Christian Theological Background
Christian theologians from Catholic and mainstream Protestant traditions have addressed the subject of ethical responsibility toward animals since the Middle Ages. Although he was not the first, Saint Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) is the best-known patron saint of animals. For those interested, an excellent review of the role of animals in Christian tradition is provided in Laura Hobgood’s The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals (2010).
The expressions of concern for animals by early Christian theologians have been amplified and extended by modern scholars during recent decades. Several contemporary Christian writers, including Laura Hobgood, Andrew Linzey (Animal Gospel, 2000), and Robert Wennberg (God, Humans, and Animals, 2003), have formulated a theologically consistent view that has identified core themes in our relationship with animals.
In brief, these themes consist of the moral axiom that animals possess inherent worth and dignity, which confers on humans the ethical responsibility to demonstrate respect, compassion, mercy, and hospitality to all animals. An associated obligation is the condemnation of cruelty manifested in factory farming, euthanasia of unwanted pets, circuses and carnivals, and sport and trophy hunting of wild and captive animals.
A predominant feature of their scholarship is that these advocates for animals do not depend on the Bible alone for direction and theology. Rather, they embrace a broader, more encompassing ethical scheme that also draws on extra-biblical sources, including the writings of classical theologians, images created by the churches, and the lives of saints.
Liberal Christian scholars are especially critical of the narrow anthropocentric fundamentalist view that considers humans the sole focus of God’s attention. Their goal is to expand Christianity’s theological foundation to welcome nonhuman animals, both as companions and as unique creatures in their own right.
These modern writers argue that Christianity is a religion of compassion and justice for all of God’s creatures, a theology in which all life forms are sacred. They have fashioned a humane Christian ethical culture of respect for nonhuman animals and the natural environment as well.
With this background in the mainstream Christian ethical theology of animal welfare, which can be summarized simply as reverence for all life, we can now examine fundamentalist Christians’ views of the role of animals in human society.
Fundamentalist Perspective on Animals
The vast chasm that exists between the liberal Christian and fundamentalist perspectives on animals is captured in the following declaration by Kay Warren, the spouse of a prominent mega-church preacher: “Jesus didn’t die for animals; he gave his all for human beings.”
Needless to say, the statement provoked strong reactions from the mainline Christian community. However, the claim is entirely consistent with the fundamentalist principle called “dominionism,” which refers to humankind’s God-given rule over animals. (Dominion theology is the broader assertion that Christians should assume sovereignty, including political sovereignty, over all of God’s creation.)
The foundational concept of dominion over animals, which derives from the first creation story in Genesis 1:26, 28 (and is summarized in Psalm 8:6–8), was expounded by Donald Trump’s defrocked Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, who proclaimed that “Humans have the right to exploit the natural resources of the planet without regard to how it might affect other species.”
It is difficult to comprehend how a person who holds such a view could be given the responsibility for protecting the environment. Furthermore, the remark expresses utter contempt for the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In contrast to the liberal Christian theology of reverence for all life, Christian fundamentalism is premised on the claim of human exceptionalism, with nonhuman animals regarded as mere property, a perspective that mainstream theologians consider blatant speciesism.
Not surprisingly, fundamentalists do not like the term nonhuman animal, because it implies that we are also animals, and this violates the biblical axiom of separate creation, which maintains that humans were created by God independently from all other kinds of life, “in God’s image.” Hence, they refer to humans as God’s “image bearers” and assert that we are uniquely valuable to him.
A Critical Distinction
Mainstream Christians, including both Catholics and members of liberal Protestant denominations, reject what they call the dogma of biblical literalism. Specifically, they deny that scripture is literally true or perfectly reliable, thereby justifying flexible interpretation and usage.
In complete contrast, fundamentalist Protestants subscribe to the foundational doctrine of biblical inerrancy, which expresses the core belief that scripture is without error and is absolutely accurate in every statement.
