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The Biblical Usage of Animals in Parables and Visions

The very nature of a vision or parable expresses to the reader two pretty consistent ideas: 1) the images are symbolic of greater truths, and 2) the general message of the vision/ parable applies to the things which the symbols represent, not the symbols themselves. As we will see, these two concepts not only help us understand parables and visions but also help us to understand what a parable or vision is not saying. For example, when Jesus is called “the lamb of God” (John 1:29-30, Revelation 5:6), is the Bible calling Jesus a literal lamb? Of course not; Jesus was a human being, not a four-footed mammal. Thus, something about Jesus is comparable to a lamb, yet Jesus himself is not literally a lamb. We will be reviewing various passages in this article from both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and Netzarim Ketuvim (“Nazarene Scriptures,” or New Testament). All scripture unless otherwise noted is from the NASB.

Cows and Stalks (Genesis 41:7-8, 14-32)


“Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

“Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph… 17 So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, “In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile; 18 and behold, seven cows, fat and sleek came up out of the Nile, and they grazed in the marsh grass. 19 Lo, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such as I had never seen for ugliness in all the land of Egypt; 20 and the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. 21 Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them, for they were just as ugly as before. Then I awoke. 22 I saw also in my dream, and behold, seven ears, full and good, came up on a single stalk; 23 and lo, seven ears, withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them; 24 and the thin ears swallowed the seven good ears

“Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine... 29 Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; 30 and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land… 32 Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.”

On a literal (“peshat”) level, can a cow eat another cow? No, cows are herbivores. Can a stalk of wheat/corn eat up another stalk? No, stalks do not have mouths to eat anything, let alone eat other stalks. We know that the message was the same in each vision because Joseph, by the Holy Spirit (Genesis 41:38, 2 Peter 1:21), determined that they spoke of the same thing (Genesis 41:26). Because of the physical impossibility of the cows and stalks eating other cows and stalks, in addition to the parallelism of Genesis 41:20 and 41:24 (further telling us the visions speak of the same truth), we know that the visions do not speak of literal animals or literal stalks. They are merely symbolic representations of a physical, literal, future reality: the famine.

Should we trust Joseph’s interpretation? Yes, because the passage goes on to affirm that the famine did come about as Joseph described (Genesis 41:46-57) – thus validating Joseph’s interpretation. There is no need for either the layman or the theologian to add his own interpretation. However, if he does choose to do so, the primary interpretation must remain Joseph’s – not others’ – since it is the interpretation that the Bible itself gives us. It is the message which God wanted to tell us the most. All other messages must be in accordance with Joseph’s and cannot contradict what he already was revealed by God.

Beasts and Horns (Daniel 7:2-22)

Since this passage in Daniel 7 is lengthy, I will discuss it in parts:


“Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ 6 After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.

“After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts…”

What do we know so far? There are four “beasts” which come out of the ocean. The first was like a winged lion that walked on two legs and had a human mind. The second “beast” resembled a bear. Like another vision that I will discuss later, the “bear” is told to “arise, devour much meat!”[1] A third “beast” like a leopard with four bird-wings and four heads appeared.[2] Lastly, “a fourth beast” appears. It has massive and powerful “teeth” for conquering. It “devoured” the other “beasts,” crushing and trampling them. Unlike the previous “beasts,” it had ten “horns.”

Take note of what Daniel says: “while I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up.” What is Daniel saying when he says: “I was contemplating”? It means that Daniel did not automatically understand his vision. In other words, it was a mystery even to him. We know this to be true because in Daniel 7:16 and 7:19 Daniel is curious about the meaning of the vision and the man tells Daniel the meaning.[3] Daniel continues, saying that there were horns on this terrifying fourth “beast.” One of the horns overpowered three other horns. The powerful victorious horn had a mouth and many eyes.

Let us consider what we’ve just read. We are given a vision of inter-species “beasts” (which are genetically impossible to exist) such as a “beast” that it part-lion, part-eagle. The DNA of birds and mammals cannot physically combine to form a new creature. Nor can a leopard copulate with a bird – and if it could, what kind of bird has four wings? The fourth “beast” is described as being both powerful and terrifying, dominating all the other “beasts.” It has “iron teeth” and multi-eyed “horns.” This obviously does not describe a literal, physical animal because no animal exists with these characteristics. What, then, can we conclude from Daniel’s vision thus far? We are clearly speaking of metaphorical “beasts” – things which can be symbolized as animals yet are not literally animals.


