BY MATTHEW PRIEBE
NE OF OUR MOST DEEPLY HELD beliefs is
that human beings are the absolute masters of the earth, and that animals are
here only to serve us--to carry our burdens, be used for food, or as pets--as
we choose. But how about Christians who profess to follow Christ--how should
we relate to the animal world?
God's motives, values, and way of dealing with us--as shown
in Scripture--should guide our own motives and values in the way we deal with
others. And the character we develop now will be taken unchanged into heaven.
Through faith in Christ we are to live now by God's principles as outlined in
One of those principles is the dominion principle, found
in the book of Genesis: "Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals
of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth'"
(Gen. 1:26, NRSV).
Some use this text to argue that whatever we do to animals
is acceptable to God. But have we applied it correctly?
The Dominion Principle
All animals everywhere belong to God. "For every beast of the forest is
mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills" (Ps. 50:10). "All things
were created by him [Christ], and for him" (Col. 1:16). We cannot own what
belongs to God; we're only caretakers. In Genesis 1 Christ gave us dominion
over animals, not ownership.
What then does dominion mean?
David describes how a good king rules: "He shall have
dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
. . . He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence. . . . Prayer also shall
be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised. . . . And men shall
be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed" (Ps. 72:8-17).
The king described here has dominion over his subjects, and
they praise him. This is a beautiful description of God's dominion, with Christ
having dominion over all. "His kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps. 103:19).
Jesus is our king! To exercise dominion over animals, we must understand how
He exercises dominion over us. This is God's dominion principle--God
is over us in the same way we are over animals.
What was included in Adam's dominion? "And God blessed
them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,
and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl
of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God
said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face
of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding
seed; to you it shall be for meat [food]" (Gen. 1:28, 29).
One glaring thing not included in the original dominion arrangement
was the eating of animals as food.
Adam and Eve were the caretakers of Eden, stewards of God's
creations (Gen. 2:15). Their "dominion" was not to be tyrannical or
dictatorial--this is the beauty of God's dominion principle. Like the subjects
in Psalm 72, those over whom they have dominion are blessed, and offer praise.
But Satan has warped our concept of God's dominion, representing
God as a tyrant who arbitrarily chooses who will be saved and who will be lost.
Satan causes natural disasters, then convinces us to call them acts of God.
When people die of starvation, disease, or accidents, he persuades us to blame
God. And just as he perverts our perception of God's dominion over us, he distorts
our understanding of our dominion over the animals.
The Issue of Taking Life
As a consequence of sin, humans now have permission to kill animals. But the
question is: When is it acceptable to take an animal's life? To answer that,
we must first look at God's example with us. Under what circumstances does God
allow or direct the taking of human life?
1. In the case of premeditated murder or gross religious infractions, as with
spiritualistic mediums (Lev. 20:6; Num. 35:16-21, 26-28).
2. In self-defense--when other nations attacked, Israel was
to defend itself (1 Sam.
4-7, 17, 18; Judges 6-8).
3. When God directly commanded or executed it. Examples: Israel's
destruction of the Canaanites (Joshua 1-12); the stoning of Achan's household
(Joshua 7); the slaying of Nadab and Abihu, or of Korah and his company (Lev.
10; Num. 16).
With animals, capital punishment arising from criminal or moral
infringement does not apply, since animals cannot break God's laws, and thus
cannot be held morally responsible. But they may be killed by humans in self-defense.
If an animal attacks a person, it would be acceptable to kill the particular
animal (but not, of course, the entire species). (See the case of David and
the lion in 1 Sam. 17:34-36.)
Or God may command the killing.
Such commands include two main areas: First, animal
sacrifices, commanded after sin. These services pointed to Christ's sacrifice
and were intended to show us the horror of sin. When Jesus was crucified, He
ended these services (Matt. 27:50, 51). Second, killing animals for food,
which happened after the Flood, and restricted to clean animals only. Some cultures
have a more justifiable need for meat than others, because better alternatives
Many groups in contemporary society promote vegetarianism.
