Dr. Don Payne has written an article simply titled “A Christian Perspective on Hunting.” In this article Dr. Payne offers some reflections “hoping to provide a reasoned defense of hunting that is consistent with the biblical values that sustain Christian faith.” Whether you are a Christian or not, this article can provide some valuable insights into the ethical issues involved with hunting. Due to the length of the article, it will be presented in 6 blog posts: the introduction, a series of objections and responses and some positive reasons for hunting.
Dr. Payne is an Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Formation at Denver Seminary and an avid outdoorsman. While grading student papers, he spends much of his time hunting Elk, Mule Deer, and Pronghorn, fishing, and hiking in the Rocky Mountain region. -Scott Glasscock, COFA Colorado State Director
Hunting and consuming other creatures for food is inappropriate because it resulted (directly or indirectly) from the introduction of sin into the world (the “Fall”), as described in Genesis 3 and 9:23. The Fall not only introduced personal corruption and moral culpability into the human race. It jarred the entire created order with brokenness and alienation as implied in Genesis 3:17, “Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” Consequently, according to Romans 8, “the creation was subjected to frustration” (v. 20) and “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (v. 22).1
The tragedy of creation’s brokenness is seen in the backlight of God’s repeated blessing of creation in Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, and 25; then in the light of the promise in Colossians 1:19 to reconcile all creation.
The practice of hunting, then, was evidently not part of God’s original intent for creation and will not be the situation when God’s Kingdom comes in its full expression and all things in
Heaven and on earth are reconciled (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9 with Colossians 1:19). Since harmony between humanity and creation (including other creatures) appears to have been our original state and is the promised future, then we should embody those conditions in every way possible during the present age. The way all things were meant to be and the way they will be should be reflected in the present age.
Yes, the Fall led to a broken relationship between humanity and the created order. However, the exact nature of this brokenness is not as clear as the fact itself. Hunters can freely admit to pre-Fall conditions of harmony between humans and beasts without conceding that hunting is against God’s will. Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch suggest that prior to the Fall animals were still at the mercy or disposal of humanity and that sin distorted that relationship.2 They go on to suggest that when God granted permission to eat animals (Genesis 9:3), this may well have been God’s formal permission for what they may have been doing up to this point against God’s will.3
It may be that the focal point of God’s sanction in Genesis 9:3-4 was the prohibition against eating the blood of the animals, a practice which may have been an expression of pagan barbarism 4 or a disregard for the giver of life. We can concede the point that prior to the Fall humans may not have killed and eaten animals. Yet, that fact remains that in the aftermath of the Fall we inhabit conditions in which God did see fit to sanction it. The significance of this should not be overlooked.
Gordon J. Wenham claims that “God’s provision of animal life to sustain human life is paradoxical. To preserve man’s respect for life, he is forbidden to eat ‘flesh with its life, i.e., its blood.’ . . . Respect for life, and beyond that, respect for the giver of life, means abstaining from blood. Indeed, in the sacrificial law animal blood is given by God for the atonement of human sin (cf. Lev 17:11).”5 Gerhard von Rad makes a similar point when he states, “Even when man slaughters and kills, he is to know that he is touching something, which, because it is life, is in a special manner God’s property . . .”6
Certainly, God’s gift of animals as food represents to some extent the tragic conditions under which humanity is to survive and relate to other creatures after the Fall. Yet, we must not overlook the fact that this was still a gift from God in which, as von Rad observes, “[t]he right of dominion over the animals is also reconfirmed,”7 and boundaries are set to keep humanity’s focus on the authority of the Giver through the sanctity of the gift.
This objection is also based on over-literalized assumptions about the state of affairs depicted in the prophecy of Isaiah 11. It is not universally recognized among Old Testament scholars that the
imagery of the lion lying down with the lamb is a literal prediction of conditions that will exist in the future between animals or between humans and animals. Though this type of future may unfold, the main point of the prophecy relates to conditions among people. John Goldingay observes regarding this text, “Context suggests that the talk of harmony in the animal world is a metaphor for harmony in the human world. The strong and powerful live together with the weak and powerless because the latter can believe that the former are no longer seeking to devour
them. . . . Indeed, the book opened by using animals to stand for human beings (1:3) . . .” 8
The conditions of peace and harmony promised in the future should capture our deepest
longings. However, those conditions do not exist now and, at best, such a promised state should not overshadow the fact that God has not only sanctioned the taking of animal life for food, but has given this to us.
So, hunting reflects neither inherent hostility toward nor disregard for the beasts of the field. On the contrary, hunters are most nobly involved with animals when they have a genuine appreciation and respect for the animals they hunt and when they are grateful to God for the gift. This gratitude should be accompanied by a sober (though not necessarily somber) attitude toward our place of responsibility in the current age. Sadly, this is not the case with all hunters. It is possible to hunt unethically, disrespectfully, and ungratefully just as it is possible to distort any other aspect of life that God has blessed. Our challenge and opportunity is to respect the gift of animal life, taking no intrinsic pleasure in the death or suffering of any creature, but exercising gratitude that our own lives are graciously sustained by this gift.
1 All Scripture references taken from the New International Version.
2 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983),152.
5 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, Tex: Word, 1987), 193.
6 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, rev. ed., The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961),132.
7 Ibid., 133.
8 John Goldingay, Isaiah, New International Biblical Commentary series (Peabody, Mass:Hendrickson, 2001), 85.
Reproduced with permission. Copyright Don J. Payne, 2014.