“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time… 15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 16 I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18 But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’

Then I desired to know the exact meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others… 20 and the meaning of the ten horns that were on its head and the other horn which came up… namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts... 21 I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them 22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.

“Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings.”

As I alluded to earlier, Daniel finally is told the interpretation of the vision: “These great beasts… are four kings” (Daniel 7:16-17) and “the fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth” (Daniel 7:23). Additionally, the “ten horns” of Daniel 7:7 are identified: “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise” (Daniel 7:24).

A Ram and a Goat (Daniel 8:1-8, 20-22)


“A vision appeared to me, Daniel... 2 I looked in the vision, and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa… and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal… and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last. 4 I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself.

Daniel describes the “ram”: he has two long “horns” (one which is a bit longer) and the “ram” is charging in every direction. Everywhere the “ram” charged, no “other beasts” could withstand him. What do we know from Daniel’s previous vision? Animals are symbolic of Gentile kings/ kingdoms and horns are symbolic of kings. Let’s continue:


“While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. 6 He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath. 7 I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. 8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

Knowing what Daniel already told us about beasts and horns, what can we conclude? There are two kingdoms being represented by a ram and goat. The goat throws down and tramples the ram, meaning the goat-kingdom goes to war with the ram-kingdom and defeats the ram-kingdom. As history unfolded, the ram-kingdom would later be identified with the Persian Empire and the goat-kingdom would be the Macedonian Empire led by the “horn” Alexander the Great. Because Alexander had conquered most of the known world (from Greece to Egypt to India) by his early thirties, he became exceedingly arrogant and he magnified himself. However, he died at age 33 soon after his great conquest – and thus “as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken.” In Alexander’s stead, four of his generals competed for power over the Macedonian Empire. These four generals are also spoken of: “in its place there came up four conspicuous horns towards the four winds of heaven.” These generals divided Alexander’s empire into four separate kingdoms. The passage actually explains this:


“The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.[4] 21 The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece[5], and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. 22 The broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power.

Daniel then reveals the meaning of the beasts and horns. In accordance with his previous vision, the beasts and horns represent kingdoms/ kings.[6]

Daniel’s Visions Explained (Daniel 9:21-12:13)


“While I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 22 He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision” (Daniel 9:21-23).

Gabriel comes to Daniel to inform him of the meaning of his vision. Again, it should be noted that Daniel did not initially understand the vision. From chapters 9-12 Daniel is taught what will happen in the near future and in the end times. He is given information regarding the four kingdoms, the legendary “seventy weeks,” the coming of the Messiah, the judgment of the nations, etc. – all explained at length. These chapters are explanations and elaborations on what Daniel was told in chapters 7-9 with the imagery of the beasts, horns, goats, rams, etc.

Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46)


“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels… 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Notice the imagery which Jesus uses: sheep and goats. Recall the goat from Daniel’s vision. What did he represent? The goat was symbolic of Alexander, emperor of the Macedonian Empire, remember? Alexander is specifically called a “Greek.” Now, we understand that many times in the New Testament there are two races of men: Jew and Greek (“Jew and Gentile” or “circumcised and uncircumcised”).[7] 

Paul tells us that a person “is a Jew who is one inwardly” (see Romans 2:27-29) even if they were born a Gentile[8]. The opposite is also true: if a person was born a Jew, it was possible for them to surgically reverse their circumcision (1 Corinthians 7:18a), shave their beard, and become a Greek (Hellenist). This is possibly who the Bible speaks of in John 12:20-21, “Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip… and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”[9] 

Regardless of whether these were physically Greeks or simply Hellenists, the point remains that some Jews unfortunately rejected their faith in God and the Bible and joined “the world.” Thus, a faithful person is likened to a sheep whereas a person without faith in God is likened to a goat. Jesus’ parable makes this teaching pretty clear – especially when the “sheep” and “goats” are judged regarding the morality of the decisions they made in life. Interestingly, the concept of the saints and the wicked being judged, with the saints receiving a verdict of salvation and the wicked receiving a guilty verdict, is conveyed in a passage we looked at previously, Daniel 7:21-22, 7:26-27.

