Dragons and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Biblical Dragons – Good or Bad?

Biblical Dragons – Good or Bad?
We have established that the Leviathan is our modern idea of a dragon, in description. But that tells us almost nothing about whether dragons are good or bad.

“Since dragons are either a) a figment of creative imaginations, or b) mankind’s memories of extinct dinos, they can either be a) seen however we imagine them,      or b) seen as a part of God’s creation–and at least at first, it was all good…”[1]

Dragons were good – pre-fall. If you write about pre-fall dragons, they will be good and good only. But then you have to have perfect men and a perfect world. Won’t be much of a story.
To give a parallel example, Satan was good at first, yet we don’t make demons and devils good, and rightly so. Satan would have had to have fallen between the 7th day of Creation week and the fall of man. We don’t make things that were once good and now God calls evil good again. God is the ultimate standard (more on that later). We’ve already discussed dragons vs. dinosaurs and the reality of dragons; they are mentioned in the Bible. But what exactly does the Bible say about dragons and Leviathan?

Job 41 tells us of the great strength and ferocity of the Leviathan and that men fear him.
Isaiah 27:1 is a second place the Leviathan is mentioned. It says the LORD will punish Leviathan, and slay him, in the Day of the LORD. Daddy and I looked this up to study it more, in context. One commentary said that the Day of the LORD was the captivity. I would argue differently, because of Isaiah 24. I don’t argue from the “whole earth” phrase, as that can be translated “land” as well, and in that case could mean solely Israel. I argue from verses 21-23:
“On that day the Lord will punish
the host of heaven, in heaven,
and the kings of the earth, on the earth.
They will be gathered together
as prisoners in a pit;
they will be shut up in a prison,
and after many days they will be punished.
Then the moon will be confounded
and the sun ashamed,
for the Lord of hosts reigns
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and his glory will be before his elders.”

That sounds like more than Israel being taken into Babylon. Continue on, into Isaiah 25, verses 6-8 specifically:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.”

That sounds like the Wedding Feast. And death wasn’t swallowed up forever when Israel came out of captivity. Chapter 26 is a cry to God for deliverance, and ends with a warning of judgment:
“For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no more cover its slain…”
That then goes into “In that day, the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea…”
There is support for both promises of salvation for Israel and Christ’s return. But whatever it is, the Leviathan – already established as our modern interpretation of a dragon – is going to be slain by God – which means he cannot be in God’s presence, thus he is not redeemed.

Another time Leviathan is mentioned is Psalm 74:14. In Psalm 74, Asaph cries out to God, asking Him to remember His people. Asaph recounts mighty deeds of God, one of which is crushing the Leviathan (this is an example of God working salvation on the earth, verse 12).

The Bible does mention actual dragons as well, in Isaiah 51:9, Ezekiel 29:3, 32:2, Revelation 12, 13, 16, and 20:2. The passage in Isaiah again speaks of God killing the dragon, after a call for God to do what He did in generations long ago. In the passages in Ezekiel, the dragon is compared to Pharaoh. An observation that daddy made was that when the term dragon is used, it is used to represent something that is against God and His people. This is proved still further in Revelation. Revelation is apocalyptic literature. When D.A. Carson visited Dubai, he spoke on it and the gospel one morning. I was blown away. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the apocalyptic part, only that the woman represents the Messianic community as a whole. The dragon is waiting to eat her child. That sure ain’t good. The clearest place that dragons are stated as bad is in the next few verses (one of which is repeated in Revelation 20:2):

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting
against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought
back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any
place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown
down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan,
the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the
earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard
a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have
come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have                                               conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their                                    
  testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!
But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you
in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
(emphasis mine)

This is talking about when Satan was thrown down from heaven. Then he goes and pursues the children of the woman – “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea….” Again, the dragon standing against the children of God.
The dragon appears again in Revelation 13. I won’t say much about this passage, just that it continues my argument that the dragon is evil and represents Satan.

In Revelation 16:13, John sees false prophets, unclean, and demonic spirits coming out of the dragon’s mouth. (An observation: false prophets lie, and Satan is the father of lies). These spirits and prophets assembled in Armageddon, waiting for the battle against the LORD.
In Revelation 20, God seizes Satan – who is the dragon (verse 2) – and chains him up.

