My feature photograph of the juicy hamburger was chosen for a psychological reason — so what kind of reaction did it receive from you? Does it make you hungry, happy, or is it unpleasant or distasteful? Do you see an acceptable and tasty choice for dinner, or a disgusting selection? Those emotions, among others, are displayed by a variety of people, if they see the slaughtered flesh of animals prepared for human consumption. There are, I’m sure, people on both sides of the aisle reading this article.
How is it that so many of us sincerely care about the welfare of animals, but at the same time, the majority eat meat? We humans genuinely don’t want to see animals suffer, yet kill them by the millions. Our compassion for animals and our consumption of them is contradictory, to say the least.1
It is not my desire to solve this conundrum or to direct blame in one direction or another; my interest is to present information to clarify: (1) why do people eat meat, (2) is it biblical to do so, and (3) will we continue eating animal flesh in the future, after Christ returns? Neither am I personally trying to side-step this conflicting issue, for I admit I enjoy eating the flesh of chickens, pigs, cows, etc. while at the same time avoiding unnecessary animal cruelty. Most people, I believe, fall into this group.
When is meat, not meat?
As written in the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, ‘meat’ sometimes meant ‘food in general’, not just animal flesh as it does now. For instance, 2 Esdras 12:51 of the apocrypha says, “But I remained still in the field seven days, as the angel commanded me; and did eat only in those days of the flowers of the field, and had my meat [esca] of the herbs.”2
Even the ‘meat-offering’ in the Old Testament was not flesh. Originally, it was a gift of any kind, but later denoted an un-bloody sacrifice (as opposed to a bloody one). Exodus 29:40-41 explains three offerings: (1) a lamb was offered as a ‘burnt-offering’, (2) flour mixed with oil for the ‘meat-offering’, and (3) wine as the ‘drink offering’. Some translations call the meat-offering a ‘grain offering’ or other similar wording, so as not confuse the modern reader.3
Today, meat is the animal flesh eaten as food, but it derives from an Old English word (mete), which just referred to all types of food in general. Even now, some people use the word in a more restrictive sense to mean the flesh of mammalian species (pigs, cattle, lambs, etc.) raised and prepared for human consumption, to the exclusion of fish, other seafood, insects, or even poultry.4 But, for most of human history, meat was largely an unquestioned part of the human diet and only in the 20th century did it become a topic of discussion and controversy in society, culture, and politics.5
Were humans created to eat meat?
The archaeological record indicates early Homo species had teeth, jaws, and guts designed only for grinding up and digesting plant matter. The only way they could eat meat, was by using tools that could function as a second set of teeth, for stripping away flesh and for crushing skulls or bones, thus freeing the nutrient animal materials hiding inside.6
Whether God ‘uplifted’ his new human creations from those hominin primates, or crafted an entirely newer species through genetic engineering (or by some other miracle), the resultant Homo sapiens had the very same physiology designed for a plant-based diet.7 Their education about the world was just starting, so logically, that could be why God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food,” (Genesis 1:29, NRSV).8
Some people believe that in the Garden of Eden, Abel ate meat (flesh), because he was sacrificing the first-born of his flock. And I have heard a few of those people implying that this was the reason Abel was killed by his brother Cain, for disobeying God’s commandment to be a vegetarian.
Well, they are reading much more into this story than the Bible states, because there is no reason to assume Abel was eating any of the flesh of his sacrifice. “We need to consider that flocks can yield many other things such as wool, milk, leather, sacrifices for sin, etc.” In addition to that, in the New Testament, Jesus himself said Abel was righteous (Matthew 23:25), so why would he be punished?9
God gave human beings the unique responsibility to rule the earth and its creatures and discover all there was, to their satisfaction — although at this early stage, the food menu was strictly vegetarian.10 The organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is always quick to adapt biblical scripture that can be twisted and manipulated for their propaganda. They state Genesis 1:29 as their ‘proof’ of God’s intention for humanity to be vegan and not eat any animal-based products.
However, PETA often fails to mention God’s change of plans after the Great Flood. The original dietary regulations given to Adam and Eve were then expanded when he said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood,” (Genesis 9:3-4).
