Animal Rights and Wrongs Part 2: A Modern Biblical View

Note: Part 1 of Animal Rights and Wrongs.

Animal rights and animal abuse are current topics. What should man do or not do with, to, and for animals? What Scriptures teach about animal/human relations was discussed in the previous article. At Creation, God placed animals under man’s dominion. The Old Testament mandated animal sacrifice, but once Christ offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice this use of animals became obsolete.

After the Flood, God placed a fear, a dread of man in the animals and instructed Noah that animals could be used as food (Genesis 9:1-2). By that statement and by examples, Scripture ordains the use of animals as food and their skins for various purposes. In Bible times, animals were both hunted and domesticated for these purposes.

Animals were also domesticated for labor. Bible characters rode donkeys, camels, horses. Animals pulled plows, carts, chariots. Technology has made these uses of animals obsolete in much of the world. But even in technically-advanced countries certain animal skills are useful. Dogs use their sense of smell to locate accident victims, track lost individuals, or locate hidden illegal substances. Others are trained to help the handicapped. Such animal use is within man’s God-given dominion.


But what about pets—animals whose primary purpose is being a companion? Scripture does not speak directly of pets, but some passages indirectly deal with the concept. When David was confronted about his sin with Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet confronted him using an analogy. “But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.” Nathan describes a man with a pet. David recognized this relationship. Believing the account to be true, he demands substantial retribution of the rich man who took, killed, and ate the poor man’s pet (2 Samuel 12:1-6).

Old Testament references to dogs mainly deal with packs of feral animals waiting to scavenge the garbage. But in the New Testament we read of what can be translated “little dogs” which are inside, under the table waiting to be fed by the children (Mark 7:28). Since Romans and other nations of the time kept dogs as pets, some feel that these passages refer to pet canines.

A corollary of the biblical principal that animals can be domesticated for work appears to be that animals can serve as companions. Because of their disposition and God-given instincts, some animals are well suited for this—others are not. Studies indicate that a good relationship with a pet can be beneficial for many people. Keeping pets appears to be within man’s God-ordained dominion.

What about zoos, public aquaria, and such places? Some would consider these animals to be community pets. If the animals are not abused and if they are well cared for, such places appear to fall within the Scriptural use of animals. The same would be true of animals that have been trained to entertain. This may not be an essential function, but if the animals are well cared for, are not suffering, and not in significant danger, Christians have little Scriptural basis for concern.

Humans are responsible for the animals they domesticate. This was discussed in the previous article, and is summed up in Proverbs 12:10, “The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.” Not all domesticated animals are well cared for. Cramped, filthy cages; inadequate or inappropriate food; and failure to meet their needs are contrary to the Bible’s teaching regarding the proper use of animals. But the fact that some domesticated animals are not properly cared for does not make all pets, zoos, or circuses improper. Those that do not properly regard the welfare of their domesticated animals are the ones violating a scriptural principle and are the ones Christians should condemn.

Animals in Their Natural Habitat

“Should not animals be free in their natural habitat?” Some of the “glory” we associate with animals in the wild is our perception of the situation. In this sin-cursed world most animals live difficult lives. Some must constantly be alert to escape predators; others struggle to live by tooth and claw. Most compete for substance and bear the scars of that battle. Domesticated animals often have a much less stressed life, which is illustrated by the fact that their life expectancy is three to ten times that of their wild counterparts.

“But don’t animals have a right to be wild, rather than suffer the humiliation of domestication? Should not they be free to pursue their own brand of happiness?” Although many who express these ideas think they are supporting a Biblical view, their ideas actually reflect the doctrine of pantheism.


Forms of pantheism are found in various religions. Basically, it is the belief that god is in the physical. Pantheists believe that humans have various amounts of divinity in them; “higher animals” have less, “lower animals” less again, and so on. Generally, a pantheist’s goal is to unite god parts through things like transcendental meditation.

Reincarnation is often associated with pantheism. If you adequately respect your god parts and unify them with other god parts, you will be reincarnated up the ladder; you will contain more god in your next incarnation. If you harm the god part in you or in other things, you go down the reincarnation ladder in your next life.

As a result many pantheists believe that animals need to express their nature in order to unite their god parts, and thus be reincarnated to a higher position. Since they believe animals have some god in them, they have the right to be wild. If we do not let an animal be wild, we are spiritually hampering it. Pantheists generally teach that animals should not be killed or eaten, since that hampers the animal’s up-the-ladder quest. Most people who are vegetarians for spiritual reasons do so based on pantheism.

When faced with pantheism, ancient Jews and early Christians rejected it. The Bible’s position is dualism—the doctrine that God and the physical are separate. God made the universe, but God is not a part of it. God’s power is demonstrated in that He created and sustains the physical, but He is not in the rocks, plants, or animals He made.

If one came preaching pantheism most Bible believers would reject it. So why do so many people accept pantheistic ideas? Generally pictures of animal abuse and tales of the glory of animals in the wild get their sympathy. As they climb aboard the politically-correct bandwagon, vague ideas about the spirit of the animal, the forest, the river, and the like are presented. Soon wearing fur or leather is wrong and vegetarianism noble. Being anti-domestication, and seeking to return animals to the wild follows.

