A few weeks ago I was asked an interesting question. “Does the Bible support animal rights?” The short answer – no, not like humans. The Bible never specifically grants rights to animals. The Bible doesn’t assume that animals have intrinsic rights. Unlike humans, animals were not created in the imagining of God. God made humans the pinnacle of His creation, with inherent worth and greater capacities than animals on every level.
This, of course, does not mean when can treat animals any way we want. There is a moral responsibility for how we should treat animals. Honestly, it’s painful to see animals being mistreated. God appointed humans to subdue and rule (with kindness) over all animals (Gen 1:20-31). God specifically approved the use of animals as food for humans, more on that later. (Gen 9:1-3; Lev 11:2-3). Since animals have less value than humans, the shouldn’t be given the right accorded to human beings and human life should never be sacrificed to save an animal life.
Yes, the Bible affirms that humans have the responsibility and obligation to treat animals respectfully and humanely. Although animals are clearly not equal in worth to human beings, they have value since God created them as “good” (Gen 1:20-25). I personally love animals and who doesn’t love puppies! I won't go so far as to let my dog stay at a dog spa for a day and get massaged and what not but if that suits you then go for it! As part of our God-given stewardship, we shouldn’t abuse or harm any animals. Unlike animals, human souls have unique capacities: self-awareness, abstract reasoning, an orientation toward the future, freedom, moral responsibility, and the capacity to have a relationship with God. Animal sacrifices presuppose that animals have value (Lev 4-6; Heb 9:11-28). Animal pain is a matter for moral concern because God cares for animals (Gn 7:2-4, Ps 104:10-30, 147:7-9, 148:7-10, Mat 6:26; Luk 12:6-7,24).
Although after the flood we were given permission to eat animals (Gen 9:1-3), this may have been a concession to human sinfulness. Vegetarianism practiced in the Garden of Eden (Gen 1:29-30; 2:16) this would also explain how humans and animals lived peacefully. Also, the prophecy that natural predators will live together peacefully in the future (Isa 11:6-8) suggest that the eating of animal flesh isn’t God’s ideal. After the permission to eat animals was given, this created the defensive mechanism in the animals so that they can protect and defend themselves from predators.
“The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?” ― Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation
Although the Bible does not support animals in comparisons to humans it does call humans to treat animals humanely. I know this may be a bit hypocritical, saying we should protect animals, but we eat from the drive thru constantly. We’re speaking about domestic animals, if you feel it is sinful to eat animals then by all means don’t. But we won’t say it is a sin or that it’s wrong when we have permission to do so. The Mosaic law forbade the heartless treatment of a few animals promising long life to those who don’t abuse them (Det 22:6-7). Other regulations were given for the welfare of farm animals (Det 22:1-4, 10; 25:4). Humane treatment of animals is a characteristic of godly living and should be practiced (Pro 12:10).
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