Friday, February 25, 2011

Biblical support for veganism

DISCLAIMER: this article is not about "why the Bible demands veganism" or "why the Bible says humans are designed to be vegan". Both of those are not true. This article is about why, if you are eating a vegan diet, you should feel comfortable continuing to do so. Also, if you aren't eating a vegan diet, you should whole-heartedly consider doing so. Finally, if you read the Bible yet discredit veganism or vegetarianism, then you should put any bias aside as best you can and re-learn what the Bible really says about it.

The Bible supports veganism in the following ways:
  • Humans were initially vegan for at least 1,550 years (from Adam to Noah)
  • Many holy people of the Bible practiced veganism
  • God calls people to treat animals well

Humans were initially vegan for at least 1,550 years

Yes! Adam and Eve were vegan their entire lives. In fact, according to the Bible, in the garden of Edan all living things were vegan (nothing killed each other):

Genesis 1:29-30
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

After being exiled from the garden, Adam and Eve continued being vegan and so did their descendants. It wasn't until after the flood that any of God's people ate animals:

Genesis 9:3
Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

In case you were skeptical about Genesis 1:29 really constraining the human diet to plant foods, Genesis 9:3 makes it crystal clear. The key phrase is "Just as I gave you the green plants, now I give you everything." This reiterates that, up until this point, humans had been surviving on a vegan diet. Also, they probably would have continued to live on a vegan diet except that the flood (i.e. our sin) wiped out all life on the planet.

So humans were allowed to eat animals, not commanded, because the Earth lacked abundant resources. It wasn't because of any physiological demand of the human body. But even after this change, God gave his people specific instructions on how to eat animals:

Genesis 9:4
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

Leviticus 3:17
“‘This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fat or any blood.’”

This doesn't exactly describe the way KFC and Burger King prepares their menu, does it? If all of the blood and all fat was cooked out of meat, most of the flavor would be cooked out too. Then people really would only eat it for survival purposes. I won't even get into other Biblical law, such as how to raise and slaughter an animal.

In summary, humans (those following God) were initially vegan for at least 1,550 years. The only reason they started eating animals was because of the flood, and even then they were given strict instructions on how to minimize the damage to health. They only ate animals for survival purposes. While we aren't commanded to still follow these guidelines, shouldn't we be passionately concerned with God's efforts to keep us as healthy (and disease-free) as possible?

Many holy people of the Bible practiced veganism

The story of Daniel was the first ever case study for veganism!

Daniel 1:11-14
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

Granted, this is a short-term trial. But even so, the results are impressive.

Daniel 1:15-16
At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

We are allowed to eat animals, but we don't have to, and in fact sometimes we are encouraged not to.

Romans 14:21
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

Our option of eating animals is so insignificant that it is easily overshadowed by our need to love each other and to be unified. Holy people are often called to transcend their own habits or preferences for the greater good.

In summary, many holy people have practiced veganism. Also, overcoming old-life habits and practicing self-restraint, specifically by abstaining from meat, is specifically mentioned in the Bible. This was not done as a behavioral change in vain, but rather out of love for one another and devotion to God.

God calls people to treat animals well

There are many scriptures calling us to treat animals well. In America, our "meat industry" hardly comes close to living up to this calling. Rather, animals are cruelly manufactured, tortured, and slaughtered for habit and profit. This should be honestly and open-mindedly researched by everyone. We should make conscious choices and not prefer to live in ignorance. We should live out what we learn to be true regardless of how difficult changing may be. We should believe that we can change. Here are a couple scriptures that show God's concern for how humans treat animals:

Deuteronomy 25:4
Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

In this scripture, God protects the rights of an ox. Apparently, he thinks its cruel to disallow an ox from eating while it works. More interestingly, Paul expounds on this in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:9-10
For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.

What's Paul saying here? God does in fact offer protection to animals, but why? Paul says it is not for the animal's benefit, but for our own benefit. God knows the hearts of people. He knows that if someone has the spirit to be be cruel to an animal, that same spirit will act against a human. So God protects the animal in order to protect the human, to protect our own hearts. In our society, people would rather choose to turn a blind eye to what's really going on than to take action. We would rather turn a blind eye to what's really going on in slaughterhouses, factory farms, broken homes, and impoverished neighborhoods, and sin in our own hearts than to take action. We choose ignorance and indifference. We do it with animals and we do it with each other. We do it with ourselves.

