Where do dinosaurs fit into a biblical timeline?
Before we get started today, I wanted to let you know that the book, Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions, [is on sale on Amazon], at least for the Kindle version, for $2.99 for the next week, so til about January 14. If you haven’t picked up the book, this is a great opportunity to do so at a price that’s cheaper than a Starbucks drink, but for a product that’s a whole lot more valuable, if I do say so myself!
Now, onto today’s topic: dinosaurs and where they fit in a biblical timeline. The first thing to point out is that they’re not really in there, at least not by name. We don’t see the word dinosaur. It’s actually a relatively new word in language. That doesn’t mean that just because we don’t have a word for something that it’s not talked about. For instance, the word Bible doesn’t appear in the Bible. The word trinity doesn’t appear in the Bible, but nonetheless, the Bible is an actual thing and so is the trinity. Just because the word dinosaur doesn’t appear, that doesn’t mean they’re not talked about.
However, they don’t seem to be talked about even by description very much. There are a couple places, maybe in Job where we see the leviathan, and in Psalms, where we also see a large beast talked about in that way, but there isn’t necessarily the description of dinosaurs that we would expect based on what we know from archaeological evidence and fossils today.
Now, the main question, though, isn’t are they talked about but where do they fit on a timeline of history. Science and archaeology (or at least scientists, I should say) seem to put them within 65 million years to 225 million years ago. That’s a large timespan for when dinosaurs supposedly walked on the earth.
For some Christians, this seems to present a problem. Because if dinosaurs were walking on the earth 100 million years ago, then what does that mean for the Bible saying that the earth and all of creation is 6,000 years old about? There are a few things to mention here. One, this is only a problem if you hold to a young earth creation view where God created the heavens and the earth and all that exists in six literal days about 6,000 years ago. That age is arrived at by adding up all of the dates and genealogies in scripture.
If you hold to that reading of Genesis 1, then 200 million years is a large problem. If you don’t hold to that reading, then it ceases to be as much of a problem but there still is a question: If God created everything, then that would mean God created dinosaurs, so where did they exist relative to man?
We’ve talked about creation and evolution some in the past. I haven’t really laid out my view as fully as some of you would have liked, so I’m going to try and do that in a little more detail today. I believe the earth and everything that exists is old. I believe the universe is billions of years old. The earth is billions of years old. I also believe that are multiple ages to be considered. For instance, for the universe I’m fine accepting an age of 13.7ish billion years old for that. Earth would be maybe more like 4 billion. I get this information from the latest scientific data. Now I think sometimes we look very askance at science and we’re very suspicious of it, but we’re not suspicious of it when our doctor gives us a pill that will prevent us from having a heart attack, or that will lower our blood pressure, or will help with the bacterial infection we have. We’re not suspicious of that form of science, but when science tells us something about the age of the earth or something, we do become suspicious.
Now, it is worth pointing out that scientists do have biases just like everyone else, so we need to analyze the evidence, not just listen to the claim that is made. It’s also worth pointing out, as I have before, that the book of God’s words, the Bible, will not contradict the book of God’s works, in other words the natural world and all that’s in it. What God says he did and what God actually has done will be the same thing. When we use the reasoning capabilities that God has given us and we follow good procedures, and we analyze the evidence, and it points to things being 200 million years old, that’s not just something we should discard.
I think we sometimes look at Genesis 1 and we read it like 21st century people, in a very literal way, instead of asking what the context was. How would they have understood it then? How would this people, who didn’t even know God’s name at this point, and who had just come out from under Egyptian captivity, and had worshiped Egyptian gods, how would they have understood what was spoken or written in Genesis 1? We don’t often ask that question.
When we actually look into Egyptian beliefs, which these early Israelites were most likely holding to because they worshiped Egyptian gods, we start to see a lot of similarities. Yet the differences in Genesis 1 are striking. It’s almost like Moses, or God speaking through Moses I should say, was tearing down the most important parts of Egyptian beliefs and replacing those parts with what was most important to him.
The first thing God did after Egypt was not say, let me give you a science lesson. The very first part of the Bible is not let me teach you about how the earth was literally created. No, it’s so much more important than that. It’s let me tell you about who I am, who God is. He’s not the God of Egypt. He’s not the Sun God. There’s not a struggle every night as creation is fought for in some cosmic battle, as the Egyptians believed. No, there is peace. There was evening. There was morning. There was no event in between there.
Genesis 1 is a radical reframing of Egyptian cosmological beliefs, when we actually understand what they were, and the people to whom Genesis 1 was originally spoken or written would have understood that. All of that to say, the Bible doesn’t require us to hold to a literal six-day, solar day, understanding of Genesis 1. In fact, if we come to what some people call a literal understanding of the Bible, in this case in Genesis 1, and it wasn’t actually intended to be literal, then we’ve actually misunderstood scripture.
