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A Publication of


From The Ark Number 189 - Winter 2001

Debating point

The following article is published with the intention of starting a debate on the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth could have been a vegetarian - as proposed by several Christian vegetarians, including a recent high-profile advertising campaign by Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) which featured posters of Our Lord depicted with a slice of orange in place of a halo.  Please send your responses to the Editor, marked ‘Debating Point’. A selection of replies will be published in the next issue.


There is much in Scripture to support the case for Christians to

become vegetarian, according to Ark member Ronald Cuttell.

By Ronald Cuttell

One of the phenomena of these days is the number of young people who are adopting a fleshless diet. This combines with a swelling tide of compassion for the unhappy lot of God’s animal Creation.  The tragedy is that so many of these people are not within the fold of the Church, as we understand the meaning of the term, and within which that same compassion appears to be strangely lacking.  The resultant loss to both these communities cannot be over-estimated.  Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether this growing movement has any relevance to the days in which we are living?

We are really trying to establish what is the will of God in the matter of what we should, or should not be eating.  In Genesis 1, the story of the Creation,verses 29-30 are quite unequivocal as to the food intended for both the animals and mankind:-

‘And God said, "Behold! I have given you every herb, bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree bearing seed; to you it shall be for meat."’

The word ‘meat’, in this Biblical version, means just ‘food’ from which it is a very safe assumption that Adam, before the Fall, was not a flesh eater.   By turning to the eleventh chapter of Isaiah (6- 9), we can ascertain the will of God at the close of the age:-

‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt nor destroy in my entire holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’

There is an echo of the above prophecy in Isaiah (65:25) in almost identical language.   It must be very apparent from the foregoing that God had not changed his mind on the question of the type of food for his Creation, and Hosea also warns the Israelites (8:13) of the consequences of continuing to eat flesh.

Some objections answered

I propose answering some of many objections that are sometimes raised.

In chapter one of Genesis (v.28) mankind is given authority over the animal kingdom; the word used being ‘Dominion’; which must be read in conjunction with the following verses (29-31).  The word ‘Dominion’ means ‘to rule over’; not to slaughter for food.  We used to use the phrase ‘Dominions Overseas’ in the days when we had possessions, or colonies, in other parts of the world - which did not confer a licence to kill.

The next question, concerns that delightful story of Noah and his Ark; to be found in Genesis 8 -9.  It is evident that there has been some tampering with the original text by the priestly editors and scribes. Chapter nine commences with God’s recognition of the relationship of Noah with the animals in his care by blessing Noah and his family, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.’ This blessing is repeated in verse seven, but what are those incredible intervening verses, 2-6? God’s pleasure with Noah is such that he made a Covenant with him (8-17), and verse fifteen clearly includes every living creature.  On the one hand God is promising the animals he would never again destroy them in a flood and, on the other hand, he is telling Noah he may kill and eat them!  Some thing is very wrong here, but it does serve to underline the fact that Noah was a herbivore, so why suggest that he may kill and eat his charges?  It is only too clear that verses two to six are a later addition. Try reading the whole passage without the offending verses and the story reads beautifully, as we would expect. Try it again with the verses included and it contains neither rhyme nor reason; being entirely out of context.

Abel’s offering or Abel’s heart?

In the fourth chapter of Genesis (1-16) violence and murder enter the picture with Cain and Abel.  They both brought offerings to the Lord of the first-fruits of their occupations.  Cain, who was a market gardener, brought fruit and vegetables.   Abel, who was a shepherd, brought portions of a dead lamb.  We are told that the Lord had respect unto Abel, ‘and to his offering’, but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect.  One suspects, and with good reason, that the words ‘and to his offering’ are also the handiwork of the later priests and scribes, giving the impression that God expressed approval of the flesh offering over that of Cain.   We may be absolutely certain that it would not have been the gift which was of prime importance, but the person and the thought behind the gift.  The Lord, himself, had already warned Cain (4:6-7), before Cain had killed his brother,  ‘Why are you so angry, and why has your countenance fallen.  If you do well will you not be accepted?  If you do not well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’  The truth of this episode becomes clearer if we turn to the First Epistle of John (3:12) where he says, ‘Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one and slew his brother.  And wherefore slew he him?  Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.’  Clearly, the appropriateness of the offerings was not in question; only the character of the individuals concerned.

The attitude of Our Lord Himself

‘The Passover’ was another term used in Jesus’ day, as now, for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Julius Africanus, (160-240) a Christian writer, said in his book Fragments from the writings of St.Peter, ‘He (Jesus) did not eat of the lamb, but himself suffered as the true lamb; as John the Evangelist teaches us in the Gospel written by him.’

There is an account in Luke’s Gospel (24:42) which tells that Jesus was offered a piece of grilled fish, ‘which he took and ate before their eyes’.  However, if we refer to the same paragraph in the Authorised Version (17th.century) or the Douai Bible (16th.cent) or Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (4th.cent) we find that it reads: ‘And they gave him apiece of broiled fish, and of the honeycombe, and he took it and did eat it before them’. The ‘it’ could, equally, have been the fish or the honeycomb but for one other consideration - we are talking about the Risen Christ clad in that incorruptible body so ably described by Paul (I Cor. 35-45).  The honeycomb bears a more dietetic resemblance to the Angel’s food mentioned in Psalm 78: 24-25 than does fish. Jesus was probably trying to illustrate to his disciples the reality of the heavenly body.

Jesus’ attitude towards fish and fishing may well have been one of sadness and tolerance; which latter is apparent in the Godhead.  His choice of apostles from the ranks of fishermen could be regarded as astute.  The apostles were told that they were to change and become fishers of men (Mark 1:17).