It is clear that the theological presuppositions of mainstream Christians and fundamentalist Christians could not be more different. The problem for fundamentalists is that they routinely violate their claimed allegiance to the supreme authority of scripture by selectively disregarding what they don’t like or can’t accept.
In the sections that follow, I demonstrate that fundamentalists contradict their own theological assumption of the absolute truth of scripture for the purpose of achieving socially acceptable conclusions about compassionate care of animals, even though this is contrary to their understanding of God’s word.
A Manifesto on Animal Welfare
In 2015, a committee of fundamentalist Christian theologians issued a ten-page Evangelical Statement on Responsible Animal Care, which concluded, “May God bless this effort for His glory.” It received much favorable attention and was widely acclaimed by leaders in the religious community and the animal welfare movement as an excellent declaration of humane principles.
The three principal authors were Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Mark Rogers of the Clapham Group. Four recognizable cosigners were Russell Moore, Albert Mohler, Bill Hybels, and Richard Land. All are prominent fundamentalist activists, although they prefer to be called Christian social conservatives or evangelicals.
Consistent with their fundamentalist theology, the authors repeatedly affirmed their absolute reliance on scripture. They twice cited II Timothy 3:16, which establishes the basis for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
In the preface, the writers emphasize their commitment to this point of view, saying that “our minds must be transformed so that we might approve the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Not unexpectedly, the statement’s authors invoke Jesus, their personal lord and savior, as the motivation for their decision to address the important issue of responsible animal care: “Jesus Christ is Lord and all things have been created through him and for him. God will bring about through the Lord Jesus Christ a new heaven and a new earth that will reflect right relationships in all of creation, including between humans and animals.”
The statement repeatedly claims to be based on scripture, an assertion reiterated six times, and referred to as “[o]ur theological foundation for responsible animal care.” The writers summarize their purported reliance on scripture: “Our answers to important questions about the treatment of animals must be shaped and thoroughly informed by scripture, find its source in our Creator God, and always be rooted in his Holy Word.”
In an interview with All Animals magazine, the spokesman for the committee, Barrett Duke, declared that “Every claim is supported by scripture. When scripture is silent, the Statement is silent. Where scripture speaks clearly, the Statement speaks clearly.”
As I demonstrate next, this assertion is false. The statement exemplifies fundamentalist biblical dishonesty.
Scriptural Basis Refuted: A Quantitative Summary
The statement cites a total of eighty-seven Bible verses or passages (a passage is a series of verses that report a single episode) as the sources for the three praiseworthy principles of compassionate animal welfare that are promulgated:
- We should show respect and compassion for all animals.
- We should condemn all animal cruelty as evil.
- We should work for the benevolent treatment of all animals.
Unfortunately, these postulates are premised on the thoroughly unwarranted claim that all animals have God-given value. In fact, the only “value” that animals have in God’s theological scheme is that of sacrificial victims in worship of him, as killing instruments for inflicting punishment on miscreants, and as food for hungry humans. Although the principles enunciated above are commendable, they are actually the very antithesis of God’s treatment of animals.
In my exhaustive review of animal sacrifice (132 verses or passages in fifty-six chapters of fifteen books), with selective summaries of animal cruelty (six verses), the use of animals as killing instruments (twelve verses), and Jesus’s status as the sacrificial Lamb of God (twelve verses), plus forty verses referring to dogs, I compiled a total of 202 verses or passages. Prominent examples from each of the five categories are presented later.
The critical outcome that resulted from the comparison of the two sets of Bible verses and passages is captured in this statistic: zero. Not one of the eighty-seven citations in the statement is included in my set of 202 citations. In other words, the authors did not cite one single verse or passage pertaining to animal sacrifice, animal cruelty, the use of animals for killing people, Jesus’s sacrificial death, or dogs.
The authors’ claim that their statement is based on scripture is demonstrably false and illustrates again how fundamentalists use the Bible dishonestly to justify their preconceived theo-political positions.
