Should We All Be Vegetarians?
From Volume 4 Issue 3 of Unless the
Lord ... Magazine
There has been a growing interest in health issues among Christian families and especially home schooling families. Many have chosen to eat organic produce, to avoid sugar and processed foods, and to seek healthier food from a variety of sources. We read that, Americans, on the whole, eat too much meat and particularly too much red meat. Though nutritional experts differ on a number of matters, yet there is considerable consensus for more whole, natural, and unprocessed foods of all sorts, as well as at least moderation in the eating of certain meats.
There has also been a significant growth in the popularity of a vegetarian or a vegan (no animal products of any sort, i.e. no eggs or milk) diet. The vegetarian lifestyle has become very popular among many non-Christian groups, especially those somewhat involved in eastern or "new age" religions and philosophy. Vegetarianism has also grown dramatically among conservative Christians in recent years.
The Seventh Day Adventist churches have always taught adherence to the Mosaic food laws and recommended a vegetarian lifestyle as well. In more recent years vegetarianism has been encouraged by Christian naturopathic doctors, the Hallelujah Diet, and numerous other sources.
Most nutrition experts would support the idea that a purely vegetarian diet, if well planned, can be very healthy and is certainly healthier than the typical American diet. Examples are given of superior health among large groups of vegetarians as compared with the population as a whole.
There are also many among the vegetarian movement who have chosen this lifestyle because they donít like the idea of animals being killed and eaten. Thus vegetarianism is common among animal rights activists.
the Bible Advocate a Vegetarian Lifestyle?
Today there are Christian advocates of the vegetarian lifestyle that argue that all Christians ought to be vegetarian (or even vegans). For example, consider some of the assertions by Rev. George Malkmus, the author of "Godís Way to Ultimate Health," and the creator of the Hallelujah Diet:
"Godís Way to Ultimate Health is based on the simple premise that the human body was created by God to be nourished and sustained in perfect health on a vegetarian diet of raw fruits and vegetables. Mankind has strayed far from that original diet handed down in Genesis 1:29. The price tag for our modern diet and lifestyle is a massive health care crisis beyond compare with any time in history."
"When God created man, He placed him in a garden and told him his diet was to consist of raw fruits and vegetables. On this diet, man lived an average of 912 years without sickness! Following the flood, meat and cooked food were added to manís diet. As a result, sickness entered the human race and manís life span declined from an average of 912 years to 100 years by the time you get to the end of Genesis!"
"All meats are harmful to the body and the cause of up to 90% of all physical problems."
Consider also the following statement by the Christian Vegetarian Association:
"The CVA (Christian Vegetarian Association) believes that vegetarianism expresses the compassion and peace of Christ because the diet spares animals from suffering, alleviates world hunger, protects the environment and preserves human health."
With a statement like CVAís above, we might question whether this organization is Christian in more than just name. The reasons given in support of a vegetarian diet sound so much like those given by non-Christian vegetarians who draw their values from eastern religions or animal rights activists.
One of the strongest Biblical defenses Iíve seen for the vegetarian lifestyle, is that presented on the internet site JesusVeg.com. These arguments can be summarized as follows:
1) In Godís perfect world, as represented in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate no meat (Gen 1:29-30).
2) In the future, Jesus will usher in a new age of peace, in which even the lion to lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11) Ė a return to an Eden like existence where only plants are eaten.
3) God cares about the animals of His creation, as is shown by many of Mosesí laws prescribed for the benefit and humane treatment of animals (Exod. 23:5; Deut. 22:6Ė7; 25:4). Todayís factory farms and slaughterhouses are far from humane in the way animals are raised and prepared. Eating meat supports those who cause so much animal pain and suffering. "As we do to the least, so we do to Him."
4) Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), so we should care for our bodies as gifts from God. Scientific studies indicate that vegetarian diets are associated with reduced risk for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, colon cancer, lung cancer, and kidney disease. Jesus ate a predominately plant-based Mediterranean diet. Pesticides and dioxins become concentrated in animal fat and are consumed by meat eaters and dangerous blood mercury levels can result from eating lots of fish. Farmed animals are bred to grow quickly and given little exercise (so often high in saturated fats, elevating the eatersí cholesterol levels), are often given hormones to increase muscle development, and are routinely fed antibiotics to prevent infections in crowded and stressed conditions (promotes antibiotic resistant bacteria). High-speed slaughterhouse operations predispose meat to bacterial contamination.
What Does the Bible Teach?
Garden of Eden Diet. In Gen 1:29, God declares that He has given to man for his food: every plant yielding seed on the surface of the earth and every tree that has fruit yielding seed. In verse 30, God declared the same concerning the animals, that plants would be their food. Then in Gen 2:16-17, God told Adam that he could eat from any tree within the garden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Certainly this diet was adequate for manís health, as being prescribed by God. The Garden of Eden included every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food (Gen 2:9). With the inclusion of the fruit from the Tree of Life, these fruits were apparently intended to sustain Adamís body indefinitely Ė without experiencing death (Gen 2:16-17).
Post-Flood Diet. In Gen 9:3-4, God again speaks concerning what man is to eat and now includes "every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with itís life, that is, its blood." Some argue that this was just a "concession to human weakness," and a short term necessity because of the plants destroyed by the flood, and not truly Godís best. Yet in context, God seems to be authorizing this diet change without any hint of it being less desirable than the previously authorized vegetarian diet. No specific reason is given for this change, but there is no later indication of any disapproval on Godís part, except for the requirement of eating meat without the blood and the dietary laws of Moses designating certain animals as unclean and instructing not to eat the fat of an ox, sheep or goat. Apparently things changed for the animals as well, either after the fall or after the flood, as many animals became meat eaters.
