The Bible is full of interesting stories set in real places you can visit today. These stories often describe people interacting with animals, like sheep, camels, donkeys, and fish. However, the Bible also contains descriptions of living beings that we have never seen or heard of before. These parts of the Bible are fascinating to read, but also controversial. Are they meant to be taken as literal fact, or as symbolism? It’s not always clear from the text, and Bible scholars differ in their interpretations.
In this article, we describe fascinating creatures in the Bible. We give examples of interpretations and provide references to Bible passages so you can read them for yourself. So, get ready to be perplexed, amazed, and sometimes a little scared! Here we go!
1. The Nephilim
Does the Bible teach that real, human giants once walked the Earth? That’s what some people say the “Nephilim” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4 were. To figure this out, we need a little bit of the backstory. The Bible begins with the story of the creation of the world, including the first humans, Adam and Eve. God gave these first humans a perfect garden on the condition that they remain obedient to Him. They disobeyed him and God sent them out of the garden into the world. Here, they struggled to support themselves. They had two sons, but one of them, Cain, murdered his brother Abel. Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, who was righteous like his brother Abel. After this, as people began to multiply, the “sons of God” began to marry the “daughters of humans.” It states that the Nephilim lived on Earth and describes them as “heroes of old, men of renown.”
The interpretation of these verses is highly disputed, but here are two suggestions that have been made:
- “Sons of God” are the righteous descendants of Seth. “Daughters of humans” are the rebellious descendants of Cain. When they intermarried, they produced ambitious offspring who became legendary heroes.
- “Sons of God” are fallen angels and “daughters of humans” are just ordinary people. These demons intermarried with people and produced giants who performed legendary acts.
The Nephilim appear again in Numbers 13:33, when Israelite spies go into the land of Canaan. They report that the Nephilim were there, and went on to say, “We seemed like grasshoppers” compared to them. What’s the verdict? Were they giants? Nobody knows. But they aren’t described in more detail. It seems they were not an important part of the story the writer was trying to tell.
Angels are mentioned frequently in the Bible as supernatural creatures with great power who appear and disappear from our world. They can have different appearances, titles, and areas of responsibility and perform different kinds of services. Sometimes they looked just like ordinary people, and sometimes their appearance was bright, powerful, and frightening. In fact, angels usually said, “Don’t be afraid!” to the people they appeared to.
Sometimes people wanted to worship them, but God’s angels always refused such worship. They encouraged the worship of God instead (Revelation 22:8-9). Additionally, the Bible maintains a distinction between angels and people. It says that angels serve God’s people, and that people will judge the angels in the afterlife (Hebrews 1:14, 1 Corinthians 6:3)
Roles Angels Performed in the Bible
- Guardians: God placed an angel with a shining sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. This was to prevent Adam and Eve from returning to it (Genesis 3:24)
- Messengers: Three strangers appeared to Abraham, ate dinner with him, and talked with him about God’s plans (Genesis 18). The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). A large group of angels announced the birth of Jesus to a group of shepherds (Luke 2:8-20).
- Executioners: God inflicted a plague on the people of Israel as a result of a poor decision by their king. This is pictured as an angel striking down people with a sword (2 Samuel 24:15-17).
- Warriors: The Bible says there was a war in heaven. A large group of angels led by Lucifer rebelled against God. A loyal faction led by the archangel Michael defeated them (Revelation 12:7).
- Comforters: Angels appeared to Jesus after his temptation by Satan in the desert to tend to his needs (Matthew 4:11)
Demons in the Bible are “fallen angels.” They have many of the same abilities as good angels but use them for evil purposes. The Bible describes a conflict in heaven in which an angel known as Lucifer, Satan, or “the Devil,” rebelled against God and led a large number of other angels to do the same (Revelation 12:7). The Archangel Michael led an army of faithful angels to fight against them and succeeded in throwing them out of heaven to the Earth. On Earth, they play a destructive role intended to frustrate God’s plans, inflict suffering on humans, and cause as many people as possible to join their rebellion against God.
