THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS DENTIST
“Cecil the Lion” was a household phrase this past summer after the story of his killing at the hands of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer broke. The lion was killed in Zimbabwe on July 1, 2015, and the hunter’s identity remained secret until the final week of July. International outcry by animal rights activists ensued.
Notable was the volume and intensity of the outcry. It was not simply that a famous lion had died, but that he had been killed by an American hunter, and that American hunter was now receiving death threats after having his home addresses (Palmer owns homes in Minnesota and Florida) and his practice’s address publicized online. PETA officials called for Palmer’s death by hanging. Internet activists banned together to bombard social media and review sites like Yelp with one-star ratings of Palmer’s practice that had much to do with their views on animal rights and poaching and little to do with Palmer’s skills or qualifications as a licensed dentist.
Following threats, curses against him, and trespasses on his property, Palmer hired private security to guard his homes and office and stepped out of the public eye. Meanwhile, Ty Beanie Babies capitalized on the Cecil up-trend and produced a doll after his likeness with proceeds going toward wildlife conservation. Other companies offered products bearing Cecil’s likeness with portions (some as little as 10%) of the proceeds directed toward wildlife conservation. Concerned members of of the US Senate called for a new law bearing Cecil’s name that would outlaw American hunters from bringing overseas big game trophies Stateside.
The international outcry regarding Cecil followed allegations that some members of Planned Parenthood were illegally selling parts of human fetuses. One internet meme starring Heath Ledger’s Joker read, “Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts, nobody panics. One little lion gets killed, and everybody loses their mind!” For about two (agonizing) days on social media, this appeared fully accurate. People who had never heard of Cecil were now big supporters calling for the revocation of Walter Palmer’s dental license and his extradition to Zimbabwe to face trial for poaching. This despite the fact that Palmer had not been formally charged with poaching (his guide was, as well as the farmer whose land Cecil was shot on,) and the Zimbabwean people themselves were quite possibly the most surprised of all by the outcry. It seems that Cecil was not, in fact, the national icon of Zimbabwe.
This concerted, organized, international outcry quickly garnered the support of celebrities and legislators. Meanwhile, millions of animals continued to be butchered on factory farms for the purpose human consumption.
This article is not an editorial about slacktivism, factory farming, poaching, Cecil, Walter Palmer, or the question of whether dentistry makes people murderers (is it correlation or causation? AHHHHH!) Rather, Cecil and Palmer’s story has prompted me to compose an article on a Biblical perspective of humans and animals. Others have sought to address this issue. The question being addressed here is: from a Biblical perspective, is it wrong to hunt animals for sport or consume them for food? What does the Bible have to say about this controversial contemporary topic?
Note: The purpose of this article is not to address questions related to creation vs. evolution or some synthesis of the two. My concern is related to a theology of humans and animals in the Bible, not a scientific explanation of what is undergirding the physical realities expressed in the text of the Bible. If you wanna argue about creation vs evolution in the comments, you won’t be doing it with me.
ONE: THE BIBLE SAYS GOD CREATED ANIMALS
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.
TWO: THE BIBLE SAYS GOD CREATED PLANTS FOR HUMANS AND ANIMALS TO EAT
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”
Genesis 2:9, 16
The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…”
Nowhere in the creation account does God set aside animals as a food source for humans or for one another. Plants are exclusively set aside as the food source for both humans and animals. Humans are not explicitly permitted to eat animals until sin and death enter the picture after Adam and Eve partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3).
THREE: THE BIBLE SAYS HUMANS HAVE BEEN DIVINELY-ORDAINED TO RULE OVER ANIMALS
Genesis 1:26, 28
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
(Special thanks to the author of this hit YouTube video for his expert insight into the Hebrew of these verses…we go to the same coffee shop…)
The Hebrew for “subdue” and “rule” (words used in the NIV translation) do not imply “stewardship” or “be buddies with.” This is not to say that “stewardship” is not a part of the creation mandate of God toward humans or that humans can’t be buddies with animals; though that word isn’t used, appears implicit to the text. The words actually used are really more about “ruling” more generally and “subjugation” more specifically, and thus the use of those words in the NIV translation are valid.