Biblical Examples of Meat Eating. We find numerous examples of the people of God eating meat from the time of Noah onward. Abraham served a fatted calf along with bread, curds, and milk, to angels visiting him (Gen 18:7-8). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job all were primarily keepers of livestock, whose primary purpose was meat and who also provided milk. Animal sacrifices were practiced by Godís people prior to the Law and were instituted as a major part of the Mosaic Law. All Israelites were commanded to kill and eat a lamb on the Passover. The priests received a portion of the animal sacrifices for their own food (Exodus 29:26-28 and others). David was a herder of sheep and presumably dined frequently on them and drank of the milk of sheep and goats. Jesus and His twelve disciples regularly ate fish (Lk 24:42-43 and implied elsewhere), and presumably ate meat at least on the Passover.
Daniel Eating Vegetables Only. When taken captive to Babylon, Daniel and his three friends sought permission to eat only vegetables to avoid defiling themselves with the kingís choice food. Presumably Danielís concern was with eating meat with the blood in it, or eating meat from animals stated to be unclean by the Law of Moses. Given the environment in which he was living, it was highly unlikely that any of the meat available to him would meet the requirements of the Law of Moses. Daniel and his friends did prove to have a very healthful appearance with eating only vegetables and drinking water.
Jesusí Words Concerning Food. In Mark 7:18-20, Jesus explains that "whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him," and then Mark adds the comment that, "Thus He declared all foods clean."
The Apostle Paulís Instruct-ions Concerning Food. In 1 Cor 8:8, in discussing eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul states that "food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." In Romans 14, again speaking to the issue of meat possibly sacrificed to idols, Paul refers to "he who is weak eats vegetables only" (vs 2) , and in verse 14, that he is convinced that nothing is unclean in itself. In verse 17, he further adds that, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking," and in verse 20, that "all things are clean." Yet throughout he stresses the importance of not causing a brother to stumble and that is better to not eat meat at all if it might cause a brother who sees it as sin, to stumble. Then in Colossians 2:16, Paul instructs us to let no one act as our judge in regard to food or drink, etc.
Conclusions From A Review of the Scriptures
Since the time of the flood meat has been clearly approved by God for the human diet. Nearly all men and women of God recorded in the Bible since the Flood have eaten meat and have been approved by God. The Jews were commanded to eat meat on at least one occasion of the year. The Levitical priests were expected to eat the meat of the sacrifices. Jesus Himself ate meat along with His disciples. So we cannot say we are more holy when we donít eat meat or that those who eat meat are more ungodly, else we would be accusing Jesus of ungodliness. However, God did place a stipulation on how meat is to be eaten Ė without the blood. And in the Law of Moses, certain meats were declared unclean and not to be eaten. Though whether they should still be considered "unclean" by Christians today is a matter for debate - in light of the verses quoted from Jesus and Paul.
Likewise, there is nothing ungodly about eating only plants. This was the pre-flood diet and was also followed by Daniel and his friends when faced with the alternative of eating meat that did not satisfy the requirements of the Law of Moses. To the apostle Paul, eating or not eating meat was a matter of no significance in and of itself. However, if some believers might stumble from seeing you eat meat that they presumed was sacrificed to idols, then it would be better not to eat meat at all.
Is a vegetarian diet more healthy than a diet that includes meat? I have not found any Biblical argument that would establish this. The Garden of Eden diet did not include meat, and we would suppose that it was a very good diet for the human body. Yet God did not say that the revised diet He authorized after the flood was any worse. We have no Biblical reason to conclude that a well selected diet including meat would be inferior or superior to one excluding meat.
The Cruelty to Animals Issue
Is it true that the factory farms and slaughter houses are practicing terrible cruelty to animals? Well it is true that there is a lot of overcrowding, that animals are often kept in unsanitary conditions, and are sometimes penned up much like human prisoners - only worse. So, yes, some of the horror stories are true, but these are greatly overplayed and exaggerated by some of the vegetarian proponents. And what is NOT mentioned is that there are alternative sources for meat of which none of these things are true. Often you have to look to co-ops or direct farm purchases to access such meat, and yes, it is a bit more expensive, but it is available in most every area of the country (and growing). So you can purchase meat without supporting factory farms that use methods you do not approve of.
Health Issues From Science
Current experts in nutrition generally praise a vegetarian diet as being a very healthy alternative. However, this does not mean that a well chosen diet that also includes meat would necessarily be less healthy. Though we suppose that the experts are probably right, they cannot be relied on in the same manner as Scripture. The conclusions of science have been know to undergo frequent revision Ė sometimes minor and sometimes major.
There seems to be considerable evidence that though God has made us very flexible in terms of what we can eat and live on, that we would generally be healthier if a large portion of our diet consisted of fruits and vegetables and if meat assumed a more minor role. Likewise we should be concerned about how all of our food is raised and processed, whether meat or plant food, in terms of chemicals used, and other factors (antibiotics, etc.) which might compromise the nutrition of our food or introduce greater risks of cancer or heart disease, etc.
Should We All Be Vegetarians?
I donít think either the Bible or science supports a conclusion that everyone should be vegetarian. A vegetarian diet is a very good and acceptable choice, but so is a wisely chosen diet which also includes meat. If you eat vegetables and fruits, you might want to consider organic and pesticide free options. If you eat meat, you might want to consider options for more natural meats coming from more humane farm processes.
We all have a responsibility to take care of the bodies God has given us, but we will not all reach the same conclusions as to which foods to eat or what other health practices are best. Letís purpose not to criticize one another or pressure one another to adopt our familyís choices. And letís also purpose to be a little flexible with our eating Ė not giving it an importance beyond what it is due. Letís also be careful not to let worldly philosophies influence our ideas about food contrary to Godís Word.V