prov1210revised (fulltext version of sermon with footnotes)
radio interview with The Ride Home with John & Kathy from May 2017. Why Christians should help animals. What an individual can do. And what the church might be doing.
First I talk about the history of animals in science. Second, we look at animal experimentation and vivisection. Finally a brief piece about the frightening possible future of genetic engineering of animals.
We will first talk about the negatives: that is, the verses that skeptics claim prove that God does not care about animals.
Muzzling the Ox
I Corinthians 9:9-11, “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be the partaker of this hope.”
These verses of I Corinthians 9 are the only Bible passage that MAY imply that God is not concerned about oxen. However, it has been badly translated and interpreted for centuries, as most scholars and theologians admit.
In these verses, Paul is rebutting critics who say that he and other apostles are “only in it for the money.” Paul did sometimes accept funds or perks for his ministry. In this chapter he also points out that Peter (Cephas) has perks and no one complains about him. And then Paul says, “is it not the Old Testament principle that you should not muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain?”
We modern people no longer use oxen to work with our grain…we have machines for that now. Oxen would pull a wooden beam around, causing a large millstone to turn, that crushed the hard husks around grain kernels and allowed the good grain morsel to fall below. God told the Jews in Deutero-nomy not to take cruel advantage of the animals performing work, but to let them eat while they work. Some mill owners were strapping muzzles on the ox to keep him from eating even while surrounded with food. God said “no” to that.
The Jews never contested this law. They always agreed that God wanted oxen free to eat, and applied this to other animals like donkeys, goats, sheep, etc. Even people. They said that if God gives us a rule that shows a principle in a small way, we should also apply it to bigger cases. So you should treat your workers well, also.
The problem is that translators messed up in choosing one of several possible meanings for pantos, a Greek word. It can mean “altogether” or “no doubt.” But it can also mean “surely, mainly, or especially.” Albert Barnes, Walter Kaiser, and many others have shown this. So Paul could be better translated here:
“Is it ONLY oxen that God is concerned about? Or does He say it also for our sakes? For our sakes, as well, SURELY this is written.” Even oxen get some perks for their work, so Paul asks, why not me? Paul is using the standard Jewish interpretive method, of extrapolating a larger truth from a lesser truth.
John Calvin wrote about this passage, “…from this it is inferred, from the lesser to the greater, how much equity he requires among men, when he wishes that it should be shown to brute animals. When he says, that God does not take care for oxen, you are not to understand him as meaning to exclude oxen from the care of God’s Providence, inasmuch as he does not overlook even the least sparrow…” (Commentary on Corinthians)
John Wesley likewise explains Paul: “Doth God take care for oxen?” Without doubt he does. We cannot deny it, without flatly contradicting his word. The plain meaning of the apostle is, is this all that is implied in the text? Hath it not a farther meaning?” (General, 121)
Another obvious reason to believe that the translation was done badly is the problem of how we interpret the Bible. Paul is usually very literal in interpreting, and so are modern pastors. If Paul is really teaching that “do not muzzle the ox” actually means nothing of the kind, but means pastors deserve payment, that opens a huge can of worms! When else should we interpret the Old Testament not to mean what it actually seems to say?
Martin Luther had a clever interpretation of these verses. He said that Paul was making a joke about oxen that can read. Was God writing Deuteronomy for oxen to read? Of course not, it was written for us! So again, Paul was not saying God didn’t care about oxen. He was saying that we draw principles from all of God’s commands, even the ones about animal treatment.
Swine and Demons
There is another passage that critics use to say God cares nothing about animals: the story of Jesus and the Gadarenes Demonic, found in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39. It is too long to cite here, so I encourage you to read it on your own.
The basic plot is that Jesus finds one (or two) demon possessed men on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, where Gentiles like to raise pigs. One of the demons calls himself Legion “because we are many.” A legion was several thousand troops in a Roman army. The demons beg Jesus not to send them to Hell, but to let them instead flee into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus says “Go,” and the demons leave the man (or men) and enter the pigs. All 2000 pigs then run into the Sea and drown. The demoniac asks to be a disciple, but Jesus tells him to stay and preach here. The locals ask him to leave.
Saint Augustine, unfortunately, started the poor interpretation of this wonderful miracle.