Beasts, Crawlers, and Birds (Acts 10-11)

Acts 10:9-29


“Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.

Akin to the other visions, Peter sees animals. Interestingly enough, the passage mentions “all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.” The “four-footed animals” does not necessarily refer to things like pigs, dogs, bears, or rats, since it can also include sheep, deer, or cows. However, Peter’s response to God alludes to the strong possibility of the “four-footed animals” being unclean and/or common (unholy). Additionally, “crawling creatures” like snakes, crabs, or lizards are obviously also unclean. Many “birds of the air” are also unclean such as eagles, hawks, vultures, and crows. Considering this along with Peter’s response, we can safely assume that at least a large majority of the animals in Peter’s vision were “unholy or unclean” (some other Bibles translate it as “common or unclean”).


“Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging.

“And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him… 27 As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29 That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for.”

Like Pharaoh (Genesis 41:7-8) and Daniel (Daniel 7:16, 7:19, 9:21-23), Peter does not understand the meaning of his vision right away – nor can the reader. He himself says so in Acts 10:17 and 10:19, and then about ten verses later in Acts 10:28 he explains to Cornelius that God had finally revealed the meaning of the vision to him. He says that his vision had nothing to do with literal animals. Rather, the unclean animals represented unclean foreigners – Gentiles. Unfortunately, all Gentiles (excluding converts) were stereotyped and seen as spiritually unclean people. However, there were some good Gentiles; not all Gentiles worshipped idols, stars, spirits, etc. although it is true that the vast majority did. This is why the writer of Acts goes out of his way – twice – to mention that Cornelius was a righteous, God-fearing man who was well-esteemed by the Jews (Acts 10:2, 10:22).

Acts 11:4-18


“Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house… 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Peter recounts his vision to other apostles with little variation. However, in the first account Peter says “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” yet in the second account he says “I remembered the word of the Lord… you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Was Peter changing his story or was he saying the same thing in two different ways? It is the Holy Spirit which cleanses man from his sin. It “washes away” our sins. Peter himself says in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Elsewhere we read that Paul says “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name'” (Acts 22:16). Paul again says something similar in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “you were washed, and you were sanctified, and you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

In other words: “what God has called clean [righteous God-fearing Gentiles], men shall not call unclean.” The whole point of Acts 10-11 is to teach us that even Gentiles can receive the Holy Spirit of the God of Israel. Even if they are not genetically Jewish, they can still have communion with the Jewish God. Even though they once were pagan “Gentile sinners” (Galatians 2:15, Ephesians 2:11-13), they have been preached the word of truth, in response they repented, and in response to their repentance God sent them the Holy Spirit to cleanse them. It’s truly a very beautiful picture if you can see it.

The Lamb of God in Johannine Literature


“The next day he [John the Baptizer] saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

“And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth… 8 When He [the Lamb] had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (Revelation 5:6-8).

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing… To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”” (Revelation 5:12-13).

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count… standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes… and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”” (Revelation 7:9-10).

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15“For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple... 16“They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17).

“All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written… in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8).

“Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” …and [he] showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God…. 14And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9-14).

It is quite clear that the Apostle John thought of Jesus as a symbolic lamb – perhaps even a mystical lamb. Not only is this apparent from what he records John the Baptizer saying (John 1:29) but he also lists at least four different passages (Revelation Ch. 5, 7, 13, 21) in which Jesus is called “the Lamb.” Paul also connects Jesus to the biblical holiday of Passover in 1 Corinthians 5:7 but in this passage Jesus is not specifically referred to as a “lamb” although some argue that it is alluded to.[10]

Is Jesus literally a woolen mammal? Of course not. Thus, is Jesus literally a lamb? Of course not. We can easily conclude that the Apostle and the Baptizer used “the lamb” in a metaphorical sense and not a literal sense. If the Apostle did indeed visibly see a lamb in his vision, God was most certainly not trying to teach him about a literal lamb. Yet again, we see that the animal in this vision was not intended to be interpreted literally, rather as a picture of Jesus’ blamelessness.

