Humans were given dominion, not domination, and increasingly this teaching is interpreted as people undertaking humane stewardship, rather than being part of a system of ruthless exploitation. There is no commandment to eat animals, and we feel certain that factory farms and slaughterhouses had no place in God’s plans when he gave us stewardship of the Earth. Here, Christian and vegan Alicia Griggs sets out what the Bible says about eating animals.
Have you ever theologically pondered whether the cow in your burger or the lamb’s leg in your Sunday dinner was predestined for your plate? It’s easy not to want to think about what, or indeed who, is on your plate, and default to an often unspoken assumption that animals were “given to us” to eat. Yet does mainstream Christian culture represent Biblical truth? Can the lives of animals really be judged in terms of human utility?
When I read my Bible, what stands out to me is that the value of animals is found in the fact that God has lovingly created them: animals were created from a good, loving God, and therefore are good, beloved and valuable as part of God’s work. Throughout scripture, we can see examples of how God loves and cares for His animals (Psalms 104; Jonah 4:11; Job 39), how He provides for them (Psalms 104; Matthew 6:26; Job 38:39-41), and how we are even called to look to the animals for guidance (Proverbs 30:18; 30:24-31). We even see examples in scripture where animals worship, and hold God in reverence (Numbers 22:21-34; Psalm 147:7-10).
This is quite a striking contrast to how many of us measure animals’ worth in terms of what they can provide us. God didn’t make a cheap creation, where everything was expendable save human existence, so we must therefore remember that the value an animal may have to us is a completely separate question to the value animals have to God.
Since animals are good and beloved by our omnibenevolent God, it is therefore no surprise that eating without harming animals is a fundamental feature of God’s original intentions for humanity. In Genesis, the paradise of Eden shows us that God had intended the world to be void of all forms of violence, bloodshed, and sin of any kind; it was a peaceful kingdom, and “it was good” (Gen. 1:18). Humanity, made in the divine image, is prescribed a peaceable, plant-based diet: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:29).
However, we know this is not the end of the story and that, tragically, human sin destroyed the harmony within creation. In Genesis 9, we behold a fallen period where we see that wickedness and violence have destroyed God’s highest hopes for creation. Therefore, an acquiescence was made for human sin, and permission to kill in times of necessity was granted. Scripture is clear that whilst humanity has temporary permission to kill for food, we are to remember that these animals are God’s beloved creatures, and we will be answerable to Him for every life we destroy. Thus eating animals in order to survive in a fallen world is not sinful, but is nonetheless a reminder of humanity’s sin.
As people who should want to strive towards God’s ideal of a peaceful kingdom, and to emulate the compassion, mercy and kindness that Jesus extended to all creation, we need to hold ourselves responsible for our every action, and ask ourselves whether these actions are what God wants from us, and will these actions further His kingdom? Everything we do, everything we eat, everything we buy, has an impact on someone or something else. We need to decide whether the impact we want to make is negative, or positive, and whether this decision reflects the teachings of Jesus.
So, if we accept that we can choose to eat animals, does this mean that animals were given to us to eat? No, they’re not here for the purpose of being our food, and it’s made abundantly clear throughout scripture that God shows displeasure at animals being killed (Isaiah 1:11-17; 11:6-9; 66:3; Daniel 1:8-17; Psalms 50:8-13). For most of us living in countries of affluence, killing God’s beloved creatures and consuming their bodies is not a necessity, but rather a self-serving, gastronomic indulgence, which causes horrific suffering and devastation to the environment. The good news is that we can choose a lifestyle that reflects the love, compassion, and mercy Jesus calls for, instead of choosing a lifestyle that supports violence and bloodshed, and takes us further away from God’s peaceful ideal (Genesis 1:29-30; Isaiah 11:6-9). Just because we can eat animals, does that mean this is what God wants?
Considering we are supposed to “value others above [ourselves]” (Phil. 2:3), “speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8-9), and are required to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8), I would say that the answer is a resounding no.
Alicia Griggs is a Christian vegan striving to use her love of writing to spread compassion. She specializes in topics surrounding animal rights, veganism, and Christianity, and has written for several vegan publications on topics such as “Christianity and Animal Rights” and “Authentic Compassion.” She graduated with a Master’s degree in English Literature from Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK.