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I was looking back over Genesis 9, just after the flood, when God allowed man to eat animals for food. The text is fairly interesting here:

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. 6 “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

Much has been made of Genesis 9:6 in regards to capital punishment, but I had never really noticed 9:5 before. What does God mean that he will demand an accounting from every animal?

Practically speaking, humans have a tendency to put down any animal that attacks a human - is this practice the intent of this verse? Or is there more to it?

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Along these lines, if this is true, this would seem to imply that if God can punish animals, he can reward them. That to me could be the beginning of an argument that animals could go to heaven. It seems really far-fetched, but it just has me wondering... (Note: This question is emphatically not 'Do animals go to heaven?' nor is it 'Do animals have souls?') –  Affable Geek Jan 13 '12 at 19:14
Just my thought: God doesn't desire any one to die. However, Satan is working to bring humans to death. He works in many different ways, and besides instigating human's will and flesh to kill other humans, he seems to be also working through other elements of God's creation like animals and nature (calamities). Perhaps, if he succeeds in stopping a human's life through an animal, that animal becomes somewhat defiled as it was instrumental in the Satan's act of killing a man, thus, it must be dealt with accordingly. –  brilliant Jan 14 '12 at 10:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is an interesting passage in the Pentateuch:

“If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death." -Ex 21:28-29

This seems to harmonize well with the Gen 9:5 passage you cited. In the former verse, the responsibility for the bloodshed seems to rest on the animal. However, in the latter verse, the negligence of the owner to keep the bull penned up makes the owner responsible for the blood shed by the animal, and the animal is still culpable.

And yes, this may well be why animals get put down when they attack or kill others today. Many of the modern principles of culpability (such as manslaughter and malice aforethought) stem from the Pentateuch.

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I think the last line is misguided; without that last line it would be a much better/clearer post, IMO. Correlation is not causality. Most cultures have developed astonishingly similar stances here; it has nothing to do with the Pentateuch as a point of origin, but simply: it is a reasonable approach that works to protect public safety. –  Marc Gravell Jan 14 '12 at 10:48
Point taken, @MarcGravell. The last sentence was meant to draw the reader's attention to the concept of "manslaughter" (Deut 19:4-6) and the terminology of "malice aforethought" (Num 35:20, Deut 4:42). Do you think this would be clearer if I added "in Judeo-Christian nations" after "modern principles of culpability"? The fact the other nations share concepts of public safety does not diminish the Pentateuch as a source. And I think this is a powerful linguistic carryover that our modern legal parlance uses some of the words from the KJV. –  rajah9 Jan 14 '12 at 13:18
As for "correlation vs. causality": please see my answer and discussion at our sister site, skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/2058/1403. –  rajah9 Jan 14 '12 at 13:20

Genesis 9:5 does say that animals are held responsible but I would say that this does not mean heaven or hell. A lot of the punishments in the Torah that are meted out are of the earthly origin. As Exodus 21:28-29 (mentioned by rajah9) makes it very clear, this punishment is of an earthly nature. I don't think these texts are talking about heaven or hell at all.

As for the human tendency to put down any animal that attacks a human. I believe it started with these commandments to Noah, but now it might just be a part of human nature to put down anything that attacks us, especially if that thing is weaker and more vulnerable. The reason I say that is, the same commandments continue on and say that even if a human kills another human, that human shall be put to death, however, we as humans are not as trigger happy when it comes to putting humans to death for murdering as we are with animals.

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In Christian ethics, animals are not considered free moral agents , and therefore are not culpable for their actions (here is an article about moral agency in general). Humans, as free moral agents, are able to choose between right and wrong and therefor be punished or rewarded for their choices.

I think one way of interpreting this verse is that it is not specifically saying that animals will be judged for taking the life of a human. It is there to emphasis God's justice in his dealings with us. Something akin to 'nothing will escape God's justice, not even animals'.

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In light of other verses cited that seem to say the opposite about culpability, what doctrine would you reference for this claim? –  Caleb Jan 14 '12 at 10:33

This is not an accurate translation of the Hebrew connotations: Here is the relevant passage in a more literal translation, starting at the beginning of Chapter 9 (my translation of Genesis, available on Wikisource):

And God blessed Noah and his sons; and told them "bear fruit and multiply, and fill the land. And your peculiar feats will awe all the land animals and all the fowl of the sky all that will crawl the land, and all the fish of the sea; into your hands they are given. Every land crawler that lives, will for you be for eating, of green plants, I give you all.

But flesh, with its soul still in its blood you will not eat. And even the life-blood of your soul I will demand, by the hand of every animal, I will demand it, and by the hand of man, in the hand of a man and his brother, I will demand the soul of man. Who spills man's blood, will that man's blood be spilled: because in the image of God, is man made."

The word translated as "demand an accounting for" is literally "Evakesh" or "ask for". It is simply saying that your mortal life can be taken by animal, or by another person. God says "I will ask for your life at the hands of animals, and at the hands of man". There is no calling to account.

The word "evakesh" is often used in other contexts to mean "I will ask for an explanation for", or "I will demand an accounting for". It just doesn't seem to mean that here. It is straightforward Hebrew that reads "I will demand your life back by animal and by man." The calling to judgement is only in the next verse about spilling blood.

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Whatever the Hebrew might say, that translation isn't clear in English so it isn't very useful for reasoning out what the verse means. Also SE frowns on answers that are not useful apart from reading an offsite link. –  Caleb Jan 14 '12 at 20:04
Also, there are plenty of translations that are both scholarly and read well in English. For example this verse in the ESV is both a clear and seems to be an accurate rendition here. –  Caleb Jan 14 '12 at 20:05
@Caleb: I don't like these translations--- they take the word "evakesh" and deconstruct it as "demand a reckoning", when it means "ask for" as in "ask for it back". The reason I did a translation is to avoid unnecessary verbiage which wrecks the reading flow. –  Ron Maimon Jan 16 '12 at 5:36
Thanks for editing, but I still don't think this is a useful answer. The meaning of your personal translation is still unclear in English and it is even less clear how you decided the well established translations are wrong on this point. The change in terms you suggest does not even resolve the issue the OP asked for. Also, for a translation that multiple different groups of qualified translators in various times have unanimously agreed on, you must provide more compelling evidence than that it "just doesn't seem right" to you as modern Hebrew speaker rather than an expert in ancient Hebrew. –  Caleb Jan 16 '12 at 14:53
@Caleb - I would say Ron's answer here is the only useful answer. His point regarding the bizarre English translations from Hebrew is true. –  Heath Hunnicutt Feb 19 '12 at 0:11

In simple English, I think it's saying that's how we'll die. Since at the introduction of sin and the guarding of the tree of life from us, death is sure. That is why we generally die from manmade ills or by animals. Other things are acts of God for specific reasons.

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Sorry, I'm not seeing how you are pulling this meaning out of The text at all. –  Affable Geek Sep 22 '12 at 1:37

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