Stewardship of the creation: according to the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price

By Kristen Kinjo-Bushman

A brief perusal of the first few pages of the Bible offers several exhortations and instructions concerning the Lord’s requirements regarding our stewardship of the earth and His creations.However, revelation given through Joseph Smith (a part of which is the book of Moses which will be the focus of this article), provides a much more detailed understanding of the actual doctrines surrounding the living beings with whom we share our environment.The impassioned debate on animal rights has, up until now, involved a relatively small group of people from the LDS community.However, as awareness grows through scripture study and a desire to be engaged with the social/economic issues of the day, more and more of us are rethinking our traditions and the relevance of personal habits that have far-reaching consequences. The existential implications of some of our core doctrines concerning animals and our stewardship over the earth prove very relevant to the discussion of these issues.By using a hermeneutical approach to the Book of Moses rather than attempting to find scriptures that confirm our preconceptions we will try to minimize the influence of preconceived notions. In my research I have found that we must understand the nature of living things, the commandments that they are given and our relationship to them.I believe that developing this understanding is one way that we may remain “clean from the blood (and sins) of this wicked generation.”1

The nature of animal life

Setting apart LDS thought from most Christians is our unique doctrine of the creation.Our belief in the eternal nature of matter and the human soul moves us away from the dogma of creation ex nihlio and toward an understanding of humankind’s self-existence and inherent divine nature. However, somewhat more subtly stated is the doctrine of the eternal nature of all living things.Although there is some equivocation about the nature of human intelligences with regard to the spirit, the doctrine of a spiritual creation of all living plants and animals is undisputed.

In Moses 3: 4-5 we read about the spiritual creation of all living things, which occurred before the physical creation. “…I the Lord God made the heaven and the earth, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew.For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.”A large portion of the temple ceremony is focused upon these creation passages elucidating the significance of God’s creations.In Doctrine and Covenants 88:15 we read, “And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” Likewise, in Moses 4: 19 we read of all kinds of animals’ spiritual forms being clothed with their physical bodies to become souls “and they were living souls; for I, God, breathed into them the breath of life.”

Joseph Fielding Smith elaborated upon the existential implications of this doctrine. “Latter-day Saints, at least, do not take the view that animals have no reason, and cannot think.We have the divine knowledge that each possesses a spirit in the likeness of its body, and that each was created spiritually before it was naturally, or given a body on the earth.Naturally, then, there is some measure of intelligence in members of the animal kingdom.”2

While the Lord places animals under his care, and watchful mercy3 it is obvious that they remain amoral –subject to the boundaries or the “measure” of their creation, but not to the laws to which we are accountable.“…The Spirit of Christ given to every man(…)was not given to the animal world! The Lord does not require of them repentance from sin, for they do not sin. There is no moral question troubling them.”4However, John A. Widsoe, speculates upon the idea of progression “of each order of creation within their own sphere.”“If, in common with men, animals and plants were created spiritually, it may not be an idle speculation that the lower forms of life will advance, in their respective fields, as man advances in his.”5

An understanding of the pre-existence of animal spirits would seemingly preclude the discussion of post-mortal existence and the question of the resurrection.However, modern scripture, as well as several statements by church leaders have addressed this issue. In Doctrine and Covenants we read, “For all things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.”6Parley P. Pratt eloquently stated, “Every species of animal creation ever organized by creative goodness, or that ever felt the pangs of death or uttered a groan while subject to the king of terrors, or exulted in the joys of life and sympathy and longed for the redemption of the body, will have part in the resurrection and will live forever in their own spheres, in the possession of peace and a fullness of joy adapted to their several capacities.”7

The command given to animals

The Book of Moses records that animals were indeed given commandments since their physical creation; their existence also has a purpose, as with every living thing.In Moses 2:22 we read, “And I, God, blessed them, saying; Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the sea; and let fowl multiply in the earth.”Furthermore, modern revelation teaches us that, “The Lord gave life to every creature, both the birds in the heavens, beasts on the earth, and the fishes in the streams or seas.They also were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.It was intended that all creatures should be happy in their several elements.Moreover, were not all creatures commanded to be happy in their spheres?”8

We read in Moses 3:19 of the relationship that Adam had with the animals in the Garden of Eden.“And out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and commanded that they should come unto Adam, to see what he would call them.”As Adam was given dominion over the animal world, we must realize that, to a large extent, our own choices affect their obedience to the commandment given to multiply, replenish the earth and fulfill the measure of their creation.

