I was recently listening to a Christian radio show and the host was trying to give an example of a myth and referred to unicorns. The caller commented that since the Bible teaches that unicorns exist, he does not consider them mythical. It took me off guard. Some Christians believe that unicorns are real? I had heard rumours of such accusations by atheists but I never took them seriously. The young earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis provides a defence for the existence of unicorns here. I actually think the AiG articles has some good things to say, although it will still take some people off guard by defending the existence of unicorns.
Does the Bible teach that unicorns are real? If you search a modern translation, such as the New International Version or the English Standard Version, you will get no results. But if you search the King James Version, you will find references to unicorns.
“God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. God brought him 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. His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil. 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.” (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9–10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7 KJV)
What do we do with this? It is always important to go to the original languages instead of relying on a four hundred year old English translation. The Hebrew word translated ‘unicorn’ in the KJV is rʾem. It comes from a root meaning ‘to be high.’ A lexicon will often give a translation of a buffalo.
Well, a buffalo is not quite the same a unicorn. Where did the unicorn come from? In the centuries before Jesus, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was translated into Greek as the Septuagint (LXX). The Greek word that was used here was monokerōtos. This word literally means ‘one horn.’ So what do we have here? We have the original passage having a vague Hebrew word that does not tell us anything about the animal. We have the Greek translators struggling to translate the Hebrew and using a word for one horn even though that is not found in the Hebrew. The translators of the King James Version were influenced by the Greek and ended up with a unicorn.
Does the Bible teach that unicorns exist? The short answer is no. The Hebrew word has no connection with the mythical creature of fairy tales. What was the animal that the authors were thinking of? A buffalo? A rhinoceros? We will never know. But it was not a unicorn.