"A BIBLICAL APPROACH TO LIFE"
"Go forth to every part of the world and proclaim the good news to
the whole creation".
Traditional Christian abstinence from animal flesh is usually
associated with its esoteric sects and the search for spiritual growth
through physical discipline. The significant rise of vegetarianism in
recent years has inevitably come to include a Christian minority within
its ranks. Whilst the values themselves may appear to have altered, they
stem once again from the very essence of the faith itself.
The spiritual truth; " Do unto others as you would have done unto you
" is by no means unique to Christianity. It can be found within the
sacred scriptures of every major world religion. At the heart of
Christianity, in particular, can be found the qualities of love, mercy,
compassion, pity and peace. This will sound ironic in the light of just
how badly the spirit of the religion has at times been embodied by its
adherents. In itself, vegetarianism is but one small step towards
approximating the peaceable kingdom. There exists no ' pure land '
theology, but a need for humility as well as vision. To a growing number
of Christians, however, there exists no means of reconciling the
institutionalised violence of the meat industry, and its inherent
disrespect for life, with divine will. Far from being a substitute
religion or a modern day heresy, vegetarianism is increasingly advocated
on Biblical grounds. To many, it is not merely an objection to the
conduct of the world, but a physical statement of faith.
The Old Testament
The early Hebrews who penned Genesis were not vegetarian, although
they accepted this as being God's original aspiration for mankind:
" God said, ' Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that
is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you
shall have them for food '. "
Attempts to Biblically accommodate the wanton slaying of animals for
food, usually stem from Genesis 9: 2-3:
" And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast
of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps
on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are
given.Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all
to you, as I gave the green plant."
It should be remembered that the above state of affairs were brought
about by man's disobedience and are at odds with God's original plan.
The lines also relate to the time immediately after the flood. Although
largely interpreted as a divine blessing to eat animals, the verses more
accurately convey a remorseful concession to survival eventualities in a
frequently harsh, fallen environment. It has also been suggested that
God's expectations of human conduct, as a whole, have never really been
high. God's original scheme was repeatedly referred to as 'very good',
words never attributed to later conditions that included killing. There
is no indication in these lines, however that animal life should be held
cheap. It could only be used with the greatest reserve, as the
conditions which immediately follow make clear;
"Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood".
The relevance of this verse is primitive and direct. Whilst some
carnivorous animals devour still-struggling prey, man had to be sure
that anything he ate was dead. It is ironic that a measure intended to
reduce suffering should have led to the drawn out practice of 'Ritual
Slaughter' which exists to this day. The time and effort required of the
'Koshering' process should originally have instilled reflection within
those who had to perform it. As with God's failed attempt at weaning his
people off meat and violence in the desert ( Numbers 11: 4-34 ), the
wretched task of attempting to separate blood from animal flesh should
have discouraged its use. Blood however, remains in the capillaries at
the end of the ritual. The only way of literally adhering to the above
instruction is to avoid eating the flesh of dead animals altogether. The
Book of Deuteronomy similarly records a time in the history of the
Jewish people, when animals were killed in order to satisfy negative
cravings. Again, a concession to human weakness was only made through
the added inconvenience of ritual slaughter ( Deut; 12: 20-23 ).
The injunction of Genesis 9:5 is more critical. Not only will the
carnivorous animal have to account for those it kills, but eating meat
also hastens death;
"And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will
require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require
the life of man."
Reuben Alcalay's complete Hebrew-English Dictionary provides a
startling literal translation of the above verse:
"And your life will I seek, at the hand of every creature you slay."
As in so many areas of life, spiritual law cannot be broken. Man
merely rebels against it and sooner or later it breaks him. We have a
physical choice as to whether or not we spill blood to acquire food.
What we do not have is a Biblical warrant to claim that unnecessary
killing is God's will.
God's will is life:
"I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose
life, that you and your children may live."
Proverbs 6: 16-17 is significant in clearly listing 'Hands that shed
innocent blood' as an 'abomination' to the author of life. It is
therefore only natural that vegetarian foods should be dealt with
favourably throughout the Old Testament:
"For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of
brooks, of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys
and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and
pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey; a land wherein thou shalt
eat bread without scarceness; thou shalt not lack anything in it...And
thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord thy God for the good
land which he hath given thee."
(Deuteronomy 8: 7-10)
It is clear that far from being contradictory, the Old Testament
narratives on killing for food have internal integrity and contemporary
relevance. The weight of scientific evidence suggests that the
vegetarian diet is the most naturally suited to human beings. God's laws
are not arranged so as to be contrary to health, humanity or well being.
