Are There Dragons in the Bible?

Biblical dragon imagery includes sea monsters, serpents, and Satan

Red Dragon of Revelation and Winged Angel
Book of Revelation: Illustration of Earth parting to swallow water flowing from one of seven heads of the red dragon as winged angel flies away.

Peter Dennis / Getty Images

Yes, there are dragons in the Bible, but primarily as symbolic metaphors. Scripture employs dragon imagery to describe sea monsters, serpents, sinister cosmic forces, and even Satan.

In the Bible, the dragon appears as the primal enemy of God, who is used to display God’s supremacy over all creatures and creation. The dragon is destroyed or subjected to God in the Old Testament but reappears in the book of Revelation at the end of time when he is finally disposed of, once and for all.

Dragons in the Bible

  • Dragons are giant mythological, fire-breathing creatures found in the creation history of most ancient and modern cultures, including the Bible.
  • The word dragon appears most often in the Old Testament as a reference to sea monsters.  
  • In the New Testament, the term dragon is only found in the book of Revelation, where it embodies the adversary of God, identified as the devil or Satan.

Fire-breathing Dragons in the Bible

Nearly every ancient and modern civilization has a belief in a mythical, dragon-like creature. The giant reptilian beast is usually depicted as a modified serpent, with limbs and feet featuring claw-like talons.

While the “fire-breathing” trait of dragons is most likely wholly mythical, the Bible's book of Job gives this eerily firedrake description:

“When it sneezes, it flashes light! Its eyes are like the red of dawn. Lightning leaps from its mouth; flames of fire flash out. Smoke streams from its nostrils like steam from a pot heated over burning rushes. Its breath would kindle coals, for flames shoot from its mouth. The tremendous strength in Leviathan’s neck strikes terror wherever it goes. Its flesh is hard and firm and cannot be penetrated. (Job 41:18–23, NLT)

Different terms translated as dragon appear more than 20 times in the Old Testament and four times in the New Testament (but only in the book of Revelation).

Old Testament Dragons

Referred to as Tannin, Leviathan, and Rahab, the Old Testament dragon is often pictured as an enormous and ferocious sea monster. In every instance, the dragon is a force of chaos and a creature opposed to God. Yahweh either kills the dragon or keeps him in check by his superior power.

Tannin

The Hebrew word tannin can be used for any snakelike creature. Tannin is the great dragon monster of the deep sea whose head God broke over the waters:

You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. (Psalm 74:13, NRSV)

Leviathan

God also destroys another similar creature named Leviathan, referring to a fierce “sea dragon, or sea monster.” Leviathan is sometimes translated as “crocodile,” but this understanding is somewhat of an understatement.

Destruction of the Leviathan
Engraving by Gustave Dore (1832 – 1883). Isaiah prophesies the destruction of the Leviathan.

ivan-96 / Getty Images

According to Holman Concise Bible Commentary, the “Leviathan is invulnerable to human weapons, his eyes and nose flash with light, and fire pours out of his mouth. He is covered with armor and is lord of all creatures. This is more like a terrible dragon than a crocodile.”

The Bible speaks of the Leviathan as a terror-inducing, supernatural creature. Yet God in his infinite might crushes this dragon:

You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. (Psalm 74:14, NRSV)
On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea. (Isaiah 27:1, NRSV)

Rahab

Rahab is another Hebrew name used for a primeval “sea monster” that God defeats. All biblical references to the dragon Rahab are poetic. Some refer to God’s defeat of a chaos-causing monster, while others represent Egypt as an enemy that appears fierce and powerful but proves to be helpless (See Psalm 87:4; Isaiah 30:7; Ezekiel 32:2):

You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. (Psalm 89:10, NRSV)
Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD!
Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago!
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? (Isaiah 51:9, NRSV)
By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. (Job 26:12–13, NRSV)
Speak, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon sprawling in the midst of its channels, saying, “My Nile is my own; I made it for myself.” (Ezekiel 29:3, NRSV)

Further biblical characteristics of dragons include being poisonous (Deuteronomy 32:33), possessing solitary tendencies (Job 30:29), and making a wailing-like sound (Micah 1:8).

The Dragon in Revelation

Revelation 13 scene with many-headed dragon coming out of the sea
Illustration of Revelation 13 in which a many-headed dragon comes out of the sea, gives his power to a beast and is worshipped by all men.

Historical Picture Archive / Getty Images

The New Testament pulls together the serpent and dragon imagery into the great red dragon of Revelation 12. This dragon metaphor would be familiar to almost any Bible reader of any era and would help them visualize Satan:

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. (Revelation 12:9, NLT)

In this verse, the dragon (from the Greek term drakon) is identified explicitly as the devil, or Satan. He is the deceiver of the whole world. The dragon seeks to devour the Christ child but fails (Revelation 12:4–18). Nevertheless, the dragon is formidable and influential:

And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. (Revelation 16:13–14, NLT)

The dragon’s power to tempt humans is so great that he and the Beast receive worship from many people (Revelation 13:2–4).

In the end times, the Lord’s angel will bind the dragon for 1,000 years:

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:2–3, NLT)

Finally, the dragon is defeated for good:

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore … But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:7–10, NLT)

Widespread Dragon Myths

It’s difficult to discount the fact that dragons appear in the historical accounts of almost every society on earth, from tribal peoples to modern civilizations. And while the Bible does not affirm the actual existence of dragons, it does apply this mythological imagery to describe its most mysterious and menacing creatures.

Dragon's Fountain, Jerusalem
Dragon's Fountain, Jerusalem.

Ilbusca / Getty Images

The Bible mentions a landmark in the time of Nehemiah called “Dragon Spring, ” “Dragon Fountain,” or “Dragon Well.” According to ancient legend, a dragon spirit inhabited this water source:

I went out by night by the Valley Gate past the Dragon’s Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. (Nehemiah 2:13, NRSV)

Dragons are often characteristic of apocalyptic literature, as seen in the dream of Mordecai:

Then two great dragons came forward, both ready to fight, and they roared terribly. (Esther 11:6, NRSV)

Some people believe that dragon myths and dragon-like creatures in the ancient literature of almost all cultures stem from human interaction with dinosaurs. Among Christians, young-earth creationists hold to this view.

The Good News About Dragons

With every mention of dragons in the Bible, God ultimately proves himself infinitely more powerful. The Lord is stronger—able to overcome even the fiercest and most frightening beings in all creation.

This knowledge reassures believers as they engage in spiritual warfare, face enormous challenges, fiery trials, and seemingly insurmountable sorrows in this life. For Christians, biblical dragons illustrate that these words of Jesus Christ are true:

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)

Sources

  • The Poetic and Wisdom Books. Holman Concise Bible commentary (p. 211).
  • Dragon and Sea. The Lexham Bible Dictionary.
  • The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Vol. 4, p. 1).
  • The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (p. 293).
  • Dragon. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, p. 203).
  • Harper’s Bible Dictionary (1st ed., p. 226).
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes (Vol. 4, p. 647).
Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Are There Dragons in the Bible?" Learn Religions, May. 27, 2021, learnreligions.com/are-there-dragons-in-the-bible-5181660. Fairchild, Mary. (2021, May 27). Are There Dragons in the Bible? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/are-there-dragons-in-the-bible-5181660 Fairchild, Mary. "Are There Dragons in the Bible?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/are-there-dragons-in-the-bible-5181660 (accessed December 6, 2021).