Biblical Opposition to Flesh Eating


According to the Bible, when God created the Garden of Eden all creatures lived peacefully together and never killed one another. Food was provided in abundance in the form of plants, fruits, seeds and herbs, as written in Genesis 1:29-30:

"And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree-yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so."

However, after The Fall (Genesis 3) the Bible contains many references to the consumption of flesh and to animal sacrifices which according to many observers thereby links sin and the killing of our harmless fellow creatures inextricably to one another. A tragic description of the world after The Fall was given by MARK TWAIN in his "Diary of Adam and Eve" when Adam said:

"About an hour after sun-up, as I was riding through a flowery plain where thousands of animals were grazing, slumbering, or playing with each other, according to their wont, all of a sudden they broke into a tempest of frightful noises, and in one moment the plain was a frantic commotion and every beast was destroying its neighbor. I knew what it meant - Eve had eaten that fruit, and death was come into the world."


There are many passages in the Bible which support the obvious spirituality of a pure vegetarian life-style (see footnote 1*). Some observers have commented that the many inconsistencies in the Bible in respect to vegetarianism and veganism could probably be attributable to a variety of reasons. For example, they said that one should bear in mind that a very large number of writers have contributed to the Scriptures, spread out over a great many generations. Obviously each writer would have had his own personal perspective on historical events and religious codes.

For instance, beyond the confines of the Bible such diametrically opposite views are clearly visible in the works of the Greek philosophers, PYTHAGORAS and ARISTOTLE. Pythagoras (like his contemporary Buddha) taught his students to be compassionate to man as well as to his fellow animals, and accordingly was a strict vegetarian. Aristotle by contrast proclaimed:

I. "The slave is a living instrument who, though remaining a human being, is also an article of property."

II. "Since nature makes nothing purposeless or in vain, it is undeniably true that she has made all animals for the sake of man." (That is to say to be exploited and killed by man at his whim.)

Many have asked why such advocacy by Aristotle of the exploitation of slaves as well as the brutality against defenseless animals would not justifiably be regarded as a most shockingly callous philosophy. It, therefore, has been of deep concern to many Christians that it was Aristotle, rather than the vegetarian Pythagoras, who influenced many Christian theologians. St. THOMAS AQUINAS (1125-1274 AD), for instance, referred deferentially throughout his writings in the "Summa Theologica" to Aristotle as "the Philosopher" and he mirrored his views (I and II) when he wrote:

"The order of things is such that the imperfect are for the perfect."


Aquinas thereby reassured Christians of the mediaeval period that the killing of animals was authorized by divine providence. However, as one Bible researcher wrote: "Perhaps Aquinas’ personal habits had an effect on his opinions, for although he was a genius and an ascetic in many ways, his biographers also describe him as a glutton." (Ref. ‘Diet for Transcendence’, S. Rosen) The same researcher reminds the reader that "Aquinas was famous for his doctrine on the various kinds of souls a body may possess." For instance, in accordance with official church opinion "Aquinas begrudgingly agreed that women do indeed have a soul qualifying that they were a step above the beasts - who (Aquinas maintained) certainly had no soul. Many Christian leaders grew to accept this perspective."


Some Christian readers asked why they should not consider that these were grossly insensitive proclamations by St.Thomas Aquinas, and staggering in their import. They felt, therefore, that these surely deserve very serious analysis and discussion throughout the Christian hierarchy.


For instance, relative to Aquinas’ assertion that ‘animals have no soul’, some researchers have specifically pointed to Reuben Alcalay’s ‘The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary’. In said dictionary the reader is apparently informed that the verse in Genesis "and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, etc" was in fact not correctly translated from the Hebrew: "The exact Hebrew words in this verse are nefesh (soul) and chayah (living)." Therefore the verse should read: "and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is a living soul, etc." Such researchers concluded that this translation clearly contradicts Aquinas because the original Hebrew Bible verses leave no doubt of the fact that animals have a soul.

Some observers added that based on the foregoing it was also most unfortunate for the world's environment and the health of mankind, not to mention the protection of animals, that the philosophy of Aristotle was so pre-eminent amongst early Christian theologians. If this had not been the case, Pythagoras might today be universally recognized as a highly enlightened philosopher. Instead, he is primarily known as having been the mathematician who gave the world the Pythagoras’ Theorem.


Such disconcerted readers wondered as well what additional evidence could possibly be required other than said revealing proclamations (I-II) by Aristotle which establish his jarring lack of compassion for animals, and for slaves. How reassuring it was for such analytical Christian observers to read that at least the great PROPHET ISAIAH appears to have been opposed to cruelty of any kind. In several verses of the Book of Isaiah he apparently deplored the killing of animals (much earlier even than Pythagoras) when he was inspired to write: Isaiah 66:3. "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man."


Such observers also noted that one should bear in mind that any writers in the Bible who deplored the slaughter of animals would have been most hesitant to have advanced such controversial views. After all, wealth and its accompanying power have throughout history been connected to the ownership of cattle. This would therefore have made any philosopher or prophet who preached against the killing of animals for either sacrifice or food highly unpopular with the leaders of his community. Moreover, this would also have included the religious leaders who were always given what were considered the best parts of the animals for their own consumption after a burnt offering. Or in the words of early Church writer Origen (185-254 AD): "..I believe that animal sacrifices were invented by men to be a pre-text for eating flesh." (Stromata, ‘On Sacrifices’, book VII.)