In order to avoid eating animal flesh raw, as would genuine carnivores,
a thousand culinary disguises are deployed. The resultant reduction in
the human lifespan from an entire range of health disorders, is
estimated as high as 25%. The Book of Daniel ( 1: 3-21 ) recorded
similar findings around 600 B.C.
Any secular vegetarian leaflet will promote the rarely disputed
potential of the lifestyle for reducing world hunger. In essence, it
takes 10 kilos of plant protein fed to an animal, to acquire 1 kilo of
its flesh. In 1974, Lester Brown of the U.S. Overseas Development
Council estimated that if Americans alone were to reduce their meat
consumption by just 1O% in one year, it would free at least 12 million
tonnes of grain for human consumption, or enough to feed 60 million
people. The demand of wealthy countries for meat generates poverty and
instability overseas, which often perpetuates war. It is perhaps for
this reason, that religious articles which question vegetarianism on
spiritual grounds, usually make concessions for its compelling logic.
Vegetarianism will not banish the world's ills. It is however in keeping
with the highest aspirations of the prophets, that humanity should bear
witness to an order of life, struggling to be born within us;
"In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of
The birds of the sky
And the creeping things of the ground.
And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land.
And I will make then lie down in safety."
In Psalm 145:9 the Biblical message that God's love embraces all his
creatures is revealed. The Prophet Jeremiah envisaged a time when the
Lord would inscribe his will on the human heart in order to encourage
compliance with divine law. The time has never been nearer...
"How full of death is the life of momentary man."
Francis Quarles, 1592-1644
"Humanity cannot be benefited by ought that is, by its very nature,
subversive to humanity."
Anna Kingsford, 1846-1888
"Thou shalt not kill" does not apply to murder of one's own kind
only, but to all living beings, and this commandment was inscribed in
the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai."
Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910
The New Testament
The traditional image of the Nativity, inspired by one of the four
canonical Gospels, heralds a promised age of reconciliation with the
animal kingdom. Although it has often been argued that concern for
animals is nowhere to be found in the New Testament, Christ's parables
usually encourage regard for them, as a means of illustrating his wider
teachings ( Matthew 12:11 ) ( Luke 13:15, 13:34, 15:4 ), ( John 10:11 ).
In Matthew 12:7, Jesus reminds his contemporaries of God's disapproval
of animal sacrifice by quoting Hosea;
"But if you had known what this means,
'I DESIRE COMPASSION AND NOT A SACRIFICE,'
you would not have condemned the innocent."
The profanity that the continuing sacrificial system would have
represented to Jesus has traditionally been underestimated by
theologians. God's condemnation of animal sacrifice had reached its most
vehement by the time of Isaiah 1: 11-16. Five hundred years after it had
been condemned by the last of the prophets, animals were still being
dragged in a frenzy to be murdered in God's name. It is unlikely that
the only aggressive confrontation of Christ's ministry ( Mark 11: 15-18
), should have stemmed purely from a sense of outrage at sacrilege or
mercenary profit. If Jesus disapproved of these things he would have
ached for the suffering that they inflicted.
Largely through its saints, Christianity has accumulated a wealth of
positive insight about animals. It is therefore disconcerting that its
more negative ideas and influences should continue to hold such
prominence. Many Christians seemingly oppose, as a matter of principle,
any exploration of the relevance of Christianity beyond familiar
boundaries. Objections to humanitarian attempts at aligning
vegetarianism with contemporary Christianity are usually very specific.
The following three examples, from largely excellent works, would best
serve to encapsulate widespread thinking;
"Jesus himself declares that we are worth more than the animals (
Matthew 10: 29-31 ). In everyday life, this means that while unnecessary
killing is deplorable, it is not sinful to sacrifice that which is lower
on the creation hierarchy of life for that which is higher."
"How to rescue the earth without worshipping nature"
The traditional Christian concept of human superiority within
creation is supported, rather than weakened, by extending ethical
consideration to animals, all of whom die unnecessarily in abattoirs. It
does not follow that being 'worth more than animals' should give us any
right to exploit them. Animals have a role to play in creation and
redemption ( Romans 8:21 ), ( Colossians 1:20) of which we are largely
unaware. Creation ultimately exists for it's Creator ( Colossians 1:16
"For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the Same.
As one dies, so dies the other: indeed, they all have the same breath
and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity."
"As a faithful Jew, Jesus ate meat at least on every Passover.
Moreover, he had no scruples against catching and eating fish, for on
two occasions he caused his disciples to catch a large netful. He caused
a few fish to multiply miraculously so as to feed thousands of men,
women and children ( Mark 8: 18-20 )."
"Should those who worship God be vegetarians?"