Does the factory farm chicken (“broiler”) have a chance to live and multiply in its natural habitat caged in a six-tenths of a square foot cage? Does the calf, fed an iron-deficient formula (to keep the flesh tender) immobilized on its 2-3 foot tether (so as not to develop muscle) fulfill the measure of its creation as “special-fed veal?” These cases are not the minority; this is standard protocol.Over 90% of farmed animals in the U.S. are raised in intensive confinement. One misconception used to appease our consciences is that a dead animal is not of use to agribusiness, so they must be treated well.This is simply false –economic efficiency demands overcrowding. Bernard Rollin, PhD stated “it is more economically efficient to put a greater number of birds into each cage, accepting lower productivity per cage…individual animals may ‘produce,’ forexample, gain weight, in part because they are immobile…Chickens are cheap, cages are expensive.”9

Our responsibility to animal life

In the Garden of Eden, we read that God’s first instructions uttered after the creation of man focused upon his stewardship over all other living creations.“Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.And I, God, said unto man: Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in the which shall be the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein I grant life, there shall be given every clean herb for meat.”10Providing Adam with knowledge regarding the care of his animals and himself, these verses teach us several important facts.

The first item of significance is that in the Garden all creatures lived in peace as herbivores.Adam and Eve, as well as the animals, ate only plants and herbs as they obeyed the command “to you it shall be for meat.”Not until Moses 5:5, do we read of animal sacrifice, which is the first reference to the killing of any animal.11

Interestingly, Joseph Fielding Smith expressed one observation –that the scriptures do not record any instance when a living creature was used as food before the days of Noah.He stated that permission to use animals for meat was first given in Genesis 9:9-11, after the landing of the ark and comments on these verses: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.But, the blood of all flesh which I have given you for meat, shall be shed upon the ground, which taketh life thereof, and the blood ye shall not eat.And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” The verses blatantly state that we will be held accountable for the blood that we shed.Whether an animal is killed directly by you, or you pay to have someone else do that which you cannot do, blood that is shed is your choice. A choice that you make whether or not you recognize it while walking down the sterile grocery store to pick up a neatly plastic and styrofoam wrapped package of 95% lean ground beef. A choice that you make when you selfishly say that you like meat and lack the creativity required to lessen your dependence upon the cruelty-based system that you have inherited.Joseph Fielding Smith states his interpretation of the verse. “The inference in this interpretation is that the use of the flesh of living creatures should be indulged in sparingly although there was no sin in the shedding of their blood when required for food.There is no inference in the scriptures that it is the privilege of men to slay birds or beasts or to catch fish wantonly.”12

The second noteworthy item, is commentary on the use of the words subdue and dominion.Brigham Young’s definition of the word subdue is very different than that which we would normally associate with the word.He said, “The very object of our existence here is to handle the temporal elements of this world and subdue the earth, multiplying those organisms of plants and animals God has designed shall dwell upon it (italics added).”13 If cultivation, development and multiplication of plant and animal life are what is meant by “subduing” the earth, then this verse would never be used as an excuse to exploit the land through strip mining, hunting animals for sport or any of the other contexts in which it is popularly referenced.Hugh Nibley comments on the forgotten teaching surrounding the word dominion.“…It is the privilege of every form of life to multiply in its sphere and element and have joy therein.Adam’s dominion was a charge to see to it that all went well with God’s creatures; it was not a license to exterminate them…There is a forgotten teaching of the early Jews and Christians that the dominion that God gave to Adam in Eden over His other creatures was nothing less than the holy priesthood, the power to act in God’s stead.”14