My conclusion about dragons in the Bible is that of John: “…the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan…”
If you want to create a creature that’s like a dragon, fine. But I don’t think we should call it a dragon because it’s clear in scripture that the dragon is Satan – exactly what “dragon” means, we don’t know.
My problem is not with having good, fire-breathing scaly creatures. It’s with taking something God calls the devil in the holy, sufficient, inerrant cannon of scripture and making it good. If dragon is just ferocious, dangerous animal, then I don’t care what you do with it. Lions are ferocious and dangerous, but I have no problem with them being good because God never calls them Satan. I’ve heard people argue that then lions are bad, because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion. However, Christ is called the Lion of Judah. Not only does this seem contradictory, but it brings up a difference between simile and symbol. A simile is a means of comparison in a way that helps you understand it better; a symbol has a much deeper meaning behind it. Christ is like a lamb says He is gentle. Christ IS the lamb implies much more – that He did what a lamb did, and died in place of us as propitiation for our sin. In the same way, Revelation says Satan IS the dragon. My argument is that throughout Scripture, the dragon is something that is anti-God and tries to kill God’s people. He is at war with God. The lion is mentioned once, in a simile, and other than that is used to represent Christ – in symbolism. There’s a big difference between the two.

Even if it is only symbolism and Satan is not actually the dragon, there’s still a problem with good dragons. Although God did not create dragons evil, He made dragons with the strength that became destructive after the fall. The fall was not plan B, in God’s sovereignty it was plan A, so this was still in His perfect plan for redemptive history. Dragon became destructive and is used in the Bible to mean something that is anti-God and His people. The Bible is God’s word, and throughout it He says dragons are things that are anti-God. To take that and make it good is to deny that scripture is infallible. Although dragons were created good, we now live in a post-fall world where a post-fall understanding of God’s creation is needed.

So far, we’ve established two things: first, that dragons appear in the Bible. Secondly, that when they appear in the Bible, they are bad and represent things  that are anti-God. Not exactly something that we want to make good.
All that said, the biggest question remains: what about dragons in fantasy? Here is where most of my research was done. I read two articles and one book, which you will see cited in the following section. Although the Bible doesn’t speak outright about alternate realities, it does speak of absolute Truth and God’s unchanging character.


[1] All objections are from various people that I love dearly on www.apricotpie.com This difference does not change my love for them in any way, shape, or form, nor does it change my love of their writings.

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19 thoughts on “Dragons and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Biblical Dragons – Good or Bad?

  1. James Dunn says:

    “We’ve already established that dragon’s aren’t simply dinosaurs…”
    I’m not so sure that this has been established. And this is important, as it seems to be a vital pillar of your argument. Perhaps you could clarify for me. How would you specifically define a dragon, as opposed to a dinosaur that is only a “simple dinosaur”? And how would these two definitions be mutually exclusive from each other?

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    • kyleian says:

      What I mean is that while all dragons might be dinosaurs, I don’t think they’re one and the same – mostly because of the many differences across the category “dinosaur” (I’m not sure how I’d define it, apart from reptilious. Large doesn’t even work because there are claims to small dinosaurs – though they’re probably just lizards). I think of dragons as bigger, often winged, and quite frequently breathing fire. Though at the same time, I’m starting to think of them differently – more of a winged and legged serpent. The root of dragon is the Greek “drakon” – meaning snake. “The dragon” in Revelation is often tied with the serpent. I wonder if when God cursed Satan by having him crawl on his belly – did he fly before that? Did he walk? Did he walk and fly? We don’t know (yet). Even so, dragon is used in the Bible to refer to Satan. That is NOT something to make good.
      As I said before, we can’t really know. I know I have editing to do on this, I meant to come back and do some before posting this, but I scheduled them all at the beginning of January.
      I think it’s like a lion and a cat. A lion is a cat, but it’s more than just a… cat. I still have editing to do, but does that make more sense, or am I still incoherent?

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  2. Laura Elizabeth says:

    Well, I guess I’m a bit biased, since I agree with you. I find it hard to actually argue that dragons should be the ‘bad guys’ in stories. I think you’re doing a good job, but, like James said, some of the things that you’ve said need to be proved a little more. Lord bless!
    —Laura

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  3. pen2sword says:

    Well, if the dragons in the Bible are of the serpent kind, and the ones in books today are the winged variety, then are they even to be considered the same thing? Even though they have the same name (and this is kind of what you were saying in the comments on part one of this essay) are they the same thing? I think you might need to establish that to prove a better point. If you can establish that today’s pop culture dragons are the same thing as the serpentile dragons referring to Satan, then you will have a stronger argument against people who like dragons in today’s sense of the word.
    Do you get what I’m saying? I feel like I’m talking Yoda-speak, all backwards and stuff.

