Animals, with all creation, are certainly affected by sin. But do animals themselves sin, or is sin a strictly human practice? According to the Bible, sin is a transgression of the law. It is rebellion against God in thought, word, or deed (1 John 3:4). Animals did not rebel against God; man did.
When God created the world, sin did not exist (Genesis 1:31). Sin entered the world through the rebellious choice of one man, Adam (Genesis 3:11; Romans 5:12). Because of that disobedience, the world was cursed and has groaned under the weight of that curse ever since (Genesis 3:17–19; Romans 8:21–22). Some of the repercussions of man’s fall were that the ground grew thorns (Genesis 3:18), pain became part of life (Genesis 3:16), and physical death became a reality (Genesis 3:19). The animal world is subject to the curse, not because of their own sin, but because sin by its nature has widespread repercussions. As part of the curse of man’s sin, animals turned upon mankind and each other, many surviving only through violence and bloodshed.
Animals do not sin. They are incapable of sin because they were not created as independent moral agents. For an act to be sinful, there must be the violation of an indisputable law. Sin does not begin with the act; it originates in a soul that has the law of God written upon it (Romans 2:15; James 1:14). Human beings are created in the image of God with an everlasting soul (Genesis 1:27). Animals are not. When God created Adam, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). That living soul contains a conscience—an innate knowledge of right and wrong—and the ability to make moral choices apart from the survival instinct. We humans have the ability to choose obedience to God’s moral law, but we choose to follow our own inclinations instead (Genesis 8:21; Isaiah 53:6). Animals do not have an immortal soul created in God’s image. Although they can choose obedience, it is usually due to external motivators such as treats and training. Animals do not have the law of God imprinted upon their hearts and therefore cannot transgress it.
After the flood, God established a new order of human existence (Genesis 9:8–17). He made a covenant with Noah that included the prohibition against murder, based upon the truth that mankind was created in His own image. Genesis 9:5–6, says, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (emphasis added). Animals that killed humans were to be killed, not as a punishment for sin but because they had destroyed the image of God. This principle is carried through in the Mosaic Law (Exodus 21:28).
God did not require such accounting for a person shedding animal blood; in fact, God required animal sacrifices as a sign of repentance for ancient Israel (Numbers 6:14; Leviticus 9:2). Throughout history, God has established the pattern that, wherever there is sin, He makes provision for that sin—a means by which man can be made right with Him again (Genesis 3:21). Romans 5:20 says, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Wherever sin exists, God provides a way for forgiveness. Jesus Christ came to earth as a man in order to be the sacrifice for mankind’s sin so that we could be made right with God (Philippians 2:5–11; 1 Timothy 2:5). No such provision has been made on behalf of animals, signifying, again, that they do not possess immortal souls, they have no moral law written upon their hearts, and they do not bear the responsibility of sin. Animals cannot sin against God, and thus they require no means of forgiveness from God.
Animals do not sin. When a tomcat “sleeps around,” it is not sinning, for the moral laws of God do not apply to cats. When a black widow spider kills and eats its mate, it is not guilty of murder, for murder can only be committed by and against a free moral agent, created in God’s image. Mankind is obligated to keep the law of God, which was specifically given to him, and he alone bears the responsibility for the law’s transgression. When Adam fell, he dragged the animal world down with him, and “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” (Romans 8:20). All creation now “waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed,” because “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” when, in God’s good time, the curse is reversed (Romans 8:19, 21; cf. Revelation 22:3).