Proverbs 12:10
The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.


In summary, God has many regulations for us to treat animals well. However, these aren't simply for the sake of the animals, but more so that we will treat each other well too. If God stands up for an ox working a field, how much more do you think he would stand up for a cow, pig, or chicken in an American slaugherhouse? What would he say about our attitudes towards that? By comparison, what would he say about how we treat our fellow human, our level of compassion for one another, our level of eagerness to selflessly love and serve one another? We are called to an extremely high standard!

Summary

I hope this article has shown the Bible accurately. There are many other scriptures that support vegetarianism and veganism, these are just a few. Being vegan is not about living less, but living more: more health, more knowledge, more compassion, more love! As Christians, we should not follow any particular diet in vain to suit our own purposes, but as a desperate attempt to answer God's call for our lives - a call to stand out from the world, to be disciplined, to be outward-focused, to surrender to him every area of our lives and do whatever it takes to be like Christ. Veganism is by no means a command from God, but in this day and age it is so easy and practical. It can be a powerful tool used to grow in discipline, focus, compassion and love - the beginning of an amazing journey.


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Notes/References

6 comments:

  1. Great article! Thanks for the new insights on the vegan lifestyle and the Bible...lots of things to think upon. :)

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  2. If people were vegan from Adam to Noah, why did Isaac have "so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him" (Genesis 26:14)? I bet he was milking them and making cheese and butter. This is an interesting article but very poorly researched. Either the author doesn't know what a vegan is (which I doubt) or he didn't get very deep into his text. (BTW as a Baptist preacher's kid, finding holes in arguments that are based on the bible is my specialty, lol.)

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  3. Thanks for your input, Scott! You are right, whenever we talk about the Bible, we should be very careful that we are discussing it accurately and in context.

    First, I would like to reiterate that this article simply points out scriptures that support someone who chooses to be vegan. Of course, God does not demand that we eat any certain diet, just that we do everything for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

    Second, I believe that you have your timeline mixed up. Isaac was actually born long after Noah and the flood (I looked it up for you, Isaac was actually born 452 years later, according to abiblestudy.com). Even without looking at timelines, simply reading through scripture we can see that the new covenant is made in Genesis 9, while Isaac was born in Genesis 21, and the scripture you mentioned was in Genesis 26. So, you are right! Isaac was probably keeping cattle for milk, cheese, butter, etc. Indeed, he was probably using them to eat and sacrifice as well! However, this all occurred after God made a new covenant with man in Genesis 9:23, giving them animals for food along with plant life.

    Thanks for reading my article, please email me if you have any more thoughts or questions.

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  4. Why did god flood the world, and kill all but two of each animal? Where the animals all evil, and deserved to die? Couldn't he have just wiped out all the animals, with the snap of a finger, and started all over? Did he get some joy out of watching almost all the animals and people, on the earth, drown?

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  5. Thank you! For the past almost 3 years I have been a vegitarian. It started out with a really strong conviction. One day me and my husband (both steak and egg eaters our whole life) watched a video on the slaughterhouses in the US and I was horrified by the conditions we allow for animals as a society to be in. I was disturbed, and just really physically sick to my stomach, about what goes on in there, that we decided to go vegitarian. BUT it was'nt until just recently that I have learned more about the dairy/chicken industry. And based on what i learned i felt like i needed to live more of a vegan lifestyle. I feel so empowered now that I've been doing research on a biblical way of dieting and how well it matches up with the vegan life-stlye! Thank you for taking the time to share this post! Its so hard to find Christians that are Vegan and take it serious in their faith.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jolie! Glad this helped. I wrote another article too, which may help you out. http://jonmcgrath.blogspot.com/2012/11/god-gave-us-animals-rejecting-manifest.html

      My biggest advice to Christian vegans is to look to the example of Jesus when dealing with the world. Notice that he wasn't vegan, despite what many people say who want to exploit him for their own purposes.

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