Those defending meat-eating often cite certain biblical passages. The discussion below represents the CVA’s responses to some frequent biblically based objections to our position. We emphasize that we do not hold that the Bible condemns all meat-eating, but we do believe that our faith calls us to be vegetarian today.
Adam’s “dominion” over animals, we believe, conveys sacred stewardship, since God immediately after-ward prescribed a vegetarian diet (1:29–30) in a world God found “very good” (1:31). Created in God’s image of love (1 John 4:8), we are called to be care-takers of God’s Creation, not tyrants over God’s creatures.
Genesis 1:21–22 relates that, before God created humanity, God regarded the animals “good” and blessed them. Further evidence that we should consider animals as inherently valuable comes from Genesis 2:18–19, which indicates that God made animals as Adam’s helpers and companions: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them…” (RSV). Adam named the animals, which we believe shows concern and friendship. We don’t name the animals we eat.
God endowed pigs, cattle, sheep, and all farmed animals with their own desires and needs, which is apparent when these animals are given an opportunity to enjoy life. For example, pigs are as curious, social, and intelligent as cats or dogs. Pigs can even play some video games better than monkeys. Similarly, chickens enjoy one another’s company and like to play, dust bathe, and forage for food. Jesus compared his love for us to a hen’s love for her chicks (Luke 13:34).
God gives Noah permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:2-4)
Virtually all plants were destroyed by the Flood. Alternatively, God may have allowed Noah limited freedom to express human violence, since unrestrained violence was responsible for the Flood itself (Gen. 6:11–13). Importantly, this passage neither commands meat eating nor indicates that the practice is God’s ideal. Indeed, eating meat came with a curse—animals would no longer be humanity’s friends: “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast…” (Gen. 9:2). While eating meat was not prohibited, it represented a complete break from God’s ideal of animals and humans living peacefully together, as depicted in Eden and by the prophets.
Genesis 3:21; God Clothes Adam and Eve in animal skins
Humans cannot normally obtain animal skins without an animal dying, so it seems that animals died to clothe Adam and Eve. However, the Bible does not relate that God killed any creature to obtain the skins. The Bible does suggest that God works in mysterious ways (Deuteronomy 29:29, Romans 8:28), and “all things were created by him, and for him (Colossians 1:16). If God had animals die for this purpose, it would not follow that humans have unlimited license to kill and otherwise harm God’s creatures.
Jesus casting demons into swine (Matthew 8:28-32; Mark 5:1-13; Luke
The Mark and Luke accounts refer to the possessed man as from Gerasa, but there are no steep banks near this city. Therefore, it is most reasonable to regard this story as allegorical, not literal, and Jesus was not actually responsible for killing 2000 pigs. Though this appears to demonstrate greater concern for people than swine, modern animal agriculture harms both animals and humans, and there remain good reasons to choose a plant-based diet.
Killing the fatted calf in celebration of the Prodigal Son’s return (Luke
Eating the “fatted calf” was a sign of joy and celebration that, presumably, Jesus’ audience understood. This was a parable, and no calf was actually killed. When people today use language and metaphors such as “to kill two birds with one stone,” that doesn’t mean that we actually approve of such behavior. Furthermore, if Jesus had approved of animal agriculture in his day, it would not follow that he would endorse modern factory farming.
The miracle of the bread and fishes (Matthew 15:34)
Multiplying fish who are already dead to feed to people who have no objection to eating fish is an act of compassion that has no adverse impact on the fish. This story does not depict Jesus killing any animals, but rather miraculously feeding several thousand people. The people were hungry, and Jesus had compassion for them. Again, fishing 2,000 years ago was a far cry from the driftnets, long-lines, and aquaculture farms of today, which are environmentally destructive and treat fish as though they were pieces of seaweed rather than God’s creatures.
