Why does Job 41:1 in the the New International Version (NIV) Bible say that “Leviathan is “possibly the crocodile,” and then in other Bibles it is called a dragon?
There is a previous question and answer which speaks to this passage about leviathan. Here is the passage in four translations of the Bible:
Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord? (NASB)
Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope? (NIV)
Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down? (KJV)
Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, Or snare his tongue with a line which you lower? (NKJV) Job 41:1
Each Bible uses the English word “Leviathan” for this animal. None of the Bibles actually use the word dragon or crocodile. The difference in wording is found in the footnotes of one’s Bible or in a commentary. It is important to remember that the English Bible is a translation from the original Hebrew. The problem is found in the original Hebrew because this word is difficult to understand. As a result, some say the word means “crocodile” and others think it might mean “dragon.” Some prefer “serpent” or “sea monster.” How do we know which one is correct?
The best way to know is to read the description of this animal which is given in Job 41:1-34. This is not the description of a crocodile or a snake. It appears that a dragon or a sea monster is being described. So the Bible translators transliterated the original Hebrew word into English and as a result we have “LEVIATHAN.” That is, they took the sound of each Hebrew letter and replaced it with an English letter. What we mean by this is that they decided not to give us the meaning of the word and left the meaning ambiguous.The description leads us to believe the animal is a dragon. Is it possible that one existed? If we have never seen one, does this mean it never existed?
This animal is not a crocodile. Is it the Loch Ness monster? The description suggests a serpent like creature living in the water. The message of Job 41 is that we know very little about God’s creation and how it came into existence. God uses this example as a reminder that we are but grasshoppers compared to God.
It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers . . . (NASB) Isa. 40:22
Job had been complaining about God, and so God asked Job, “Why do you talk so much when you know so little?” (Job 38:2). Job knew the answer.