This is a question we are asked a lot: what does the Bible say about eating meat. Here we set out some of the key passages and examine peace, compassion and justice – and how they fit into the modern world of factory farms and slaughterhouses.
In the book of Genesis, which tells of the Creation of Man, God specifically tells Adam and Eve of the foods he had provided for them to eat:
“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. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:29-30)The Garden of Eden was vegan.”
Only after the Fall did sin enter the world, and then everything changed. After the flood, God told Noah:
“The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you.” (Genesis 9:2-3)
So, what does that mean for our relationship with animals and what we choose to eat?
Can Christians Eat Meat?
Most Christians eat meat, and may do so believing that God intended animals for our consumption. But as eating animals was not God’s intention when He created the world, Christians striving to return to the Garden of Eden increasingly see eschewing meat as one way to get closer to God. Pastor Rob Munro founded the Saint Francis of Assisi Parish of The Humanitarian Church, a vegan church in New York. He believes that with animal flesh in your body, you block the connection to God. He says we don’t need to go to church to find that connection: “Stop eating meat, live a proper life, and God will find you.”
Pastor Rob is not alone. There are many more priests, pastors and worshippers all over the world whose faith has led them to vegetarianism or veganism. In his essay I am a Christian; Therefore I am Vegan, the Revd John Ryder writes: “What the Bible has to say about God’s purpose for Creation in the beginning, and what things will again be like at the end of time, is perfectly clear. In between I know the majority accepted the eating of meat. They also accepted the practice of slavery. I am sure one day Christians will be as ashamed of the former as they are now of the latter.”
What Does The Bible Say About Eating Meat?
After the Fall, there are many passages in the Bible that relate to eating animals, among them:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
“Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.”
“If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.”
The Lord said to Moses: “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”
What Animals Are Forbidden To Eat In The Bible?
In Leviticus 11, the Lord speaks to Moses and Aaron and sets out which animals can be eaten and which cannot: “You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.”
Aquatic animals can be eaten if they have fins and scales. Winged insects are permissible if they have joints in their legs above their feet. The consumption of specific named species of birds was not permitted and eating bats was expressly prohibited.
Later, in the New Testament, Jesus swept away these rules and “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:18-19): “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.”
With this declaration, all restrictions were lifted and people were free to eat whatever they wished in line with their own conscience.
Is Eating Meat A Sin?
A sin is an act against God’s will. Original Sin is inherited from Adam and Eve, while personal sins belong to individual Christians alone. Breaking God’s commandments are considered sinful but there remains disagreement about what acts or omissions are considered sinful.
Most people of faith do not believe that eating meat is a sin, though there is an increasing number of Christians who think that being vegan not only brings them closer to God, it brings us all closer to the Peaceable Kingdom that is prophesied in Isaiah.
Christan philosopher, Simon Kittle seeks to remind us that many of our beliefs about animals “stem not from the Bible but from cultural habit,” and if we recognise that, it “might enable us to evaluate honestly the violence we are now implicated in, not so that we can condemn ourselves or be condemned by others – but so that we can turn from it, and join with God in seeking that Peaceable Kingdom. As we read the Bible, our prayer should be that God would deliver us from the evil of causing unnecessary violence to animals.”
Conclusion: what does the bible say about eating meat?
Before The Fall, Adam and Eve were given the wealth and abundance of plants to eat but after sin entered the world, they were told they could eat animals, and that those animals would live in fear of them. Says Christian Vegetarians and Vegans UK: “From a biblical perspective the concept of eating anything but plants by any animal – human or otherwise – only entered the world after The Fall. That surely should tell the reader something.”
Says Dr. Andy Alexis-Baker, vegan, author and lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago: “I did not then and do not now think I had all the answers, but when I looked at how God calls people to live, I knew that the arc of my life had to bend toward justice, toward peace, toward compassion.”
Including animals in that arc of compassion is something many Christians are now embracing.
For those wishing to read more about the Bible, animals and veganism, we recommend these articles by SARX.