Is eating meat a sin?

March 28, 2019

Is eating meat a sin? Didn't God create all living things as vegan, so shouldn't we all be vegan today? Is it wrong to kill animals for food?

There are many varying opinions within the Christian community regarding veganism/vegetarianism. Unfortunately, this often separates God's people and causes contention. This is not God's will for His people. There is so much freedom we have considering our Christian liberties, and the food we eat is one of them. 

Was creation vegan/vegetarian in the beginning?

In the first chapter of Genesis (Genesis 1:29-30), God clearly says that He created all the seed bearing fruits and plants for us as food. Not only for us though, He also said it was for every animal as well. Even though this statement by God is a positive one, saying what is given for food, not necessarily what isn't allowed, I believe He didn't intend His creation to eat each other. He gave mankind the responsibility to rule over and care for all the animals, but He did not say they were for food or that we could do with them as we please. Besides, God deemed all of creation "good" in Genesis 1:31. There was no violence, sickness, suffering, nor death. God warns Adam about the consequence of sin in Genesis 2:17. Death is a punishment, a consequence for sin (Romans 6:23) and since there was no sin (yet) there could have been no death, therefore, no meat eating. Based on these evidences, I personally believe that human kind and every other creature was created vegan. 

In the garden after they sinned, God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins when He found them naked (Genesis 3:21). Scripture doesn't say specifically that God killed an animal to make these clothes, but it is a widely believed idea that this is the first account of an animal death. God showed He loves human kind more than animals by sacrificing an animal to cover the sins of His people temporarily, until He sends Jesus to do it permanently. In the beginning before there was sin due to the fall, there was no death, no killing, no hunting, no slaughtering; Adam and Eve were not created as meat eaters; carnivores nor omnivores existed. All of creation ate only whole plant foods. Sin brought death to animals and to humans and that's when eating animals entered creation (for both people and other animals). Does the entirety of my faith rest on this belief? NO, of course not. If I am proved wrong, I lose nothing, and I move on. No big deal.

When did creation become omnivorous?

After the fall of man, sin entered the world and people just kinda started doing whatever they wanted. This includes eating meat, even though it was against God's original design. At this point in time, I believe that eating meat was a sin. We were commanded to rule over and take care of the animals (Genesis 1:26), not to eat them. This is not something God intended for us to do, and when we do what we want to do instead of what God wants us to do, that is sin. So, sin was out, people left God, and the flood came and went (Genesis 7:11-12)...

Is it a sin to eat animals or animal products?

God gave Noah (and all mankind) a new freedom once he got off the ark: everything that lives and moves is now allowed to be our food (Genesis 9:3). It is made perfectly clear that God has made it acceptable to eat an animal from that point on. However, just because it is spiritually permissible, doesn't mean it is nutritionally beneficial - more on that here. So, if it was a sin against God to eat meat up until this point, it is now no longer a sin. I found it interesting that God added verse four as an exception: we can eat meat, but only as long as it's lifeblood is not in it (Genesis 9:4). Does this mean we shouldn't eat raw meat? Or animals who are still alive? Either way, it is very clear here that God Himself says that it is NOT a sin against Him to eat animals or animal products. But He also doesn't say that it is a necessity to following Him. It is neither condemned nor commanded, just allowed. It is a choice each person can make for themselves. But the Spirit works individually in each person and will convict you if He so pleases. If you feel the Spirit prompting you to refrain from consuming animal products, but you choose to eat them anyway, then you are in fact sinning against God. 

What about killing and eating animals for sacrificial purposes or worship?

After giving permission to eat animals, God did tell Noah in Genesis 9:5 that He would demand an accounting of blood from His people and the animals as an atonement for sin, pointing to our need for Jesus. Exodus 12:1-11 is God's instructions on how to prepare and eat the Passover lamb. This was a ceremonial thing that wasn't to be done everyday, but only once a year. The slaughtering and consuming of the Passover lamb was symbolic and, again, pointed to our need for redemption and the future coming of Christ, the Lamb of God. Christians no longer celebrate the Passover today because Jesus was our final Passover Lamb, we have no need to ceremonially sacrifice animals anymore. Jesus was our one and done. The Old Testament Passover lamb wasn't sufficient, but the blood of the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Does eating animals defile you?

In Leviticus 11:1-47, there's a huge list of rules about which animals are clean and which ones are not. In the New Testament, Jesus says that what goes into a persons body is not what defiles him (Mark 7:14-19), which is commonly known as Jesus declaring that all animals are now considered clean before God. But even that is surrounded by debate: was He talking about hand washing rituals or the actual food itself? I'm not going to go into that, because honestly the research was wearing me out and it's not what our faith is built on anyway (Romans 14:17). Instead I want to focus on whether or not we as Christians are allowed to eat meat or other animal products, and how to handle a situation where there is a disagreement between believers on this subject. We've already learned that it is not a sin to eat meat. If you choose to follow the "clean/unclean" list from Leviticus, there's no harm in that. But taking the spiritual freedom aspect out of it, is it good for your physical health to consume animals and animal products? That demands personal conviction and research.

