As a Christian who has adopted a vegan diet, I’m often asked how I reconcile veganism with the Judeo-Christian belief system. People frequently say “God gave mankind animals as food,” or “God intended for us to eat meat.” Do the Scriptures support those beliefs?
It is true that following the Great Flood, God gave Noah and his children permission to eat meat. Genesis 9:2-3 (New International Version – NIV) says:
2 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. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
But let’s examine this statement. It states that God “now” gives them every living thing as food. This raises two questions: Why then? and What did they eat before?
Both of these questions relate to God’s original intent for mankind with regard to food. According to the Bible, what did the first humans eat? Genesis 1:29 (NIV) says:
29 Then God said, “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.”
Further, Genesis 2:15-16 (New World Translation – NWT) tells us:
15 And Jehovah God proceeded to take the man and settle him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to take care of it. 16 And Jehovah God also laid this command upon the man: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction.”
So the first humans were gardeners, cultivating vegetables and fruit trees and living upon them. Later, the humans were ejected from that garden for breaking God’s law. Yet, even at that time, the implication was that God intended for them to eat a plant-based diet. Genesis 3:17-19 (NWT) says:
17 And to Adam [God] said: “… cursed is the ground on your account. In pain you will eat its produce all the days of your life. 18 And thorns and thistles it will grow for you, and you must eat the vegetation of the field. 19 In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground.”
These scriptures establish that God did not originally intend for mankind to eat animals. The first reference to using animal flesh in the Judeo-Christian scriptures occurs after the breaking of God’s law and the alienation of mankind from God. The account of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4 indicates that outside the garden, mankind began to eat domesticated animals.
But if God originally meant for mankind to eat a plant-based diet, why did He give Noah’s family (and subsequent humans born) permission to eat meat? The reason isn’t explicitly stated, but let’s look at the situation. These humans and the animals with them had just survived a global deluge, one that covered the very mountaintops, during which all edible vegetation on the planet would have been destroyed. It would be some time before enough food could be grown to feed eight humans and countless animals. In acknowledgement of this hardship, the challenges they already faced in growing food, and the departure they had already made from God’s original instructions by resorting to a diet that included flesh, it seems reasonable to conclude that God made an allowance for mankind.
If God didn’t originally intend for us to eat animals and, unlike Noah, we have ready access to healthy plant-based foods, should we consider a vegetarian/vegan diet?
Also notable is the favorable account of veganism in the Bible. In Daniel chapter 1, we learn that Daniel and his three companions chose a vegan diet rather than eat food that could potentially violate Jewish dietary laws (as many Jewish people who follow a Kosher diet do today). The person appointed to watch over them was skeptical of their choice, but Daniel asked for ten days to prove they could be healthy on a vegan diet. The scripture at Daniel 1:15 (NIV) reports:
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
From this account and the blessings God gave to these young men, we learn that God certainly doesn’t oppose a vegan diet. Are there Biblical principles that support the decision to eat a plant-based diet?
Compassion is an important facet of Judeo-Christian faiths. The word “compassion” is applied to God and Jesus dozens of times throughout the scriptures. In fact, 2 Cor 1:3 (NIV) says:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.
“The Father of compassion.” Are we taught that God grants His compassion only to humans? On the contrary, both the Hebrew (“Old Testament”) and Christian (“New Testament”) scriptures contain numerous laws and commands that pertain to showing compassion to animals. Proverbs 12:10 (NIV) states quite plainly:
10 The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
Do we show this care when making our food choices? Do we reflect God’s compassion? Or do we never consider the lives of the animals that end up on our plates?
While it’s true that God gave man the option to eat animals, the Apostle Paul later pointed out in regards to food at 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24 (NWT):
23 All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. 24 Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.
Granted, the context surrounding this scripture was discussing a Christian’s ability to eat meat with a clean conscience in regard to whether it had originated as a sacrifice. But the principle given here with regard to our food choices is clear: just because God gave an option to do something doesn’t mean we have to, or that it’s the best course of action to benefit ourselves and others.
Consider whether eating meat is “advantageous” under today’s circumstances: greenhouse gasses and pollution from factory farming severely damaging our environment; animal abuse running rampant in meat and dairy production; and the inherent cruelty of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). Moreover, if we’re seeking the ‘advantage of the other person,’ we have to consider the fact that the United Nations has named meat consumption as a major contributory factor to world hunger. Can a Christian in good conscience do something that’s harming the planet, causing the world’s children to die of hunger, and inflicting horrific animal suffering?
Paul exhorts Christians at Colossians 3:12.
12 … clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
These qualities should lead us to humbly assess whether our own habits and behaviors demonstrate the sort of kindness and compassion we ought to show to God’s creatures.
Finally, consider the Judeo-Christian view of the future. The Hebrew scriptures promise at Isaiah 11:6-9 (NIV):
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain…
And the Christian Greek scriptures contain this beautiful vision at Revelation 21:4 (NWT):
4 And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
In a world without death, where even the animals will cease to kill, will humans continue to eat the flesh of peaceful animals? Will the animals’ outcry and pain go unnoticed by a compassionate God? No, these promises for the future indicate a return to God’s original intent for mankind – to live in peace with the animals, surviving and thriving on a plant-based diet.
To summarize, God’s original intent for mankind was that they thrive on a plant-based diet. While He made an allowance to allow humans to eat meat, with the conditions in the world today (easy access to plant-based foods and the harmful nature of meat production), our compassion for animals, fellow humans, and the planet dictates we give serious consideration to whether we can in good conscience continue to eat animal products.
It is incumbent on each of us who are of a Judeo-Christian faith to learn where our food comes from and to judge for ourselves whether a diet containing animal products is in line with the practice of our faith. For me, that answer is a clear and resounding no to animal products.