Animal Welfare in the Bible – – CounterPunch

Posted By on September 6, 2022

Frequently, when I read Christian arguments for animal welfare, they quote from the Old Testament. For instance, they describe the Garden of Eden as a vegan paradise, which they view as Gods ideal. Christian anti-speciesists seem to much less often cite the New Testament, which, of course, focuses on the life and teachings of Jesus.

As an animal activist operating in a majority-Christian country, Im interested in these arguments. If Im honest, though, Im also interested because Im culturally Christian and theres a part of me that wishes there was a more species-inclusive version of Christianity to be had.

So I decided to ask some Christian activists, scholars, and theologians who are concerned with animal ethics whether they thought the Old Testament had more to say on the subject than the New Testament, and whether they viewed this as a problem. Heres what they said.

For Christopher Southgate, a professor of Christian theodicy at the University of Exeter, this was all a non-question. The NT writers presume the content of the OT (which they often quote as Scripture, and sometimes re-interpret), he said. So they would not have found it necessary to supplement OT teaching in most areas.

Michael Gilmour, who teaches biblical literature at Providence University College, agreed with Southgate. Positive statements about creation and animals we find in Genesis, the Psalms, Jonah, and elsewhere inform the apostles worldview, Gilmour said. They knew those texts, and so did most of their readers. They are presupposed, part of the bedrock on which their religious worldview rested.

Gilmour didnt, however, concede the New Testament had less to say about animals than the Old Testament. They are always there, between the lines, so to speak, he said. We need to consider whether love your neighbor as yourself and other passages like it refer only to people as is so often supposed. Im not so sure they do. If correct, the New Testament has much to contribute to a specifically Christian animal ethic.

The president of the Christian Animal Rights Association, Matthew King, argued the Old Testament talked about nonhuman welfare to a greater extent. It is important to remember that the NT only comprises about 25% of the Bible, whereas the OT comprises around 75%, he said. Therefore, the OT is much longer and has more opportunities to discuss the issue.

This didnt concern King. I believe there is much continuity between the testaments, he said. A prevalent method of bible interpretation known as premillennial dispensationalism teaches a strict discontinuity between the testaments. I think that interpretation is false.

Grace Kao, a visiting professor at Loyola Marymount University, struck a familiar note. The Hebrew Bible covers terrain the NT assumes, she said. The New Testament assumes much of this material and also contains material and imagery not found in the OT As a Christian I believe the whole Bible contains material to teach and guide us.

David Clough, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, told me the same thing, making me wonder if my questions were embarrassingly ignorant. Together, the Old Testament and New Testament comprise the Christian Bible, he said. Christians have no reason to be concerned by the fact that different books within the Bible have different emphases, in relation to animal welfare or any other topic.

Taking a different approach, the chair of the Christian Vegetarian Association, Stephen Kaufman, questioned the New Testaments accuracy. I think Keith Akers in his book Disciples makes a very compelling case that Jesus was very likely a vegetarian, Kaufman said. Had Jesus vegetarianism been part of literature canonized as the New Testament, it would likely have had profound impact on animal welfare.

But, ultimately, Kaufman agreed with the point made by everyone I interviewed. Given that Christians revere the Hebrew Scriptures, he said, it would not be problematic for me if someone insisted that the case for animal welfare is stronger in the Hebrew Scriptures than in the New Testament.

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Animal Welfare in the Bible - - CounterPunch

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