Peter’s dream, in which he is instructed to “kill and eat” all creatures
Peter recognized that this dream should not be taken literally to mean that he should proceed to kill and eat all animals. Instead, "Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the dream might mean" (Acts 10:17). He recognized its meaning when the gentile Cornelius invited him to dinner. Peter realized that the dream was instructing him not to go out and eat meat, but to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Jewish dietary laws should not prevent the spread of Christianity, and, at Cornelius' dinner, Peter related to his hosts, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." (Acts 10:28). Whatever the meaning, it does not argue that modern factory farms, with all their consequences, have God's blessing.
“Everything created by God is good” (1 Tim 4:1-4)
This passage reflects Paul’s efforts to fight against a split in the Christian community and does not justify cruel treatment of animals. Here, Paul rebukes false doctrines that forbid marriage as well as certain foods. Christian vegetarians don’t forbid either marriage or meat. Rather, we encourage a plant-based diet as good, responsible, Christian stewardship. Modern animal agriculture is a human creation, and it harms humans, animals, and the earth. While we should thank God for our ability to enjoy food, we may also thank God for providing tasty vegetarian options. Indeed, many Christian vegetarians see each meal as a prayerful reminder of God’s grace and goodness. Each vegetarian meal reminds them of Isaiah’s prophecy that all Creation will live harmoniously at the end of time, as in Eden.
Vegetarians are “weak in faith” (Rom. 14:1)
Paul wrote to the Romans that “the weak man eats only vegetables” (14:2). At that time, Jews were banned from Rome, and a kosher butcher would have been arrested. Unable to obtain kosher meat, many Jews abstained from meat altogether, for fear of eating meat that had been offered to a pagan god. Paul maintained that eating meat, even if offered to idols, was not a spiritual concern, because the pagan gods didn’t exist. Only the “weak in faith” failed to appreciate that sacrifices to fictitious gods were meaningless. Paul said that meat-eaters should not condemn those who abstain, and vice versa (14:3). It appears that Paul wrote this to the Romans because Paul was concerned about differences on diet dividing the church. Paul was not justifying meat-eating per se, and this passage certainly does not endorse factory farming.
“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market” (1 Corinthians 10:25)
Paul wrote, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:25). We believe that this passage warns people against rejecting God’s gifts. However, Christian vegetarians celebrate good food. We do not object to meat because it is from God but because man-made factory farming is so harmful.
Whatever one eats does not defile him (Mark 7:18-19)
This passage reads, “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach and so passes on?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” This section actually relates to eating with unwashed “defiled” hands (Mark 7:1-5). Jesus then explained that the Pharisees were only concerned with what went into their mouths, but what really defiles a person are evil thoughts from the heart within.
The Bible relates that God accepted animal sacrifices. Given the many biblical passages showing God’s concern for animals, one may conclude that the Hebrews’ need to relate to God with sacrifices was a more pressing need. It is possible that, since all ancient cultures sacrificed animals to their gods, the ancient Hebrews could not imagine approaching God without first performing sacrifices themselves. Interestingly, the Bible does not describe God demanding sacrifice–it only explains how sacrifice should be carried out if performed. Even Abraham’s sacrifice of the ram was Abraham’s idea, not God’s requirement (Genesis 22:13).
Regardless of sacrifice’s role in the worship of the ancient Hebrews, several later prophets objected to sacrifice, emphasizing that God prefers righteousness. Animal sacrifices are not required or even desired now, for at least two reasons. First, Paul encouraged self-sacrifice, writing, “[P]resent your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Second, traditional interpretations of Jesus’ death affirm that, because of him, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Christians, being new creations in Christ, may model Christ by choosing a loving relationship with all Creation. Indeed, Jesus twice quoted Hosea (6:6), saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).
Jesus assisted his disciples in fishing (Luke 5:2-11; John 21:5-8)
In Luke and John, Jesus helped disciples catch a vast quantity of fish. In Luke, the event is depicted as his first call of the disciples. In John, the event occurs after the resurrection.
