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In the modern day, humanity farms animals to such a degree that rampant animal suffering is present across the board. From our egg and milk industry to our meat industry conditions are appalling and animals suffer widely and consistently.

I have heard that the Bible says that humans can do whatever they like with God's creation, but also that other Christians say we have a responsibility to care for it.

Does the Bible discuss the rights of humans verses animals, and in particular does it contain any moral or ethical rules that mankind should follow? Is there biblical basis for mankind being required to treat animals well?

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It's true that the Bible says that man has "dominion" over the animals:

And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

But there are many, many passages in the Bible regarding the treatment of animals. Here are some examples from the Old Testament:

  • Exodus 20:10: Animals are not to work on the Sabbath, just like people
  • Exodus 23:5: Relieve overburdened animals, even if you hate their owner
  • Exodus 23:11: Allow animals to graze fallow fields
  • Deuteronomy 11:15: Some interpret this verse to mean that humans should feed their pets and livestock before they eat themselves, though that's a rather tenuous interpretation.
  • Deuteronomy 25:4: Allow animals to eat while working
  • Proverbs 12:10: The righteous have regard for their animals' lives

Some also see significance in the fact that heroes like Jacob (Gen. 29), Moses (Ex. 3), and David (1 Sam. 17) were shepherds, while a hunter like Esau (Gen. 25) is not exactly a model citizen. Similarly, Rebecca is rewarded for treating animals well (Gen. 24:19). Abraham is rewarded after he separates his herd from his nephew's to relieve overgrazing (Gen. 13). We need to be cautious not to take such examples too far, however, because they could be mere coincidence, or reflections of the importance of animals to agrarian economies, rather than indications of God's moral standards.

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of God's regard for animals, as in Matthew 6:26 (cf. Luke 12:6–7):

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [ESV]

Jesus also speaks favorably of rescuing livestock that falls into a pit on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11).

That said, as the quote above from Jesus makes clear, animals are considered inferior to people in the Bible. There are many places where God sanctions the eating of meat, for example, and animals are extensively used for ritual sacrifices and labor. But the Bible does not condone reckless abuse of animals, specifically forbidding a number of types of animal mistreatment.

  • Does the Bible dicsuss any line of what constitutes outright abuse? I mean, we treat animals pretty badly as a civilization. – Edge Sep 17 '15 at 0:05
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    @Edge Only along lines similar to what I've mentioned here. It doesn't get much more specific, particularly with respect to problems that affect only modern societies (like overcrowding, etc.). – Nathaniel Sep 17 '15 at 0:17
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The other answer seems to largely explain it, and I was going to comment to add this but could not for want of rep.

Genesis 9:3-4 states that:

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (NRSVA)

This seems to often be cited as a prohibition against animal cruelty (for instance, in this Boston College discussion of the Talmud -- see the top portion involving the Noahide Laws), if not at least an act that might appear needlessly cruel.

  • Great example! You now have enough rep for comments, but this is certainly fine to leave as an answer. Thanks for contributing! – Nathaniel Sep 17 '15 at 10:56
  • @Nathaniel: yep -- I figured it'd at least count as an answer that addresses the issues. Mostly though, I tend to try to avoid writing less comprehensive ones, and it felt slightly awkward using something I'd gleaned from Jewish sources here (even though it's definitely relevant). – Zahnpatient Sep 17 '15 at 18:29
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The bible says that God wants us to be like him

Leviticus 11:44a NIV I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.

The bible also shows that God cares about animals. God was concerned for not only the people of Nineveh, but also its animals.

Jonah 4:11 NIV And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?

Therefore, there should be a caring of animals within the children of God.

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