Despite this revised regulation that allows God’s blessing to eat meat, some Jews believe that there is solid theological ground for not doing so. An Orthodox rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook (1865 – 1935), wrote that because people sank to a very low level of spirituality before the flood, God found it necessary to give humans an elevated image of themselves, as compared to animals. If people were denied the right to eat animals, he said, they might resort to eating human flesh. Kook regards the permission to slaughter animals as a temporary dispensation, until a “brighter era” is reached when people would return to vegan diets. Another thought along these lines is that, although God gave his permission to eat flesh, he didn’t want to make it easy. Therefore to make it difficult for humankind to eat the animals, he caused them to fear and dread humans (Genesis 9:2).11
Anyway, the scripture of Genesis 9 proves that God has given not only plants as food for humanity, but has given animals as food, also. “Human consumption of meat is not unbiblical. It is, in fact, completely biblical and ordained by God himself. God, as a blessing, gave meat to humanity as food, therefore we should receive it as such and be good stewards of the blessing of food.”12
“The phrase referring to animal food sources can be translated literally as ‘every creeping/gliding animal’ and would normally be understood to refer to smaller animals on land or sea, but it is usually understood here to mean every creature that moves.” But, although meat would be permissible as food, blood would not. God required Noah and his offspring to drain the lifeblood from any animal before eating it.13
For an interesting study concerning lifeblood and the concept of blood’s importance, read “Life is in the Blood: Leviticus 17:11 – Is Sin in the Blood, too?” which is listed in References & Notes, at the end of this article.14
Was the apostle Paul a vegetarian?
Some people believe Paul was a vegetarian. As proof they cite a letter he wrote to the Corinthians where he stated, “I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall,” (1 Corinthians 8:13b). But does this mean what it sounds like? Let’s put this abbreviated verse into its proper context by examining verses 7 through 13.
Paul was explaining that if all Christians were mature in their knowledge, then eating any meat that had been sacrificed — by non-Christians to their idols of other gods — would not matter, because a Christian doesn’t believe in other gods. But he explains that the conscience of some new Christians were not strengthened to that point of truth, therefore to some of them, this would seem wrong. Here are the verses that explain the proper context.15
“It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?
So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family [the Christian family], and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:7-13).
The exercise of freedom by the knowledgeable could in certain circumstances become an obstacle or a stumbling block in a weak Christian’s walk with God. The illustration Paul posed was “a situation in which a weak Christian saw a knowledgeable brother enjoying a meal in an idol’s temple and was by this example encouraged to join in, even though he could not do so with the clear conscience before God that the knowledgeable Christian enjoyed.”16
So, Paul said, if Christ loved so much that he was willing to give up his exalted rights and even his life (Philippians 2:6, 8), surely the strong could give up his right to eat such meat under such circumstances. Paul was stressing the priority of Christian love. He did not demand that the knowledgeable ones relinquish their right or new freedom, but he illustrated how he would apply the principle to himself at that particular time.17
Different Prohibitions Against Meat
When I way young, I lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was predominately a Catholic city. Until 1966, Catholics were required to abstain from eating meat on any Friday. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops changed the abstinence requirements and now only Fridays during lent are days of abstinence (as well as Good Friday and Ash Wednesday). Generally, fish was the preferred substitute main course, as it was not considered as meat.18
This abstinence from meat fell on Friday as a remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus, who sacrificed his own flesh through crucifixion on a Friday. It was assumed everyone loved to eat meat, so the abstinence was about giving up something we love. So serious is this remembrance, to those of the Catholic faith, that it is a mortal sin if broken and requires a formal confession in church. (Was Jesus really crucified on a Friday? See the study titled “Was Jesus in the Tomb for Three Days and Three Nights?” A link is listed at the end of this article in References & Notes.19)
This Catholic Church demand is not biblical, but there are many Old Testament laws prohibiting foods or preparing such, including certain meats. One such instruction was concerning a mixture of milk and meat: “You shall not boil a kid [any young mammal] in its mother’s milk,” (Exodus 23:19b). Even today, orthodox Jews won’t eat a mixture of meat and milk, although that is not what the scripture says. The prohibition is only for cooking meat in its own mother’s milk, not against its preparation in any other milk.20
In the New Testament, Jesus changed the dietary laws: “Thus he declared all foods clean,” (Mark 7:19b); but blood was still forbidden (Acts 19:28-29). Even the apostles had a difficult time with this major change in Jewish tradition of living by the Mosaic dietary laws. The new outlook on foods had to be imprinted upon Peter’s mind through a dream from heaven, before he would change his ways.21
“About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven” (Acts 10:9-16).