Therefore, in those even more primitive times, anyone wishing to write on the subject of the victimization of animals knew, if they persisted in this, that it could lead to a threatening state of affairs with other contemporaries in powerful positions. Indeed, it can be taken for granted, there-fore, that some contributors to the Old Testament would have criticized the victimization of animals as the very antithesis of compassion and therefore spirituality, if they had not feared for their own safety. After all, rulers during those days were not renowned for their leniency, as testified to countless times in the Bible, with dissenters being stoned, flayed, impaled or beheaded, or put to other forms of sadistic execution.


They added that in view of the above, it is perhaps not surprising that most references in the Bible against animal sacrifices were made by Isaiah. Such observers felt that his out-spokenness in this respect would appear to be explained by an observation made by the REV. JAMES L. DOW M.A. who wrote: "Isaiah did not hesitate to defy kings in pursuit of his convictions". (Ref. The Dictionary of the Bible, Collins.) Therefore, by virtue of Isaiah's courage and integrity as a powerful statesman he seems to have been one of the few contributors to the Bible who indicated that God strongly disapproved of the sacrifice of animals when he also wrote:


Isaiah 1: 11 and 15. "Saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. - When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: for your hands are full of blood."


Unfortunately, there seems to have been some ambivalence on this subject in other verses in the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. The aforesaid observers advanced that this seeming inconsistency might perhaps also have been attributable to some occasional political expediency, even in the case of this great Prophet. Because when Isaiah described his vision of an ideal world he leaves no doubt about the fact that it would be a world free of killing of any kind whatsoever, for animals, as well as man:


Isaiah 11:6-9. "The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."


This prophecy (relevant to the previous articles on the unprincipled evils of the ‘food chain’) will be most encouraging to all religions which do not approve of savagery in any form. Accordingly, they despair of such a "chain of tyranny", and pray that some day it will come to an end. The great Prophet Isaiah obviously was inspired to believe that the world some day could return to the harmonious state of the Garden of Eden. It is assumed that the Prophets of all religions would share this dream of universal harmony between people of all creeds and philosophies, as well between mankind and all other species - culminating in peace and harmony between all animals. Such a blessed state would end forever the night-mare of what is now known as the ‘food chain’. 

It is hardly surprising, in view of the above verses in which Isaiah described a world free of killing that when he foretold the coming of Christ, he wrote:


Isaiah 7:14-15 "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good."


Tragically, according to ‘The Ascension of Isaiah’, an Ethiopic manuscript, even Isaiah’s statesmanship in the end did not save him. (Ref. The Apocryphal Old Testament, by PROF. H. SPARKS.) The Ascension (also called Isaiah’s Martyrdom) relates how Judah’s new King Manasseh, abandoned "the service of God and served Satan and his angels and hosts". Isaiah ‘prophesied against him and his helpers’, and because of this, he was imprisoned and martyred. For the purpose of this article it is interesting to note that Ch. 2 of ‘The Ascension’ relates how Isaiah and other Prophets (in order to escape ‘the lawlessness of Jerusalem’) ‘settled on a mountain and ‘ate nothing save wild herbs and lived thereon’. As an observer commented, all these great Prophets, Isaiah, Micaiah, Ananias, Joel and Habakkuk chose to be vegans.


Increasing numbers of people around the world are convinced that all the greatest Prophets, including Jesus Christ, were vegans or at the very least vegetarians. This is because they are convinced that genuine compassion could never be only restricted to mankind, but indeed would include all animals, particularly those which are harmless.


Spiritual contemplatives have asked, in view of the foregoing: "as to how members of the Christian faith, or any other religions, expect to enter the Kingdom of Heaven if they continue to be party directly or indirectly to the violation of the right to life of a trusting harmless animal. Moreover, even if such a creature were hypothetically anaesthetized entirely before it was put to death this would make no difference whatsoever to such a betrayal. Such a death sentence would still contravene the most basic requirements of human justice - precisely as the animal never committed any crime. For anyone to dismiss this by saying that because animals are of a different species they are therefore not subject to human justice can only be regarded as the most hideous favouritism."


Such contemplatives added "God gave us dominion (see footnote 2*) over the animals in order that we would care for them and cherish them as the weaker vessels on His planet. Instead, mankind has defiled this custodianship by devouring his fellow creatures insatiably. Therefore, regardless of our interpretation of the great Prophet Isaiah's writings or any other verses in the Scriptures, we must beware above all of appeasing our con-sciences into believing that we have the moral license to inflict horrifying suffering, terror and death on God’s innocent creatures." They concluded: "Moreover, we are all morally obliged to spread this message and not merely pass the burden of this responsibility on to others."

1*) Excerpt from ‘Diet for Transcendence’ by Steven Rosen,
Torchlight Publishing Inc.
"Essential to the principle of compassion and mutual love is the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. Although simple and direct, the commandment is rarely taken literally, and, in fact, has been traditionally interpreted as only applying to humans. Nonetheless, the exact Hebrew for Exodus 20:13, where this commandment is found, reads ‘lo tirtzack’. According to Reuben Alcalay (one of the 20th century’s greatest scholars of Hebrew-English linguistics) the word ‘ tirtzach’ refers to ‘any kind of killing whatsoever’. The exact trans-lation, therefore, asks us to refrain from killing in toto."

2*) RABBI DR. RICHARD SCHWARTZ (‘Judaism and Vegetarianism’):
"Dominion does not mean that we have the right to conquer and exploit. Immediately God gave people dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26) he prohibited their use for food. (Gen. 1:29.) Dominion means guardian-ship or stewardship - being co-workers with God in taking care of and improving the world."