What this implies about the relationship between animals and humans is that according to God’s mandate, humans have more “rights” than animals. Animals don’t rule over humans, nor are animals as spiritually or essentially significant as humans. This is in direct contradiction to the sentiments expressed by groups like PETA:
FOUR: HUMANS ARE CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE AND ANIMALS ARE NOT CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
What does this notion of “bearing God’s image” mean? Philosophers and theologians have argued the question for millennia. Suffice it to say: humans and animals have some essential differences in God’s eyes (1 Cor 15:39). Note the special emphasis on “breathing life” into Adam in Gen 2:7:
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Nowhere else in the creation account is there a special emphasis on God “breathing life” into plants or animals. This highlights the significance of humans apart from the rest of the created order. While it is clear that “the breath of life” has God as its source in all living things (Gen 7:22), it is nonetheless clear that this special emphasis is not given to anything other than humans in the creation account. From a literary perspective, this is a deliberate effort to draw the reader’s attention to the uniqueness of this event.
The differences between humans and animals could likewise be more substantive: clearly more intelligent animals possess some degree of self-awareness and consciousness, but they do not possess our ability to reason. Unlike humans, animals cannot think about thinking. They cannot say with Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” This could be an element of what it means for humans to be created “In God’s image.”
In whatever ways humans mirror God’s image, we know for certain that according to the Bible, animals don’t. Because humans are created in God’s image, we possess the highest rank in the hierarchy of the created order. From God’s perspective, no animal is more important than any human. Every animal that has ever existed is not as important to God as you are. And despite what what you think about him, or about any other dubious things he may have done, Walter Palmer is more important to God than Cecil was.
This does not mean God cares nothing for animals. In the creation account, God created animals and called them “good” (Gen 1:21, 25). He blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful (Gen 1:22). God clearly had some care and concern for animals apart from their usefulness to humans. He proclaimed them valuable before He created humans.
FIVE: GENESIS FOUR IS THE FIRST PLACE WE CAN SUGGEST THAT A HUMAN KILLED AN ANIMAL, AND IT WAS FOR SACRIFICIAL PURPOSES, NOT FOOD PURPOSES
And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering…
It was as a sacrifice to God.
We see later in Gen 8:20 that Noah offers animals as sacrifice to God:
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it…
…But still there is no animal consumption.
SIX: GOD DOES NOT GRANT EXPLICIT PERMISSION FOR HUMANS TO EAT ANIMALS UNTIL AFTER THE FLOOD
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
Along with the specific statements in Gen 1-2 that plants alone are food for animals and humans, it’s clear that in the earliest created order—the original creation in Eden before humans fell due to sin and creation was subjected to death—humans were to live alongside animals while also ruling over them and not consuming them for food. God acknowledges this: “Just as I [formerly] gave you the green plants [only], I now give you everything [to eat, including animals].”
Why does God not grant humans permission to eat animals until after the flood? Hard to say. I would suggest that God, knowing the future, was aware of the advent of the sacrificial system (we see precursors to it in Gen 4 and Gen 8). He knew many humans would turn to nomadic lifestyles (see Abram’s travels in Gen 12-13) that depended upon domesticating, hunting, and eating animals and using their skin for clothing. There was a time in history when killing animals was far more conducive to survival than it is for Western society today.
SEVEN: ANIMALS ARE PERMISSIBLE SOURCES OF FOOD IN THE PRESENT AGE
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
1 Corinthians 10:25-26
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
EIGHT: THE LION WILL LAY DOWN WITH THE CALF: AFTER CHRIST RETURNS, THE INFLUENCE OF SIN, WHICH CAUSES ALL CREATION TO SUFFER THE MALADIES OF VIOLENCE, DEATH, AND DECAY, WILL BE NO MORE
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.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
In the Bible, death is the result of sin. Specifically, it is the result of the first sin committed by Adam and Eve. This event is called The Fall. Before the Fall, humans did not consume animals, and animals did not consume one another. After the Fall, animals killed one another, and humans killed one another. The first recorded sin committed after the Fall is Cain’s murder of Abel. God’s reason for deluging the earth with the Flood was, “The earth is filled with violence.“
The promise of Christ and of His second coming is that He is presently undoing the effects of sin in the lives of those who believe in Him and that when He returns, He will undo the effects of the Fall in all creation. Things will return to how they were meant to be; to how they were when the world was good. Everything will once again be at shalom (“peace”) with God.
