When we think of unicorns, not many of us think of the Bible, or even of Christianity in general. We think of deep forests, gleaming white coats, and glistening horns – or perhaps rainbows and sunshine. However, unicorns are closely associated with the Bible and with Christianity, for a number of different reasons.
In some ways, this isn’t surprising. It feels like unicorns have touched their magic on every aspect of life, and religion is no exception. Unicorns actually appear in the Bible itself a total of nine times, and they are also used as an allegory for the life of Christ. Unicorns have also, interestingly, become used as a symbol against religion in general, with the Invisible Pink Unicorn making a stance for some skeptics!
Bible Verses That Talk About Unicorns
Firstly, it’s important to establish that the version of the Bible which mentions unicorns is the Authorized King James Version. Later versions often substitute another word for “unicorn” to limit confusion for readers. Bear in mind that any English Bible is a translation of the original Bible, so words are open to interpretation and different translations – which is why other words can be substituted for “unicorn” without the intended meaning being altered.
With that established, let’s look more closely at where these fabulous creatures appear in the Bible! They are in several books, including Numbers, Isaiah, Job, Deuteronomy, and Psalms, and they appear in Numbers 23:22, Numbers 24:8, Isaiah 34:7, Job 39:9-12, Deuteronomy 33:17, Psalm 22:21, Psalm 29:6, and Psalm 92:10. It may only be one translation, but that’s a lot of verses and a lot of references to unicorns!
Why Is The Unicorn In The Bible?
With that in mind, there’s one obvious question: why does the unicorn appear in the Bible? After all, many people believe the Bible represents facts, so does that mean unicorns roamed the Earth once?
It’s possible, but there are several other explanations for the appearance of unicorns in the Bible. The first one is that they are not meant to represent real creatures, but that they are symbols, meant to show something depending on the context in which they are referenced. Given that other mythical creatures, such as dragons, also appear in the Bible, this seems a logical explanation.
There are two other explanations which also help to rationalize the presence of these great equines, and explain why modern translations don’t include them – which they could do if they were just symbols.
Firstly, it may be a case of changing semantics, and the meaning of “unicorn” shifting with time. According to CreationToday, the word “unicorn” was often used to refer to single-horned rhinos in the past.
The first Webster’s dictionary, 1828, describes a “unicorn” as an animal with a single horn, and specifies that this word is frequently applied to rhinos: nowhere does it raise the question of horses. Indeed, the word “unicorn” seems to have commonly been used to distinguish between two-horned and one-horned rhinos in the past, while today we don’t make this distinction through the name.
Secondly, it may be a case of the translation struggling to stay true to the original. UnicornsRule suggests that in earlier texts, the creature referred to was a wild ox. When Greeks attempted to translate the Hebrew Bible, the word “re’em” caused issues as they had no equivalent word – the wild one-horned ox it is believed to have referred to was already extinct. They therefore substituted with their best word, “monokeros,” meaning “one-horned,” and this led to later issues with translation, until we ended up with the word “unicorn” as the best attempt.
It’s not surprising that over time and language differences, there was confusion about what the animal was supposed to be. The context makes it clear that it was a horned animal, but beyond that, little is known about the original intentions for the creature. Perhaps the unicorn is a case of “lost in translation,” though we like to think it’s less accidental than that.
Bible Verses About The Strength Of The Unicorn
It seems quite likely that the phrase “unicorn” was being used to refer to a single-horned rhino, rather than the great mythical equines we associate the word with today. This is particularly true when you look at how “unicorns” are described and what they are used to represent in the Bible – often strength.
The phrase from Numbers 24:8, “God brought them forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows,” could easily apply to rhinos, since they are extremely strong, powerful creatures. Clearly, God’s strength is being likened to theirs in the defense of his people.
In Isaiah 34:7, the quote “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness,” is also indicative of a unicorn’s powerful and dangerous nature, as here the great creatures are being humbled by man, alongside the bulls – perhaps the most feared of our agricultural animals.
