context, the nation of Israel.
The evil intent of the great red dragon is revealed in the next two verses:
“And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” (KJV)
The male child that John saw in his vision is Jesus Christ. Satan thought that he had destroyed Jesus when He was crucified. But Christ was victorious over both death and the grave and returned to heaven. God also has His protecting hand on the nation of Israel as well.
While Satan has access to at least some parts of heaven as seen in Job 1:6, John saw that Satan will be finally cast out of heaven through the efforts of Michael and his angels.
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (KJV).
After John saw Satan cast out of heaven, he heard rejoicing and recorded this:
“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” (KJV)
All of God’s creation, including all of the awesome creatures of the past, were created as “very good.” But God gave both man and His angels a free will, and Satan, in his pride rebelled against God. Since the devil does not have the ability to create anything, he did what he could and corrupted the good creation, including some of the animal life, which he used for his devious purposes.
Thankfully, in the future, God, will destroy Satan, the original fire-breathing dragon and deceiver of the whole world.