Demons in the Bible do not take a human form independently, but instead, they possess people or animals and cause them to act in destructive ways. For example, in one story, Jesus expels a large number of demons from a possessed man, who then infest a herd of 2,000 pigs, who stampede into a lake and drown (Mark 5:11-13). The book of Revelation depicts Satan, the leader of demons, with the symbolic image of a red dragon but it also says he “masquerades as an angel of light” (Revelation 12:9, 2 Corinthians 11:14). The main idea is that he tries to make himself and what he is doing look good when actually it is harmful. According to the book of Revelation, the ultimate fate of Satan and his evil minions is Hell, a place of punishment (Revelation 20:10).
4. Leviathan, the Sea Monster
Several passages in the Old Testament mention a sea monster called the “Leviathan,” but it is not clear whether this is a literal creature that actually lived, or a fictional animal used for symbolism. The Bible alludes to the Leviathan as a strong, armor-plated sea creature with a lot of teeth and the ability to breathe fire from its mouth. It leaves a trench in the mud when it walks on land and is powerful enough to churn up the sea. It is far too strong for people to capture it (Job 41). Yet it also says God formed Leviathan to “frolic” in the deep sea (Psalm 104:26) and that God could kill it and use it to feed creatures in the desert (Psalm 74:14). Isaiah 27:1 calls Leviathan a gliding, coiling serpent and says that God would one day kill it with a great sword.
Some people think Leviathan was an actual extinct species, perhaps a prehistoric reptile or even an actual fire-breathing dragon that survived into the human era. Of course, ancient people might have only seen a fossil of an extinct species after erosion exposed it and then constructed stories based on these findings. Many cultures have legends of sea monsters, including the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia that were near Israel.
Another possibility is that the writers of the Bible used a common mythological creature as a poetic example that God is stronger than the strongest creatures.
Ezekiel was an Old Testament prophet who described a vision of a windstorm with flashing lightning and an intense light at the center. Within, he saw four creatures known as cherubim. In modern culture, the word “cherub” (plural: “cherubim”) brings to mind a chubby little baby angel with short wings, curly hair, and probably a bow and arrow. Instead, Ezekiel describes the cherubim as each having four wings and four faces: of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Beside each was a strange contraption: two intersecting wheels spinning within each other and moving alongside each of the cherubim. Scholars say these were the cherubim’s spirits. Each wheel is covered all over with eyes (Ezekiel 1:4-21). The strangeness of these visions and the mechanical description of the wheels has led some people to speculate Ezekiel was describing a UFO encounter!
The Bible describes a similar description of four living creatures around the throne of God, in Revelation 4:6-8. They are in the form of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle and each has six wings. Instead of wheels, the creatures themselves are covered with eyes. These creatures are part of a supernatural realm. These descriptions use a lot of meaningful symbolism. For example, scholars explain these visions as creatures under God’s power. They represent different aspects of creation or even the kinds of deities worshiped by different people. They are powerful and all-seeing but subordinate to the one God and ready to carry out his wishes.
6. Daniel’s Prophetic Creatures
The Old Testament book of Daniel describes Daniel as a prophet of God who served as an advisor to the Babylonian and Persian kings after they conquered Israel and Judah. Daniel is able to interpret dreams. In chapter 2, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a stomach and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made of mixed iron and clay. In the dream, a rock flies at the feet of the statue, destroying it. The statue then grows and fills the Earth. Daniel believed that these materials represented successive kingdoms that would rule, becoming less glorious as time went on, until God destroyed them and set up his own unending kingdom.
