Q: I have an ongoing problem because I’m living as a hypocrite. I’m an animal lover but I eat meat. I don’t eat veal or lamb because they are from young animals, but I eat meat, fish, fowl and eggs. Is there anything in the Bible that refers to this or to Christ’s personal practice? Did Jesus eat meat? I’m aware that I’m looking for absolution for eating meat, but I can’t get rid of this conflict in my mind. As I say, it is hypocritical. I would never hunt or fish, but I eat what someone else kills to put meat on my table. Is killing and eating animals a sin in the eyes of God or Jesus? What would Jesus have said?
— From L
P.S. I contribute to many animal groups, especially to help farm animals and to ban dog racing, etc., but it doesn’t erase the guilt.
A: In Genesis 1:29 God speaks to Adam, “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.”
In the second chapter of Genesis (2:16-17) vegetarianism is reaffirmed as people’s spiritually proper diet. However, one tree in the Garden of Eden bore forbidden fruit
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Nothing could be clearer. God does not want us to eat meat. People are made in God’s image and animals are not, but this spiritual difference is not sufficiently morally significant to allow killing animals for food. Killing another person is a capital crime and a sin. Killing an animal is just a sin.
The moral and spiritual ambiguity about eating meat is made more explicit in the ninth chapter of Genesis when God tells Noah in the covenant made with him after the Great Flood, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (Genesis 9:3-6)
So God has a change of heart and strikes what I consider to be a perfect spiritual balance. God is saying that being a vegetarian is clearly the higher way, but it is not the only way. Meat is not murder, but it is not the highest moral level to which we can elevate our diet. Eating meat also makes us comfortable around blood, and blood is life. Spilling the blood of animals makes us less revolted by spilling the blood of people.
This nuanced position that eating meat is a concession to human carnivorous urges but not our highest level helps us to learn that the Bible offers us many levels of spiritual practice. We can live a life on as high a level as we want.
The question of whether Jesus was a vegetarian is complicated. There is no direct statement on the subject by Jesus in the New Testament. The story of Jesus feeding fish to people would support the view that Jesus may have been a pescatarian. Paul seems to have been more open to meat eating, but even Paul was open to vegetarianism. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 Paul said, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” So for Paul vegetarianism was a way of not offending vegetarian hosts, but was not an explicit command of God.
Modern Christianity has produced Seventh-day Adventists, who are vegetarians because of the teachings of their co-founder Ellen G. White.
So what can I say to ease your carnivorous guilt? I would suggest that you experiment with meatless Mondays, and then no meat till dinner, and then maybe a period when you eat no meat. Your moral intuitions are right.
There is something hypocritical about the way we profess life and then eat the world to death. Remember that your journey to God has many levels and you ought to have no shame or guilt about the stage of your journey so far.