As a Christian who has, at various times and for varying periods of time, been either ovo-lacto vegetarian, raw vegan, or omnivore and various levels inbetween, I have had to address the following question more than once in one form or another:
“Doesn’t God ordain the eating of meat?”
I have had to cross the great divide between Christian omnivore (or down-right carnivore) and Christian vegetarian with skillful use of scripture and a liberal serving of grace. It’s important to realize that behind the question is someone who suspects that you are accusing them of being sinful or questioning their “holiness” while elevating oneself to a higher level of “holiness”. I’ve seen churches split over less! Lord knows we Christians love our food! Christian diet authors don’t help the matter with their multitude of books wrapping diet advice (not generally sound to begin with) in “thus saith the Lord” exhortations. What is a Christian to?
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first--holiness. God calls His people to be holy as He is holy. He calls us His royal priesthood and a holy nation. He exhorts us to be separate from the world and to serve Him and Him only. There are biblical principles that we can use to guide us to healthy eating habits but what there is not is a license to judge one another and the choices we make. As the Apostle Paul stated so clearly, those who eat meat are not sinning and those who don’t eat meat are not sinning and the one is not holier than the other. Each one’s conscious must be their guide because the Holy Spirit is the guide of our conscious. What we should do is seek to have a healthy, fit body because our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The question is, “how do we do that in terms of what we eat (or don't eat)?”
Some argue that we should eat according to the original “Garden of Eden” diet (aka Genesis 1:29 diet). This would be what a vegan diet mirrors. Adam and Eve would have only eaten of the fruit of the trees and the herbs of the field as specified by the Lord in Genesis 1:29. How great it must have been to be able to pick lunch right off the tree! At that time, the lions and the lambs ate the same food—of the grass of the field. There was no hunting or being hunted just as there will be no hunting or being hunted in the New Earth of Christ’s reign. It’s the in-between the Fall and the Rise that we deal with now.
Without a doubt God sanctioned the killing and eating of animals. He was the first to make an animal sacrifice (to cloth Adam) but it wasn’t until Noah that anything sounding like the go ahead to eat animals appears. God directs Noah to take more “clean” animals than “unclean” onto the Ark. Why? Probably for something for Noah and his family to eat during and after the flood until food would again be available on the earth. God is very specific in the covenant with Moses about what animals are clean to eat and how to kill and eat them—with an emphasis on humane treatment. And, yes, Jesus ate meat – while scripture only speaks specifically about fish, since he was Jewish (and no indication that he was Essene) he would also have eaten goat and lamb (lamb is central to the Passover feast as well as other feasts). But, for those using Jesus as the example for being able to eat meat, please note that he did not eat pork…or shrimp…or scallops…or crabs…or lobster…or any other “unclean” animal. So, what works in the positive must also work in the negative.
What about Peter’s vision? Oh, how many times have I heard that question! The big “gotcha” moment or so they think. But, what really is the meaning of the vision Peter sees? Peter had a vision of unclean animals coming from heaven on a blanket and God telling him “what I have made clean, you shall not make unclean”. Was God telling Peter to eat unclean animals? Let’s think about that. Immediately after the vision, a couple of gentiles appear at Peter’s door wanting him to come with them to their house to preach. A JEW go to the house of a GENTILE? God forbid…oops, nope…God had just told Peter that He had cleansed the Gentiles and Peter wasn’t to make unclean what He had made clean. The vision was preparing Peter to go against his ingrained ideas of what was permissible for a Jew to do. It had nothing to do with food. And, clearly Peter understood that because he would continue to argue for Gentile converts to adhere to the dietary laws. He still had a lot to learn!
Let them eat unclean animals? 1 Timothy 4:3-5 says "… [and commanding] to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God [is] good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." Which certainly sounds like Paul is tossing out teachings of the law about clean/unclean meat. That is exactly what he was doing. Thus, grace is given to those who chose to eat meat of any variety. But, does that mean that all meats and animal products are healthy? Grace is one thing but what about health?
Modern science tells us that the animals listed in the Old Testament are no healthier for us today than they were back in the day. To make matters worse, those that fall under the “clean” category are now of questionable health benefit considering how they are raised and the antibiotics and hormones pumped into them. Also, God’s Law lays out how to treat and even kill animals humanely. That isn’t happening in today’s American agribusiness farms and slaughterhouses. God is as much a God of compassion today as He was then. He will judge us for how the animals that grace our tables were raised and slaughtered even if we had nothing directly to do with either. By eating it, we are condoning it. Eat less meat and spend more on better meat when you choose to indulge.
Let's look at a few points about food and the scriptures:
- Genesis 1:29 does indicate that our original diet was vegan as was that of all the animals. Things changed after the Fall but our bodies still benefit from a plant-based diet. It doesn't appear that God changed the design of our bodies after the Fall. Our intestinal tract is still more befitting a plant-based diet than a meat-based diet.
- Daniel and his friends ate a vegan diet for two years and were found at the end of that time to be the most healthy and intelligent of all the students. Apparently, even eating the King’s delicacies in an age when food wasn’t as perverted as it is today was less beneficial to the body than the vegan diet chosen by Daniel. Daniel's purpose was to not defy God's commands. His reward was greater health and wisdom. I like that kind of benefit of humbling our bodies!
- Manna and quail fed the Israelites in the desert. Manna, a bread-like substance, was their daily fair. Quail was give on two occasions. On one occasion the Israelites made such gluttons out of themselves with the quail that God’s wrath was stirred and He let them choke on the meat! The lesson we take from this is not that one should be vegan or that meat makes us sin. The lesson is that we are not to be controlled by our stomachs. Manna was a supernatural provision for a specific people and period of time. I wouldn't recommend a bread only diet even if you choose Ezekiel bread--you need your fruits and veggies!
- Jesus as the Bread of Life. Bread was considered the staff of life. The grains were highly nutritious and very central to the diet in Jesus’ day. In fact, up until very modern times, bread was indeed the staff of life. Populations survived on bread (the staple) and vegetables and fruits and very little if any meat. It has only been in modern times with governments artificially keeping meat prices down has meat become so central an item in a population’s diet. And, we as a population are the worse for it!
Another fascinating argument I’ve heard is “The Bible consistently asserts that health is not due to food. It is due to obedience to God, to honoring one's parents, and that the fear of the Lord brings health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Yes, ultimately God is the source of our health and yes He promises good things to those who walk in holiness. Is this a license to eat whatever garbage we choose? Can we say grace over a McMeal and expect God to remove all the bad fats, chemicals, and put in the many missing vitamins and minerals? Of course not! God says that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and that we should offer them as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him. He expects us to control our bodies and not be controlled by our cravings. He expects us to keep these temples in the best shape we can. I’m reminded of when the Israelites were to make the tabernacle. God instructed them how to use the best materials and the finest craftsmanship to make it the best. Sure, they could worship God from a lesser quality tabernacle but why when they could give Him their best? The best of themselves as well as the best of their material possessions was the least they could give. We are to do no less.
One can, with care and wisdom, be healthy eating either an omnivore diet (with grass-fed meat) or a vegetarian/vegan diet. Each has its challenges and none are perfect. Grace abounds to us from above because we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Pray and let the Holy Spirit guide you into all holiness and health. Be convinced in your own mind and give grace to your brother/sister in the Lord. Let’s live in peace with one another, praying for each other, and encouraging one another as we wait the Bridegroom’s return!