Animals are at Least Partly Made in the Image of God. Go VEGAN! By Dr. Chapman Chen
Updated: May 15
Summary: There is good reason to question whether Christians should think that only humans bear the image of God. Animals at least partly manifest God's image because of the following reasons:- Firstly, The Bible never denies that animals are made in the image of God. Secondly, both humanity and other animals were made out of dust by God. Thirdly, God made a covenant with not only humanity but also other animals. Fourthly, many verses in the Bible describe how different animals bear different characteristics of God. Fifthly, both humans and other animals are gifted with a soul. It follows that animals are our fellow creatures, that we should go vegan and stop eating them.
1. Humanity is NOT the Sole Agent of God's Image
Admittedly, Genesis 1:26 NIV announces that human beings are made in the image of God: "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image". Yet, Genesis never says that humanity is the sole agent of God's image; nor does it ever negate the possibility that animals are made in the image of God.
As pointed out by David Cunningham (2009), “the Bible’s silence with respect to the attribution of the imago Dei to non-human elements of the created order cannot, by itself, serve as an argument for a strong distinction between human and non-human creation in this regard.”
2. Humanity is NOT Unique
Quite a few parts of Genesis indicate that the connection between humanity and other animals is closer than what most people would like to believe. For example, the author of Genesis states that on the same day that God created humanity, He created other terrestrial animals (Gen. 1:24-26). In other words, humanity is not unique. Moreover, according to Genesis, God created humanity and all other animals in the field and every birds in the air out of dust (Gen. 2:7, 19), which means that humanity is not made of any unique material. And later in Genesis, God made a covenant with not only humans but all other sentient beings (Genesis 9:9-11; Hosea 2:18). God is not the only partner of God's covenant.
3. Animals Bear at Least "Partial Images of God"
David Clough (2012:64-65) states that "the image of God" is "radically underdetermined" and illustrates how animals bear "partial images of God" (Clough 2012-102) in their own particular ways:
For example, Jehovah talks to the prophet Isaiah just like a lion roaring to his prey (Isaiah 31:4); weeping for Jerusalem, Jesus yearns to gather its children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34); John the Baptist regards Jesus as God's lamb (John 1:29); during Jesus's baptism, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove on His head (Matthew 3:16).
Since "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14 NIV), David S. Cunningham (2009) argues that flesh, which is the commonality between humanity and many other creatures, is the essence of Christ's incarnation. In other words, as both human and non-human animals were created by God, there is no significant difference between the two. Both are equal before God. As well put by Andrew Linzey, "The incarnation is the God's love affair with all fleshy creatures" (Linzey 2007:14). The real demarcation is that between God and His creation. However, with God taking human form by becoming Jesus, even this boundary is broken. To quote Clough again, “The doctrine of the incarnation does not therefore establish a theological boundary between humans and other animals; instead it is best understood as God stepping over the boundary between creator and creation and taking on creatureliness.” (Clough 2012:103).
4. Animals have a Soul Endowed by God!
There are at least three verses in the Bible that make clear that animals have a soul.
4.1. Nephesh Chayyah Means Living Soul!
According to the Hebrew version of Genesis, God endowed all animals with a soul, which is, however mistranslated as just "life" in almost all mainstream English and Chinese versions of the Bible, e.g.,
"And God created great whales, and every LIVING CREATURE [נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה] that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:21 KJV).
"And God said, Let the earth bring forth the LIVING CREATURE [נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so" (Genesis 1:24 KJV).
"And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life [נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה], I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so" (Genesis 1:30 KJV).
Hebrew for the phrase "life" in the verse above is " נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה nephesh chayyah", which is mistranslated as "life" in most English versions of the Bible. נֶ֣פֶשׁ Nephesh means soul and חַיָּ֔ה chayyah means living. In other words, God did give the animals a living soul when He created them.
4.2. "All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God"
Luke 3:6 indicates that all types of flesh, therefore animals, may see an afterlife:- “And All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God (Luke 3:6).”
4.3. "The Spirit Returns to God"
Similarly, Ecclesiastes 3 raises the question as to where the spirits of human animals and non-human animals go after they pass away. "Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19–21 NIV). And Ecclesiastes 12:7 (NIV) appears to answer that both human and animal spirits go back to God:- "and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."
The misconception that only humanity is made in the image of God is probably a result of human megalomania, or speciesism in Peter Singer's (1975) words, or "anthropocentrism" in Andrew Linzey's (1995) and David Clough's (2011) words, i.e., the self-conceited view that humans are superior to all other animals and thus entitled to abuse, exploit, rape, murder, and consume them at will.
Chen, Chapman (2022). Meatism is Animal Sacrifice Detested by God. Go VEGAN! HKBNews, 26 July. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/meatism-is-animal-sacrifice-detested-by-god-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews
Clough, David L. (2012). On Animals: Volume 1, Systematic Theology. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.
Clough, David L. (2015). "In whose Image are Animals Made?" The Nephesh, Jan. 20. https://thenephesh.wordpress.com/category/david-clough/
Cunningham, David S. (2009). “The Way of All Flesh: Rethinking the Imago Dei,” in Creaturely Theology: On God, Humans and Other Animals, eds. Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough (London: SCM Press, 2009), 100–117.
Linzey, Andrew (2009, 2007). Creatures of the Same God. New York: Lantern Books.
Singer, Peter (1975). Animal Liberation. New York: Harpercollins.