How do dinosaurs fit into the Bible?
Dear “A. A.”,
This question is one of the most intriguing and numerous ones that I’m asked these days. Fitting dinosaurs into the Bible is a daunting task—mainly because—they don’t fit!
The Bible is absolutely silent about the subject of dinosaurs. The Bible is a religious book that deals with theology (“God-study”). Its purpose is to reveal to us the nature, personality and character of God. The main message of the Bible is not that the good people—and not the bad people—get to go to Heaven. The message of the Bible is that no one is good enough for God’s perfect Heaven, Therefore, Jesus died on the cross as our substitute to pay the penalty for our sin, and by faith in Him, we have our sins forgiven and are now fit to live in God’s Heaven.
Nevertheless, I understand the assumption behind the question about dinosaurs. Those who interpret the Genesis One creation story as an ordered-scientific account of the creation want to know where dinosaurs fit into the story. Based on this interpretation, all astrological, geological, anthropological, archeological, and biological disciplines must fit into the framework of a literal-six-day, twenty-four-hour creation occurring just 6,000 years ago. (The figure of 6,000 years comes from adding up the Biblically recorded years from Adam to the present. Bishop Usher who did the counting came up with October 4, 4006 B.C., as the moment of Adam’s creation.) In recorded history, which begins about 6,000 years ago (when writing was first developed) there is no mention of dinosaurs on the earth. Frankly, from a scientific point of view, it is hard to cram dinosaurs into a 6,000-year-frame work.
Others view the Genesis One creation story by interpreting the Hebrew word “yom” as meaning “age” instead of a twenty-four-hour day. This is a perfectly good interpretation of this Hebrew word. This understanding extrapolates the Genesis days into ages of almost immeasurable million and/or billion-year eras. This interpretation of Genesis One gives a little more “wiggle room” to fit dinosaurs into one age or another.
The question of where do dinosaurs fit in chronologically becomes an irrelevant curiosity when the opening chapter of Genesis is seen in different context. There is little doubt that Moses was not concerned with giving a scientific explanation. He was anxious about the hard time the Israelites we having leaving the Egyptian gods back in Egypt (Read about the golden calf incident in Exodus 32 and Joshua’s declaration of allegiance to God in Joshua 24 to get a more through understanding of this struggle.) Following Hebrew poetical structure Moses expanded on the formless and empty earth of verse two. He formed the earth’s structure on Days One through Three and then filled in the forms on Days Four through Six. Moses declared that God created all the Egyptian gods. As a result, they were creatures and therefore not real gods at all! (I have written extensively on this subject in a previous Ask Roger answer concerning the creation. Let me encourage you to read that answer to further understand my understanding of this subject.
You can understand why I have so far intentionally not answered the dinosaur question from a Biblical perspective! However, that certainly does not mean that they don’t fit in somewhere! So, just for fun, let’s try to get a grip on a chronological time line of the emergence and extinction of the dinosaurs.
Albert Fox was a professional ball player and optical physicist. He was one of the finest Christian men I’ve known. He took me “under his wing” and mentored me through my adolescent years. Unfortunately, He died of brain cancer shortly after I went off to college. I still grieve his passing so early in life—especially when I think of all the talks and experiences we never had together!
One afternoon we were discussing the creation when he gave me his perspective on just how the dinosaurs fit in. “Imagine the history of the earth condensed into a movie running non-stop for an entire year, “he began. “The movie begins with the initial formation of the earth on January 1 approximately 4.5 billion years ago and ends at midnight on December 31.”
Let me summarize what he said in light of his one-year-length movie.
About March 31 (3.6 billion years ago) the first microscopic life forms appear. The first bacteria come into existence.
About June 1 (1.9 billion years ago) oxygen is first generated into the atmosphere. By the way, the process of atmospheric oxygenation continues still today. For example, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and give off oxygen. Plankton does the same thing in the world’s oceans.
On October 16 (900 million years ago) the first multicellular life appears.
On November 23 (450 million years ago) the first land plants appear.
At about six a.m. on December 11 (245 million years ago) the first dinosaurs appeared. They lived until December 26 (65 million years ago) when they all suddenly died out.
The Mesozoic era lasting from December 13-26 (245 million to 65 million years ago), spans the appearance and extinction of the dinosaurs. It is divided into three distinct periods:
1. The Triassic period lasted from December 11 (245 million years ago) to December 14 (210 million years ago). This period was dominated by dinosaurs such as Coelophosis and Euskelosaurus. Most of the first Triassic dinosaurs were small and quick meat-eaters that walked on their hind legs. By the end of the Triassic period larger prosauropods (20-foot-long plant-eating dinosaurs) were beginning to appear.