Not all of scripture is literal. Some of it is figurative. Some of it uses metaphorical language. In fact, a lot of it does. The Bible says that Jesus is a door. Does that mean when we get to heaven we should examine his hinges? No, it doesn’t. That is a metaphor, in the same way, I believe (as I go into much more detail in my book, and in some of the other posts on the site) Genesis 1 is also meant to convey something important but not something that is literal in terms of six solar days. Though it is literally true that God created the heavens and the earth. He’s very clear about that in Genesis 1. In fact, Yahweh is taking credit, for everything the Egyptians espoused to their multiple gods.
Back to dinosaurs. If we don’t have a young earth view where creation is 6,000 years old, then it’s much easier to place dinosaurs in the timeline of history. My view is one where God has progressively created over time. I don’t think there was one time when God just spoke all of creation into existence and there it was. I think he created progressively. I think the fossil record speaks to this, actually. There are times in history, as we look at the fossil record, where there is no other reasonable explanation for how such a great infusion of genetic material has become present except for the fact that God did it.
One such time would be the Cambrian era in a time called the Cambrian explosion, which happened about 542 million years ago. We actually see the evidence of a rapid appearance of most all of the types of animals that are in existence today. We see this in the fossil record. Within about 20 to 40 million years, all of the major types of animals appear, or phyla as they’re called. Evolution can’t account for that, but as Christians we understand that God did it. What is important about Genesis 1 is not the age of everything but the fact that God did it. Since God created everything, man is ultimately accountable to him. That is why this discussion of evolution and creation is vitally important. Because man is accountable to his creator, not just the random chance of the universe.
Where are dinosaurs? Dinosaurs would have been one of those types of animals that was progressively created over time. I have no problem with the fact that they went extinct about 65 million years ago. It actually doesn’t bother me that most, or at least many, of the types of animals that have ever existed have become extinct. That shouldn’t bother us. Because the world was created for humans by God. It was not created for animals. Animals were created for the pleasure and enjoyment of us as humans and also for the pleasure and enjoyment of God. Some animals serve their purpose by dying.
Dinosaurs fit that to. What we see when we look back through, one, all of scripture, and two, history, is that God has been preparing the world for mankind, and he, throughout biblical history, was preparing mankind ultimately for the redemption that would come through Christ. All of the Old Testament is a record of God working out a plan of salvation, a plan of redemption, from the Garden all the way to the cross. Now that plan of redemption has come to fruition and we can receive salvation and be regenerated in Christ, there’s a new plan that’s working out where the spirit is working in our lives and making all things new. Ultimately, when Jesus comes back, all things will be made perfect and new.
I do think this issue of dinosaurs is interesting. I actually get questions on it a fair amount. If we understand Genesis 1 to be a contextualized speaking of theology and not science to a group of people who would not have understood a scientific explanation, and more importantly, who had been worshiping foreign gods, then that doesn’t necessitate us to take a young earth view of 6,000 years or so.
When we combined that with the natural evidence that seems to point to things being billions or millions of years old, dinosaurs fit in that paradigm. It doesn’t in any way contradict the fact that God is sovereign, or that God created, or that man is accountable to God. It doesn’t. In fact, it fits all the more into that as we see a greater diversity of the living things that God has created for his glory, that he took pleasure in, that display his creativity. While some of these things we only get to observe and benefit from and appreciate in museums, nonetheless, God did the creative work, and we must be extremely clear on that.
Now, I also understand, in closing, that this is probably not the most compelling explanation. Just in the way of fairness, there is evidence that seems to point to a young earth understanding of creation that fits with dinosaurs existing. There seem to be fossils and other evidence where man’s footprints and dinosaur footprints seem to be in the same soil, in the same clay where we have a fossil of these type of things. There is evidence that is unaccounted for on both sides. Even when we don’t look at dinosaurs, there is evidence for a young earth view, and there is evidence for an old earth view. It’s not fair when someone says there’s no evidence for _____.
What we must always ask ourselves is where does the preponderance of the evidence point. Where is the greater weight of the evidence? Could I be wrong about my view that the earth and everything and dinosaurs are old? I could. Would that bother me? Well, I don’t like to be wrong. I wouldn’t like to have misled people, but this isn’t ultimately a very important issue. It’s an issue of great curiosity, but it’s not one where our salvation hangs on it or anything like that.
However, the importance here does come in when we need to be prepared to give and answer for how we explain the existence of these fossils and how we explain a biblical timeline. Christianity should have explanatory power. While the existence of dinosaurs is not a core Christian doctrine by any means, we do need to be prepared to give some people some things to think about when we talk about dinosaurs and where they might fit, and how that could have worked.
Just a quick summary. I think dinosaurs fit very well in the place where modern paleontologists put them: far in the past, about 225 million years to 65 million years ago, that timespan. I’m comfortable with that, and that in no way contradicts God’s creative power, his sovereignty, or man’s accountability to God. I hope this has been helpful, something to think about. Hopefully you’ve been able to see how I reasoned through this (albeit at a very fast and high level pace.) I look forward to spending this time with you next week. Head on over to Amazon, get Unapologetic on sale for $2.99. I hope you enjoy the book and you benefit from it. Until next time, this has been Brian Seagraves for Unapologetic.