“Christ Himself shows that to refrain from the killing of animals and the destroying of plants is the height of superstition, for, judging that there are no common rights between us and the beasts and trees, he sent the devils into a herd of swine and with a curse withered the tree on which he found no fruit.” (Passmore, 111-112)
Augustine was trying to extract himself from some bad philosophical ideas of his youth. A number of eastern Christians were trying to push vegetarianism as a key element of our faith, and Augustine took every opportunity to oppose its promoters. He used the Stoic angle, claiming that humans only have moral obligations to “rational” creatures, not animals or plants. (Wennberg, 306) Thomas Aquinas later adopted the same perspective, and this pair of great theologians set the church on the wrong track, toward animals.
The interpretive method being used here by St. Augustine and Aquinas is not proper. They are arguing from the specific to the general, but they are not using a commandment or principle, but details from a narrative story. Their argument is basically this: since Jesus allowed or caused 2000 pigs to die in order to save one man from demonic possession, then animals are clearly not important to Jesus. Proponents of animal industries cite this as proof that God doesn’t mind us wiping out animals even in large numbers, since Jesus did it.
Is this proper interpretation?
Not at all.
The assumptions in this interpretation are unfounded.
One- Jesus did not care about the pigs, they say. This is not stated, nor implied. The assumption is that Jesus would never send demons into pigs if he cared about animals. For all we know, Jesus may have been very sad at the pigs’ demise. Nor does this incident prove that pigs (or animals) have no value. All this event proves is that Jesus believed that the human(s) involved had higher value than the pigs. It was better for demons to be in pigs than to be in humans.
Two- they say that this proves that we humans can kill large numbers of animals without compunction. Absolutely false. It proves that large numbers of animals can be killed for righteous reasons. Jesus never sinned, so His action is righteous. It is up to the industrialists to prove that their killing of large numbers of animals is righteous and just. Jesus was entirely just. Are they?
So what is a proper interpretation of this strange miracle? There are many facets to it, and I will focus on those relevant to the discussion of animals.
This miracle was a demonstration of Jesus power over demons to the disciples, to the local population, and to one healed man.
Look at the context! That is a good way to start any interpretation of the Bible. All three gospel accounts have a very similar order of events before, during, and after the Gadarene case.
1) Jesus was healing people and casting out demons. Matthew 8:1-15. Mark 3:1-30. Luke 7:1-17 and 8:1-3.
2) Jesus saved the disciples in the boat from a severe storm. Matthew 8:23-27. Mark 4:35-41. Luke 8:22-25.
3) Jesus casts out Legion. Matthew 8:28-32. Mark 5:1-13. Luke 8:26-33.
4) The locals ask him to leave (rejecting Him). Matthew 8:33-34. Mark 5:17. Luke 8:37.
5) Jesus heals more people. Matthew 9:1-7, 18-38. Mark 5:21-43. Luke 8:40-56.
6) Jesus sends the disciples out to heal people and cast out demons. He tells them how to deal with acceptance and rejection from people. Matthew 10. Mark 6:1-13. Luke 9:1-6.
You will find this pattern in Matthew, Mark and Luke. What does this mean?
These chapters of Jesus’ life show that He is preparing them to become apostles. They were fishermen. They had no idea how to teach, heal, or deal with “unclean spirits.” Of course Jesus is demonstrating His power, that comes from God, that they will also be using in the future.
The real point of the story of the Gadarene swine is that Jesus does a miraculous work. It saves a man from demonic possession. And the locals are not happy about it, and want Jesus to leave. The disciples will encounter the same kind of rejection when they start doing miracles.
As for the pigs, the point was this: there were thousands of demons in the man, called Legion, and the thousands of pigs committing suicide was proof that all the demons were gone.
If only ten pigs had died, would the locals conclude that only a small portion of the demons were gone? The pig keepers were watching Jesus’ conversation with the possessed man, and apparently hearing it also. If only twenty pigs ran off and died, would these men have run into the city to tell everyone what happened?
Critics say that this story proves that one man is worth more than 2000 pigs.
Maybe. Or you might ask it a different way? Is losing 2000 pigs better than having thousands of demons terrorizing the countryside? Trading 2000 pigs for 6000 demons is a better trade, perhaps?
The city people, rather than being thankful for the deliverance from thousands of devils, begged Jesus to leave. They rejected Jesus.