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    • kyleian says:

      I don’t think they should be considered the same thing, if they really are different. But if we’re not considering them the same thing, we shouldn’t call them the same thing.

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  4. James Dunn says:

    I could say more about dragons vs. dinosaurs, but I want to get at what I think is a bigger problem in your argument. I have several questions:
    1. Is a dragon just a dangerous, ferocious kind of animal, or is there something more to it?
    2. If there is something more to it, what is it?
    3. If a dragon is just a dangerous, ferocious kind of animal, then:
    a) are dragons inherently evil?
    b) can a ferocious, dangerous kind of animal be inherently evil?

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    • Ezra says:

      It does seem as though you are inferring that dragons are not mere creatures, and have a spiritual side which has been corrupted. But we wouldn’t say this about a snake/serpent, which are used for the same kinds of representations.

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      • kyleian says:

        James & Ezra: I do think that dragons are more than ferocious, dangerous animals. While I’m not sure about animals in heaven, animals being redeemed, etc. I think that in some cases they can be good and bad. It could just be figuratively speaking about the Dragon being Satan. But dragon is never used as good in the Bible. Whether Satan is a dragon always or not – he does masquerade as an angel of light, so could he not masquerade as other things as well?
        As for snakes, name a time when serpent is portrayed as good. Brian Jacques, C.S. Lewis, etc – portray snakes as bad. In the Bible there are the serpents in the wilderness (Numbers 21), God pierces the fleeing serpent (Job 26 – same word as Gen. 3 and Numbers 21). Recurringly, serpent is bad & dangerous in the Bible, and in life. (Even little ball pythons. I love those things so much, but it still tried to squeeze me, though it was only a foot long).

        If you want to create a creature that’s like a dragon, fine. But I don’t think we should call it a dragon because it’s clear in scripture that the dragon is Satan – exactly what that means, we don’t know.
        My problem is not with having good, fire-breathing scaly creatures. It’s with taking something God calls the devil in the holy, sufficient, inerrent cannon of scripture and making it good. If dragon is just ferocious, dangerous animal, then I don’t care what you do with it. Lions are ferocious and dangerous, but I have no problem with them being good because God never calls them Satan. (He says Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, but Satan is not a roaring lion, like it says he is the dragon). More on this issue is coming in the next section.

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  5. James Dunn says:

    “He says Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, but Satan is not a roaring lion, like it says he is the dragon.”
    I was actually going to bring this up, so I thank you for bringing it up yourself. This is, in my opinion, where you are making an error, if I am understanding you correctly. Revelation is apocalyptic genre, heavy in symbolism. The Bible is not saying that Satan is a dragon, anymore than Daniel is saying that the nations of Persia and Greece are respectively a ram and a goat, or a humped bear and a four-headed (and winged) leopard. Satan is a fallen angel, not a giant reptile with wings and fire-breath. In Revelation, he is not actually a dragon, he is represented as a dragon. There is no relevant difference between using a dragon as a symbol or using a lion as a simile. In both cases, Satan is associated with these animals because, like them, he is ferocious, dangerous and destructive. Therefore, arguing that dragons must be evil because they are used to represent Satan is, indeed, akin to making the same argument about the lion that Peter uses to describe the devil.
    Allow me to quote you again:
    “If you want to create a [good] creature that’s like a dragon, fine. But I don’t think we should call it a dragon because it’s clear in scripture that the dragon is Satan – exactly what that means, we don’t know.”
    The whole point of these essays is that we shouldn’t make “good dragons” in our fiction, right? Yet your reason here does not seem compelling: “the dragon is Satan – exactly what that means, we don’t know.” If we don’t know what “the dragon is Satan” exactly means, how can you then claim that it is different from comparing Satan to a lion? In order to give the lion a pass while condemning the dragon, you must demonstrate that “the dragon is Satan” means something significantly stronger than “like a roaring lion.” But if you say that we don’t know what “the dragon is Satan” means, then you are also saying you cannot demonstrate this.
    My position: We do know what “the dragon is Satan” means: that the dragon represents Satan; it neither means that dragons are Satan, nor that Satan is a dragon. And I also say that this can be demonstrated.