In chapter 7, Daniel has a dream. He describes seeing four beasts coming out of the sea: a lion with an eagle’s wings; a bear eating three ribs; a leopard with four wings and four heads; and a terrifying beast with iron teeth, bronze claws, and 10 horns. Like the king’s dream, this vision is symbolic of different kingdoms that would rule Israel. These may be Babylonia, Media, Persia, and the Seleucid Greeks. Others combine Media and Persia into the second beast, making the Greeks the third, and Rome fourth. This would mean Jesus’ birth was the beginning of the new eternal kingdom, or global church. Others say the feet of iron and clay represent the countries in modern times, and that Jesus will come back to Earth during this era. The basic idea is that human kingdoms are temporary. God’s permanent kingdom will one day replace them.
7. The Dragon
Revelation is the last book of the Christian Bible. It is written in a style called “apocalyptic.” This style concealed the meaning from people who were not part of the community and reveal it to those who understood how to interpret it. It encouraged persecuted people and alluded to the ultimate destruction of their persecutors. Christians today have differing interpretations of many of the numbers, images, and symbols in the book. One of the key images of evil in the book is a red dragon with seven heads wearing crowns and 10 horns. He is identified as an “ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan. (The dragon’s actions are in chapters 12, 13, 16, and 20). For example, the dragon:
- Sweeps a third of the stars (angels?) out of the sky with its tail and flings them to the earth.
- Tries to kill Jesus.
- Gets thrown down to Earth along with angels who followed him.
- Wages war against God’s people.
- Motivates two “beasts” to get people to worship him.
- Sends out demonic spirits.
- Will be imprisoned and eventually sent to Hell, a place of punishment.
The dragon is a fearsome creature in Revelation, but the story ends well with his defeat and universal peace and harmony under God’s rule on a new Earth.
8. The Beasts of the Sea and the Earth
The author of Revelation records a vision in chapter 13 that includes two beasts: one that emerges from the sea and another that comes out of the land. Here is how they compare:
The Beast of the Sea
This creature looked like a leopard with a bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth. These are all elements of the creatures Daniel saw in his vision of future kingdoms many years before. This beast has seven heads with names on them that insult God, and 10 horns with a crown on each. The wounded head healed. This creature persecuted God’s people through Satan. All the people of the world who do not follow God worship this beast instead.
The Beast of the Earth
The second beast came out of the Earth. It had two lamb’s horns and spoke with the voice of a dragon (Satan). This creature worked together with the Beast of the Sea to get people to worship it by doing incredible wonders, like bringing down fire from the sky. It also coerced people into this worship by controlling their ability to buy and sell goods. Finally, this beast was associated with the number 666.
Interpretations of the Beasts
There are a great many conflicting and imaginative interpretations of these beasts. They may describe the Roman Empire. Its capital sat on seven hills and Christians who refused to worship the emperor were persecuted. Additionally, the insane and cruel Emperor Nero was called “Beast.” Some believe that 666 references the name of Nero. Others say that the beasts represent governments and religions working hand-in-hand to mislead and control people so they will not follow the true God. Still others argue that they represent a future universal government and world religion. This organization will persecute Christians in the years before the world comes to an end.
The details of Revelation are hard to understand, but the main idea of it is pretty clear. God’s people will go through times of intense persecution, but Jesus will come back to Earth one day. He will judge all people who have ever lived. There will be a new creation under His rule. There will be no suffering or other negative aspects.
Weird and Wonderful
The Bible has a lot of weird and wonderful stories. Did people ever share the Earth with actual giants and dragons? Is there really a different supernatural layer to the universe? Does it contain angels and demons fighting a war, presided over by a Creator who takes human form in Jesus? Do they appear to people in friendly or scary forms and try to influence our actions or even take possession of us? And why does the Bible use images of strange monsters and hybrid animals to describe the future, instead of directly saying what they mean? This short survey of some of the fantastic beasts and creatures featured in the Bible shows why the Bible remains the best-selling, and the most controversial book in the world.
Summary of 8 Fantastic Beasts and Creatures Featured in the Bible
|Beasts & Creatures
|Example of Where They Can Be Found
|Leviathan, the Sea Monster
|Daniel’s Prophetic Creatures
|The Beasts of the Sea and the Earth
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ironika/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.