How could experts in the Bible have missed these five dominant animal themes? Obviously, the omission was intentional, so why didn’t the writers explain their rationale for this decision? This is just one more piece of evidence supporting the allegation of willful biblical dishonesty.
The overarching theme in the statement is the authors’ egocentric obsession with themselves. They believe that God loves them most of all. They assert repeatedly that:
- Humans are uniquely created in the image and likeness of God (four times).
- Humans have greater worth and value than animals (four times).
- Humans have the God-given authority to rule over animals (five times).
These features of humanity’s special godly status are captured in a single summary declaration near the end of the statement: “Scripture is clear on humanity’s greater value, uniqueness, rule, and sole status as God’s image bearers.”
Furthermore, the statement is literally fixated on an alleged God-given use of animals as food for humans. This focus is communicated in eight references to the Bible as authority for consuming animals as food, emphasizing that Noah, Jesus, and Paul were meat-eaters. The authors assert repeatedly that “God gave animals into our hand for food,” “God gives animals to us for food,” “God has given us all animals for food,” and “God’s giving of animals to us for food.”
In complete contrast, the liberal Christian writers cited earlier engage in ethical discussions about raising and consuming animals for food and propose that we thoughtfully consider alternatives to meat-eating.
Godly Respect for Animals?
The topic of respect for animals is addressed in five separate admonitions by the authors. Unfortunately, two of these are qualified by the phrase, “the same respect that God does,” and one is conditioned by the phrase, “in light of God’s view of them and his actions toward them.”
Similarly, three of the four condemnations of animal cruelty are predicated on a godly standard of behavior, including the assertions that “the Ultimate Ruler created and values animals” and “cruelty is sinful because it is an affront to our Rightful Ruler and Creator.”
Moreover, the statement is saturated with the language of fundamentalist theological nonsense, with numerous explanations offered that involve rebellion, corruption, sinfulness, the flood, the Fall, the curse, and a fallen world. A typical instance is: “The corruption of animals was due either to the effects of the curse at the Fall, or the failure of humans to appropriately fulfill their responsibility toward them.”
Horrific Animal Sacrifice: The Quantitative Details
Animal sacrifice is the central requirement in God’s theology of worship. Following the three early sacrifices in Genesis (8:20, 15:9–11), including the memorable substitution of a ram for Isaac by his father Abraham (Genesis 22:13), God established the Passover sacrifice of the lambs (Exodus 12:1–30) and outlined procedures for the ritual dedication of priests (Exodus 29:20–21).
To document the magnitude of the horrors of animal sacrifice, the fifty-six chapters in fifteen books of the Bible that specify and demonstrate the mandated procedures are listed in Sidebar 1. Because God’s obscene obsession with this ghastly worshipful requirement is so precisely defined and consistently followed, it is necessary to enumerate only three stipulated features of this activity:
- The sacrificial animals must be free of blemishes and defects, because God does not tolerate imperfect sacrifices.
- The blood of the slaughtered animals is splashed or smeared on the altar or individuals participating in consecration rites.
- The carcasses of the sacrificed animals are burned, producing an aroma that is especially pleasing to the Lord.
Biblical Descriptions of Animal Sacrifices
Genesis 8, 15, 22—Three early sacrifices described.
Exodus 12, 13, 29—Passover sacrifice and dedication of priests instituted.
Leviticus 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 22—Fellowship offerings detailed.
Numbers 7, 8, 15, 18, 19, 22, 23, 28, 29—Requirements for various offerings described.
Deuteronomy 21—Atonement sacrifice for murder described.
Ezekiel 43, 46—Sin and guilt offerings detailed.
Malachi 1—Breaking covenant with blemished sacrifices explained.
Judges 6, 13, 20, 21—Ghastly human massacres with burnt offerings.
I Samuel 6, 7, 11—Fellowship offerings for King Saul.
II Samuel 6, 24—Burnt offering stopped plague in Israel.
