The King James Bible says there are unicorns


From another thread:

Is a unicorn a real animal?

So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the King James Bible says there are unicorns!!!.

Now assuming that my scientific knowledge is correct and that the unicorn is a mythological beast, does this mean the Bible has errors.

If the Bible were to have a scientific error, what does it mean. Is it inconsequential because God did not intend the Bible to be a science textbook? Or is it serious because then we could logically not trust any part of the Bible?

Is there an explanation for the unicorn here. Since I am sure I am not the first one that pointed this out, I am sure that somebody has tried to explain this as “not an error”. Do these explanations make any sense?

What does this all mean?

Just curious because this sort of fascinates me.


Here are the search results for “unicorn” in the Douay-Rheims Bible (far most trust-worthy than the KJV)


Great topic. I’m curious about this one too.


Yeah…I just looked up all the Scriptures cited in my New American Standard Bible and they were all translated as “wild ox”.

So one possibility might be that this is a translation error in the King James Bible that was corrected in newer versions.

Still there are troubling implications to this.

For one it means that the English speaking world for a couple hundred years anyway had an inaccurate and misleading Bible on the issue on whether unicorns are real animals. Why would God allow this to happen and then fix it in a newer translation a couple of hundred years after the fact. Why would God allow the only English Bible (for a period of time anyway) to be scientifically misleading?

Questions and more questions.:confused:


It appears to come from the earlier Coverdale Bible, which was largely based on Tyndale. The contemporary Geneva Bible did not contain it.


Do you doubt that the unicorn is what you picture in your mind when you picture a unicorn?

Since when are big nasty beasties, or mysterious and super-virtuous horsies, off limits as literary devices, which are to be taken literally and NOT literalistically?

How is it an “error” to call something, “as strong as the giant (or unicorn) who holds up the earth”?

Or, “sharper than the tongue of a harpie in Manolo Blahnik’s!”

You need to check into rehab, er… I mean, check into the various levels and types of meaning that scripture presents to the would-be interpreter.


“Wild ox” is one of the possibilities: another is “aurochs”, & “wild bull” is a third :slight_smile: They are very similar creatures.

Why is it such a problem that the AV contains that particular error ? FWIW, the unicorn may be fabulous to us, now - but Leviathan, Behemoth, Rahab & Tannin were equally so in the Hebrew Bible. The first two may be recognisable creatures such as the whale or the alligator in some references; but not in all. The last two are always monsters (the woman Rahab is an entirely different kettle of fish).


The KJV says there are unicorns because “unicorn” just means “thing with one horn”, and there is a type of rhino, common in the Mideast/Fertile Crescent region in ancient times, with one horn.
The Bible doesn’t have errors. It does have unspecific terms, at times, for poetic reasons, and uses some figurative language for the same reasons. Actually, most long documents have these things, and so do almost all narrative poems, especially ANE ones, historic in intent or not.
The difference between literal and literalistic is that a literal reading of “the moon is full and the stars are out” would be that half the moon (that is, one full face of it) and thousands of stars can be seen through the atmosphere, whereas a literalistic one would be that the entire moon exists and the stars are not in a container. The first describes a weather condition and the second is always true and thus describes nothing. To call the Bible mistaken would require the same torture of words that it would take to say the same about any sports, weather or front-page news page. A non-starter.


Oh…so there was a contemporary of the KJV that did not use the misleading word “unicorn”. I didn’t know that.

I wonder why then the Geneva Bible didn’t become the Gold Standard of Bibles as the King James was for so many years.


For starters the Bible was never intended to be a science text. There are plenty of scientists out there to write those, but only one God to inspire a scripture that teaches the necessary eternal truths.

Even the Bible itself admits that it isn’t a complete source of knowledge (at the end of John’s Gospel, f’rinstance), and I’d say promulgation of scientific knowledge was the last thing that was on either God’s mind as He was inspiring the writers or the minds of the writers as they were writing it.

So yes, it can have scientific errors and nonetheless be true as a religious-legal text


The Geneva Bible was the preferred version for a long time. The KJV happened to have been favored by many small groups who were well-connected to the budding printing industry in the late 17th-early 18th Centuries, so it eventually eclipsed the Geneva in popularity by sheer availability. In the 19th Century conservative groups pused KJV-Onlyism as an anti-Catholic maneuver.


Yeah…maybe I do need to check into rehab.:rotfl:

I take your position to mean that the (King James) Bible referring to the word “unicorn” is no big deal.

Perhaps. But if this is “no big deal” I wonder what else is “no big deal”. What about Genesis 1 where the world was created in 7 24 hour days about 6-10K years ago.

Now if you believe the world was actually created 10 billion years or so ago, then maybe Genesis 1 is an inaccuracy in the Bible that is “no big deal”. Or maybe Genesis 1 was never meant to be literally interpreted.

But if it is not meant to be literally interpreted, how would I as an average reader know this? After all, Genesis 1 does not have a verse that says “do not take this chapter iterally”?

And this does not even touch on the verses in the Bible that I have read that indicate that universe is geocentric (I have even read a couple of verses that might indicate a flat earth…dunno about that one though).

Questions and more questions still?


So you are of the position that the Bible can possibly have scientific errors (and presumably historical errors) and still be the inspired word of God.

Question…is this an issue that Catholics disagree upon. Two posts above from yours another Catholic says:

The Bible doesn’t have errors

(Aside: I have seen quoting from more than one source done here but I am stupid and dunno how to do it).

