Biblical Studies Zoology (Animals in the New Testament)
Peter Joshua Atkins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0297


Animals have played significant roles in defining and shaping early Christianity. The fish served as a symbol for the Church from an early period, and Christian attitudes to the sacrifice and consumption of animals helped identify themselves in contrast to other peoples. Despite its relatively smaller size compared with the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, animals are a significant feature throughout the New Testament too. Memorable examples might include the zoological imagery utilized within Jesus’s teaching in the Gospels; the Lamb, Lion, and Beast of Revelation; and Peter’s animal vision in Acts. These texts have been tackled by scholars using a range of different methods. Historical-critical studies have either attempted to identify specific species in the New Testament or have charted changing attitudes to animals in early Christianity. Scholars have also taken a more theological approach to find within the Bible a justification for a Christian animal ethic or a theology of animal welfare. The application of ecological reading methods to the New Testament has also drawn on the references to animals to promote the environmental credentials of the Bible. Most recently, the New Testament has been read in conjunction with critical animal studies which have highlighted the various (and sometimes problematic) ways in which ‘the animal’ has been constructed or interpreted in the text.

General Overviews

Those academic studies which have attempted to provide an overview of animals in the New Testament have tended to only form a relatively minor part of larger works focusing on animals in either the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament or Christianity more broadly. For an example of the former, see Riede 2002, and for the latter, see Jung 2007. Firmage 1992 also includes the New Testament data in his article. Pinney 1964 is a relatively older book-length study that documents the animals mentioned throughout the Bible, whereas Schroer 2010 is a more recent example. Both Gilhus 2006 and Hobgood-Oster 2008 focus on animals in early Christianity but contain chapters which specifically address the New Testament evidence. Ecological approaches to the New Testament, in Bredin 2010 and Habel and Balabanski 2002, have also surveyed the passages which refer to various animals.

  • Bredin, Mark. The Ecology of the New Testament: Creation, Re-Creation, and the Environment. Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2010.

    An overview of the ecological content of the different parts of the New Testament with continued reference to animals throughout and some specific focus on animals in chapter 4.

  • Firmage, Edwin. “Zoology.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 1109–1167. London and New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    Provides general archaeological and geographical information on animals in the Old and New Testaments as well as profiling some specific animals (listed alphabetically).

  • Gilhus, Ingvild Sælid. Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203964798

    Traces attitudes to animals in Greek and Roman culture up to early Christian ideas. Chapter 8 specifically explores animals in the New Testament.

  • Habel, Norman C., and Vicky Balabanski. The Earth Story in the New Testament. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

    Although not focused on animals, this collection of essays reading the New Testament with an ecological hermeneutic makes frequent reference to the various animals found within the biblical text.

  • Hobgood-Oster, Laura. Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

    An examination of the place of animals within the whole history of Christianity. Chapter 3 contains an assessment of animals within the New Testament canon and apocrypha looking at a few key texts.

  • Jung, Martin H. “Animals: Christianity.” In Religion Past and Present. Vol. 1. Edited by Hans Dieter Betz, Bernd Janowski, Eberhard Jüngel, and Don Browning, 242–243. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    A short article on animals within the New Testament and Christianity more broadly.

  • Pinney, Roy. The Animals in the Bible: The Identity and Natural History of All the Animals Mentioned in the Bible. Frontiers of Knowledge Series. Philadelphia and New York: Chilton Books, 1964.

    After some useful introductory chapters (on animal worship, clean and unclean animals, animal symbolism, and zoological systems) the book provides chapters on various categories of animals mentioned in the Bible (e.g., mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish). The book covers both Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament.

  • Riede, Peter. Im Spiegel der Tiere: Studien zum Verhältnis von Mensch und Tier im alten Israel. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 187. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002.

    A collection of various essays on animals in ancient Israel, although chapter 10 provides an example overview of animals in the New Testament.

  • Schroer, Silvia. Die Tiere in der Bibel: Eine kulturgeschichtliche Reise. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Herder, 2010.

    A recent overview of animals within the Bible with chapters focusing on specific types of creatures.

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