“We should start doing meatless Mondays,” my wife said.
“No,” I responded.
“We should. You know it’s better for our health. Plus, they say cutting back on meat and dairy is the best thing to do for the environment,” she continued. “You’re the food and creation guy, you need to take this seriously. You should be writing about this.”
“No,” I said again.
Two things about me: 1) My first reaction to any new idea or suggestion will always be no. I need time to think about it. 2) I love eating meat.
It’s been almost a year since that conversation, and I’ve eaten a lot of meat since then.
But I haven’t eaten as much meat. We’re not doing meatless Mondays, but it is now common for us to eat meat only once a day (and sometimes not even that).
That’s because I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. As much as it pains me to write and post this to the internet for all the world to see in perpetuity, my wife is *cough*right*cough*.
So, I’ve decided to write a short series on Christians and meat, and I need to start with this question:
Should Christians eat meat?
My knee-jerk answer is an eye roll, a “Yes,” and a readiness to jump to the next question. But this question does warrant some thought, so let’s start by looking into the Bible. What does the Bible say about meat consumption?
In Genesis 2, God creates Adam and Eve and places them in Eden, where they, “may freely eat of every tree of the garden.” (Genesis 2:16) Presumably, they were vegetarians, probably vegans, at that time. As they were being cast out of the garden for eating the forbidden fruit, “the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) This is the first death mentioned in the Bible, as an animal is killed in order to clothe Adam and Eve. I consider this the first sacrifice, actually performed by God and in all likelihood a lesson taught to the first humans. Sacrifices usually involved eating the meat of the sacrificed animal (more on this in another article).
The very next story in Genesis is about Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve. Abel was a keeper of sheep, and for his sacrifice “brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.” (Genesis 4:4) It is possible that Abel only harvested the milk and wool of his sheep, but I don’t think that likely, seeing as how he knew to bring the fatty portions (the tasty parts) for his sacrifice.
After Noah and his family were safely delivered on Ararat after the flood, God tells Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” (Genesis 9:3) The only restriction that God gives Noah is against consuming blood.
In Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God provides guidelines as to what can and cannot be eaten. There are some very specific prohibitions against certain meats, while other meats are allowed. The teachings around food preparation do include instructions for slaughtering animals to be eaten, which is important. We will come back to this in another article.
In Daniel 1, Daniel and his three friends make a vow not to defile themselves while in the Babylonian king’s service. The four young men became vegetarians. From my understanding, their objection to the Babylonian food was not that it contained meat, but that it was not kosher.
In the book of Acts, the Apostles have a debate about what Jewish teachings to insist on for Christians. In Acts 15, James makes the case that the only dietary restriction that should be placed on Christians is to, “abstain only from things polluted by idols… and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:20) The council agrees, and passes along this teaching to the Church.
However, that notion of “things polluted by idols” was a bit ambiguous, and led to the most definitive (yet still ambiguous) teaching about meat consumption in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 8.
The Corinthian Christians were divided as to whether eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols was permissible. Paul goes into detail as to the non-reality of the gods represented by idols, and what happens to the meat sacrificed in that manner. His conclusion is that eating meat sacrificed to idols is acceptable, however, “if food is a cause for [Christians’] falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)
So… should Christians eat meat?
Considering the above biblical examples, I see no biblical mandate for Christians to abstain from general meat consumption.
One of the key realities of being a creature living in creation amongst our fellow creatures under the sovereignty of our Creator is relationship. We are all in relationship with God, with our fellow human beings, with the rest of creation, and within ourselves. What we do, including what and how we eat, effects more than just ourselves.
Paul’s point in writing his instructions to the Corinthians was that as Christians we have liberty within the grace of Jesus Christ, but also the responsibility to live and act (and eat) in a way that benefits others.
There are reasons why Christians should reduce or even abstain from meat consumption, and they are all relational.
I’ll explore this subject more in upcoming posts.
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