And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:28-31
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking for information on vegan diets, you may have come across the argument that goes like this:
1) In the “very good” Garden of Eden, God told people to eat plants.
2) We are people.
3) Therefore, the way God wants us to eat is vegan.
This argument makes sense at first, but falls apart quickly.
First of all, Genesis 1 does make it seem like humans only ate plants. “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” It also appears that animals ate plants as well: “And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (v30) There is nothing showing that God had given animals for food.
Now that we’ve established that Adam and Eve were vegans, shouldn’t we all be vegans? After all, in the "very good" garden, God made people to eat plants. Not necessarily. Do you wear clothes? Adam and Eve didn’t. Remember that the creation account is descriptive, not prescriptive.
After eating some fruit and bringing sin into the world (carnivore diet anyone?), Adam and Eve get sent out of the garden. Fast forward a little over 1000 years later and we find Noah and his family stepping off of the ark onto dry land.
“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:3&4)
Here we see God giving humans permission to eat meat. The only stipulation put onto them was to not eat animals that aren’t dead.
A while later, while making a covenant with Abram (soon to be Abraham) God tells him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” (Genesis 15:9)
Here are some other examples of God providing meat, commanding people to eat meat or kill animals:
God views Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb as acceptable (Gen. 4:4)
After Noah gets off the ark, he “took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” This aroma was “pleasing” to God. (Gen. 8:20-21)
During the implementation of the Passover (Exodus 12), God commands the Israelites to kill a lamb, prepare it to eat and spread its blood on their doorposts.
While walking and complaining in the wilderness (Exodus 16), God provides manna and quail for the people to eat.
On the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) God commands that a bull and a goat be killed.
In Leviticus 6:26, the priest who offers the sin offering is required to eat it.
In Deuteronomy 12 (v15, 20, 27), three times God tells His people they can eat meat. In v15, He even says they can eat, "as much as you desire".
“But Cody,” you may say, “those sacrifices were pointing to Jesus.” And you would be correct. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there were a lot of animals that were killed because God commanded it. I’m not saying that all of these verses are justification to eat meat. What I’m saying is that before someone gets on their moral high-horse, they should see what the Bible says about killing and eating animals.
“But surely Jesus didn’t eat meat!”
Jesus didn’t hesitate to serve up thousands of fish to the crowds of people listening to His teaching (Matthew 14 & 15, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6).
In Luke 22 (v8), Jesus tells Peter and John to, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” As the most Jewish-Jew that ever lived, Jesus surely ate lamb.
In John 21, Jesus finds His disciples fishing. Instead of yelling at them for hurting the fish, He suggests they try the other side of the boat, where they catch more fish than they could drag in. Jesus also has some fish cooking for them when they get to the shore (v9).
With all this being said, know that I am not saying that Christians cannot eat only plants - the Bible doesn’t say that we have to eat meat. If you feel that veganism, or vegetarianism, is the best stewardship of your body, you are free to live that lifestyle. If you want to advocate for better treatment of animals, you can. However, you begin to cross the line when you force your convictions on other people and hold them to your self-imposed standard of holiness.
An often misunderstood relationship in the Bible is Jesus and the Pharisees. I’ve heard many people talk about how Jesus went after them because they were too devoted to the Torah, as a way to warn against the dangers of reading your Bible too much (?!). However, it wasn’t that they were too devoted, it’s that they were adding to what God had commanded. In Matthew 23, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for placing unnecessary burdens on people and going beyond what God had commanded.
This attitude often shows itself in the realm of diet and exercise. Paul writes in Romans 14:2-3, "One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him."
Remember, righteousness is not earned through your dietary choices but rather through faith in Jesus (Romans 9:30). When your food choices become your standard of morality, you are adding to what is laid out in the Bible. You are justified by faith in Christ. That’s it.
When your food choices become your standard of morality, you are adding to what is laid out in the Bible. You are justified by faith in Christ.
To the Meat Eaters
As meat-eaters, we must also be aware that our dominion of the animals has been tainted by the fall. There are many unethical farming practices that overstep our God-given responsibility. As consumers, we should be trying to encourage farmers to implement better farming practices. This means that, if possible, we should be looking into the source of our meat products and trying to support those who practice good stewardship of their animals.
In the end, yes, as a Christian you are free to choose to abstain from animal products, but you are also free to enjoy them and receive them with thanksgiving.