Of Skeptics and Unicorns

“Did you know there are unicorns in the Bible?”

That question is sometimes used by skeptics who want to ridicule Christians. It’s meant to embarrass anyone who claims that the Bible is the word of God. After all, how can you take a book seriously — much less treat it as an authoritative guide for living — when it speaks of mythical, magical creatures as if they were real?

So, what about it? Does the Bible talk about unicorns? Well, yes. And no.

The word “unicorn” appears nine times in the Old Testament — if you’re reading the King James Version. The word comes from the Latin unicornis, meaning “one-horned,” which is found in older Latin translations of those passages (e.g., Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21; Isaiah 34:7). The word in the origi­nal Hebrew text is re’em. Although somewhat obscure, it probably describes a kind of ox, and modern English versions translate it “wild ox.” It’s important to realize that the Hebrew term does not denote “one-horned” at all. In fact, Deuteronomy 33:17 describes the re’em as having “horns” (plural). The word has no relation whatsoever to the mythical horse-like crea­ture that “unicorn” generally calls to mind.

According to the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, when the Old Testa­ment was translated into Greek, the Hebrew re’em was rendered as monokeros (“one horn”) on the basis of drawings from the ruins of ancient Babylon, which depicted the ox in profile with only one horn visible. Later Latin translators simply used the equivalent unicornis, and the King James translators of the early 1600s brought that over into English as “uni­corn.”

The “unicorns in the Bible” argument is a phony charge that is born of either ignorance or dishonesty. Next time someone tries it on you, be sure to enlighten them.