Although this article obviously focuses on the Book of Moses, several other scriptures in the other books of the Standard Works refer to our use of animals as a food source.“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life…” Regarding the Word of Wisdom and the verse in which we are advised about our use of animals, Hyrum Smith has logically deduced: “Let men attend to these instructions, let them use the things ordained of God; let them be sparing of the life of animals: “it is pleasing saith the Lord that flesh be used only in times of winter, or of famine” –and why to be used in famine? Because all domesticated animals would naturally die, and may as well be made use of by man, as not…”15


One of the ways that I believe that we can personally apply these teachings to our lives is by knowing where the food comes from that we eat.Our society is not set up in the simple, direct connection to the environment and our food sources in which Adam found himself.Yet by doing a little research, we can, and should know where our food is coming from and how it was produced.Emerson stated the problem, “You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”16 Part of what it means to be a steward, is knowledge that you are not contributing to unrighteous dominion over God’s creations. We should not be afraid to research the methods and practices that facilitate the demands of our appetites.Albert Schweitzer said, “Think occasionally of the suffering of others of which you spare yourselves the sight.”

While clearly the welfare of animals is of utmost concern to God, the issue of human rights is also intrinsically tied to the issue of primary and secondary food sources.We have been taught that “…the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” –yet millions starve each year and millions more are deprived of adequate protein.Elder Maxwell addresses this issue.“True disciples would be consistent environmentalists –caring both about maintaining the spiritual health of a marriage and preserving a rainforest, caring about preserving the nurturing capacity of a family as well as providing a healthy supply of air and water…Adam and Eve were to “dress the garden,” not exploit it.Like them, we are to keep the commandments, so that we can enjoy all the resources God has given us, resources described as “enough and to spare” (D&C 104:17), if we use and husband them wisely.”17 The question becomes, are we using and husbanding our resources wisely?Do the methods practiced raising food in our own nation contribute to the starvation problem? The answer is overwhelmingly, yes.

Peter Singer quotes the following statistics: “It takes twenty-one pounds of protein fed to a calf to produce a single pound of animal protein for humans.We get back less than 5% of what we put in.We can put the matter another way.Assume we have one acre of fertile land.We can use this acre to grow a high-protein plant food, like peas or beans.If we do this, we will get between three hundred and five hundred pounds of protein from our acre.Alternatively we can use our acre to grow a crop that we feed to animals, and then kill and eat the animals.Then we will end up with between forty and fifty pounds of protein from our acre…if Americans were to reduce their meat consumption by only 10% for one year, it would free at least 12 million tons of grain for human consumption –or enough to feed 60 million people.”18 The issue is not one that we can ethically deny once we know the facts.

A Zion community will not be built on ignorance.The laws of progression are not based on denial of wisdom given. We will be held accountable for the way that we live our lives if we have not been washed from the “blood and sins of this generation.” We must reject the unfeeling system that has been handed down to us by capitalists and those who exploit God’s creations and create a new world in which we do not compromise our dignity as human beings every time we sit down to eat with our families.This world is not only possible, but necessary.

  1. Doctrine and Covenants 88:75
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith “Man His Origin and Destiny” p. 194
  3. Luke 12:6
  4. Joseph Fielding Smith “Man His Origin and Destiny” p.204-205
  5. John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith as Scientist p. 113
  6. D&C 29:24-25
  7. Parley P. Pratt “Key to the Science of Theology” p.36
  8. Joseph Fielding Smith “Improvement Era” 64, August 1961, pp.568-569
  9. Bernard Rollin, PhD, Farm Animal Welfare, Iowa State University Press 1995
  10. Moses 2: 28 -30
  11. Moses 5:5 “And he gave unto them commandments, that they(…)should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord.” (verse not quoted in entirety)
  12. Joseph Fielding Smith Improvement Era 64, August 1961, pp.568-569
  13. Brigham Young Journal of Discourses 9: 168, Jan.26, 1862
  14. Hugh Nibley “To the Glory of God” p.21
  15. Hyrum Smith Times and Seasons 3:801, June 1, 1842
  16. Ralph Waldo Emerson “Fate” The Conduct of Life, 1860
  17. Neal A. Maxwell “A Wonderful Flood of Light,” p.103
  18. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation pp.164-166