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Christianity and Animals: Vegetarianism
The Bible and Vegetarianism

 

By Stephen Kaufman

 

 

 
 

Contents

Good Stewardship

The Bible & Vegetarianism

Scriptural Challenges to Vegetarianism

Other Issues

 

 


Judaism & Animals

Islam & Animals

 

 

 

The Bible depicts vegetarianism as God's ideal, and the diet conforms to the central biblical principle of stewardship. In Eden, God found everything "very good" immediately after giving both humans and animals a vegetarian diet (Gen. 1:29–31). Several prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:6–9, foresee a return to this vegetarian world, where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all coexist peacefully. Christian vegetarians believe we should strive towards the harmonious world Isaiah envisioned — to try to live in accordance with the prayer that Jesus taught us, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).

 

Animals and Human Use

While the Bible describes Adam's "dominion" over animals (Gen. 1:26, 28), we believe "dominion" here conveys sacred stewardship, since God immediately afterward prescribed a vegetarian diet (Gen. 1:29–30) in a world God found "very good" (1:31). Genesis 2:18–19 relates, "Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'" and God then created animals. This passage indicates that animals were made as Adam's companions and helpers, not his food.

 

God endowed pigs, cattle, sheep, and all farmed animals with their own desires and needs, which is apparent when these animals are given an opportunity to enjoy life. For example, pigs are curious, social, and more intelligent than cats or dogs. Pigs can even play some video games better than monkeys. Similarly, chickens enjoy one another's company and like to play, dust bathe, and forage for food. Jesus compared his love for us to a hen's love for her chicks (Luke 13:34).

 

Why Did God Give Noah Permission to Eat Meat?

Some Christians note that, since did God give Noah permission to eat meat (Gen. 9:2–4), we are entitled to do likewise. All plants were destroyed by the Flood, giving Noah few food choices. Importantly, Gen. 9:2-4 does not command meat eating, nor does it say that meat eating is God's highest ideal. Perhaps meat eating was a concession to human weakness. Indeed, humankind's general violence and wickedness prompted the Flood (Gen. 6:5, 13). In biblical times as now, people are encouraged to live according to God's highest ideals. Jesus said, "[B]e perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48; cf. John 14:12).

 

God's Concern for Animals

A consistent teaching is that God cares for animals. Proverbs 12:10 teaches, "A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast," and Psalms 145:9 reminds us that "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made."

 

The Bible describes God's concern for animals repeatedly (Matt. 10:29, 12:11–12, 18:12–14) and forbids cruelty (Deut. 22:10, 25:4). Importantly, after the Flood, God made a covenant, stated five times, with animals as well as humans. All creatures share in the Sabbath rest (Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). The Bible describes animals praising God (Ps. 148:7–10, 150:6), shows animals present in eternity (Isa. 65:25; Rev. 5:13), and affirms that God preserves animals (Ps. 36:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). Animals and humans look to God for sustenance (Ps. 104:27–31, 147:9; Matt. 6:26; Luke 12:6) and deliverance (Jon. 3:7–9; Rom. 8:18–23).

 

Human Life and Animal Life

While our faith encourages respectful, responsible stewardship, it doesn't necessarily equate human and animal life. Vegetarianism simply reflects respect for Creation — the diet benefits humans, animals, and the environment. Jesus said, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.... Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6–7). This passage relates that, although God may value humans more than animals, God remains concerned about all creatures. Indeed, God's covenant in Genesis 9, in all five instances, is with all flesh, not just human.

 

Animal Sacrifice

Skeptics of our vegetarian path often ask us about animal sacrifices. The Bible relates that God accepted animal sacrifices. However, several later prophets objected to sacrifice, emphasizing that God prefers righteousness. Animal sacrifices are not required or even desired now, for at least two reasons. First, Paul encouraged self-sacrifice, writing, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). Second, traditional interpretations of Jesus' death affirm that, because of him, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Christians, being new creations in Christ, may model Christ by choosing a loving relationship with all Creation. Indeed, Jesus twice quoted Hosea (6:6), saying, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. 9:13, 12:7).

 

Didn't Jesus Eat Meat?

Many Christians hold that Jesus ate meat. However, we believe that the way animals are treated today makes a mockery of God's love for them. Whatever Jesus ate, his diet 2000 years ago in a Mediterranean fishing community does not mandate what Christians should eat today. Similarly, what Jesus wore does not dictate how we should dress today. We are blessed with a wide range of healthful, tasty, convenient plant foods, much like in Eden.

  

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