Gentiles as Dogs (Revelation 22:15 & Philippians 3:1-6)


“Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Revelation 22:15).

“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers… [We] put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:1-6).

John remarks in Revelation that dogs and other evil-doers will be outside the gates of the new Jerusalem. We know that he is not talking about literal dogs here since he creates parallelisms, linking the “dogs” to sorcerers, immoral persons, murderers, idolaters, and liars – all human sinners. Here, a “dog” is spiritually no different from the rest of these.

Paul contrasts his own righteous behavior with those whom he calls “dogs” and “evil workers.” Thus “dogs” and “evil workers” (which are used together to describe the same kind of person) are the opposite of Paul, someone who is a “Hebrew of Hebrews [and] as to the Law, a Pharisee… as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Just as John likens a “dog” to the previously described list of sinners, Paul says that a righteous Law-abiding person such as himself is contrary to “dogs” and “evil workers.”

Gentiles as Dogs (Matthew 7:6 & 15:21-28)


Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

“Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David...” 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once” (Matthew 15:21-28).[11]

Not only does Jesus call people “swine” (unclean animals), but he also calls them “dogs” (also unclean animals). As I mentioned in my discussion of the Danielic visions, unclean animals were used as symbols of Gentiles.[12] This was also the case with Peter’s vision. This was due to the fact that unclean animals provided the visionaries with suitable symbols to describe spiritually unclean people.

Jesus’ use of goats to describe spiritually untamed people (as opposed to docile, obedient sheep) is also fitting, especially when compared with Paul’s statement saying that Gentiles are “wild” (Romans 11:17, 11:24). Perhaps on a different note, this is why Ishmaelites are also likened to wild donkeys: “He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone's hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12).

It should be noted that although she was a Canaanite “dog” (which Jesus himself affirmed), Jesus saw that she recognized herself as a “dog.” Thus, because she admitted that she was a “dog” and acknowledged Jesus as her “master” – even her “dog-like” faith was enough to save her. The woman’s request was granted her because the woman acknowledged that she was a “Gentile sinner” in the words of Paul (Galatians 2:15, Ephesians 2:11) and because she conceded something similar to what Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

Unclean Animals and Unclean Spirits

On a lesser related note, I wish to shortly discuss the connection between unclean animals and demons. There are two specific passages:


“And they [the demons] cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” 30Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters” (Matthew 8:29-32).

“And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs” (Revelation 16:13).

Interestingly, when the demons of Matthew 8 realize that Jesus has arrived, they ask that instead of being judged, that they be cast into a herd of pigs. What’s more interesting is that this is the suggestion of the demons – as if they are acknowledging that unclean spirits belong in unclean animals! What is also fascinating is that when the demons beg to be cast into the pigs, Jesus complies – he casts them into the herd of pigs.

Some may object by saying “Perhaps the herd was just passing by and they were the only things the demons could be cast into” but the question then arises, why did they have to be cast into something else? Couldn’t Jesus cast them into a rock or tree? There was a crowd watching Jesus exercise the demons and thus when Jesus casts them into the herd of pigs – this would have sent a strong message to them: make sure not to be like the Gentiles who eat pork or else you will be eating demons and bringing demons into yourself.

In Revelation 16, the correlation between demons and unclean animals is even clearer. A “dragon” (unclean animal) and a “beast” reminiscent of Daniel’s “beasts” (also unclean animals) vomit out demons that are in the likeness of frogs (again, unclean animals). Jesus says “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18). Thus, these unclean frogs are coming from the mouth of the unclean dragon and unclean beast. These unclean frog-demons defile the unclean dragon and the unclean beast. What about the false prophet? As I explained before, Revelation 22:15 connects an unclean animal (dogs) with all sorts of sins (spiritual uncleanliness). Thus, we see that unclean dogs are connected with sins just as the “false prophet” (lying prophet) is likened with three unclean animals (the dragon, beast, and frogs). The uncleanness of the animals and the uncleanness of the hearts of men are seen as two sides of the same coin and ultimately they both contribute to the uncleanness of a person.


