John W. Loftus, in his recent book, attempted to make the case that the Bible does not value animals, and that the Bible and its authors would condone animal cruelty. The opposite is true. As I demonstrated in my recent debate with him, the Bible is very much concerned for the welfare of the animals, and Loftus’ view otherwise is founded in various misunderstandings regarding scripture.
“The Dominion Mandate”?
The centerpiece of Loftus’ argument is what he calls “the dominion mandate”, a verse in Genesis 1 that says:
“And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and dominate the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and every animal that creeps on the earth.”
Loftus argues that we are here commanded to be fruitful and to multiply and to subdue and dominate the animal kingdom. But he is clearly incorrect. This is not a commandment. This is a blessing. We know this, not just because it explicitly says God is blessing them here, but because of how blessings, including repetitions of this particular blessing, are handled elsewhere in the text.
In Genesis 35, Jacob is blessed similarly, also with imperative wording in a way that might be considered a command. But later, in Genesis 47, after God has blessed him with an abundance of children (remember that Jacob’s kids were explicitly the product of God playing musical chairs with the wombs of his wives, and so not within his control), he tells his kid that this was something God caused to happen… as a blessing. Deuteronomy 1:10 makes a similar statement, leaving no doubt that this is a blessing that God causes to happen, not a commandment. This interpretation makes Genesis 1:22 make more sense, because if we interpreted this sort of thing as a commandment, the animals were similarly commanded. Which is silly.
Dr. Nahum M. Sarna addressed this from the same angle, and cited 4 other cases in the Bible in which imperative grammar is used in a blessing – Gen. 24:60, Exod. 4:18, Deut. 33:18, Gen. 9:2.
There is absolutely no justification for the claim that this is a binding commandment. The use of harsh words like “subdue and dominate” are simply parts of the blessing detailing the extent of our power and not, as Loftus seems to think, sanctioning cruelty. On the contrary, at this point in the text mankind does not even have permission to consume animals. The Creation account sets up an ideal world as one in which humans eat plants, and mankind does not get explicit permission from God to eat animals until after Noah saves all of the animals in the Flood (although they did eat meat before this, following the Fall). Animals getting a similar blessing in verse 22 is the cherry on top of a substantial cake arguing against those who interpret this as a commandment.
Sacrifice And The Value Of Animals
Another key aspect of Loftus’ argument against the Biblical response to animal welfare is sacrifice. Sacrifice, he argues, was “brutal” and “an unnecessary waste of animal life”.
On the contrary, Biblical sacrifice is perhaps one of the strongest arguments for the Biblical concern for the value of animals, and the reason most people do not know this is because most modern people do not know what Biblical sacrifice actually was.
For the ancient Hebrews, sacrifice was how they slaughtered their meat. As Friedman points out in his book “The Bible Now”, “In biblical law, if you want to eat lamb chops, you cannot just take your sheep out in the field and butcher it. You must take it to the central altar, a priest must supervise you, and you must kill the animal yourself.” Compare this to the modern factory farming system and it is tough to deny that they were more civilized in how they treated the animals they consumed than we are. Furthermore, the ban on consuming blood is explicitly because the life of the animal is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and it is, therefore, disrespectful to consume it.
The Jewish Encyclopedia elaborates on that point:
“All animals, as belonging to God, are taboo. Hence at first man is a vegetarian (Gen. ix.). The right to partake of animal food is conditioned on the observance of the blood taboo; by killing an animal one taboo is violated; but if an equivalent one (the blood taboo) is kept inviolate, the sin is condoned. The blood is the animal’s life; hence the equation “blood” = “animal.” The Deity loses nothing by permitting the slaughtering if the blood is reserved for the altar or covered up (Lev. xvii. 13). This throws light on the primitive implications of the root (“kafar,” “kipper”), which has furnished the technical terminology for the Levitical and also for the spiritual doctrine of atonement.”
So deep was the Hebrew commitment to the value of the animal that when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD the Talmud records that many Jews gave up eating meat altogether, declaring it unfit for consumption without such a ritual.
It is ridiculous to suggest that Biblical sacrifice implies a lack of respect for animals.