So, no. The incident with lots of dead pigs is no proof that God cares nothing about animals. The worst that can be said is that Jesus permitted a “lesser evil.” Invisible demons fleeing the man would not be seen by the onlookers or disciples. The only way for people to “see” the departure of the demons was by their entry into the pigs and the suicide of that herd. (Bauckham, Living, 98) If you were forced to choose between the life of a human and the life of an animal, the human would always be preferred. That is the most that we can infer from the incident of the swine.
In the next blog, Part Two, we will look at positive proofs that God does care about animals.
Animal agriculture, or meat production, is the largest institutional system of cruelty in history, in its current form. Until a hundred years ago, animals were treated with a modicum of Christian virtue in the United States. When clever fellows figured out how to produce cars swiftly on an assembly line, other clever fellows figured out how to set up animal DIS-assembly lines. Once the animals came to be seen as nothing but biological machinery to be grown (not raised), we invented the horror of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. I call them Harm Farms.
Traditional farms had a variety of animals so that they could provide manure and meat to the farm while also grazing on grass or kitchen leftovers. Pigs, chickens, and cows lived on most farms, and it worked out in a symbiosis: a natural God-intended trade-off between humans and animals. God made domestic animals to live with humans and work with them. I call the traditional farm a Grace Place.
There are many reasons why Harm Farms have become the norm rather than a fictional horror story. The main reason is the growth of the human population and more, the increased consumption of meat by those people. In one century the human population rose from about 2 billion to 7 billion. So the population more than tripled. But in countries like the United States, our diets also increased in meat-eating by an even greater rate. Chicken consumption per person increased by perhaps ten times in the 20th century! So there are more people eating a lot more meat. This allowed entrepreneurs to turn to fast industrial meat production, without any pretense of ethics.
I am not a vegetarian. Jesus was not a vegetarian. Now there is nothing wrong with being a vegetarian, but it is not a biblical demand.
The problem is that we, as Christians, are supposed to have ethics. We claim we oppose cruelty. But in our diets, we eat meat produced by morally bankrupt companies. About 95% to 98% of the meat you and I eat comes from those Harm Farms. Very few Grace Places remain.
You may say, “I am never cruel.” Great. So, if your favorite brand of tennis shoes are made in child slave labor camps, would you stop buying them? I would hope so. Then how do you think you can rightly eat animal flesh that was abused and degraded for its entire lifespan? We are aiding and abetting cruelty. We are accomplices to evil.
If I was married and hired someone to kill my wife, would I be a criminal? Of course. Just because I don’t pull the trigger, but paid someone else to do it, I am still responsible. So why am I not responsible for paying someone else to torture a chicken or pig or cow before it dies?
But I didn’t INTEND for cruelty to occur. So? If I run over a pedestrian because I am texting on my cellphone, am I not responsible? I didn’t intentionally run over the person, it was an accident. But it was a culpable accident. I was not paying attention.
About the best defense you or I can mount for our eating meat from evil companies is ignorance. And that is not much of a defense. It means we are blind or stupid. We eat three times a day. How can we live holy lives if we don’t even worry about a regular, necessary activity in an ethical way?
Eating meat is similar to having sex or talking. Sex is a good thing when done in a godly manner. Sex is a bad thing when done as adultery, fornication, and etc. Talking is a good thing when done in a godly manner. Talking is a bad thing when done as gossip, slander, flattery, etc. Eating meat is a good thing when done in a godly manner. Eating meat is a bad thing when supporting institutionalized cruelty.
So what can you do? What can I do?
Eat less meat. We already eat far more than doctors recommend.
If you want to eat meat produced less cruelly, take beef before chicken or pork. Cows are too large to imprison in dark barns, so they still have half of a decent life.
The best thing to do, is to find local farmers who raise their own animals.
At the very least, I encourage you to start thinking about meat. Slaughterhouses and Harm Farms have become common because we allowed the stock market and business to hide from scrutiny. We have bathed gluttonously in ignorance, not wanting to know how the animals are treated. That is wrong. Eating meat is not sinful. Eating meat ignorantly is contributing to evil. We support the cruel industry by doing nothing.
This “blog” constitutes the first step in the planned creation of a non-profit organization to be called “God’s Animals Living Abundantly.” It will be an on-going process: gradually growing.