I Kings 3, 8, 18—God defeated Baal in sacrificial competition.
I Chronicles 29—Sacrifices acknowledged Solomon as king.
II Chronicles 5, 7, 15, 29, 30, 31, 35—Numerous large sacrifices recorded.
Ezra 6, 10—Temple dedication and guilt offerings specified.
Ezekiel 45, 46—Passover offerings detailed.
It should also be noted that scripture emphasizes that God derives immense pleasure and enjoyment from these barbaric sacrifices of innocent animals, a point that is repeated many times.
While the typical ritual sacrifice described in scripture entails killing a few dozen animals, some involved hundreds or thousands or more. To convey the enormity of this barbaric activity, the top ten biblical animal sacrifices are enumerated in Sidebar 2. These horrific slaughters were justified by various types of ecclesiastical events, such as temple dedications, Passover festivals, ritual offerings, priestly ordinations, and other consecrations and celebrations.
Top Ten Biblical Animal Sacrifices
213 bulls, rams, goats (Ezekiel 45:18–25)
252 bulls, oxen, goats, lambs, rams (Numbers 7:84–88)
294 bulls, rams (Numbers 23:1–30)
712 bulls, rams, lambs, goats (Ezra 6:16–18)
3,000 bulls, rams, lambs (I Chronicles 29:21)
3,970 sheep, goats, bulls, rams, lambs (II Chronicles 29:32–33)
7,700 sheep, goats, oxen (II Chronicles 15:10–11)
19,000 sheep, goats, bulls (II Chronicles 30:23–24)
41,400 sheep, goats, bulls, oxen (II Chronicles 35:7–14)
142,000 sheep, goats, oxen (I Kings 8:62–63; II Chronicles 7:5)
Sheep and cattle could not be counted (I Kings 8:5; II Chronicles 5:6)
Blatant animal cruelty is another indicator of God’s uncaring attitude toward animals. Six examples of Biblical animal cruelty are given in Sidebar 3. While it’s obvious that some of these events could not have occurred, they all provide further evidence of God’s thorough disrespect for animals. Of course, it should be recognized that God’s horrific treatment of humankind—his “image bearers”—was much worse, with gruesome massacres and slaughters of tens of millions of his own “children” as punishment for their willful disobedience.
Six Examples of Biblical Animal Cruelty
Balaam beat his donkey three times after the loyal animal acted to protect him from the murderous angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:21–34).
Achan’s livestock were stoned and burned with him and his family, because he stole some “devoted things” from God (Joshua 7:24–26).
Joshua hamstrung a “large number” of horses of the “huge army” of the northern kings at the behest of God (Joshua 11:6–9).
Samson fastened lit torches to 150 pairs of foxes that had been tied tail to tail to burn up the standing grain, vineyards, and olive groves of the Philistines (Judges 15:3–5).
David hamstrung all but one hundred of the chariot horses of Hadadezer’s one thousand war chariots (II Samuel 8:4).
Jesus caused a large herd of pigs (known as the Gadarene swine) to run into a lake and drown by sending demons into them (Matthew 8:28–34).
Animals Used for Killing People
God’s methods of executing enemies and evildoers are diverse and creative, including stoning, forcible drowning, burning alive, impaling, ripping open wombs, and scraping to death. He also used wild animals as vehicles of execution to punish disobedient Israelites, including children.
Wild beasts constitute one of the four dreadful judgements (with war, famine, and plague) that God used to kill the disobedient residents of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 14:21). He previously issued a specific threat to the Israelites that wild animals would eat their children (Leviticus 26:22). He further declared that the dead bodies of misbehaving Israelites would become food for vultures and wild animals (Jeremiah 34:20).
God made various statements invoking the ferocity of lions, leopards, and bears in dismembering their prey to express his own fierce anger (Hosea 5:14–15, 13:4–8). He used a lion to kill the man of God from Judah who defied his word (I Kings 2:23–26) and a lion killed another man who disobeyed the Lord (I Kings 20:36).