Some (particularly Bible believers) do it because it represents humans' original
diet, and therefore, God's ideal. For others, vegetarianism simply reduces what
they see as cruelty to animals. (And I'd say that even if meat were perfectly
healthful for us today, it would still be undesirable as a continuing source
of food because of the attendant cruelty to animals.)
When is it acceptable to cause animals to suffer? Perhaps under the same circumstances
in which we may reasonably cause humans to suffer. And when are those circumstances?
I might list two:
1. Discipline. Spanking a child, locking up a thief, sentencing
Israel to wander 40 years in the wilderness. All these are forms of discipline.
2. To save life. We may think here of surgery that causes pain
but saves life.
How about animals?
Some think animals suffer much less than humans or not at all.
Why? Because they're different from us. But are they really? A lot of things
scientists once believed were special to humans have been found in animals:
the use of tools, for example; modifying the surroundings, culture, language.1
Some Christians say that animals lack a soul. But even this fails to find support
in Scripture. Here's how. Scripture puts it in the book of Genesis: "And
the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7).
What about animals? Listen to the following passages: "And
they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is
the breath of life" (Gen. 7:15). So animals also have the breath of
life. "And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became
as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea" (Rev.
16:3). So animals, possessing the breath of life are also living souls.
In that respect they're identical to us.
The only difference is that we have the image of God,
meaning especially that we can choose between right and wrong. But in terms
of pain and suffering, there is no difference! We feel pain because we
are vertebrates with a nervous system. All vertebrate animals--mammals,
birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians--have nervous systems like ours, with the
capacity to feel pain.2
Animals also feel emotions and have intelligence. They "think"
and make choices based on experience. Entire books have been written documenting
cases of animal emotion and intelligence.3
Ellen White wrote: "The intelligence displayed by many
dumb animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery.
The animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer. They use their organs
far more faithfully than many human beings use theirs. They manifest sympathy
and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection
for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some
of the human race. They form attachments for man which are not broken without
great suffering to them."4
So keeping in mind the fact that animals feel pain, when is
it legitimate to make them suffer? The answer is twofold: 1. In case of discipline
(leashing a dog to prevent it from chasing, placing electric fences around a
chickenhouse to keep out foxes, etc.). 2. To save life or to preserve the quality
of life (taking animals to a vet, or having pets spayed or neutered to control
Not a Light Matter
Ellen G. White strongly condemned animal abuse: "He who will abuse animals
because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. A disposition
to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation, is satanic.
Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known, because the poor
dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as
were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness,
to testify against them in the courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and
a day is coming when judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God's
How we treat animals reveals our true nature. When we have
power over others, we display who has power over us. Satan's nature destroys,
but Christ's nature ends suffering and protects the helpless.
With the second coming of Jesus near, we need to let His compassion
into all areas of our lives. Whether our faith is theory or a living connection
with Him will be felt by the people--and the animals--around us. It is
our duty and joy to deny support to practices that harm others. Only then will
we fully reflect Christ's love and peace.
The lives and well-being of animals are in our hands. May we
allow that day to come quickly when the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled: "They
shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isa. 11:9).
1 Douglas Starr, "This Bird Has a Way With Words,"
National Wildlife, Feb./Mar. 1988, pp. 34-36. Meredith F. Small, "Closing
the Gap," Wildlife Conservation, July/Aug 1993, pp. 16-23.
2 Michael K. Stoskopf, "Pain and Analgesia in Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians,
and Fish," Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Feb. 1994, pp.
3 Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives
of Animals (New York: Delacorte Press, 1995). Theodore Xenophon Barber,
The Human Nature of Birds: A Scientific Discovery With Startling Implications
(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993). Donald R. Griffin, Animal Minds
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992). Stuart L. Brown, "Animals
at Play," National Geographic, Dec. 1994, pp. 2-35.
4 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, pp. 315, 316.
5 White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 443.
Matthew Priebe is a self-taught student of animal behavior. He lives in Galt,
California, and travels throughout North America observing animals in their