In light of the protests of the killing of Cecil, an African lion, I was driven back to scripture to consider the question of hunting for sport. What does the Bible have to say about hunting for sport and what are the moral implications for Dr. Walter Palmer, the American dentist who hunted and killed Cecil?
First, there is no scripture forbidding the killing of animals for sport, medicine, food, or other uses. Neither is there any regulation governing the killing of animals or how they are to be killed. Since the Bible lacks direct commands in this regarding hunting, or trophy hunting, we have to go to the stories, profiles, and other texts to try and determine a right line of behavior in animal care and killing for sport.
When God gave Adam his commission, it was as a ruler and steward over creation (Genesis 2:15). His job was to manage its resources and improve upon what God did in the creative act. Would killing an animal for sport be a fulfillment of that commission?
God showed concern for animals in several passages. He told Jonah he should be concerned for the many animals in Ninevah that would have perished under the city’s judgment (Jonah 4:11). By putting animals under the protection of Adam and Noah he demonstrated that he was concerned for their care and survival (Genesis 9:2,9-17). Many of the heroes of scripture were shepherds, people whose job it was to care for animals for human benefit (Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, etc). In addition, the Mosaic law gave commands regarding animal care (Exodus 22:10-13).
Nimrod was praised by his peers as a mighty hunter before the Lord (Genesis 10:9). It may be implied that he hunted for sport, but this is not really known. Esau was a hunter, but as far as we know he only hunted for food (Genesis 25:27); though scripture favors Jacob, who was a shepherd.
Hunting for pure sport, with no other practical benefit would not seem to be represented in scripture. Most hunting in biblical times was for survival. Since it is not spoken about directly we cannot make a definitive statement that it is morally right or wrong. However, I would default to the idea of stewardship. Killing for no benefit other than trophy would seem to me to be a violation of the stewardship commission that Adam and Noah, and thus, all of us have received.
However, there are times when stewardship means that predator populations must be reduced to protect certain species. In such a case, because that kind of trophy hunting fulfills a stewardship benefit, trophy hunting under such a system would seem permissible.
If Dr. Palmer engaged in a legal hunt that benefited protector control, then his hunt cannot be a moral infraction since it would have a stewardship benefit. If he followed the rules of giving the meat to the local population for food, then his hunt would have a stewardship benefit for man. In such a case there would be no moral difference between shooting a lion or a gazelle.
But if Dr. palmer’s hunt was illegal and had no practical benefit, then stewardship would be violated. But he should not be treated as a murderer. Murder does not apply to animals, only to humans. If murder applied to animals then we would all be accomplices to murder whether we ate meat, used cosmetics, soap, or animal derived medicines, or wrapped ourselves in a leather coat. Such a notion is unreasonable.
So, until all the facts about his hunt are known, we should cut Dr. Palmer a little slack.