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    • kyleian says:

      Tell me if I missed something, but I read Revelation last night, and the reference to Satan being the dragon is the only place it clearly states what the things are, and it doesn’t just say it once, it says it TWICE. And the other references of dragon that I quoted in the post all show that the dragon is an anti-God figure, even if it is just symbolism. I can’t think of any other symbolism that always means the same thing throughout Scripture and that then the symbolism is clearly revealed at the end.
      I also think there’s a huge difference between using something as a symbol and something as a simile. A simile is a means of comparison in a way that helps you understand it better; a symbol has a much deeper meaning behind it. Christ is like a lamb says He is gentle. Christ IS the lamb implies much more – that He did what a lamb did, and died in place of us as propitiation for our sin.

      Sorry, let me clarify that statement: “It’s clear in scripture that the dragon is Satan – exactly what dragon means, we don’t know.” I meant that in terms of we don’t know if it means a 4-legged winged fire-breathing beast or a winged serpent or something else.
      My argument is that throughout Scripture, the dragon is something that is anti-God and tries to kill His people. He is at war with God. The lion is mentioned once, in a simile, and other than that is used to represent Christ – in symbolism.
      I believe that calling dragons good is taking what God calls bad – or uses to demonstrate evil – and saying we can make it good. There’s more on this coming, but I believe it’s an extremely dangerous place to be in.

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  6. pen2sword says:

    I’m not going to get in too deep with the whole lion/Satan thing, since this is really about dragons, but I am just thinking about Narnia, and how the lion is used as a symbol of Jesus in those books. How can CS Lewis use the symbol of a lion (Aslan) as Jesus if somewhere in the Bible it is said that Satan is like a lion? I think it’s because in other places in the Bible, the lion is not used as a symbol of evil. It’s said “the lion will lie down with the lamb”, which is really just talking about the two animals and nothing more. Not to mention that it is a nice paradox that God can be seen as both a Lion and a Lamb, demonstrating His sacrifice and gentleness along with His power and strength. I think you kind of said this before, but that’s what I was thinking.
    So maybe the dragon’s real problem is that it’s a reptile, which are by nature solitary, hoarding, not caring for their young, etc. If they were mammals, a different side of them might be seen. Which brings me back to Chinese dragons, which don’t really look like traditional European dragons at all, and may be a different thing entirely, meaning that they’re not actually reptiles and a “good” side could be seen in them.
    And that is the restriction of language. There are no more words in English for “dragon” even though there are so many variations of dragons that we would do better to have different names for all of them.

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    • kyleian says:

      I think that, as I said to James, it’s because of the difference between a symbol and a simile – a symbol has deeper meaning than a simile.

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  7. James Dunn says:

    I’ll say this about dragons: they are bad to the extent that they go around destroying things and killing people. An animal that kills a human should receive capital punishment, just like a human murderer. Perhaps dragons had the characteristic of seeking out humans and human villages and destroying, killing and eating — if they did, then they were a menace and needed to be wiped out. This is where the badness of dragons ends, though. There is nothing else beyond this that somehow makes them more satanic and demonic than the hungry lions that devoured many of our Christian forerunners in Rome.
    “Christ is like a lamb says He is gentle. Christ IS the lamb implies much more – that He did what a lamb did, and died in place of us as propitiation for our sin.”
    The only relevant difference here is the property of the lamb to which Christ is being compared: gentleness or propitiation. The whole point is comparison of characteristics. The dragon is a monster of an animal that goes around destroying, killing and devouring – the same things Satan does, and therefore a fitting symbol. This symbolism is based on dragons’ destructive behavior, not on some strange unexplainable satanic/demonic tie.
    Another note: not all references to dragonish animals in Scripture are tied to wickedness and evil. When Leviathan is referred to in Job (by Job in 9:3 and by God in chapter 41), he is not referred to as some sort of Satanic beast, but simply as a powerful monster that no man can fight and live (let alone win). Verse 34 does not say that Leviathan is guilty of the sin of pride. It says, “he is king over the sons of pride.” It is paralleled with the line, “he looks on everything that is high.” What the text is saying here is that Leviathan is greater than any man, no matter how powerful the man is. The sons of pride refers to people who are powerful, characterized by the sin of pride, and who force others to acknowledge their “superiority” – and yet when they face leviathan they must acknowledge his superiority, for he is a mighty unconquerable creature; this is what is meant by “he is king over” them. Furthermore, it is problematic to ascribe a sin like pride to a beast.