2. The Jurassic period lasted from December 14 (210 million years ago) to December 19 (145 million years ago). Many new types of dinosaurs, mammals, and reptiles emerged during the Jurassic period, including the plated dinosaurs and the sauropods—heavy, long-necked dinosaurs that walked on four legs. There were also large theropods, or meat-eating dinosaurs, roaming the Earth. This period was dominated by dinosaurs such as Diplodocus, Stegasaurus, and Brachiosaurus. The first birds (and bird-like dinosaurs), such as Archaeopteryx, appeared during this period.
3. The Cretaceous period lasted from December 19 (145 million years ago) to December 26 (65 million years ago when the dinosaurs became extinct). Flowering plants and modern insects appeared. Dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes walked the land, including duckbills, armored, horned, and dome-headed dinosaurs. There were new forms of giant meat-eaters, as well as a deadly new breed of hunter dinosaur, the "raptor", known for its sharp teeth and curved claw on each hand and foot. Velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled the land. Also, the bony plated Triceratops lived during this time.
Most of the toy dinosaurs children play with are from this last period. Children (and most adults) seldom realize that very few—if any—of the species they are playing with were alive at the same time. Most species of dinosaurs lived only for a short time (relatively speaking) before they became extinct. All the while other species were continually appearing and becoming extinct. By the way, over 99.9% of all biological life forms that have ever lived on earth are now extinct.
One of the great mysteries in science is the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. What caused the massive number of deaths is unknown. Dinosaurs lived almost everywhere including Antarctica. Their bones, laid down over time, give a geological record of their age and existence. The lower stratums of rock contain the earliest and most primitive species of dinosaur, and the upper stratums contain the newer species. Suddenly, at a geological strata line called the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, often referred to as the K-T Boundary, the dinosaurs disappear.
Many scientists believe that climatic changes caused the extinctions. There is evidence that the global temperature dropped significantly at the end of the Mesozoic Period. This may well have affected the growth of plants which reduced greatly the dinosaur's food chain. Many other theories are suggested for the extinction of the dinosaurs: cosmic radiation from a nearby exploding supernova star; acid rain from volcano activity; the appearance of small mammals that fed on dinosaur eggs; and disease.
The most well known is the asteroid theory. About 65 million years ago a meteorite about 12 miles in diameter struck the earth with catastrophic results. The impact threw multimillions of tons of dirt and dust into the atmosphere which darkened the sky for years. By the way, the massive 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in the South Pacific threw so much sun-blocking dust into the air that the temperature of the earth cooled significantly for the next several years. In fact, the people in New England referred to 1883 as “The Winter That Never Ended.” The asteroid impact 65 million years ago exploded millions of tons of dirt and dust into the atmosphere. Normal plant growth was impaired and the food chain was interrupted. Massive forest fires, triggered by the hit, induced thick smoke into the atmosphere. This cooling affected the earth for decades. All life forms but a few became extinct—not just dinosaurs. Only a few species survived past the K-T boundary.
This theory gained credence several years ago with the discovery of a world-wide layer of iridium which covered the earth about 65 million years ago. Iridium is rare on earth, but abundant in meteorites—which again suggests a massive asteroid impact. Several years ago a huge impact crater 130 miles across was identified under water near the Yucatan peninsula just beyond the coast of Mexico. The impact was created it is dated to about 65 million years ago.
Well “A.A,” I hope my answer provides some help in figuring out how dinosaurs fit into the Bible—or not. I am not so naive as to suppose that everyone will agree with my answer. Most all Christians agree that the Bible is a religious book (God’s Word). Much will rest on whether or not Genesis One is interpreted as a science book as well.
You might say, “Your answer sounds a lot like evolution.” It is. I think evolution provides the best explanation for the truths we observe in the universe—at this time in human history. Frankly, I think of myself as a theistic-theoretical evolutionist. This means that from a theoretical point of view I see evolution as an unproven theory which happens to answer many of the questions as to how God might have created all. However, I consider many of evolutions assumptions and tenants as questionable and open to debate. Some of its foundational tenants are rather incredulous as far as I am concerned—like the naturalistic evolutionary attempt to explain the inner workings of mitochondria in cell nuclei. From a theistic point of view, I believe that however the creation was accomplished, God did it all!
Frankly, whether God used some sort of evolution or not is immaterial to me. I imagine when we get to heaven the Lord Jesus Christ (the agent of creation) will explain to us how He really did it. Who knows? A six-day-twenty-four-hour creation might be exactly the method He used—or not.
Until we get to Heaven, we base our faith on passages like Hebrews 11:1-3: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By the way, on December 31, at 11:56 p.m., just before midnight, modern man (homo sapiens sapiens) finally comes on the scene.
Thanks again for the question. “A.A.”, I hope we can talk more about this over the Pacific again some day.