Should a Christian Be Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian?

After the Flood, God blessed Noah and granted to him every living creature as food even as he had given the green herbs (Gen.9:3). Prior to the Noahic Covenant, we don’t find any mention of humans being non-vegetarian. But, after the Flood, man was granted to kill and eat every living creature, with the following two conditions:

1. Humans, under the Noahic Covenant, are not permitted to eat flesh with its blood (Gen.9:4)
2. Homicide (murder of humans) is affirmed as a capital offence (Gen.9:6)

When the Mosaic Law was given, God further stipulated meat laws that distinguished between clean and unclean animals and forbade the Jewish people from eating anything unclean (Deut 14:3-21). He also reaffirmed that blood must not be eaten but must be poured out on earth like water (Deut 12:16). Scholars have considered several reasons for the prohibition of blood-eating; but the prominent reasons considered are that God wanted to protect the animals from human cruelty and also protect humans from falling to savageness.

When the New Covenant came, Jesus reversed the law of the clean and unclean and declared all food as clean (Mark 7:19, RSV). This is ratified again to Peter in Acts 10 when, in a vision, a voice from heaven commands him to kill and eat creatures considered as unclean in the Old Covenant. When Peter objects by saying that he had never eaten anything common or unclean, the voice declares “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). Thus, the Jewish-Gentile division is annulled here and the Old Covenant dietary law related to clean and unclean animals is repealed for both Jews and non-Jews who have become part of the New Covenant.

Again in 1 Timothy 4, Paul instructs that in the last days there will be an increase of demonically influenced legalistic doctrines that would prohibit marriage and eating of certain foods in opposition to the Biblical fact that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1Tim.4:4,5). Jesus Himself was a non-vegetarian. He not only distributed fish as food to people but also ate fish, even after His resurrection (Lk.24:42,43). So, it would be hyper-religiosity to declare non-vegetarianism as being antithetical to Christianity. On the other hand, the Bible does have some instructions to govern the ethics of eating. Following are some of them:

1. The Bible forbids gluttony, especially gluttony in relation to meat-eating. It also forbids associating with people who are gluttonous eaters of meat. Proverbs 23:20-21 says, “Do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.” We have a reminder in the Israelites who when they craved for flesh too much were destroyed by God in the wilderness (Num.11:4-35).

2. The Bible forbids cruel and unethical killing of animals. Proverbs 12:10 says that the righteous has regard for the life of his beast. Exodus 23:19 commands that one should not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. Leviticus 22:28 prohibits killing a cow and its calf on the same day. Deuteronomy 22:6 forbids taking a bird with its young ones and the eggs it is sitting upon. In Nathan’s parable to David, snatching a poor man’s dear lamb and cooking it is equated with ruthless homicide (2Sam.12:1-8).

3. The New Testament Apostolic Council in Jerusalem instructed the Church to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled” (Acts 15:29). The prohibition of blood is a ratification of the conditions of the Noahic Covenant. Regarding food offered to idols, Paul states that since an idol is nothing, therefore such food is innocuous if eaten unaware. However, he makes it clear that a partaking-eating of food offered to idols means partaking of the table of devils; it provokes the Lord to jealousy (1Cor.10:19-21). Jesus made it clear to the Seven Churches of Revelation that food sacrificed to idols was abomination in His eyes (Rev.2:14,20).

4. Paul instructed Christians to be context-sensitive and desist from eating meat if eating meat, whatsoever, could become a stumbling block for others. He says, “For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables….I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died… Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” (Rom.14:2,14-15, 20-21).

5. He also instructs Christians not to judge anyone for eating or abstaining from meat, since each is accepted before God (Rom.14:3)

Thus, we see that the Bible doesn’t prohibit a person from being vegetarian or non-vegetarian. However, carnality in matters of food is self-destructive. “Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them” (2Cor.6:13). God has called us to sanctification and holiness and He demands us to eat food in a sanctified manner with thanksgiving and prayer, accepted before Him (1Tim.4:4,5).

Last updated on June 18, 2015

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