Use your Christian freedom responsibly

To judge a brother or sister who is using their Christian freedom to eat or abstain from whatever food they want is wrong (Romans 14:18-20). Some people are personally convicted by the Holy Spirit to refrain, for whatever reason, while others are not. It is good to be vegan or vegetarian, but it is not good to put that above loving and accepting others. In general, it is not a sin to eat animals. In the Old Testament, God says it is no longer forbidden (Genesis 9:3). In the new testament, Jesus says to love each other (John 13:34-35). So whether you eat meat or choose not to, do it for the Lord. Romans 14:1-23 is a great chapter about this very topic. I don't believe that this passage is calling all vegans "spiritually weak." It is most likely referring to those Christians who were offended by, and therefore avoided, meat slaughtered by pagan butchers that may have been offered to pagan gods; they still believed it was a sin and were convicted, and that's OK (Romans 14:6). One might say that person is "spiritually weak" because they are acting like those pagan gods were real and have any power to make the meat "unclean." Either way, this chapter is more focused on keeping the peace between believers rather than focusing on the things of earth that won't matter when we get to heaven. What we eat or drink won't determine where we end up for eternity, so why bother making a fuss of it down here? 

But for the sake of argument...

Let's just assume that at creation God didn't forbid using animals for food. Let's assume that Adam and Eve were allowed to eat meat and other animal products. If it was allowed by God at creation, one would assume that it would be good and healthful and science should be able to back that up. Well, quite the opposite actually. Eating animal products is known to cause cancer, heart disease, and other health issues. BUT, the animal products they would have eaten back in Adam and Eve's day are exponentially different than what we have available to us today. Factory farming and processing has changed the quality of the animals themselves, making a potentially harmful "food" product. Plus, the large quantity in which we eat animal products today is just ridiculous. We aren't out there working hard like Old Testament peoples to hunt the animal or raise it ourselves, and we aren't the ones preparing their bodies or breast milk for consumption either. We go to the grocery store where it's already been done for us days or even weeks earlier.

But let's get back to this hypothetical and compare it to what we have today.

If Adam and Eve kept a dairy cow, odds are they would consume much smaller amounts of dairy than we consume today, given the fact they had to leave enough for the baby cow. Nowadays, the babies are separated from their momma right after birth because they take too much of the milk. This may be a little known fact, but cows only lactate after having a baby, like humans. Dairy cows are continuously cycled through forced pregnancies which takes a toll on their bodies. They are impregnated while still lactating, so all those pregnancy hormones end up in her milk then straight to your glass or on top of your pizza. Would you drink some random woman's breast milk? Probably not, so why would you drink some random cow's breast milk?

Anyway, Adam and Eve wouldn't have been able to forcibly impregnate their hypothetical dairy cows, and they most certainly would have let her baby drink from her mommy. The quality of the milk would have been very different, too. They would have had fresh, unprocessed, un-homogenized, unpasteurized, naturally added-growth-hormone free, antibiotic free, grass fed, and free range whole milk from happy and healthy cows who also got to feed and keep their babies. To buy milk like this today can cost between $15-$20 a gallon! 

And then there's eggs, same idea different animal. Happy chickens, doing their chicken thing. So what if Adam and Eve picked up an egg a wild chicken left behind and ate it? It doesn't hurt the chicken. The egg industry today is nothing like that at all. Chickens have been so genetically modified that they lay almost 300 eggs per year, compared to a wild chicken who would only lay about 12. An egg is part of a chicken's reproductive cycle. If it's fertilized, a baby chick is in there. If it's not, it's just a "period." And unfortunately, backyard chickens are not wild chickens. They still come from a chicken hatchery from a long line of genetically modified birds, so they will also lay way more eggs than God created them to. 

So even if we argue that Adam and Eve could have been vegetarian, not killing animals to eat them, but loving and taking care of them while consuming their food products, it is not a good argument to say that it is good for us to do today. Or even if they were omnivorous, "ethically slaughtering" their animals for food (sounds like an oxymoron to me), the quality of that meat would have been far superior to what we are offered today at any grocery store. And I'm sure the factory farms are not concerned about what "ethical" means. 

So, all of that being said...

If God was OK with it back then, having the animals living and being cared for the way they would have been with Adam and Eve, what makes us think He would be OK with the way it is now

Proverbs 12:10, Genesis 1:21

If you choose to consume meat or other animal products, that is your choice. It is not a sin against God and no one can fault you for it. However, I challenge you, for the sake of your health and the animals, to eat way more whole plant foods and considerably less animal products - and when you do eat animal foods, consider where your meat, eggs, and dairy come from. We vote with our dollars, and when you buy animal products that come from abused, genetically modified, factory farmed, sick animals who are pumped with medications you are keeping those things going and saying that you are OK with it. You are paying for and therefore supporting animal abuse. Not to mention you are buying a food product that will possibly make you sick and fat in the long run.

I am not an animal rights activist and I won't be picketing or anything like that, but once you do the research you can't help but notice that something is wrong with the way our animals are being treated before they become our food. With all the research out there about animal food consumption being to blame for so many health and environmental problems, I find it hard to defend eating animals. It seems to be a bad idea no matter how you slice it. But again, it's not a black and white sin. 

You have to follow the Spirit's guiding in your own life. If you are convicted and called to refrain from eating animal products, listen.