I do know that some folks are quite insistent that the Bible can not have scientific or historical errors. I might be inclined to believe this…but I am curious…where is the verse in the Bible that indicates that a scientific or historical error in the Bible is impossible.

In other words by going to great lengths to defend the word unicorn in these verses, are we defending something that the Bible does not even claim for itself?

Just curious.


But will the average Joe Bible reader interpret these passages as a generic beast with one horn.

When I look up the word unicorn in my online English dictionnary, I only get one definition.

Main Entry: uni·corn
Pronunciation: \ˈyü-nə-ˌkȯrn\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English unicorne, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin unicornis, from Latin, having one horn, from uni- + cornu horn — more at horn
Date: 13th century
: a mythical animal generally depicted with the body and head of a horse, the hind legs of a stag, the tail of a lion, and a single horn in the middle of the forehead

Nothing about a generic one horned animal in my dictionnary anyway.

At the very least, the King James translation appears to translate the original languages in a manner that is…hmm…misleading.

Just asking stupid questions here…that’s all.


Strngnrth is the only one on this thread who’s said so - if he or she means it can’t have incomplete or partial scientific or historical information, or doesn’t merely reflect the scientific and historical information of its own day, then he or she needs to read what the Church has said on sacred scripture in Dei Verbum, from which it would appear that he or she is very much in the minority view:

Par 12

"However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (IE not in a manner that is ‘practically perfect in every way’ - my comment) (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

… The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. (7) For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another. (8)"

And more to the point from Par 15:

“These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy.”

As an entirely separate issue, we know that translations of scripture can’t possibly be guaranteed freedom from all error - we have English bibles that have been misprinted to read ‘thou SHALT commit adultery’ instead of ‘thou shalt NOT’, so the idea that translations are all perfect is ludicrous.


Well wasn’t there a song in the 60’s that said the silly unicorns hid when Noah was loading up the Ark and ended up drowning in the flood. Ergo, no unicorns after Noah. Is that such a problem? :smiley: .


The King James Bible in using the translation unicorn gave one of it’s infrequent footnotes so that the reader would understand what was being spoken of and that was a rhinocerous. The single horned rhinocerous.

Now if people read it and think a mythical animal like a horse with a single horn, that’s not the fault of the KJV translators.

Now here’s what happened. Linguistic work in the 1800’s finally showed it was a species of extinct oxen in view. Unfotunately, in the 1600’s it was a word for an animal unknown to the translators. And it’s not really their fault. What they did was standard among transltors, when they didn’t know the Hebrew they followed earlier translations in languages they did know.

This particular one has quite a history. It starts with the Septuagint. Literally meaning the monohorn.

The Vulgate follows the Septuagint using both the Latin rhinocerous and unicorn.

Luther followed with the singlehorn in German and Tyndale did in English.

I don’t know where anyone got the idea the Geneva didn’t use the unicorn translation, maybe they didn’t get it in a text search because the original Geneva followed the older English style and so unicorn starts with a “v”.

Num 23:22 Geneva
(22) God brought them out of Egypt: their strength is as an vnicorne.

And so everyone followed the previous.

Now it’s not such a bad thing. For one word disproves the double inspiration of all those translations people over the years claimed were perfect. The Septuagint, the Vulgate the King James all have this sign of the lack of knowledge of the word by the translators and so prove God was not inspiring the translators.

The only theological importance at all is sometime you will run into someone who claims Jesus was hung on a stake and not a cross, because of the unicorn mistake.



OK. So you are saying also it is a translation error.

Overnight I began to think of logical possibilities concerning this phenomenon, and began to concoct a list of uncomfortable questions with each possibility. And I considered this possibility.

The Bible in its original languages is without error in all respects (including science and history). However translations of the Bible are not inspired and not inerrant.

(1) Why would God insure that the Bible is totally without error (including scientific and historical errors) in its original languages, and yet He would allow the possibility of errors at the point of translation. Certainly a God that could deliver the Bible to man completely error free could complete the job through its translation.

(2) The only answer I can come up with on 1 is that God never intended that a Bible that is totally defect free in the areas of history and science be delivered to all of the human race. If that is true, then why fight holy wars on the issue of inerrancy. Even if the above theological proposition is true, it is obviously not that important from a practical divine perspective…

(3) Wouldn’t this possibility undercut my ability to believe the Bible at all. I mean, if unicorns are a translation error, what other translation errors might be in my Bible. Could John 3:16 be a translation error? How do I know what translation errors are and are not in the Bible?

(4) At any rate, doesn’t this throw a monkey wrench into the notion that the Bible is self-interpreting. What do I as an average Joe reader of the English Bible do when I come to a portion of the translated English text that has at the surface an obvious scientific error. It seems that my only recourse would be to consult an outside authority that can explain to me the translation error that occurred. But wait, when I must consult an outside authority to get the proper interpretation of a passage of Scripture, doesn’t that blow to bits the notion that the Bible is self-interpreting? Well maybe it is self-interpreting in its original languages. But what is the sense of having a self-interpreting Bible if we all need to know Hebrew and Greek for us to actually be able to use a self-interpreting Bible.

Questions and more questions?


I have heard KJV-onlyists insist it refers to this animal:


The Douey-Rheims Bible uses Rhino. My Revised Standard Version Bible (both Lutheran and 2nd Catholic edition) has Wild Ox.

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