'Awake' June 8, 1976
There are no recorded instances in the Gospels of Jesus having eaten
red meat. John's Gospel states that the Last Supper was on the night
before the Passover whilst the other three accounts state that it
actually was the Passover. If this were the case then the Paschal Lamb
is conspicuous by its absence. From what we learn of Jesus from the New
Testament it appears he was not an orthodox Jew. In the Eucharist his
followers have been given a rite to replace the Passover ritual. There
are several occasions in the New Testament where the word 'meat' is
translated from five original Greek words; Broma, brosimos, prosphagion,
trope and phago. In none of these instances can animal flesh be
specifically concurred. The original words refer to general sustenance.
Although one wonders where the significance would exist if Jesus had
historically eaten meat on occasion. Would he have offended humble
households who were offering all they had, or given them a lecture on
vegetarianism? Compassion is progressive and Jesus' contemporaries were
astonished enough by instructions such as 'Love one another'.
The miracles involving fish are the most frequent and obvious source
of objection to vegetarianism on Christian grounds. The supernatural
character of the events however and the compassionate instinct which
inspired them are less fully contemplated. Jesus' intention was to
ameliorate suffering -not magnify it- as is the case with conventional
fishing practices. It is hardly conceivable that he would have allowed
untold numbers of fish to thrash and gasp their lives away under their
own weight, or be viciously bludgeoned to death. That is the reality of
almost all fishing scenarios, which cannot be condoned by a limited
understanding of Biblical events. The bulk population at this time had
little choice in the matter and would have been unable to survive
without a diet that included fish. It is also significant that the two
occasions on which Jesus is recorded as having eaten fish, both occurred
as he was attempting to prove his physical resurrection.
"In the famous story of the Prodigal Son a celebration was held on
his return. The importance of the occasion called for a specially
fattened calf. As the narrative develops, it is apparent that there is
no catering for vegetarian tendencies amongst the hastily gathered
guests. The omission cannot be explained as a glitch in Jesus' teaching
for in another graphic story the same situation occurs ( Matthew 22:4 ).
"Animal Rights & Wrongs - a Biblical perspective"
Significantly, the same publication commends the work of Wilberforce
and the anti-slavery movement of the early nineteenth century. The slave
trade itself was in many respects founded on scripture ( Titus 2:9 ).
Indeed, some of Wilberforce's most implacable critics were "Christians",
armed with the least noble passages from the New Testament they could
find. The Gospel records no disapproval of human slavery on the part of
Christ, on any of the occasions where he alludes to it ( Matthew 18; 23-
35 ), ( John 15:15 ), ( Mark 12: 1-11 ), ( Matthew 24: 45-46 ). Yet a
large number of Christian reformers helped to legislate against it,
inspired perhaps by verses more clearly aligned with divine will;
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."
When Christ's parables mentioned slaves, or meat dishes, he was using
incidental terminology which his audience could relate to. Throughout
its history, too rigid an adherence to the letter of the Bible has
perverted its wider spirit. The fact that the earliest New Testament
Gospel was written nearly a hundred years after the events it describes,
might lend partial explanation to apparent anomalies in Christ's
teaching. The early Church Father Athanasius commented; "Were we to
understand sacred writ according to the letter, we should fall into the
most enormous blasphemies as by ascribing cruelty and falsehood to the
A theological change of heart is needed, as much now as it was in
The later writings of St. Paul are sometimes used to dismiss the
Christian diet as being morally insignificant. Yet Paul was engaged in a
massive campaign of evangelism whereby fewer regimens meant larger
numbers of converts, although he does at one point lend serious
reflection to vegetarianism ( Corinthians 8:13 ). In the final years of
the twentieth century however, Christianity finds itself placed within a
very different religious context. Whilst its adherents would often claim
to practice and evangelise the noblest of faiths, its holy days are
celebrated with the wholesale destruction of noble animal life. It is
estimated that half a billion of God's creatures are butchered on the
day that we celebrate the birth of the prince of peace.
The Gospel records Jesus' teaching from the age in which it was
received. Although there often exists an implicit assumption that the
demands of contemporary Christianity can be met purely through the
imitation of the Jesus of first century Palestine. Christ was no static
figure and never claimed to be perfect ( Luke 18:19 ). There is an
entire range of pressing moral issues, which he simply does not
legislate upon in the Bible. At the end of John's Gospel, the writer
concedes that the New Testament can contain only a fraction of Christ's
teachings ( John 21:25 ). It is obviously impossible for one book to
contain the whole truth of God.
