Is It Wrong to Be Cruel to Animals?

By Wayne Jackson

Here is a sincere question from one of our readers:

Do you know of anything in the Bible that suggests cruelty to animals is a sin, or at least unfavorable in the eyes of God?

There are biblical principles that surely speak to this question. Let us consider several factors that may contribute to our understanding of this concern.

God, the Creator

God is the Creator of all living organisms. He is, therefore, sovereign over his creation; this means he has the right to legislate regarding the use of that which has proceeded from him—including both men and animals.

In ages of the past (preliminary to the coming of Christ’s redemptive system), Jehovah commanded the sacrifice of certain animals. The shedding of animal blood was preparatory to the sacrifice of his Son, hence, served a vital role in the plan of salvation designed for the benefit of humanity.

Animal life, therefore, is not intrinsically sacrosanct. It has been noted, though, that the Jewish method of killing animals was the most humane of any nation in antiquity.

Human Dominion

The Lord has granted man a certain authority over the animal kingdom. Moses records that the family of Adam was given “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

Animal’s For Human Use

Clearly, man is permitted to kill animals for food (Genesis 9:3), for clothing (Genesis 3:21), or in defense of his person or property (1 Samuel 17:34-37). The principles set forth in these passages, and numerous others, would permit the use of animals for medical purposes so that the human family might benefit.

Those today who argue that animals have rights in the same sense that human beings do (because they are merely at different levels in the evolutionary scheme of things) are absolutely wrong.

How is it that some scruple not to swat a fly or smack a mosquito but allege that it is morally evil to slaughter a pig or a cow for food? Such ideology has no basis in Scripture or logic.

Human Life and Safety

Sometimes it becomes necessary to eliminate animals which constitute a danger to society. It may be feasible at times to thin animal herds in over-populated areas for the ultimate welfare of the species. There may be pests which spread disease (e.g., rats).

The warped reverence for animal life in some pagan countries has resulted in numerous societal ills. Hindus, for instance, will let animals suffer and starve out of a misguided view of the sacredness of animal life.

Gratuitous Sadism Not Authorized

Having said that, we must caution that there is nothing in the Bible that would grant license to anyone to engage in the willful torture of animals for some sadistic pleasure.

We believe that practices which involve, for example, the wounding and killing of animals for nothing but sport (Spanish bullfights, cock fights, etc.) are not in keeping with principles that please God.

God Cares for All His Creation

There are passages which reflect the fact that God does have a concern for his lower creatures. Even animal creatures were covered in the post-flood covenant that God made with Noah (Genesis 9:10).

The Israelites were not to muzzle the ox who labored in treading out the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4), and beasts of burden were granted rest on the sabbath (Exodus 20:10).

The Lord asked Job, “Who provides for the raven his prey, when his young ones cry unto God?” (Job 38:41).

And Jesus indicated that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God’s concern (Matthew 10:29). This writer regrets the “days of his youth” when he shot sparrows with his .22 “just for fun.”

And so, there is value in animal life, and Jehovah wants us to respect that. It is not because animals have rights as humans do. It is not because they have been made in the image of God as human beings are (Genesis 9:6). It is not because Christ died for them (though people sometimes foolishly speak of their pets going to heaven).

We are to treat animals responsibly because this is a part of our stewardship over the creation as appointed by the Creator. Let us strive to be ever conscious of this accountability.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.