God sent lions to punish Assyrian settlers, killing some of them, for refusing to worship him (II Kings 17:24–25). Daniel’s twenty-two dishonest accusers, with their wives and children, were eaten alive by lions as punishment for the misdeeds of the fathers (Daniel 6:24).
The prophet Elisha asked God to punish forty-two boys for teasing him, and two bears ripped the boys to pieces (II Kings 2:23–24). God sent venomous snakes to punish the complaining Israelites and many died (Numbers 21:6). Finally, Jezebel was trampled to death by horses, and dogs ate everything except her skull, hands, and feet (II Kings 9:30–37).
The Lamb of God
There can be no doubt that the ritual sacrifice of animals in early Hebrew history prefigured the portrayal of Jesus’s redemptive blood sacrifice as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36). Some have suggested that Jesus’s sacrificial death can be understood as a replacement for animal sacrifice in godly worship.
Two predominant themes recur in Jesus’s atoning death: the overwhelming focus on blood and the requirement that sacrificial animals be without blemish or defect (I Peter 1:18–19). Paul recounts that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood” (Romans 13:25) and “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7).
Finally, John’s apocalypse includes references to “the slain Lamb,” “the blood purchase for God,” and “the blood of the Lamb”—representing Christ who was killed as a ransom for human sin and proclaimed by one hundred million angels (Revelation 5:6–14, 7:14, 12:11).
This topic is appropriately concluded with the acknowledgement that Jesus endorsed animal sacrifice (Matthew 5:23–24, 8:4; Luke 5:14), while his parents offered the obligatory sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons upon his birth (Luke 2:22–24, 27, 39).
Condemnation of Our Best Friend
People often describe dogs as our best friend. They are greatly appreciated for their steadfast loyalty and companionship (see Laura Hobgood, A Dog’s History of the World, 2018). In stark contrast, the Bible does not reflect this highly favorable attitude. In fact, of its forty references to dogs, most are negative, a few are indifferent, and none are positive.
There are numerous uncomplimentary characterizations, including several by Jesus (Matthew 7:6, 15:21–28; Mark 7:24–30). Dogs are often portrayed as disgusting scavengers that lick bodily sores (Luke 16:21) and the blood of slaughtered enemies (Psalm 68:23; I Kings 21:19). They also eat corpses (I Kings 21:23–24; II Kings 9:35–36). “Dog” may be used as a derogatory label for male homosexuals (Deuteronomy 23:18; Revelation 22:15).
Another creature that was universally reviled in biblical times was the snake. Both Jesus (Matthew 12:34, 23:33) and John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7) invoked the feared reptile when they condemned the teachers of the law, Pharisees, and Sadducees as “broods of vipers.”
The three principles of compassionate animal care propounded in the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Animal Care reflect benevolent attitudes toward sentient life that have emerged in all modern societies. Yet these humane principles and attitudes are totally contrary to God’s word as represented in the Holy Bible.
Moreover, the authors make three additional scripture-based claims about the relationship between humans and animals that thoroughly contradict accepted humane principles, knowledge, and values:
- Humans are entirely separate from all other living creatures because they were created in God’s image and likeness.
- Humans are superior to animals and have greater worth than animals by virtue of their divine heritage.
- Humans have dominion or authority over all animals because God ordained this relationship.
The only fully accurate assertion that the authors voice is that “animals exist to bring God praise and reveal his character.” We have seen that animals bring God praise by serving as victims for his insatiable appetite for the blood sacrifice of innocent creatures; they reveal his malevolent character through his horrific cruelty toward them.
The authors also say that “God has given animals inherent worth—they are living creatures valued by God.” This claim is completely false, utterly inconsistent with scripture, and constitutes willful biblical dishonesty. This mendacious behavior is the hallmark and cornerstone of contemporary fundamentalism.