In Pharaoh’s dream, the cows represented years of wealth and years of famine. In Daniel’s vision of the four creatures, the creatures represent four kingdoms. In Daniel’s vision of the goat and ram, the goat and ram also represent kingdoms and the horns on the ram and goat represent kings. Jesus gave an apocalyptic parable about sheep and goats – saints and sinners. Peter saw a vision of unclean animals which represented Gentiles. 

The Apostle John and John the Baptizer recognized Jesus as the spotless “lamb of God.” Jesus, Paul, John, and others identified spiritually unclean people as dogs and swine unworthy of spiritual teaching because they have hard hearts which obstinately resist the truth. Even the Apostle John depicted the forces of evil as a dragon, a beast, and as frogs. In all of these parables and visions, animals are never explained to be literal animals – they always represented something else.

Oftentimes, unclean animals were representative of spiritually unclean people – especially Gentiles. Daniel’s vision of the four creatures represented four Gentile kingdoms. In Peter’s vision, unclean animals represented Gentiles. Jesus, Paul, and John all describe sinners as “dogs” and Jesus calls them “swine.” John speaks of unclean spirits (demons) in the likeness of frogs. He also depicts Satan as a dragon and serpent. Daniel calls the Gentile emperor of Macedon, Alexander the Great, a “goat,” Jesus calls damned sinners “goats,” God calls Ishmael (a Gentile) a “wild donkey,” and Paul calls Gentiles “a branch cut from a wild olive tree.” Gentiles are wild because they have not been taught self-control or spiritual refinement like the Jews had been taught (Romans 3:1-2).

There are many other ways in which both Gentiles and apostate Israel are connected to animals. For example, apostate Israel worshipped a golden cow (Exodus 32) and “fornicated” (committed idolatry) with other gods whose genitals were likened to that of a horse and whose sexual act was likened to a donkey (Ezekiel 23:20) (horses and donkeys are unclean animals). Gentiles worshipped the fish deity Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-5) (certain fish are unclean) and the cow deity Molech (1 Kings 11:7). Paul says that Gentiles worshipped “birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:23-25) along with demons (1 Corinthians 10:20) – again connecting animals with demons. Perhaps this is why God commanded Israel not to make statues of animals (Deuteronomy 4:15-18).

However, because this study was intended to analyze only the appearance of animals in visions and parables (because both visions and parables are symbolic and used to teach lessons), I decided not to broaden my study as to include all instances of animals used in religious activities throughout scripture. Indeed, that topic is far too broad – and certainly not as interesting, in my opinion. However, I did wish to include a discussion of the “Parable of the Shepherd” from the apocryphal Book of Enoch where God is likened to a shepherd and His people Israel are likened to sheep, yet the passage is much too long to include here.

In case I have not already made my two main points clear enough, let me repeat them one last time: the appearance of animals in visions and parables are not to be taken literally unless the explicitly given interpretation says so. In all the cases I covered in this article, animals are never intended to be interpreted literally as animals. Rather, they always mean something else. Additionally, oftentimes unclean animals are used to describe spiritually unclean people such as sinners and Gentiles. So, if a person attempts to use Acts 10 to justify eating unclean animals, feel free to send them this article.


[1] This phrase is similar to when God says to Peter “arise, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13, 11:7). We can infer in both instances that neither Peter nor the bear-like “beast” are actually eating anything.

[2] It is interesting to note that lions, eagles, humans, leopards, and “the fourth beast” are all carnivores but also they are all unclean for humans to eat. These creatures denote Gentile kingdoms, as we will see later on. Elsewhere Gentiles are called “dogs” (Matthew 15:27, Revelation 22:15). By referring to Gentile kings and kingdoms in the language of unclean carnivorous animals, God is telling Daniel that the Gentile rulers are spiritually unclean (idolaters) and they will use violence (eat the flesh of other “beasts”) to achieve their plans. They will also persecute the holy people, Israel (Daniel 7:23-25).

[3] This is similar to what we read in Acts 10:17-19 “Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius… appeared at the gate… While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.”” Later, in Acts 10:28 Peter explains his own vision: “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” Peter repeats the interpretation of his vision in Acts 11:1-18 when he recounts his story.

