Reasons to Believe

Animal Sacrifices

Recently someone asked me a question concerning animal sacrifices in the Bible. Her specific question was: “Why did God allow man to use animals for sacrifice? Doesn’t he care about the innocent animals?” In our current social climate, where many people consider extensive animal rights to be moral necessities, the sacrifices described in the Bible can be misinterpreted as barbarous acts of cruelty. But this perception is far from the actual truth. Here is my response.

Biblically speaking, creatures derive their existence and their purpose for being directly from their Creator. Creatures have no independent existence or rights apart from their Creator. Creatures, by definition, therefore lack total autonomy (complete independence and freedom). According to Scripture, animals were created by God ultimately to serve his purposes. Often those divine purposes directly involve helping human beings.

Theologically speaking, God used animal sacrifices as a precursor of Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27). Animal sacrifices illustrated the idea of a substitute that suffers wrath or punishment on the account of another’s offense. Jesus Christ is the perfect substitute who suffers the wrath of God in the place of sinners (Isaiah 53:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). Animal sacrifices served God’s purpose in teaching God’s people about redemption. And that is a very important purpose indeed.

Through his acts of providence, God expresses great and special care for all of his creatures, both animals and humans (Job 5:10; Psalm 65:9-10; 104:14; 147:8-9; Jeremiah 10:13; Acts 14:17). Consider the words of Jesus: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26 NIV)

While it is true that animals have not committed sinful or evil actions, it needs to be understood that animals, by their very nature, are not capable of making moral decisions or performing moral actions. Animals are neither moral nor immoral, but rather amoral (not relating to the moral sphere). Animals shouldn’t be viewed as “innocent” or “guilty” specifically because they lack the spiritual/moral sensibilities that are required for such ethical classifications. Of all the species on Earth, only humankind was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Human volition and moral decision-making is only possible because of the imago Dei (Latin: image of God). The moral sphere is clearly one of the things that set human beings apart from the animal kingdom.

I personally think that many people in our time have a sentimental rather than a realistic view of animals. Certainly as creatures of God, animals are to be cared for, appreciated, and even protected, but on a moral and spiritual level they are not equivalent to human beings who are made in the image and likeness of God. Animals should never be treated carelessly or cruelly, but nor should they be placed on the same level as human beings, as some animal rights organizations tend to do.

For more on how human beings differ from animals, see chapter 10 of my book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

Subjects: Bible Difficulties

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.