See Animals. English translations use “cattle” for at least thirteen different Hebrew words and six Greek words.
‘Eleph or ‘aluph refers to tame animals living in a herd. It is variously translated as “herd,” “cattle,” “oxen,” “kine.” It includes animals used in plowing (Isaiah 30:24). See
Behemah is a general term for animals (Exodus 9:9;
Isaiah 30:6), for four-footed animals (1 Kings 4:33), wild animals (Deuteronomy 28:26;
1 Samuel 17:44), as well as for domestic cattle including both herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats (Leviticus 1:2) and oxen and donkeys (Deuteronomy 5:14). Compare
Genesis 47:17-18). It includes all animals belonging to a household (Genesis 34:23). They were used as riding animals (Nehemiah 2:12-14).
Behemah can be cattle distinguished from sheep and goats of the flock (2 Chronicles 32:28). They need pasture lands (Joel 1:18). Interbreeding among behemah of different kinds was forbidden (Leviticus 19:19). Righteous people care for animals (Proverbs 12:10). Bitter, faithless people are like dumb, ignorant animals (Psalms 73:22).
Beir is a general term including beasts of burden (Genesis 45:17) who graze in a field (Exodus 22:5). They are the property of an individual or community (Numbers 20:4,Numbers 20:8).
Baqar were important members of an Israelite household (Genesis 47:1), even being included in prayer and fasting by people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:7). They are the most important work animals, pulling the plow (1 Samuel 11:5;
1 Kings 19:19;
Job 1:14) and the wagon (1 Chronicles 13:9). These oxen, especially the young, provided meat for special occasions (Genesis 18:7;
1 Kings 1:9). The royal palace ate such food daily (1 Kings 4:22). The cattle produced milk from which yogurt was made (Deuteronomy 32:14) and also cheese (2 Samuel 17:29 NAS). Such cattle could be fattened in the pasture (1 Kings 4:23) or in stalls (Habakkuk 3:17). The high value placed on oxen can be seen in the penalty for stealing one (Exodus 22:1). Cattle played a most important role in Israel's sacrifices: burnt offering (Leviticus 1:3), peace offering (Leviticus 3:1), sin offering (Leviticus 4:3). As the most important animals, cattle always head the list of animals for sacrifice.
Mala'kah is a basic Hebrew word for business or work which came to designate the wares or things connected with work and thus is used to refer to cattle in
Meri' is based on the root meaning, “fat.” It refers to calves fattened for people to eat. David sacrificed these before the ark (2 Samuel 6:13; compare
1 Kings 1:9). Isaiah reminded Israel that such sacrifices were not God's first priority for His people (Isaiah 1:11; compare
Amos 5:22). Some have suggested the animal meant here is a buffalo—bubalus buffalus. These were apparently the best animals for human consumption, making Israel think they would be the most pleasing to God.
Miqneh is the Hebrew word for “possessions” and most frequently refers to herds and flocks (Genesis 26:14) and possibly to a longer list of animals (Genesis 47:17-18;
Job 1:3). Certain lands were suitable for raising cattle (Numbers 32:1), so that the herdsmen could live in their tents with the animals (2 Chronicles 14:14-15).
Egel and ‘eglah are young steers and cows. The golden calves of the wilderness were formed like an ‘egel (Exodus 32:4) as were the calves King Jeroboam placed in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:28). An ‘egel was the son of a baqar (Leviticus 9:2). A woman without standing or position could have such a calf fattened and ready to butcher (1 Samuel 28:24). Calves graze the land and eat leaves from small bushes or trees (Isaiah 27:10). Their frolicking and free spirits make them symbols of unruly, disobedient children (Jeremiah 31:18). A calf was cut in two when a covenant agreement was made (Jeremiah 34:18-19). Year-old calves were viewed as the best animals for sacrifice (Micah 6:6). The cow was used as a yoke animal for plowing (Deuteronomy 21:3). The Bible points to the day when the calf and lion can live together in peace (Isaiah 11:7).
Par or parah represents a bull or cow which has matured enough to be capable of reproduction (Job 21:10). They are older than an ‘egel or ‘eglah and belong to the collective term baqar. The bulls and cows played an important role in sacrifice to God, since these animals were more valuable than sheep or goats. They were offered as sin offerings for the priests (Leviticus 8:2,Leviticus 8:14-17;
Numbers 8:12) and for the community (Leviticus 4:1). The great annual festivals featured sacrifices of bulls (Leviticus 23:1;
Numbers 28-29). The dedication of a worship place also involved offerings of bulls (Numbers 7:1). Purification from contact with the dead involves a ritual with a red cow (Numbers 19:1) which differs from sacrifice. Other special occasions involved the offering of a bull or cow (Exodus 24:1;
1 Samuel 1:24-25;
1 Samuel 6:14;
1 Kings 18:23-33). Criticism of sacrifice done in the wrong attitude speaks of bulls and cows (Psalms 50:5;
Isaiah 1:11,Isaiah 1:15-17;
Hosea 14:3—which reads literally, “the steers of our lips”). The strength of the bull made it quite suitable as a symbol for enemies (Psalms 22:12). Their fatness led to other symbolism (Amos 4:1).
Shor is a collective term for either bull or cow and most often refers to a single animal. These were tame animals able to recognize their owner (Isaiah 1:3; compare
Exodus 21:35). Their financial value led to special laws concerning them (Exodus 21:33,
Exodus 22:1,Exodus 22:10;
Deuteronomy 22:1). They ate grass from pasturelands (Numbers 22:4;
Psalms 106:20) and made a lowing sound (Job 6:5). They could become vicious, using their horns to gore people to death (Exodus 21:28-32). They were yoked to the plow but were not to be unequally yoked with a donkey (Deuteronomy 22:10). They also were yoked to carts to pull them (Numbers 7:3). They were used to stomp on the grain to thresh out the kernels from the husks (Deuteronomy 25:4). The shor was old enough to mate (Job 21:10). The firstborn had to be sacrificed (Leviticus 22:27-28;
Deuteronomy 15:19). Defeat in war brought murder of one's animals (Joshua 6:21;
1 Samuel 15:3). They were clean animals which God's people could eat (Deuteronomy 14:4).
Threma refers to a domesticated animal, usually a sheep or a goat (John 4:12).
Ktenos refers to domesticated animals, often ones used for riding or for pack animals.
Revelation 18:13 apparently refers to cattle. The same word may refer to a donkey in
Luke 10:34. Compare
KJV refers to cattle in
Luke 17:7, but the Greek term poimaino refers to the activity of a herdsman leading sheep or goats to pasture. Compare
1 Corinthians 9:7.
Tauros is a bull or ox used in sacrifices and for banquets. It is the Greek translation of Hebrew shor. See
Bous is an ox or cow. Kept in stalls, they had to be led to water even on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15). Compare
Luke 14:5. They were yoked for plowing (Luke 14:19). Jesus found people selling them in the Temple for sacrifices (John 2:14). It can also translate Hebrew shor (1 Corinthians 9:9).
Moschos is a young bull or heifer, basically equivalent to Hebrew par or parah. See
Hebrews 9:12,Hebrews 9:19;
Damalis is the Greek equivalent for Hebrew ‘eglah and is used in the New Testament to refer to the red heifer of
Numbers 9:2-9. See
Trent C. Butler