THE BIBLE ON
CRUELTY TO ANIMALS

(Investigator 29, 1993 March)


Animal protection organizations which oppose cruelty to animals proliferated in the 20th century. Most people regard the notion of animals having rights as something new. In Britain a series of Acts of Parliament between 1911 and 1964 provided for domestic and captive animals.

In Roman times numerous animals were slaughtered with cruelty in the arenas. Galen (130-200 CE), the most famous of ancient Roman physicians, practised vivisection on live, conscious animals. Modern vivisection began in the 1820s. It was popularized by Claude Bernard (1813-1878) who, despite discovering little or nothing worthwhile during decades of cruelty to animals, became famous in France. Reusch (1878) describes the torments Bernard inflicted upon animals. Probably no one in the 19th century thought anything about it as seen by the fact that most reputable journals of medicine published Bernard’s experiments.

In the 20th century we still have bull-fighting and cock-fighting and live sheep transport. Millions of sheep are exported annually out of Australia. They are crammed three to a square metre, tier upon tier in huge ships for weeks at a time. Similarly on land. An official report in 1984 on Live Sheep Export Trade said:  

"Sheep travelling to Adelaide from Southern Queensland ... may be without food and water for as long as two and a half to four and a half days…

It is indisputable that sheep die during all phases of the live sheep export process." 

Another example of widespread cruelty occurred in India:
"The Indian Government has banned the export of frogs legs. Wildlife lovers claim that the legs are being chopped off more than l00m live frogs each year to preserve freshness for gourmets and that, with so many frogs being killed, insects are now breeding out of control." (The Advertiser 1987 March 5)
People throughout the ages have regarded animals as mere possessions which could be treated as the owner wished. Nowadays, however, many universities are subject to strict guidelines on using animals in research. Cruelty and pain for their own sake are banned.

Considering that concern for animal rights is a modern phenomenon it may come as a surprise that the Bible also has rules and principals for the benefit of animals.

In the Middle East it was, and still is, common to harness an ox and an ass together. Pulling wooden ploughs in hard, stony soil, perhaps even uphill on sloping land may be beyond the strength of one animal. Therefore two animals may be used. However, an ox and an ass are of different strength and have different pulling actions. The weaker animal might undergo suffering and stress.

The Law of Moses stated:  

"You shall not plough with an ox and an ass together." (Deuteronomy 22:10)
This command, as well as others discussed below, had the duel purpose of humane treatment of animals as well as the giving of a spiritual or moral lesson or reminder to humans. In the case of not yoking an ox and ass together the spiritual lesson was to remind Israel that they should not intermarry with other nations. The Israelites could, however, yoke a young ox to a mature one to be trained in the habits of the older animal. Jesus may have had this in mind as a comparison when he said:
"Take my yoke upon you…" (Matthew 11:29)
The Law of Moses was strict on Sabbath keeping with death the penalty for breaking the Sabbath. Nevertheless, when the life or comfort of a domestic animal was threatened the animal could be helped even on the Sabbath. A sheep or an ox could be rescued from a pit on a Sabbath. (Luke 14:5; Matthew 12:11) Cattle could be watered on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:15) Animals were given a day of rest every week along with humans. (Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14)

Other commands indicating concern for animals, but not limited to the Sabbath, included:  

"If you meet your enemy's ox or his ass going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the ass of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it, you shall help him lift it up." (Exodus 23:4-5)

"You shall not see your brother's ass or his ox fallen down by the way, and withhold your help from them; you shall help him to lift them up again." (Deuteronomy 22:4)

"You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." (Deuteronomy 2:4; 1 Timothy 5:19)

<>One purpose behind this last command could be that a high quality diet would enable the animal to work at maximum efficiency without losing weight or becoming exhausted. This command (and the others) therefore had economic significance besides indicating concern for animals.

The Bible portrays God as having concern for animal and bird life:
 
"Thou openest thy hand, thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing." (Psalm 145:16)

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will." (Matthew 10:29)

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God." (Luke 12:6)

"These all look to thee, to give them their food in due season." (Psalm 104:10-31)

Some modern animal liberationists oppose all use of animal products such as fur, leather, milk, meat, eggs, fish, etc, and advise a vegetarian diet. The Bible, however, does not go that far.

We see then that the mistreatment of animals through vivisection or other cruelty or through general disregard is contrary to the Bible. The torturers of animals, whether ancient Romans or modern surgeons, were skeptics regarding Bible principles.

They were also "unrighteous", "wicked" and "cruel" as Proverbs 12:10 states:

"A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel."
   
References

The Bible Revised Standard Version, 1952.
Ruesch, H.1978 Slaughter of the Innocent, Futura.

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