Psalm 22:21 furthers the impression that unicorns are extremely powerful creatures, “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.” This speaks of danger from one of the most iconic ferocious animals – lions – and from unicorns. The two seem to pose an equal threat in this passage, which again demonstrates the sheer power unicorns represented at this time.
Comparing the delicate white equines we think of today with bulls, bullocks, and lions seems a strange leap, but if the unicorn represented a rhino, or even a great horned oxen, this makes more sense. Clearly, the unicorn was seen as a creature to fear and respect, one wild and capable of doing great damage to people. It was also a creature of enormous power, used to demonstrate the strength of God himself in Numbers 24:8.
What Does The Unicorn Symbolize In The Bible?
In wider Christianity, the unicorn has been used to represent some things we are more familiar with, such as purity, grace, the cross, monotheism, and incarnation, according to PreachingSymbols. In Job 39:9-12, the unicorn’s wildness and untameable nature is referred to in a discussion about the limitations of man; like the lion, the unicorn will not be subjected to tilling the fields without force.
Coupled with the passage from Isaiah 34:7, where the unicorn is to be slaughtered and humbled, the creature is clearly used at times to symbolize man’s dominance over other creatures.
These two passages strengthen the argument that the unicorn is like an ox, but also remind us of the legendary unicorns, who wouldn’t be caught by anyone impure. Clearly, subduing such a creature is the ultimate show of power by man over beast.
The Invisible Pink Unicorn
Despite how frequently the unicorn is used in the actual Bible, it has also been taken as a symbol of religious satire by the Church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn. The unicorn here is used to represent the paradox of religion; it cannot be both invisible and pink, yet it succeeds in this because it can ignore the laws of the universe. This parodies arguments that God is unknowable because He also stands outside the laws of the physical universe.
Like similar ridiculous parodies, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Celestial Teapot, the Invisible Pink Unicorn is used as a representation of everything contradictory about Christianity. The unicorn probably wasn’t chosen as a reference to its appearance in the Bible, but for its obviously mythical status. Very few people believe unicorns actually exist, so by choosing it as their symbol, followers automatically ask people to question it.
The Invisible Pink Unicorn is most specifically used to re-write phrases of the Bible in a way which encourages readers to question what they are reading. By replacing terms such as “God,” which inherently demands respect from followers of Christianity, with “Invisible Pink Unicorn,” people hope to encourage a more critical and thoughtful reading of the text than is otherwise permitted.
The Church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn has, unsurprisingly, been criticized by other religions for mocking religious practices and for pretending to be a serious religion without any texts or history. However, it’s a difficult argument to maintain, and usually encourages followers of the Church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn to respond by writing such texts in further mockery of monotheist religions.
Palmyria shows many examples of the typical parodies being used. For example, when they discuss the Invisible Pink Unicorn’s pizza preferences, they may be making reference to the rules about shellfish from Leviticus. Similarly, terms such as “‘Nuff said’” deliberately contrast and mock the seriousness of religious doctrines by being very modern, informal, and humorous.
The unicorn has had a great deal of influence on the Bible, and appears repeatedly throughout the text. Why it is there and what it means will probably be a long-standing source of debate, but it seems most likely that it’s an issue with translation, or with modern language having changed the meaning of the word “unicorn.”
The “unicorns” in the Bible probably do refer to an extinct wild ox or a rhino, and translators have done their best to stay true to the original while keeping the facts. The horn took the main focus, which led to the use of the word unicorn. It’s just unfortunate – or perhaps fortunate and entertaining, depending on your perspective – that unicorns today tend to refer to mythical equines, and are often seen as pure fantasy.
Some people believe that the Bible refers to real unicorns and that such creatures simply do not exist among us anymore. While the theory has merit, as many animals have gone extinct, we like to think that unicorns are still out there somewhere, trotting on the edge of the imagination, not buried and forgotten by the turn of time. Meanwhile, we love that Bible unicorns will continue to confuse, amuse, and delight readers across the globe as we all struggle to reconcile the beautiful mythical equines with a serious religious text.