What is the Christian position on animal rights?

The Bible never tells us that animals have rights. Such a position, at least in some of its modern forms, is against Scripture since it often raises animals to the same level as people. Today, "animal rights" advocates have a variety of positions. Some say that all animals should have the same rights as people, while others say that though they are not people, they should be granted autonomy and that we should not use them in any way, whether it be for food, research, or as pets. Advocates have a variety of justifications for their positions, but none of them, as far as I've seen, are biblically based.

The Bible tells us that we are superior to the animals. Adam demonstrated his authority over them by naming them (Genesis 2:19-20), and animals were given to us for food (Genesis 9:3). In fact, Jesus said we are more valuable than the animals in Matthew 6:26.1. The Bible tells us that we are stewards of the land and the animals on it (Gen. 1:26; Psalm 8:5-8). We are to take care of them and not abuse them. This is not because they have rights, but because we have been entrusted by God with the responsibility to care for what he has given us and to use wisdom in expanding our dominion in the world. Animals are part of that charge.

  • Proverbs 12:10, "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel."
  • Proverbs 27:23, " Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds."

Yet, we also see that the Old Testament is full of examples of animal sacrifices. 

  •  Genesis 8:20, "Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar."
  • Leviticus 1:2, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.'"
  • Malachi 1:14, "'But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and My name is feared among the nations.'"
  • Hebrews 13:11-12, "For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate."

So, what do we make of the admonition to take care of animals and yet, on the other hand, use them in sacrifices? The common denominator is that animals are to be used compassionately and properly in the advancement of man's dominion on earth and worship of God. This worship of God required sacrifices. Animals were used sacrificially as a prophetic representation of the true sacrifice of Christ mentioned in Hebrews 13:12.

Nevertheless, animals don't have rights in the same way humans do. Animals and humans are different, and humans are the ones made in God's image, not animals, so humans were given dominion over the animals. We cannot say that animals have the same rights as humans, as they are subservient to us. Still, we are to treat the animals properly and responsibly.

  • 1. Wright, Paul H. “Animal Rights.” Edited by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.