The Relationship of Man and Beast

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.”  (Genesis 2:18-20)

 

Biblical Review:
Man’s Superiority over Animals

Humans believe they are the smartest animals on Earth. While our three pound brain is not the largest in the animal kingdom (sperm whales have 17 pound brains), we humans tend to commend ourselves for our ability to walk upright, develop sophisticated machines, consider things beyond our senses and create the selfie stick.

Religion has cemented this bias. The Old Testament unveiled the story of the creation of the world with plants and animals arriving first and then man – Adam – being the final ultimate act of creation.  Man’s creation was preceded with a statement:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)

Man was the only creature “made in God’s image” and the only creation which was specifically tasked with “ruling” over other species. The superiority of Man over animals could not be more clearly laid out.

The Quran similarly detailed man’s dominion over beasts: “And the cattle, He has created them for you.  You have in them warm clothing and (other) advantages, and of them you eat.  And therein is beauty for you, when you drive them back (home) and when you send them out (to pasture).  And they carry your heavy loads to regions which you could not reach but with great distress to yourselves.  Surely your Lord is Compassionate, Merciful.  And (He made) horses and mules and asses that you might ride upon them and as an ornament.  And He creates what you know not.” (Quran 16:5-8)

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Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, by Wenzel Peter

Man’s Relationship with Animals

Interestingly, the story in the Old Testament quickly moved past man’s supremacy over beasts. We soon read about a lonely man needing companionship so God brings the animals to man to ease the pain of solitude.  While the Quran relayed some benefits of ruling over animals (food, clothing, beasts of burden), the Old Testament relayed that animals could be a source of company and intimacy.

The bible pivots from man’s dominant position quickly.  When a snake tricked man into eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (maybe it was mad at being passed over by Adam?), man lost his place in paradise. Suddenly, man understood that he was not only naked, but had reason to fear animals as well.

Despite this more complicated relationship between man and beast, during the story of Noah and the flood, man was given the responsibility for saving all of the animals.  God could have instructed Noah to build a small boat to save only himself and his family, but instead tasked man with helping animals as well. Superiority and fear yielded to responsibility and care.

Later generations in the bible would principally treat animals as inferior life forms for man to enjoy, whether by eating them, dressing with their skin, using them to work the fields, and offering them for sacrifices.  The bible principally describes helping animals only to keep the animals alive for future service; there was no discussion of them as companions.

Overall, the Pentateuch discussed plant life in a much more gentle fashion than animals.  Consider Deuteronomy 20 which discussed going to war:  All living things – including animals – were to be killed when fighting people with detestable belief systems.  The animals belonging to those people were considered corrupted by the actions of the people and therefore worthy of annihilation.  However, the fruit trees that belonged to those same people were spared.

All items from the ground are kosher and permissible to eat, but animals are more complicated: they are innately kosher or non-kosher. But even kosher animals can become corrupted.

Pets Today:
Companions Again

Americans have grown very close to their pets and have begun to “humanize” them. People are now more inclined to give their pets human names (Bo) versus “pet names” like “Rover” a generation ago. Approximately 76% of pet owners consider their pets to be full members of the family and they treat their pets accordingly.

Pet ownership in the United States rises every year. There are an estimated 78 million dogs and 86 million cats in the US in 2015 (APPA). That figure compares to 74 million children under the age of 18 in the country. Yes, there are more cats and dogs than kids. Consider further that the US pet industry is about $60 billion. That is more than the entire planet spends on babies.

Entirely new industries have sprung up around pets over the past several years: pet insurance; pet day care, pet-friendly hotels and restaurants. There is even a special TV channel, DogTV, just for dogs to watch.

We have taken animals from the fields into our homes and call them members of the family.


The biblical story of superiority over animals evolved over time. The power of creation imbued man with power over animals. Stories of destruction were coupled with man’s responsibilities.  But the biblical discussion of animal companionship was very fleeting. Man rejected animals right at the beginning of history, so God created woman to be his partner.  Thereafter, the role of animals became utilitarian.

Today, animals give us comfort.  We have added pets to our families in even greater numbers than children. We read stories of the flood to our children and skim the vileness of man and their annihilation, and celebrate the many animals in the world’s first zoo.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is that all living things had a common ancestor. Beyond considering man’s physical evolution, it is worth noting mankind’s emotional evolution in its relationship with his fellow creations.

Related First One Through article:

Israel, Mother Nature’s Son

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One thought on “The Relationship of Man and Beast

  1. Dogs are named Kelev in Hebrew which some say means Kol Lev – all heart. Dogs are unique in their social relationship to humans. I have recently discovered that my dog is able to distinguish one melody from another melody.

    In addition to the unique social relationship of man and dogs, thee are two specific references to dogs in the Bible which suggests they do not belong in the “beast” category. One is when the Israelites left Egypt the Torah says the dogs did not bark (Exodus 11:7). The other is that carrion should be given to the dogs to eat (Exodus 22:30). Perhaps the latter was a reward for the former.

    On the other side we should never forget that there have been infamous vegetarian monsters in the world whose morality was so corrupt as to place the lives of animals above humans (Hitler).

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