Genesis 1:20-23

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20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Meaning of "after their kind"

The phrase "after its kind", or a variant, occurs ten times in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. It is understood differently according to various readings of the chapter:

Bro Alan Fowler writes:

. . .  before we leave Genesis 1 we need to consider one other aspect of the language. Let the earth bring forth In describing the origin of plants, God said, "Let the earth bring forth . . . " Of aquatic animals God said, "Let the waters bring forth . . . " and of land animals God again said, "Let the earth bring forth. . . " These creative fiats provide no details regarding the mechanism or the rate of the creative process. We are however given a clue regarding the original units of creation. We are told that these were created 'after their kind'. What are kinds? The answer may be found in Leviticus 11 where categories of 'unclean' birds and insects are divided into 'kinds' which are groups of related species. So we may infer that God created the major categories of plants and animals, i.e. genera, and that this was followed by the evolution of many different species.

What is a "kind"?

The implications of the word "kinds" are broad. Consider wolves, dingos and domestic dogs — classified by scientists as Canis lupus, Canis lupus dingo, and Canis lupus familiaris — all of them "kinds" of dog! The existence of one of these different kinds does not preclude the existence of the others, or of ancestral dogs.

No. 6 in the Scientific American "creationist nonsense" target list is related to kinds: "If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" (Note that "descended from monkeys" is a very inaccurate parody: nobody believes that humans are descended from monkeys.)

Tannim and Taninnim (v.21)

תַּנִּין (tannin, plural tanninim) means serpent, dragon, or sea monster.

and will kill Leviathan, the tannin (dragon) in the sea — but in the end the tanninim will praise him.

The "serpent at the bottom of the sea" in Amos 9:2-3 is a nahash, not a tannin.


Strong's Concordance "original word": תַּנִּין
Brown-Driver-Briggs: תַּנִּין (erroneous תַּנִּים)
Translated in OT as serpent(s), dragon, sea monster(s)

A modern writer's take: Serpents or Sea Monsters - The Tannin Mystery by Michael Jaron, Jerusalem Post opinion piece writer. (The illustration that is now missing at this link was a ferocious-looking reconstruction of Dunkleosteus terrelli, a species of Dunkelosteus.)


Tanninim תַּנִּינִ֖ם is the plural of tannin: dragons, sea monsters, or serpents.

  • The "great sea monsters" of Genesis 1:21 are tanninim (see below).
  • The miraculous serpents of Exodus 7 are tanninim.
Psalm 74:13
Psalm 148:7
Isaiah 51:9-10
Jeremiah 51:37

The Tanninim in Genesis 1:21

Of particular interest is the specific attention paid to the "great creatures of the sea" in verse 21. Here the author returns to the verb he has not used since verse 1, bara', and which will only be used again in this chapter in verse 27. This use raises the significance of these creatures. In the ancient world the cosmic seas were populated with creatures that operated against the ordered system. Whether antithesis or enemy, they were viewed as threats to order, as they inhabited the region that was itself outside of the ordered system. This is the very reason why the author of Genesis would single them out for comment. Since there is no cosmic warfare or conquest in Genesis as is sometimes part of the ancient Near East picture, the text indicates that these creatures are simply part of the ordered system, not enemies that had to be defeated and kept in check. In Genesis these creatures are fully under God's control.

John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, p.65
Comment by BP — True, "the writer returns to bara" but the tanninim are not the only objects of the verb.

The translation "whales" was referenced here (5.3.4) in our responses to the AACE discussion questions.

See Appropriation of ANE mythology.

Ways to interpret these verses

Compare Burke, D, Interpretive Models for the Genesis Creation

A challenge to our faith in the Scripture?

  • Interpreted theologically, the passage shows Yahweh as the One God, the sole, benevolent creator of all living things.
  • Interpreted as polemic, these verses demote the Tannim from its cosmic status in pagan mythology as a great monster of the deep to merely another sea creature, created "to play", completely under the control of the One God. Nevertheless, however demoted the tanninim are, there were mythological monsters, and this fact can challenge our understanding of what the Bible actually is. See discussion at Echoes and Appropriations of Pre-Biblical and other accounts of Creation.