Question: Did dragons ever exist? If so, then what happened to them? If they did not exist, then why are they mentioned in the Bible?
Answer: Your question consists of three distinct parts, so let me attempt to answer them one-by-one.
1. Did dragons ever exist? Of course they did. They were created by God on days five and six of the creation week when God made all the creatures which swim in the seas, walk on the earth, and fly in the skies.
While this may initially seem like an incredible claim, let it be acknowledged that every culture in history, whether it be through primitive art on cave walls or epic poems like Beowulf, has acknowledged the existence of dragons.
Most modernists would immediately dismiss such evidences as legend, but this does not settle the matter. It only raises another question: How could so many diverse cultures on so many different continents all share the same exact legend?
The Bible easily answers this question by explaining that all cultures have a “shared” history. More specifically, they all began in the Garden of Eden where mankind first saw the dragons and even named them (Genesis 2:19).
This concept of a “shared” anthropological history in an important one to affirm in any study of antiquities, but you asked specifically about the biblical record, so let me focus on that.
The Bible clearly affirms the existence of dragons. A quick word search will result in over thirty scripture references. The Hebrew word behind most of the references is tanniyn and it is translated variously as “dragon, serpent, sea-monster, etc.”
Two of the most interesting passages are found in Job 40-41 where the massive Behemoth and fire-breathing Leviathan are described. Isaiah also writes about how fearsome and formidable these animals were in chapters 27 and 51 of his prophesies.
2. What happened to the dragons? The Bible does not tell us how they became extinct. Like most modern cases of extinction, it was probably due to a mixture of environmental factors and over-hunting.
3. Why are dragons mentioned in the Bible? Dragons are mentioned in the Bible because the people who wrote the Bible believed they existed. The Hebrews called them tanniyn, the Greeks called them drakon, and those who translated the Bible into English simply transliterated the latter term into dragon.
Keep in mind that both the Hebrew and Greek words were used to refer to a variety of beasts. They seem to have referred more to a genus than any particular species.
Some of our modern Bible translations have attempted to reflect this fact by being more precise in some passages, rendering tanniyn as “elephant, hippopotamus, crocodile, etc.” Such translations, however, would still not account for the gargantuan beasts which Job described. If one wanted to find a more modern word to use in such passages, the only one that might suffice would be dinosaur.
The word dinosaur literally means “terrible lizard” and was coined by the paleontologist Sir Richard Owen in 1841. The reason this word was not used in the most popular English Bibles was that they were published before that.
Even if this word dinosaur was used in our modern translations, the reader would still be left with “the problem” of having animals referred to in scripture that we no longer see flying in the skies or swimming in the seas.
This is actually no problem at all. Technically speaking, it is not even a problem for the atheists and evolutionists, because they already acknowledge that such animals once existed. They simply prefer to call them plesiosaurs and pteradons rather than sea-dragons and sky-dragons.
The fact of the matter is this: No one really denies that dragons once existed. If someone insists on calling them dinosaurs, I suppose that is fine.
I would just offer one word of caution to close: Those who would insist on using the term dinosaur would also probably deny that men and dinosaurs ever walked the earth together and this is where your school teacher and the testimony of scripture might disagree… but that is probably a discussion best saved for another article.