THE BIBLICAL BASIS OF VEGETARIANISM
Carnivorism represents just as much of a fall from Grace as does any
Many who resist the fact that human beings were
created as an herbivorous species point to the bible for their support of carnivorism.
They quote the scripture which says that God gave humankind dominion over the animals as
"proof" that the eating of flesh was sanctioned by the Creator.
But the dominion that was to be exercised by those made in the image of God was
one of stewardship; of caring for the nonhuman beings who, like themselves, were created
as nefesh chaya--living souls. There is no logical correlation between any kind of
dominion and the consumption of the flesh of other beings.That is man's self-serving
interpretation of dominion. The bible, itself, refutes this argument for
The verse of scripture immediately following the appointment of humans as
caretakers for the rest of creation is followed by strict dietary instructions that limit
all food consumption to non-flesh foods.
"..God said unto them....have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over
the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 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 which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for
meat.'"(Genesis 1: 28,29)
Having decreed the kind of food that was to sustain life on earth, the bible does
not discuss diet again until the ninth chapter of Genesis. And by then the known world had
already been destroyed by the great Flood. The scripture juxtaposes the report of that
catastrophe with the information that the world had been defiled by the human beings to
whom stewardship of the earth had been given. "Now the earth was corrupt in God's
sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the
people on earth had corrupted their ways."(Gen. 6:11)
A world that could no longer support the degeneracy of its inhabitants was washed
away by the Flood. But the bible reports that there was a man who escaped the common fate.
His name was Noah and the Lord said of him: "I have found you righteous in this
generation." (Genesis 7:1--Emphasis added) This is a very qualified endorsement
of Noah's character: he was the best that could be found in the midst of a depraved and
violent society. And although there was to be a new beginning after the Flood, it was
hardly a return to Paradise.
Just as life after the Fall in Eden was lived at a much lower level of existence,
life after the Flood had deteriorated even further. The violence of the pre-Flood world
reached the point where earth's inhabitants had begun to feed on the flesh of each other.
And Noah and his family, conditioned by that society, continued its carnivorism.
In some of the most chilling passages in the bible, the extent of human depravity
is plainly stated. When its inhabitants first leave the Ark, they are told that the earth
will not be washed away again even though "the imagination of man's heart is evil
from his youth." This statement is followed by a summation of the state of
affairs that now exists in the world. "The fear of you and the dread of you shall
be upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the
fishes of the sea." (Gen. 9:2)
All creatures will fear and dread mankind, because human beings will abuse them.
Obviously, the God of creation is not commending humans for their violent and abusive
behavior. The bible is simply stating that there was no miraculous imposition of a higher
state of development on earth's inhabitants. The imagination of man's heart would continue
to devise evil, and violence would remain a hallmark of life on earth.
This perversion of God's intent would also be apparent in man's continued
carnivorism. "Every living thing shall be meat for you; even as the green herb,
have I given you all things." This verse of scripture is not an approval of
carnivorism. It is a statement of fact: human beings will continue to consume the flesh of
other creatures. But human chauvinism has prompted scholars to interpret this as God's
blessing on man-turned-carnivore. Even their translation of this scripture tries to
obscure its meaning.
The words have I given in the above-quoted scripture should read have I
made. "Even as the green herb, have I made all things." This is the
way that phrase is translated in other parts of the bible, and in this instance it would
make it plain that God is not "giving" his creatures to man for food. Rather,
the bible is reiterating that the Lord "made" all things: the green herbs of the
fields as well as all living creatures. It is man who decided that he had a right to
consume the bodies of other creatures. And in order to further bolster this claim for the
right to eat other beings, he introduced sacrificial religion into the world.
Human beings have depicted God as enjoying the smell of burning flesh. The bible
is replete with passages that describe the pleasure He took in the smell of animals being
roasted on the altar. But of course it was the priests and the people, not God, who
consumed their flesh.
Reaction against the travesty of animal sacrifice did not gain strength until the
eighth century B.C. with the advent of the Latter Prophets of Israel. Not only did these
prophets inveigh against sacrificial religion, they also reminded their people that a
world which enjoyed the peace of God, and the kind of prosperity that comes from such
peace, was a vegetarian world.Isaiah spoke of the time when "the cow and the bear
are friends" and "the lion eats straw like the ox." He also told
how "the wolf will live with the lamb...and a little child will lead them."
This vision of a nonviolent, vegetarian world was always present in the
consciousness of the Israelites. From the beginning, the Promised Land had been described
as a place "flowing with milk and honey." This was a peaceful, pastoral, image.
Unfortunately, fallen human nature took control and made a mockery of that promise.
"I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its fruits and the goodness of it, but
when you entered upon it you defiled it and made the home I gave you loathsome."(Jer.
Although strongly repressed, people are aware of the violence entailed in the
killing and eating of animals. The most horrendous crimes against humanity are referred to
as "butchery." And in our own time, the violence of slaughter is hidden from the
view of an urban society. The public is further protected from the reality of this process
by the media. In a society where freedom of expression is taken for granted, no pictures
of the slaughter process are ever shown. No investigative report ever details the way in
which still-living animals are hoisted on huge hooks, with parts of their body already
hacked from them. No documentary records the frenzy, the fear and the suffering of these
creatures, doomed to such torment by the human lust for flesh.
But even more perverse is the failure of people of faith to confront a violent
world with the reality of what it is doing. The Judeo-Christian community has as its
heritage the biblical record of a past in which all beings lived at peace in a nonviolent
and vegetarian society. Its heritage also includes the promise of a millennial world in
which the peace of a nonviolence that includes vegetarianism is promised to those who look
to the God of compassion, goodness, and love for their salvation.
And the world for which Jesus Christ taught his followers to pray is also a
nonviolent world in which goodness rules. It is a world in which God's will is done on
earth, as it is in heaven. Even the most recalcitrant human beings do not claim that in
God's kingdom, animals are mutilated and killed in order to fulfill human lust.
The prayer that says "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is
in heaven" is a commitment and a continuing prayer for God's love, goodness, and
compassion to rule the world and overcome the lust, cruelty, and selfishness that
characterizes the rule of man on earth.
Reprinted from the July/August 1996 issue of Humane Religion. Copyright 1996 by
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