The name was chosen for two reasons. God’s Animals is the title of the non-fiction book I have nearly finished writing. God’s Animals Living Abundantly is both a summary of my hope for the future of animals on Earth, and a pleasant acronym of GALA.
First and foremost, the key element is that all animals belong to God. More specifically, for Christians, they belong to Jesus Christ. He created the world and will receive it again as a gift from the Father at the end. As the New Testament quotes often from Psalm 8, “all things” will be put under His feet.
The animals belong to God, not to Satan, nor to humanity.
A common and mistaken Christian view is that God and Satan played a cosmic card game in the Garden of Eden. The deal was, purportedly, winner take all. If Adam sticks with God, then God keeps the universe. If Adam and Eve sin, then Satan takes possession of the world. They think that the Devil became the ruler of this universe, and God is working to win it back.
That is nonsense. Satan is only referred to as “the god of this world” in the sense of the human world. He rules that because the human souls are dead in sin. Satan does not control the weather, or command the animals, or claim ownership of the Earth. The fallen angel is still under the complete control of God. When Satan wants to do anything important he must grovel in Heaven for permission to do so. The animals, and the world, are not under the control of the Devil.
Finally, the more pernicious doctrine is beloved of modern industrialists, and greedy consumers. They wish to believe that God created the Earth for our appetites and desires. Using a false understanding of “dominion” from Genesis 1, and Psalm 8, they claim that God has ceded ownership of the world to humans. They see the Earth as a giant pinata full of goodies, and we must blast the planet to get the goodies out. These people claim that animals are of no importance to God: He intended for us to exploit them for our needs and wants without restriction.
This is not nonsense. This is blasphemy.
God did not cede the world to humanity for domination. Dominion was never intended to be absolute tyranny. God established rules, laws, principles, and examples of the proper care of His animals in the Bible. God never ceded control of the Earth. The Earth is the Lord’s and all it contains! Humans are granted a kind of ownership; the kind of ownership we call stewardship. Animals are on loan from God for our careful use, with restrictions.
Cruelty at a personal and societal level are based on the blasphemous notions that we ourselves own the animals rather than God. If people had the correct notion, and lived by recognizing that God owns the animals and Earth, our planet would be a far nicer place to live.
So, “God’s Animals” refers to the true owner of all creatures: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Christian God.
The rest of the sentence, “Living Abundantly,” is the intention of God for His creatures, which His people should be promoting on Earth. It was the original plan of God,. He intends for Christians to work toward implementing that plan now and in the future.
In Genesis, in Eden, God wanted the animals of air and water and land to teem, populate, spread, and fill the Earth. Jesus did not plan for a planet overflowing with people with a few animals here and there. Abundance is the word, in quantity of living creatures. Psalm 104 celebrates the provision of God for various creatures in many different habitats. Some places on Earth were created by God specifically for certain kinds of animals to live in. Not every corner of the Earth is to be claimed by humans. People may share and visit, but not monopolize the whole planet.
At the end of Job, God brags about his many creatures, even the ones now extinct or unknown to humans, like Behemoth and Leviathan. Where in the Bible were humans told that the animals should be exterminated? When God gave the Israelites the land of Judea, He ordered that the people should leave some food in the fields. Why? For the poor humans and the wild animals to eat. Baby birds and its mother were not to be captured or killed together.
Abundant living must not only be considered in quantity of animals, but also in the individual animal’s quality of life. A life can be abundant in the sense of enjoyment. Living creatures can go beyond basic needs. They can have a surplus of life, wherein it can be joyous. You have probably seen the You Tube videos of baby animals frolicking…goats hopping and puppies rolling and kittens tumbling and birds bathing. A life blessed by God is a happy life. Of course, sinful humans have difficulty finding joy because sin is a tremendous downer. But animals are not sinners. Animal hardships are part of “the Curse” wherein human sin brought pain and death and travail into the world.
Christ is the conqueror of Death. Though death is the last enemy, Jesus gives life to many humans by saving them and restoring their ability to enjoy life. Jesus wants His disciples, including us, to spread this good news throughout the Earth. The good news transforms human lives. Then humans also transform their relationships with each other and the Earth. Christians should be improving the Earth along with evangelism, because the Good News includes the complete restoration of the Earth.
Romans 8:19-21, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Although the glories of the New Earth will not be complete until Christ removes the Curse and death, should not His people be active in healing what parts of the living world can be healed?