By Terence Lane
From The Vegan (Winter 1974)
(I use the more widely known term Vegetarians, which of course will
include Vegans for the purpose of this paper.)
The Bible and
other writings are often quoted against us; but let us look more closely
at the question and see what we can find.
We will use the
Authorised Version of the Bible and will not quote from material later
than 300 A.D., and only from recognised Early Christian authorities,
using works which can be found in any good theological library. There
are many pseudo-Gospels and Acts, many of which are interesting and
informative, but as they are doubtful for our purpose, we will ignore
them. The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls has widened the view of
Regarding the term "meat" in the scriptures -
this does not mean flesh, but merely food of all descriptions.
It is obvious that God intended the world to live on a vegetarian diet
for we find in Genesis 1. 29/30, "And God said, Behold, I have given you
every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth, and every
tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall
be for meat: and it was so." You will see that not only men were to be
vegetarians, but the animal kingdom and even the insects were to live on
the green herb.
Idealism is expressed many times in the Old
Testament, especially in the well-known passages in Isaiah, then all the
animals shall lie down together and "the lion shall eat straw like the
ox and they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain." A
vegetarian diet was more common among the Israelites than most of us
believe. We have the four Israelite princes, in Daniel, who refused all
food except pulses and water, and after a test, they amazed the King
Coming to New Testament times, all the Gospels
tell us that John the Baptist lived on locust beans and wild honey. We
are told by Eusebius (264-340 A.D.) the historian of the early church,
that James, the Lord's brother, abstained from animal food and fermented
liquors and, in addition, wore linen and not woollen garments. Jesus had
four brothers and two sisters and one wonders if this was a vegetarian
household. James was very influential in the early church and became the
leader in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus. John the Baptist was a
relative of Jesus and it is now generally assumed that James and John
the Baptist were Essenes. The Essenes were a strong movement at the
time, as set out in Josephus and other writers, and although not
mentioned in the New Testament, they seem to have been as prominent as
the Pharisees. They were a vegetarian group. We know more about them
since the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We know that Peter
and Matthew were vegetarians; Peter took bread and olives (Clementine
Homilies, Clement of Rome, died about 100 AD); Matthew lived on seeds
and nuts, fruit and vegetables without flesh (Clement of Alexandria,
died about 200 AD). The Clementine Homilies also tells us that Jesus put
out the fires under the altars when he cleared the money changers out of
the Temple in Jerusalem. Was this because He objected to animal
sacrifice? He often quoted from Hosea "The Lord requires mercy and not
sacrifice -". Paul may also have been a vegetarian because he said both
in Romans 14-21 and 1st Corinthians 8-13 "- It is good neither to eat
flesh nor to drink wine ---"
The question of Jesus eating fish
is difficult - nowhere does it actually say he actually did eat fish,
except in the dubious event, after the Resurrection on the shore of the
Sea of Tiberias. Jesus in all the appearances after the Crucifixion, is
shown as a shadowy figure, - often his disciples did not at first
recognise him - so we can discount his actually eating or taking part in
other forms of normal life. You will remember he disappeared as quickly
as he appeared. He was no doubt often present before the Crucifixion, at
meals when fish and possibly meat was eaten, but he may not have eaten
such food himself. Personally, I feel that he was a vegetarian.
There is also the question of the Last Supper. It is now generally
accepted that John's chronology is correct and the Last Supper was not
the Passover meal but an ordinary supper on the evening before the
Passover; so the sacrificial lamb would not be used.
and John mention that many other works were written about Jesus and it
is a pity that they are nearly all lost and only odd little fragments
remain. Some have been found on leaves of papyrus, dug up in the dry
sand and some quoted in works of the early Christian Fathers.
Papias, a disciple of John, who died about 160 AD, wrote five books on
the Sayings of the Lord. Only scraps have come down to us. One which is
too long to quote, visualises plenteous Harvest of grapes, wheat,
fruits, seeds, grass and herbs and continues " - all animals using for
their foods what is received from the earth, shall become peaceful and
in concord -". A further saying from another source is " I came to put
an end to sacrifice -".
To sum up, it seems that vegetarians can
take a more positive line in regard to the Bible and other works of the
early Christian Church and insist that the "Meateaters" should read the
Scriptures more intelligently. Origen (one of the Christian Fathers,
martyred in AD 202) thought that the Gospels were the Word of God, but
should be read in the Light of the Spirit, which can sift the Truth in
the Bible. Tertullian (another of the Christian Fathers died 220AD) used
a now lost Latin version of the Gospels, because he felt that the Greek
version was corrupt. Comparison between the doctrines of the Essenes and
the Sermon on the Mount suggest that Jesus was familiar with them.
Mention of them may have been suppressed at a very early date.
Vegetarianism may have been more widely spread in the early church than
is apparent in the New Testament.
Reproduced with thanks to the
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