Satan is adept at getting people started on a path that appears right but is actually the first step away from God’s path. As one continues on Satan’s pantheistic path he gets farther away from the truth. What started with “regarding the life of (one’s) beast” can end up in pantheistic heresy as one seeks to spiritually unite with furry, feathery, or scaly brothers and sisters. Spiritual growth for a Christian is seeking the Holy Spirit’s help to become more Christlike, not becoming more “in tune with nature.”

The Purpose of Animals

Part of God’s wisdom and power is displayed in the attributes He gave animals so they are ideally suited for their natural habitats. This, however, does not mean that animals have a right to live in their natural habitat or that they must be wild to serve God’s purpose for them. Scripture speaks favorably of David keeping his father’s sheep. These animals were not in their natural habitat, and thus needed shepherding so they could serve as food, clothing, and possibly sacrifice. This was God’s purpose for them.

When a lion and a bear threatened the sheep, David slew the predators and was justly proud of doing so (I Samuel 17). When animals threaten us or our legitimate endeavors, they are under human authority and can be dealt with. You could say that the lion and bear’s death at David’s hand accomplished the purpose God had for them. Thousands of years after these animals were killed we are still learning lessons about God and David from their death.

The Story of Dogs and Insulin

Ancient Egyptians described a physical condition in which a person was thirsty, passed excessive urine, lost weight, and died. A second-century physician felt the person’s tissues were turning to urine and named the condition diabetes meaning “to siphon away.” Later, it was discovered that there was sugar in diabetics’ urine and mellitus, meaning “containing honey” was added to the name.
A person with diabetes mellitus does not metabolize sugar properly. Sugars from a meal remain in the blood so the body must use its proteins and fats for energy—thus the weight loss. The kidneys seek to remove the excess sugar from the blood and expel it in the urine, but this takes time. After a meal a diabetic’s blood sugar can go so high that he enters a coma and dies. To prevent this, diabetics were placed on virtual starvation diets. Millions died excruciating deaths, with adults weighing under 60 pounds.

In the 1890s, scientists noted that if a dog’s pancreas was removed it became diabetic. Checking the pancreas of diabetics who died, scientists observed that tiny clumps of pancreatic cells, called the islets of Langerhans, were abnormal. Did the disease cause the abnormality or did abnormal islets cause the disease?

Today we understand hormones—chemicals made in one place, carried by the blood and affecting another place. In the early 1900’s that was a novel idea. In 1920 physician Frederick Banting proposed that the islets of Langerhans may produce a hormone involved in diabetes. Banting’s team experimented with dogs because previous observations involved dogs and they were large enough to permit dealing with the pancreas using known surgical techniques. They found that if a dog’s pancreas was removed and it received injections of an extract from the islets of Langerhans, the blood sugar remained normal. If injections continued the dog metabolized sugar properly. Eventually they isolated the hormone responsible: insulin.

For the three years that Elizabeth Hughes had been diagnosed with diabetes, she had been on an 800-calorie per day diet. At 15 she was five feet tall and weighed 45 pounds. In 1922, a few months after the first dog had been given insulin, Elizabeth was the first American to receive an insulin injection. She began to recover. Eventually she graduated from college, married, and had children. During her 58 years as a diabetic she received over 42,000 insulin injections. She died of a heart attack at age 73.

Animals in Medical Research

Scientists took the lives of a number of dogs to discover, isolate, and test insulin. Today, millions of people live relatively normal lives as the result of insulin injections. Despite the researcher’s efforts to make them comfortable, dogs suffered as they died of high or low blood sugar. Some died of infection: a common surgical complication before the discovery of antibiotics. But at that time there was no other way that this life-saving information could have been obtained.

In war, soldiers suffer and die so that others may live. War is not a desirable event, but in this sin cursed world it has often been necessary. Scripture recognizes this. In the war against diabetes, dogs were called on to suffer and die so that people could live. Using animals in this way may not be desirable, but it is often necessary.

We honor those who gave their lives for their country. It might be excessive to honor an animal that gave its life for human advancement. It is also excessive, even pantheistic, to claim that no animals should be called upon to give their lives so that human life may be improved.

Animals and Humans

God created humans and gave each of us a soul—our spiritual, eternal, in-the-image-of-God existence. The value of human souls is revealed by God sending His Son to die for them. Although spiritual, our soul is currently “tied” to our physical bodies. Spiritual things we do (pray, witness, meditate on Scripture, reflect Christ to others, and the like) are accomplished by using our physical bodies. It is this soul/physical body union that causes the extreme value of a human’s physical life (often called the sanctity of human life).

All creation, including animals, serves God and accomplishes His purposes. Wild animals serve God’s purpose in things like maintaining the balance of nature. Animals were not given souls and God placed them under man’s dominion. By statement and example, Scripture teaches that animals can be used and domesticated for various purposes. God gives guidelines regarding how to use this gift. Domesticated animals must be appropriately cared for. Wanton animal abuse is outside Scriptural guidelines.

This does not mean that animals have a right to pain-free lives. As the lion and bear served their purpose in dying at David’s hand, the dogs that died during insulin research can be said to have served God’s purpose for them. Animal suffering and sacrifice for the legitimate betterment of man is within Scriptural guidelines. A Christian’s concern should be that animal suffering is for human betterment and that it is as minimal as possible.

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By William Pinkston

Mr. William Pinkston teaches science at Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, South Carolina. He is a member of Faith FPC.