Another time Paul the Apostle, in a letter to Timothy, warned that in the last days, many will teach that Christians should continue to obey the Mosaic dietary laws. He stated that those teaching this misinformation would be under the influence of demons.22
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer” (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Notice this scripture mentions eating was to be “received with thanksgiving.” To me that means we should pray before eating, for the food is “sanctified by . . . prayer.” There is now scientific evidence that prayer can affect living organizations, through communication involving quantum physics. Researchers have found that prayer can prepare another living organism for what is to occur, including its own death.
Some suggest this to be the origin of the blessing, practiced by humans, in effect giving notice before ingesting food on the table.23 Doesn’t this give insight to a possible additional reason why God expects us to bless the food (plant or animal) we eat — to prepare it beforehand for being sacrificed and consumed for our own nourishment? Let’s face it, humans must consume other life (plant or animal) to maintain our own. For a short, but fascinating article on this subject, see “Biocommunication & Prayer: Science Reveals God’s Majesty” listed in References & Notes at the end of this discourse.24
The Future of Meat
To give a capsule overview of the Bible’s position, Adam and Eve are originally only given vegetable matter as a food source (Genesis 1:29). Then, almost as a reluctant concession after the Great Flood, God gives permission for his human creations to eat meat (Genesis 9:3-4), but maybe it is only for educational purposes for a while.25
Humans and animals are frequently seen in solidarity, as they are common participants in the covenant made with Noah. “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth’” (Genesis 9:8-11).
The created order of this earth changed at the fall of humankind (Genesis 3:17-19), and it will be restored in a regeneration, which will soon arrive. When we receive our freedom at Christ’s return, the entire world will be changed again.26 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” (Romans 8:19-21).
There are many dissenting voices, since the time of Christ, that affirm the value of animals, including Catholic friar Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure the philosopher-theologian, and author Catherine of Siena. And in the new kingdom to come, we also have the promise of a time when killing animals will be unnecessary.27
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea, (Isaiah 11:6-9).
How will this future come about, when we will not be killing animals for food? What about meat alternatives, is that the answer? Well, maybe, but then again, maybe not. For a few decades soy-based meat alternatives have been around, but although they resemble meat in appearance, they don’t really taste much like it.28
Newer plant-based burger patties, like the ‘Impossible Burger’ are finally giving the real thing a run for its money. Even Tyson Foods is investing in this product. Why? Probably because they see the ‘writing on the wall’ for what our future will be.29
An even newer substitute for protein, instead of killing animals for food, is cultivated meat! It isn’t a new idea, for even back in 1932 former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, predicted that one day, “we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken, in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”30
Because of questions concerning treatment of livestock, and also the basic ethical justification of any use of animals in human food production, artificial meat would solve many problems if available. Today, technology is advancing and the technique for producing artificial meat is finally coming of age. Not only plant and fungal-based alternatives, but actual in vitro meat cell culturing can meet global demands by reducing the number of animals farmed.31
Although artificially cultured meat currently requires animal products (calf serum, or stem cells), overcoming that obstacle will revolutionize the meat industry, leading to eventually eliminating the use of animals entirely.32 Proof has already been demonstrated that meat for consumption can be cultured using fairly standard tissue engineering technology. The problem for mass production is to make the culture system more efficient and cheaper, than actual livestock produced beef in converting vegetable proteins (feed) into edible animal proteins.33
So maybe, in the not-too-distant future, meat will still be in our diet, but no animals (or animal products) need be used to provide that protein. Maybe the coming promised new age of Christ’s kingdom will include boneless and bloodless meat in our diet. Cruelty-free, guilt-free, disease-free, top-of-the-line, and always tender — sounds good to me! (That is just a thought, okay?) Oh, and by the way, that featured photograph, at the top of this article, pictures a laboratory-cultured beef patty — it’s meat, but no cow was butchered to make that hamburger.