Humans are more valuable than animals, therefore animals have no value
In Luke 12, Jesus says:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Not one of them is forgotten before God. A clear statement of how God values the animals. Yet, because God values humans more than the animals, Loftus uses this verse as ironclad proof that “Animals, according to the Bible, are in a different category altogether. They have no intrinsic value of their own”.
Which is just beyond ridiculous. I love my mother more than my cat. That does not mean I do not care about my cat at all. Especially if I just told you that I do care about the cat, as the Bible just stated that God does care about the sparrows. In spite of equating “humans have more value than other animals” with “animals have no value” being a ridiculous, fallacious, and obviously false comparison, it is a foundational point in Loftus’ argument.
Doth God Care For The Oxen?
This verse, after which the Chapter is named, is one that Peter Singer also uses as evidence of Christianity’s apathy for animals. The quote is from 1 Corinthians 9:
‘For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he?’
This is a weird case of scripture *appearing to* misinterpret scripture. The reason you would want to muzzle an ox while using it to thresh the grain is to keep it from eating the grain. It is better for us if the ox is muzzled, but it is unmuzzled so that it can eat while it works. And Paul’s reason for using this verse appears to be to make the point that this passage is not just for the ox, that it is analogous to allowing a human to work without earning anything in return, and Paul is using this verse to support the idea that he is justified in asking for a living wage from the Church. So, while this verse appears to be him saying that the ox doesn’t matter and that the law itself exists for the benefit of mankind, this is both not what the Law is saying and not Paul’s point. His point is to extend this idea to humans, and in so doing he recognizes the clear meaning of the verse, that it does show concern for the ox, but not SOLELY for the ox. Interpreting this passage as a statement that God does not care for the oxen is a pretty huge perversion of the contextual intent of the verse.
This verse references one of many cases in OT Law where concern for the animals is built into the structure of the law.
Other cases include Deut 22, which issues the command that if you find “in front of you” a mother bird sitting on its nest, you are forbidden from taking the mother with the children to eat it. You are required to let it go – a command which is both out of concern for the environment’s ability to continue forward without overt human influence (concern for the environment) and out of concern for the animal itself, the latter interpretation being supported by the fact that, later in the same chapter, slaughtering a mother animal with its child is forbidden. Bringing the grief of both death and the death of one’s offspring onto an animal at once was considered cruel, and, therefore, legally forbidden. Furthermore, unequally yoking animals (like a donkey and an ox) is forbidden out of concern for the well being of the animals concerned, particularly the weaker animal who would be forced to march at the pace of the stronger.
Surely no one could look at these facts and believe that the Law was not concerned with the well being of animals.
The Earth Suffers When Humans Mess Up
On this point, finally, Loftus’ observation matches up with a reality of scripture.
“…when God’s judgment comes down on people, their animals suffer along with them for their master’s sins.” -Loftus in Christianity Is Not Great
It is a motif in scripture, and particularly the Old Testament, that the earth’s well being is intrinsically connected to the corruption of mankind. When Adam messes up, God says that the ground is cursed because of him. The earth cries out to God on Abel’s behalf when Cain slays him. Sodom and Gomorrah cry out to God about the corruption of their inhabitants. When mankind becomes ultimately corrupt, a Flood shows up and cleans house on the planet.
The Creation account features humans being made from Earth and we are part of the Earth, and the Earth suffers with our corruption and prospers when we are less corrupt. Could the Bible be more clear? We are responsible for the Earth, the health of the Earth is intrinsically tied to the evils of man. Loftus has here perverted what could be one of the greatest calls to action for Christians being concerned about the environment into God not caring about the environment at all.
As I have demonstrated both here and in my recent debate with Loftus, it is abundantly clear that the Bible does care for the well being of animals and honors them as valuable Creations of God. Respect for animals and the environment is of extreme importance for a human claiming to follow God, because dominion of the Earth is a privilege and a responsibility that God has given to us. Pretending that verses regarding man’s dominion over the earth condone cruelty is so far off base it should not have even needed a rebuttal.
“A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” -Proverbs 12:10