NINE: DEATH WILL NOT EXIST IN THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM, AND THUS THERE WILL BE NO KILLING OF ANIMALS FOR FOOD
Revelation 20:14; 21:4
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
If Jesus destroys death prior to the advent of the Heavenly Kingdom, and animals need to die to be consumed for food, it follows that animals will not and cannot be consumed for food. So:
Jesus will destroy death.
Animals need to die to be eaten.
Therefore: Animals will not be eaten after Jesus destroys death.
WHAT ABOUT PLANTS?
“One of your core arguments is flawed: death existed before humans fell, because plants were eaten as food and plants die when you eat them.”
Good eye, smarty pants. Have you considered a career in Biblical Studies?
Clearly there is a distinction in the Bible between the death of conscious and unconscious living things. On this basis, plants are categorically different from humans and animals. Even though science shows us that plants have cells and proteins that are broken down and absorbed during digestion by humans and animals or even other plants, there is a substantial difference between killing an unconscious plant and killing a conscious animal. Death, from a Biblical perspective, is about more than the breakdown of a living thing’s cellular structure. It assumes cessation of consciousness, which assumes the existence of consciousness. There is an existential aspect to life and death in the Bible that transcends the limitations of naturalism.
From a Biblical perspective, consumption of plants does not constitute death.
“FOR THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY”
It is clear from the Bible that we will not always eat animals, nor will animals always eat one another. In the Heavenly Kingdom, there will be no death, and we will live alongside animals in harmony like the earliest humans did in Eden. The food people will consume in the Heavenly Kingdom will not be the result of the death of any conscious living thing. Jesus will have destroyed death that came through the Fall by this point in time.
Many of us have seen animals get along and love each other, even across species. We’ve even seen wild animals express affection toward humans. Biblically, what does this mean?
This sort of behavior often occurs between animals in captivity who have their food and other needs provided by humans. When we see harmony between humans and animals, such as in our relationships with pets or with more dangerous animals in captivity, we are seeing a shadow of what the world was like before the Fall, and we are getting a taste of what it will be like when Jesus returns. Inasmuch as you express love and purity with your Christian friends and family, so too are all holy things mere shadows of what they will be when Jesus destroys death forever and makes everything right once more.
A fair weighing of the Biblical evidence makes it abundantly clear that we presently have God’s permission to consume animals for food or even to hunt them just because. I’m not suggesting you start swerving toward squirrels on your Sunday drives or that you head out right now and buy a bottle of deer urine. As far as hunting and killing animals is practiced humanely and legally, I submit to you that for Christians, this is an issue of conscience. Animal abuse or neglect is a separate issue, and may even be an indicator of a psychological disorder.
Discerning Christians would be wise to note unbalanced devotion to animals and views that attack the Biblical teaching on human value over and above animal value. PETA calling for the hanging of Walter Palmer is inappropriate from both Biblical and legal (the punishment for poaching is not nor should it be execution) perspectives, not to mention wholly hypocritical coming from an organization that consistently cites Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian principle of reducing suffering in the world as its guiding mantra. This unbalanced devotion is based on the conviction that human and animal rights should be equal because both possess the capacity to suffer (remember that “cessation of consciousness” thing I mentioned earlier?). Consider the following quote from PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk:
Supporters of animal rights believe that animals have an inherent worth—a value completely separate from their usefulness to humans. We believe that every creature with a will to live has a right to live free from pain and suffering. Animal rights is not just a philosophy—it is a social movement that challenges society’s traditional view that all nonhuman animals exist solely for human use. As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.”