Now, on to the music. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t find a ‘meat-related’ music video, so let me list one that is, at least, related to food and dieting. The performer is Aaron Wilburn (1950-2020), known for penning many popular Christian songs. He was also a multi-faceted touring performer, blending humorous tales and quick one-liners with a seemingly endless repertoire of comedic songs, as he shared the Gospel.34 He performs ‘The Diet Song’ about the comedy of dieting in our modern day. See the link in References & Notes.35
Copyright © 2022, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Patrick-Goudreau, Colleen, “The Complicated Reasons People Eat Meat”, (Live Kindly, retrieved 20 February 2022), https://www.livekindly.co/the-complicated-reasons-people-eat-meat/
- Hastings, James, A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911–1912), vol. 3, p. 309.
- “Meat”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 January 2022), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meat
- Buscemi, Francesco, From Body Fuel to Universal Poison: Cultural History of Meat: 1900–The Present, (London: Springer Nature [Holtzbrinck Publishing Group], 2018), pp. 1, 11.
- Shannon, Maggie, “The Juicy History of Humans Eating Meat”, (History, A&E Television Networks, 8 May 2019), https://www.history.com/news/why-humans-eat-meat
- All scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989). Used with publisher’s permission.
- Hodge, Bodie, “Meat of the Matter”, (Answers in Genesis, 8 October 2008), https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/meat-of-the-matter/
- Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), p. 23.
- “Genesis 9:3 – Permission to Eat Meat?” (Jewish Veg, retrieved 18 February 2022), https://www.jewishveg.org/jewish-values-in-action/permission-eat-meat
- Mathews, Kenneth A.; Luter, A. Boyd, Jr, in The Apologetics Study Bible, (Ed.) Ted Cabal, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 17.
- Bergen, Robert D., in CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Eds.), Blum, Edwin, et al., (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 22.
- Hermann, Ray, “Life is in the Blood: Leviticus 17:11 — Is Sin in the Blood, too?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 20 April 2021), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/life-is-in-the-blood-leviticus-1711-is-sin-in-the-blood-too/
- Lowery, David K., in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B., (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 522.
- Ellis, Sam, “What Happens If A Catholic Eats Meat On Friday?” (Catholics & Bible, 27 August 2021), https://catholicsbible.com/what-happens-if-a-catholic-eats-meat-on-Friday/
- Hermann, Ray, “Was Jesus in the Tomb for Three Days and Three Nights?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 22 March 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/was-jesus-in-the-tomb-for-three-days-and-three-nights/
- “Is it a sin for a Christian to eat pig’s meat?” (Never Thirsty, retrieved 17 February 2022), https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/is-it-a-sin-for-a-christian-to-eat-pigs-meat/
- Backster, Cleve, Primary Perception: Biocommunication with Plants, Living Foods, and Human Cells, (Anza, CA: White Rose Millennium Press, 2003), p. 81-82.
- Hermann, Ray, “Biocommunication & Prayer: Science Reveals God’s Majesty”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 14 August 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/biocommunication-prayer-science-reveals-gods-majesty/
- Clough, David, “Vegetarianism” (book chapter) in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, (Eds.) W.C. Campbell-Jack; G. McGrath, (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006), pp. 740-741.
- Patterson, Paige, in CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Eds.), Blum, Edwin, et al., (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 1794.
- Clough, David, “Vegetarianism” (see above).
- Gohd, Chelsea, “In the Future, the Meat You Eat Won’t Come From Living Organisms”, (Futurism, 12 December 2017), https://futurism.com/future-meat-eat-wont-come-from-living-organisms
- “Artificial Meat Production: A New Vision of the Future” (Poultry Punch Magazine, 26 December 2020), https://thepoultrypunch.com/2020/12/artificial-meat-production-a-new-vision-of-the-future/
- Bonny, Sarah P. F., et al., “What is artificial meat and what does it mean for the future of the meat industry?” Journal of Integrative Agriculture, February 2015, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 259-260.
- Moritz, Matilda S. M., et al., “Alternatives for large-scale production of cultured beef: A review”, Journal of Integrative Agriculture, February 2015, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 208-209.
- “Singer & Comedian Aaron Wilburn Passes Away” (Singing News, 1 December 2020), https://singingnews.com/news/industry-news/singer-comedian-aaron-wilburn-passes-away/
- “The Diet Song”, live at the Brumley Gospel Sing; Artist: Aaron Wilburn, (uploaded to YouTube by IFA Productions), used under ‘fair use’ copyright for teaching under Section 107 of Copyright Act of 1976, – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/xkugh0e5TeY