In recent years the emergence of early scriptures relating to the
ethical treatment of animals have gained increased publicity within
vegetarian publications. The evidence in question may be ancient
teachings of Christ which have survived Biblical editing. They might
just as easily be wish fulfillment on the part of vegetarians. In an
area where so little is actually known, it is certainly unwise to be
dogmatic. It is an historical fact that the New Testament was modified
by the Council of Nicea in A.D.325, to make it accessible to the Emperor
Constantine, in an attempt to end Christian persecution. Between the
"Correctors" appointed by the Ecclesiastical authorities and the Bibles
many translations, it is impossible to ascertain the extent to which
spiritual truths were lost. Most of the writings of vegetarian Christian
sects were destroyed during the persecutions of 'heretics' by the
Church, although ancient fragments of manuscript still survive, The
following piece of Aramaic scripture, stored in the vatican library, has
been quoted in several vegetarian publications;
"Jesus answered; and the flesh of slain beasts in his body will
become his own tomb, for I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself,
and whoso eats the flesh of slain beasts eats the body of death."
It is from the mystical Essene "Gospel of the Holy Twelve" that most
of the vegetarian teachings attributed to Jesus originate;
"...for they, making a God of their belly, sacrificed unto their God,
the innocent creatures of the earth, in place of the carnal nature
"For the fruits of the trees and the seeds of the herbs alone do I
partake, and these are changed by the spirit into my flesh and blood. Of
these alone and their like shall ye eat who believe in me and are my
disciples, for of these, in the spirit, come life and health and healing
There exists no means of verifying or denying the historical
authenticity of scriptures which have emerged from apocryphal texts.
Their large quantity, and the fact that only good would result if they
were put into practice however, does add to their credibility, If 'By
their fruits shall ye know them', then there may have been a few more
orchards than abattoirs, had such passages been promoted and adhered to
over the ages.
At the very least, the Bible reveals a pattern of ascent from the
fall, where every manner of creature was consumed to facilitate man's
survival, By the time of Moses, certain species were regarded as either
'clean' or 'unclean', under laws which took account of the hardness of
men's hearts, In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples are depicted
as having partaken fish. Two thousand years later, is it not time for
mankind's spiritual evolution to take its next logical step? Instead,
Sabbath rest laws upheld by Jews have been ignored in Christian
countries which have allowed factory farming atrocities to flourish. The
most superficial of investigations into these practices will produce a
catalogue of horror, which most Church leaders and the majority of
Christians would deplore. Yet ethics require action in order to
function. A principle objection to the vast routine removal of piglets'
teeth with a pliers means little, if it is not reflected in the shopping
basket. Through cultivating humane instinct we help to fulfil, rather
than destroy the law;
"The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will grazw;
Their young will lie together;
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain. "
(Isaiah 11: 6-9)
Some Christians postpone till the end of time any cooperation with
the Holy Spirit, in actualising the peaceable kingdom on earth. This
suggests that the ethical demands of Christianity have no urgency or
little value. No effort, however small, is lost within the divine plan.
Christian sympathies should lie naturally with the 'crucified' and a
choice for the kingdom of God must be a choice for love and not
slaughter. In Matthew 16:3 Jesus asked his contemporaries; "Can ye not
discern the signs of the times?". Properly discerned, these signs can
tell us where the spirit of God is leading. As stewards of God's animals
the challenge facing mankind is to become a blessing rather than a curse
on creation, to bring healing rather than injury.
"He has told you, O man what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?"
The Fellowship of life
Gwynedd LL57 3RD, UK
"Animal Theology" - Andrew Linzey - SCM Press ltd., 26-30 Tottenham
Road, London N1 4BZ, UK
"Christianity and the rights of animals" - Andrew Linzey - SPCK, Holy
Trinity Church, Marylebone Road, London NWI 4DU, UK
"Reason, Religion and the Animals" - Rev. Basil Wrighton - Catholic
Study Circle for Animal Welfare, 39 Onslow Gardens, South Woodford,
London E18 1ND, UK
"The slaughter of terrified beasts" - J.R. Hyland Viatoris
ministries, Sarasota, Florida 34277, U.S.A.
"On behalf of the creatures"- J. Todd Ferrier The Order of the Cross,
10 De Vere Gardens, Kensington, London W8 5AE, UK
"These we have not loved" - Rev. V.A. Holmes-Gore The Order of the
"Cast out of the Ark" - Rev. James Thompson - Christians Against All
Animal Abuse, 'Peace Haven', Fron Park Road, Holywell, Clwyd CH8 7UY, UK
"Replenish the Earth" - Lewis G. Regenstein
SCM Press ltd.
"Food for the Spirit - vegetarianism and the world religions" Steven
Rosen - Bala Books Inc., 74 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury, N.Y. 11568,
"A Vegetarian Sourcebook" - Keith Akers
"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot hear them now.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all
(John 16: 12-13)