Many Biblical scholars see the events symbolically, and from a symbolic standpoint, Jesus assisting the disciples in netting massive quantities of fish could not be much clearer, especially considering his promise that he will make them "fishers of men." They are bringing disciples (fish) into the fold.
A literal reading of the text shows animals cooperating with Jesus to prove his divinity. In Luke, the miraculous catch prompted the fishermen to follow Jesus, who told them, "Henceforth, you will be catching men." When they returned to shore, they "left everything, and followed him." This demonstrates that killing fish was not the point of the story. In John, miraculously catching a massive quantity of fish once again established Jesus’ divine identity. Jesus then ate the fish, demonstrating that he was resurrected in the flesh. Again, the story is about an important teaching, not enjoying tasty food.
Didn’t Jesus eat meat?
Luke 24:43 describes Jesus eating fish after the Resurrection. However, Jesus’ diet 2,000 years ago in a Mediterranean fishing community, where many people struggled to get adequate nutrition, does not tell us what Christians should eat today. Similarly, we do not need to dress just as Jesus did. We are blessed with a wide range of healthful, tasty, convenient plant foods, much like in Eden. Meanwhile, we believe that the way animals are treated today makes a mockery of God’s love for them.
Are meat eaters sinners?
The Bible does not prohibit eating meat in all circumstances. While many people have eaten meat for nourishment, most Christians today have ready access to a wide variety of healthful plant foods. Many Christian vegetarians find modern factory farming particularly objectionable because it is unnecessary and merciless.
Have there been many vegetarian Christians?
Our numbers are increasing rapidly, just as vegetarianism is growing in the general population. Also, many early Chris-tians were vegetarian, including the Desert Fathers. Since then, the Trappist, Benedictine, and Carthusian orders have encouraged vegetarianism, as have Seventh-Day Adventists. In the nineteenth century, members of the Bible Christian sect established the first vegetarian groups in England and the United States.
Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, John Wesley (Methodism’s founder), Ellen G. White (a Seventh-Day Adventists founder), Salvation Army co-founders William and Catherine Booth, Leo Tolstoy, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rev. Dr. Albert Schweitzer were Christians who became vegetarian, as is the musician Moby.
Don't laws ensure the welfare of farmed animals?
In the United States and many other countries, standard procedures on farms are specifically exempted from all humane legislation, regardless of the pain and suffering they cause. Practices such as bodily mutilations, which would warrant felony animal cruelty charges if done to a dog or cat, are perfectly legal when done to a pig or chicken. At the slaughterhouse, “humane slaughter” laws are weak and poorly enforced for pigs, cattle, and sheep; the slaughter of birds is completely exempt. The CVA supports efforts to improve conditions on farms, but for many reasons, including our desire not to pay others to do things we would not do ourselves, we feel compelled to be vegetarians.
What would happen to farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on
If people ate fewer animal products, businesses would adapt to the increased consumer demand for vegetarian foods.
Since animals eat each other, what’s wrong with humans eating animals?
Christians are not called to follow the law of the jungle (where “might makes right”), but to follow Christ—to be compassionate, merciful, and humble, and to respect God’s Creation.
Are we natural meat eaters?
While humans can digest flesh, and it is likely that our ancestors consumed some meat, our anatomy much more strongly resembles that of plant-eating creatures. For example: like plant eaters (but unlike meat eaters), our colons are long and complex (not simple and short); our saliva contains digestive enzymes (unlike carnivores); and our teeth resemble those of plant eaters—for instance, our canines are short and blunt (not long, sharp, and curved).
The millions of healthy vegetarians (who tend to outlive meat eaters) demonstrate that it is neither necessary nor desirable to eat meat.
What if I don’t think vegetarianism should be my priority?
Cruelty-free eating requires very little time and commitment and can improve one’s sense of well-being. Anyone can adopt a healthy vegetarian diet while continuing other important activities.