Click to donate today!
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
God as Creator and Sustainer . Animals, like the rest of the uNIVerse, are created by God. In Genesis 1 , God's approval of the created world is regularly expressed by the phrase "and God saw that it was good." God blesses the animals (v. 22) and at the end of the sixth day "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (v. 31). It was very good for waters, air, and land to teem with living creatures. Clearly, animals are valued by God in and for themselves, and God expresses pleasure and delight in them. Animals are not primarily created for the benefit of humanity, and deserve respect because they are God's very good work. God answers Job's complaint by speaking of the mountain goat, lion, eagle, and the mysterious Leviathan and Behemoth (Job 39:1-41:34 ). These animals are wild and outside human usefulness and understanding, yet God knows tham intimately and delights in them for their own sake.
As Psalm 104 makes clear, God sustains all of life, so that all creatures, including humanity, are alike in their dependence on God. In this psalm, animals are pictured in creation alongside humanity, not beneath it; nor do they exist for the sake of humans. Animals are seen as valuable to God, who make them in their uniqueness for his own purposes, sustains them, and rejoices over them (cf. Job 12:10; Psalm 36:6; 145:16; Jonah 4:11; Luke 12:24 ). Jesus reaffirms the value of the animal world in Luke 12:6 : "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God."
As Creator, God is Lord over the world, including animals, for, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (1Col 10:26; cf. 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalm 74:13-14; 89:11 ). Thus the psalmist can say of God, "every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine" (Psalm 50:10-11; cf. Exodus 13:12; Job 41:11 ). Because they are created by God, all creation, including animals, should praise God (Psalm 148:7-10; 150:6; cf. Revelation 5:13 ). Christ's work of creating, sustaining, and reconciling all things also includes the animal world (Colossians 1:16-17 ).
Animals and the Hope of Future Transformation The hope of future transformation includes animals. Isaiah speaks of the day of the Lord in the following terms: "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them" ( Isaiah 11:6 ). This is a vision of future transformation and harmony, when all creation will be renewed (cf. Isaiah 35:9; 65:17,25; 66:22; Hosea 2:18; Joel 2:22; Ephesians 1:9-10; Revelation 21:1-4 ). In Romans 8:19-22Paul speaks of the groaning of the whole creation and of the hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay. Human salvation is inseparable from the liberation of the created world, including animals. Humanity is to be redeemed with creation, not apart from it. Yet the future reality of a new creation has already begun in Christ. Christians must now live in a way that is consistent with the kingdom, and so are called to embrace kingdom values and goals, including harmony with creation, and so are to act to preserve and enhance the created order.
Humanity and Animals God has given humanity dominion over "the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" ( Genesis 1:28; cf. Psalm 8:6-8 ). The king of Israel had dominion over the nation, but was expected to act as a shepherd, who ensured the welfare of those entrusted to his care (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 2 Samuel 5:2; Psalm 72 ). The concept of dominion in Genesis 1:28 involves wise stewardship and rsponsible care for the animal world. Humanity is vegetarian in Genesis 1:29; human dominion in Genesis 1 does not produce any unpleasant consequences for animals. Further, humanity is responsible to God with respect to this stewardship, for the created world remains God's world. Thus, dominion is not a license for the unbridled exploitation of animals and nature. Yet the exercise of dominion has been flawed by sin and the harmony and peace of creation have been shattered ( Genesis 3:14-15,17-19 ).
In Genesis 1 humanity is unique, in that only humanity is made in the image of God. In Genesis 2:20 animals are not suitable companions for Adam. However, a very strong link exists between the animal world and humanity since in Genesis 1:24-31 both are created on the same day, and in Genesis 2:7,19 both the man and the animals are formed from the ground. Humanity is thus not independent of the created order. Because of this closeness between humanity and animals, the condition of the two groups is often spoken of in similar terms. For example, both animals and people are dependent on the providence of God ( Psalm 104:10-30; Luke 12:22-24 ) and animals bear the consequences of God's judgment along with people (Genesis 6:7; Exodus 9:1-7; Jeremiah 14:5-6; Zephaniah 1:2-3 ).
The Use and Treatment of Animals Animals are of service to people, for example, for transport ( 1 Samuel 16:20; Esther 8:10,14 ) or for clothing (Genesis 3:21 ). They are also a sign of wealth (Genesis 24:35; Job 1:13-21 ). In Genesis 1:29 only plants were given as food for people, and the picture of the garden in Genesis 2 is one of peace between animals and Adam. It is only after the fall and the flood that God gave all living things, except their blood, to Noah and his family for food ( Genesis 9:1-4 ). Only clean animals could be eaten (Leviticus 11 ), but Jesus declared all food clean (Mark 7:17-23; cf. Acts 10:10-16 ). Vegetarianism is neither commanded nor forbidden and it is clear that Paul considered meat-eating to be acceptable for Christians (Romans 14:1-4; 1Col 8:7-10). God is well aware of the destructive tendencies of fallen humanity, and so in Genesis 9:8-17 makes a covenant with all living things, including animals. This shows God's continuing commitment to all of creation.
