The Bible is surprisingly light on the subject of cats. Domestic cats aren’t discussed at all, although there are a few mentions of wildcats and several of leopards and lions. This shouldn’t be seen as reflecting negatively on cats, of course; it’s simply that in the times and places that the Bible was set down, pet cats were largely unknown. Although domestication had begun in some regions, it’s likely that domestic cats were so unusual as to be irrelevant to the peoples of the Biblical era. The Bible is intended to communicate knowledge, and an unknown animal wouldn’t be very helpful for that.
What does the Bible say about cats? The Bible doesn’t mention domestic cats. Other Felidae such as wildcats and lions are mentioned in various contexts, but not pet cats. That said, there are many Bible verses that may be of interest and relevance to cat-lovers.
You’ve arrived on this page because you’re interested in what the Bible has to say to you as a pet owner. You probably have a lot of different questions. Does the Bible say anything about cats? Are cats seen as good or evil? What can a cat-lover learn from the Bible? Will my pet go to Heaven? What other felines are mentioned in the Bible? Why aren’t there more references to cats? Did people of the Biblical era own cats? What do other religions say about cats?
Keep reading, because we have the answers you’re looking for.
What Does the Bible Say about Cats?
The Bible, unfortunately, is largely silent on the topic of domestic cats. There are over 120 animals mentioned in the Bible, but the cat is mostly overlooked. There is one mention of “cattae“. This appears in the Vulgate, in Baruch 6:21-22. The verse discusses pagan idols, and reads: “Owls, and swallows, and other birds fly upon their bodies, and upon their heads, and [cattae] in like manner.” The word cattae is often translated as cats, and may refer to female cats or possibly to martens. This verse is seen as part of the canon in Cathoic some Orthodox Bibles, while in Protestant Bibles it only appears in the Apocypha. Aside from this single (rather uncomplimentary) verse, there are no mentions of cats in the home.
This may come as something of a shock or disappointment to us cat-lovers: our cats are such a huge part of our lives, it’s almost unthinkable that the Bible wouldn’t have something to say about them. It’s less surprising when you give some thought to the eras in which the Bible was set down.
Cats were by no means unknown in the Middle East, but for the most part they weren’t really domesticated in the same way as they are today. Cats would mostly have been feral or semi-feral, rather more like modern-day barn cats than the familiar companions that purr on our hearths. While many people probably saw them as valuable and useful animals (they would have kept vermin down and saved precious food stores from being destroyed), they weren’t really a part of one’s household as our cats are.
While cats as companions aren’t mentioned in the Bible, they (and pets in general) are mentioned in other Christian teachings. In the Middle Ages, cats became associated with the Virgin Mary and came to be used as icons of the Annunciation. Many Christian doctrines advocate for pets, directing Christians to care for their companion animals and look after them properly. There are plenty of Bible verses that direct Christians to be kind to animals, and that includes cats.
Many people want to know if their beloved pets can join them in Heaven after death. The Bible is largely silent on this, too, leaving it a matter of some debate among theologians. Horses are certainly mentioned as being present in Heaven, however, which suggests that other animals might be present too.
Cats get more attention in other Abrahamic faiths. Islam has quite a lot to say about cats, most of it positive. They are considered to be ritually clean animals and are allowed in homes. Judaism also supports cat ownership; observant Jewish people can keep cats in the home, and there are various religious stipulations regarding their proper care. Some Jewish legends describe Adam as owning a housecat.
What Does the Bible Say about Big Cats?
When the Bible discusses animals, it’s usually in one of two contexts. One is determining which animals are clean and unclean in a religious context. Since people probably didn’t eat cats — at least, one hopes they didn’t — our feline friends are not really relevant here. Other than this, the Bible largely uses animals as metaphors or refers to notable encounters where animals must be fought or tamed.
Despite a notable dearth of domesticated Felis catus in the Bible, we do meet other members of the feline family quite frequently. Wildcats are mentioned in various places, although not really as individuals. The wildcat takes on more of an emblematic role, being used mainly to characterise areas of wilderness and desolation. This makes sense: most wildcats are not terribly well-disposed to human company, and tend to avoid our settlements. Y
ou probably didn’t have to go very far from town in the Biblical Middle East to find yourself in an inhospitable wilderness. To be scrupulously accurate, the Biblical wildcat probably refers to the African wildcat (Felis lybica), who is a little less hostile to people than her European cousin. The remains of these cats have been found in human settlements dating back to Neolithic times. Even so, they would probably have been associated with wild and remote areas.
The lion and the leopard are also mentioned in various places throughout the Bible. The leopard is featured as a symbol of ferocity and predation, representing danger. Leopards are mentioned in the Song of Solomon. The Great Beast of Revelations is described as resembling a leopard in some aspects.
Lions feature more heavily, appearing in over thirty verses (in contrast to the eight that refer to leopards). Again, the lion can symbolise ferocity and danger. Lions in the Bible also represent kingship and power; as the King of the Beasts, various Biblical kings are compared to the lion. God and Jesus are also compared to lions, or mentioned alongside them. We also see literal lions in some stories, such as the tale of Daniel in the lion’s den.
Cats in Paganism and Mythology
In older religions, cats have sometimes been elevated rather more highly. Every schoolchild knows that cats were venerated in Ancient Egypt, being regarded as sacred to the cat-headed goddess Bastet. Cats were often mummified upon death, and households would go into ritual mourning when their cats died. My British Shorthair would certainly approve.
Ancient Greek myths make reference to cats (although the ancient Greeks were rather fonder of pet weasels or ferrets). Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, was heavily associated with cats.
In the Japanese Shinto faith, certain cats were and are revered as bringers of good luck. The famous maneki neko (“greeting cat”) is a common good-luck symbol that has spread well outside of Japan. Cats with three colours in their fur are seen as particularly auspicious. On the other hand, there are some Japanese legends relating to the monstrous bakeneko, a transformed cat who wreaks all sorts of havoc on the unwary.
In pagan Europe, cats got quite a lot of attention. This might be a bit surprising, given that their history in the region only goes back a couple of thousand years; however, that’s plenty of time for a cat to get her paws under the table. The Norse goddess Freya is associated with cats, riding around in a chariot drawn by two giant felines (I could certainly picture at least one of these as a British Shorthair). Cats had a rather ambiguous reputation in Celtic mythology, being seen as possessing strange and magical abilities.
In later lore, the cat developed a range of associations. As well as their connection with the Virgin Mary, cats acquired a less savoury reputation as dangerous magical creatures and witches’ familiars. Even today, our image of the witch almost inevitably includes a cat, and they’re very popular with modern pagans. It seems that cats will remain associated with spirituality, whatever faith you follow.