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    • kyleian says:

      Even if we only consider the attributes of destruction, God created them with those properties, and to make them act differently in an alternative world is to deny the way God created the world, which says that we want out of God’s order.
      However, I think that symbols have a deeper, more spiritual side than do similes. That’s what I was attempting to say by gentleness/propitiation – gentleness is a physical attribute, propitiation is spiritual.
      Thanks for pointing that problem out. I don’t think it changes the argument at all, though, for even if the Leviathan is not nailed as evil there, he is so, and very clearly so, later. In Isaiah, Leviathan is tied to something that God crushes when He comes on the Day of the LORD.

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  8. James Dunn says:

    It seems the relevance of simile vs. symbol really is the root of our disagreement. You are right: propitiation is far deeper than gentleness. But you can only conclude that symbols can be deeper than similes — they aren’t necessarily always deeper. Is there anything profound and deep when different animals are used to represent different kingdoms? Horns usually symbolize pagan kings and even the Antichrist — does this make horns on creatures (antelope, cattle, mountain goats) evil? Perhaps, we will have to agree to disagree on this. But you did make a quote that confused me:
    “Even if we only consider the attributes of destruction, God created them with those properties, and to make them act differently in an alternative world is to deny the way God created the world, which says that we want out of God’s order.”
    Are you saying God created dragons to be destructive? That he made them evil and therefore portraying them as good is rebelling against the way God made them? Even if you are saying God instilled these characteristics into dragons after the fall, this is problematic, because it lays the cause of evil right at God’s feet, rather than man’s.
    I argue that dragons are beasts without souls or intellects, and therefore not capable of good or evil the same way as creatures who do have souls and intellects, like humans and angels. When you take a dragon and put it in a fantasy world where it is given a soul and intellect, it is suddenly a different kind of creature, responsible on a much higher level for its actions, much like the talking creatures of Narnia.

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    • kyleian says:

      Aye, let’s agree to disagree there.
      I was thinking about that statement again later and need to change it around some, yes…
      God did not create dragons destructive. But He created dragons with the strength that later became destructive after the fall. The fall was not plan B, in God’s sovereignty it was plan A, so this was still in His perfect plan for redemptive history. Dragon became destructive and is used in the Bible to mean something that is anti-God and His people.
      Although it was created good, we now live in a post-fall world where a post-fall understanding of God’s creation is needed. Perhaps I am making a bigger deal of of this than it really is. BUT I would rather err on the side of making the devil as more dangerous than portray him as safe. He wants us to think that he isn’t dangerous, but this is an extremely scary position to be in.
      This is addressed more in the section that’s coming on Sunday.

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  9. Ezra says:

    I can see, in the modern fantasy trend, that portrayals of dragons might be considered not-so-innocent. Many dragon fan artwork has moved toward a rather demonic representation of the beasts which make them look malicious. But of course, this type of fantasy is usually already morally bankrupt.

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  10. James Dunn says:

    I just read your comment on my blog asking the Hebrew questions. Off the top of my head, I don’t know the Hebrew word for story, so I’ll do some research and come back to you on that one.
    About Psalm 104, one thing you want to keep in mind is that Biblical Hebrew (as opposed to modern Hebrew) doesn’t really have tenses in its verbs, but something else often called “aspect.” So, in verse 26, it’s not really a tense change, it’s an aspect change, from an “imperfect” verb to a “perfect” verb — completed action to uncompleted action. The ships still go about on the sea — they haven’t finished doing that. Creatures swarm in the oceans — they haven’t finished doing that. But the Lord made/formed the leviathan — this Hebrew verb is in its perfect form, meaning it’s a completed act that God accomplished in the past. The verb “to play” — the action of the Leviathan — is an infinitive construct, indicating something along the lines of purpose and result of the verb “made/formed.”
    To make a long explanation short: I don’t think you can relegate the non-negative description of Leviathan playing in the sea to the pre-fall past based on the Hebrew verbs — they don’t suggest that “something changed.” If you know anyone else who knows some Hebrew, you may want to run that by them as well, as I’m not really an expert.

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