In the Old Testament, sacrifices involved the offering of certain unblemished animals (Exodus 12:1-8; Leviticus 4,16 ), or their blood was used on other occasions such as the consecration of priests ( Exodus 29 ).
There are a number of injunctions that concern the welfare of animals. Animals share some of the privileges of God's people, and so the Sabbath rest applies equally to them: "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest" (Exodus 23:12; cf. Leviticus 25:7; Deuteronomy 5:14 ). Further, an ox treading the corn was not to be muzzled (Deuteronomy 25:4; quoted in 1Col 9:9; and 1 Timothy 5:18 ,; where it is applied to people ) and a fallen ox was to be helped to its feet (Deuteronomy 22:4; cf. Leviticus 22:27-28 :; Deuteronomy 22:6-7,10 ). Jesus also pointed to the humanitarian treatment of animals on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11-12; Luke 13:15; 14:5 ) and argued from this that he should free people from illness on the Sabbath. This sense of responsibility for the welfare of animals is summed up in Proverbs 12:10 : "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal." Thus, animals are owed some of the basic obligations we extend to fellow human beings.
Illustrations from the Animal World Since the people of the Bible interacted regularly with animals they often used images from the animal world as illustrations. This use of images derived from animals often makes a passage very vivid.
Pertinent characteristics of animals are often used as images for God's activity. In Hosea 13:7-8 we read that God will come upon Israel "like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open." In Isaiah 31:5 we read: "Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem." Illustrations from animal husbandry are used for God. For example, in Isaiah 40:11 we read: "he tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young" (cf. Psalm 23 ). In John 10:14 Jesus says "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me." Leaders of God's people can also be described as shepherds ( Ezekiel 34; Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4 ).
People are consistently seen as like sheep, mainly because sheep are easily led astray and lost and are unable to fend for themselves or to find their way home. In Isaiah 53:6 we read: "All we like sheep, have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way." Similarly, the people of Israel are spoken of as God's sheep ( Psalm 74:1; 100:3; Jeremiah 23:1; Matthew 9:36; John 21:15 ). The image is used in another way in John 1:29 : "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" In Revelation Jesus is regularly spoken of as the Lamb.
Often animals know the right thing to do, and thus discredit humans. Thus note Isaiah 1:3 ("The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand") and Jeremiah 8:7 ("Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord").
The characteristis of an animal can be used as a metaphor for a person. The lion is used as a metaphor for strength (Psalm 17:12; Ezekiel 19:2-6; Amos 3:12; Revelation 5:5 ); the wild bear for ferocity (2 Samuel 17:8 ); the heifer for stubbornness (Hosea 4:16 ); the lamb for gentleness, particularly when it is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7; Jeremiah 11:19; Acts 8:32 ); the deer for stability in trying situations (2 Samuel 22:34; Psalm 18:33 ); the "beast" as an embodiment of evil (Revelation 11:7; 13:1-3 ). Dogs are generally used metaphorically for something negative, since they were scavengers who carried disease (1 Kings 21:23-24; Matthew 7:6; Philippians 3:2; 2 Peter 2:22; Revelation 22:15 ). Glory can fly away like a bird (Hosea 9:11 ); animals can be tamed, but not the human tongue (James 3:3,5,7-8 ). A colt symbolizes peace, and so Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt rather than a horse, which was associated with war.
Similarly, Jesus used illustrations from the animal world in his parables and teaching. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus said: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." In his lament over Jerusalem Jesus said, "How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" ( Matthew 23:37 ). In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus' teaching hinges on the fact that sheep and goats were often very difficult to distinguish from one another.
Bibliography S. Bishop, Themelios 16:3 (1991): 8-14; F. S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands; F. Bridger, Tyn Bul 41 (1990): 290-301; G. S. Cansdale, Animals of Bible Lands; T. Cooper, Green Christianity: C aring for the Whole Creation; W. Granberg-Michaelson, Tending the Garden: Essays on the Gospel and the Earth; R. Griffiths, The Human Use of Animals; A. Linzey, Christianity and the Rights of Animals; A. Linzey and T. Regan, Animals and Christianity: A Book of Readings; R. Murray, The Cosmic Covenant: Biblical Themes of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation .
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Animals'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bed/a/animals.html. 1996.