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animals

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A Dictionary of the Bible What is This? Contains accessibly written entries for topics covering the religious, historical, and social aspects of the Bible.

    animals

    According to the Creation myth (Gen. 1: 28) humanity was given dominion over all sentient beings. This has sometimes been accepted as divine authority for treating animals as property for food, religious sacrifices, and sport. But this is a mistaken exegesis. The next verse explains that what God ordained for mankind's sustenance was a vegetarian list; and it is ‘very good’. However, everything was changed after the Fall and the Flood (9: 13). Then animals were slaughtered for food and for sacrifices, though domesticated animals (providing milk) were not eaten. This situation reflected mankind's condition of failure—which in turn inspired its reversal expressed in the eschatological hope of Isa 11. Passages in the gospels anticipate this Paradise Renewed, as when wild beasts came to be with Jesus (Mark 1: 13) and his teaching echoed the humane legislation of the Torah (Matt. 12: 11–12; Luke 13: 15–16). The synoptists' words of Jesus about animals appropriately accord with his inauguration of the Kingdom of God, to be realized in its fullness only in the future. Modern animal lovers respond with a moral generosity which believes that the rich and powerful have no absolute power but rather a duty to protect those parts of the Creation which are vulnerable and powerless.

    In Christian worship animal sacrifices were, of course, instantly irrelevant (Heb. 10: 4) by reason of Christ's perfect sacrifice. Other kinds of cruelty to animals have, however, persisted in Christian countries where theologians—Augustine, Luther, Pope Pius IX—have argued that animals, lacking the power of reason, exist solely for the benefit of human beings.

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