Parables and Proverbs played an important part in the teaching ministry of Jesus. The Book of Proverbs is a good guide to healthy and successful living where it says:

‘Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it’ (15:17).

‘Hear thou my son and be wise ... Be not among wine bibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh.’ (23:19-20).

An expression common to the Old Testament when describing Israel’s inheritance is of a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’, indeed, there are eighteen such references, and no mention of ‘flesh’.  Beauty and truth are also manifest in Psalm 104:14-15: ‘He maketh the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man that he may bring forth food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man; oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengtheneth the heart.’

Peter’s vision

Chapter ten of the Acts of the Apostles is sometimes quoted as justification for the slaughter of our animal friends for food.  However, this is to misunderstand the passage. While awaiting the preparation of a meal, Peter went up to the roof and fell asleep while praying.  He dreamed that he saw a great sheet descending from heaven containing ‘all manner’ of animals, wild and domestic, insects and birds.   A voice came to him telling him to kill and eat which he refused to do as he had never eaten any ‘profane or unclean’ food.  Peter explained later, (v. 28): ‘You know it is forbidden for Jews to mix with people of another race and visit them, but God has made it clear to me that I must not call anyone profane or unclean.’   That lesson would have been even more shocking to Peter as he was an abstainer from flesh of any kind.  On a later occasion he was to say to Clement of Rome, (who became the third Bishop of that city after Peter), (Clem.Homilies XII. VI. I) that he ‘lived upon bread and olives only, with the rare addition of herbs’.

The apostle Matthew, also known as Levi, who had dined with Jesus more than once (Matt. 9:9-10) also abstained from flesh-eating, according to Bishop Clement of Alexandria (born c. A. D. 150), in his Miscellaneous Studies ‘and the apostle Matthew partook of seeds and nuts and vegetables without flesh, and John the Baptist, who carried temperance to the extreme, ate locusts and wild honey.’ The ‘locust’ in this case is the locust or carob bean (ceratonia siliqua), also known as St.John’s Bread, a member of the pea family, and not the insect (All the Plants of the Bible, Winifred Walker, Lutterworth, 1958) Examination of the life of James, the brother of Our Lord, brings us even closer to our subject matter.  He was chosen by his peers to be the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Hegesippus, one of the earliest Christian writers of the second century, said of James, ‘He was consecrated from his Mother’s womb.  He drank neither wine nor any strong drink; neither ate the flesh of any living thing.’   Only a few fragments of Hegesippus’ works survived the sixth century, but we are indebted to Eusebius (260-340), Bishop of Caesarea, for the preservation of much early church history in his Historia Ecclesiae, which earned for him the title ‘Father of Church History’.

The most natural conclusion from all this would be that these apostles were following their Lord.

St. John Chrysostom (347-407) wrote, ‘We practise abstinence from the flesh of animals ... The unnatural eating of flesh meat is of demoniacal origin, and polluting.’  Altogether, a definite impression is given that there was a consensus of opinion on ethical matters among the earliest members of the Church; certainly among its leaders. Clement, Bishop of Alexandria (150-215), wrote, ‘It is good neither to drink wine nor to eat flesh, as both St Paul and the Pythagoreans acknowledge.’ Clement was probably referring to Paul’s comment in Romans 14: 20-21.

Amongst the numerous early followers of ‘the Way’ were Tatian (c.160) famous for his Diatesseron, a ‘life of Christ’ developed from the four Gospels, and founder of the Encratites sect who abstained from all flesh foods and wine; Tertullian, (c.160-220) prolific writer and theologian, who wrote, ‘Labour for that food which lasts unto eternal life.  Petition not for flesh food.’ And Theophilus of Antioch, who became bishop in A.D. 168 ‘found nutriment from the fruits of the earth, seeds and herbs’.

Daniel’s vegan diet

God’s bounty, in the regime appointed for mankind, is borne out in Daniel, chapter one, where the prophet of that name was among prisoners taken by Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century B.C.  Daniel and some other Judaeans were much favoured by the king and were to be fed commensurate with expected advancement.  However, much to the embarrassment of the High Steward, they refused the flesh and wine and asked to be fed upon pulses and water for a period of ten days.  The ten days completed, it was found that ‘their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children of the king’s meat’.  Worthy of note is the experience of John Wesley who, in the year 1747, wrote to the Bishop of London saying, ‘Thanks be to God, since the time that I gave up the use of flesh and wine I have been delivered from all physical ills.’  Perhaps John had been reading Daniel or Galatians 6:7-8.

With notable exceptions, the not-so-faithful were straying from ‘the Way’ of Jesus, a process accelerated with the ‘annexation’ of the Church by Constantine in A.D. 325: Jerome (342-420), wrote, ‘As the Christian Church became more political, so it deteriorated in spirituality.’

One has to arrive at the regrettable conclusion that ministers, generally, regard the Sermon on the Mount, with its implications for non-violence of any kind, as a ‘counsel of perfection’ for the few, rather than a tenet for those who would follow Christ.  If, for a brief space, we meditate upon the more exotic aspects of the Creation, the beauty and variety of trees, birds and animals, can we not see that Love was involved in their Creation?  Can we imagine Jesus looking unmoved upon the recent ‘culling’, (a euphemism for the slaughter, and its associated bestialities) of his Father’s Creation?

‘But you did not look to the Creator of these things.

You did not look to the one who fashioned them long ago.’(Isaiah 22:11)

Return to The Ark No. 189

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Deborah Jones at The Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare

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