[4] This kingdom is often referred to as the Kingdom of Media-Persia.

[5] Although the text says Greece, Alexander was not from “Greece” per se. In fact, Greece was not really a country at all, rather it was a confederation of democratic city-states. However, Macedon was culturally and ethnically Greek and it is thought of as a “Greek” country just as France, Germany, and Norway are considered “European” countries. In other words, it was one of many Greeces. This is akin to there being 13 American colonies – all of which thought of themselves as independent countries prior to their unification after the American Revolution. Additionally, Alexander spread Greek (Hellenistic) culture from the Balkans to Egypt to India. Thus, it is entirely reasonable to call Alexander “Greek.” Even today, many secular students of history often think of Alexander as a Greek.

[6] Some Bible translations use “kings” whereas others use “kingdoms.”

[7] See Romans 10:12, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:11-13, Colossians 3:11.

[8] The one who “is a Jew inwardly” is not merely a person with Jewish ethics. Rather, he is a person who allies himself with Judaism or becomes an outright proselyte (“ger tzaddik” in Hebrew) despite being born with Gentile DNA. In other words, the person is “grafted into the commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:11-13) and is adopted as a “son of God” (Romans 8). During the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. the Romans had a policy of religious toleration for ancient religions and the religion of one’s ancestors. Thus, if your forefathers worshipped Zeus, Zeus-worship was tolerated. If your forefathers worshipped YHWH, then YHWH-worship was tolerated. However, what happened to a Gentile whose ancestors worshipped Zeus but he desired to attach himself to Israel and worship the one true God YHWH? According to formal Roman policy, there was no toleration for this person since he was not upholding his forefathers’ customs – rather he was causing strife in his community by converting to the religion of a foreign god. Thus, Gentile believers were persecuted far more than Jewish believers during the early years of the Jesus movement – because “Christianity” as a sect of Judaism was tolerated by Romans for Jews, yet it was not tolerated for ex-pagan Gentiles. Even if a Gentile rejected the pagan ways of his forefathers (like Abraham did) and genuinely desired to worship the God of a tolerated religion (Judaism), they would still be persecuted since it mattered not which tolerated religion one chose but rather what your race was relative to that religion. If you were born a Jew, Judaism was tolerated for you. If you were born a Gentile, Zeus-worship was tolerated for you. This is partly why Paul stresses to Gentile believers that when they convert, the are no longer considered Gentiles in the eyes of God because God sees them as adopted son, a wild and uncultivated olive branch grafted into Israel (Romans 11) despite the Roman government seeing them differently.

[9] The Bible also mentions “Hellenistic Jews.” Hellenistic Jews (also called Hellenists) looked like Greeks, dressed like Greeks, spoke Greek, were familiar with Greek culture and Greek literature, but still identified Israel as their homeland (even if they never lived there) and they identified with Judaism in terms of some of their morals and practices. For example, we know that Hellenists still attended synagogue services and they still identified themselves as Jews (see Acts 6:1, Acts 9:29). The existence of the Hellenistic Jews may be the reason why some believed that Jesus would go teach the Greeks (John 7:35). The existence of Hellenists may also explain why Gentiles were attending synagogue services alongside Jews (Acts 13:13-15 + 43-48, Acts 14:1, Acts 18:4).

[10] Although some Bible versions insert the word “lamb” into the text to help the reader better understand what they believe Paul is saying, the word “lamb” does not actually appear in the original Greek text.

[11] Interestingly, the woman insists on getting Jesus’ help three times: she “cries out” (15:22), she bows and insists (15:25), and she calls herself a dog who wishes to eat the master’s crumbs (15:27). In modern Judaism, sometimes a rabbi will deny a person conversion and require them to ask three times before he will begin conversion

[12] Jesus’ and Paul’s warning against the coming of wolves may also be a reference to spiritually unclean Gentiles sneaking into the congregations – acting like believers but indeed are not believers. From an historical perspective, these Gentile wolves would later (ironically) be called the “Church Fathers.” For more information, see Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:29, 2 Peter 2:1, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 3:9.