Should Christians Eat Meat?

Steak

I’ve been noticing a number of Christians recently who have decided to stop eating meat. While some may dismiss this as a fad, there are actually some compelling theological reasons for Christian vegetarianism. The topic is something I’ve been thinking about, and I’d like to flesh out my thoughts to invite feedback from either side.

Full disclosure: I love meat! I can’t imagine giving up bacon if I didn’t have to. I’ve at times said (mostly joking) that Genesis 9:3 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. However, if I were to become convinced that eating meat is not God’s best for us, I do believe I would attempt to give it up.

One important note does need to be made before proceeding. The question of eating meat should never be a matter of legalism. The Bible very clearly allows us to eat meat, and none of the Christian vegetarians I’m aware of deny that. This is not a matter of command, but of best practice. Even though eating meat is allowed, is doing so most fully in line with God’s desire for us?

Arguments against eating meat

An overarching theme that runs throughout Scripture is the idea that death is the great enemy of God.

  • God created a world without death, but sin brought death into the world (Romans 5:12).
  • Thus all men die once (Hebrews 9:27).
  • Jesus came to abolish death and bring us life (2 Timothy 1:10).
  • Eventually, those who have consistently rejected God’s offer of life will face the second, eternal death (Revelation 20:14–15).
  • Then death itself will finally be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).
  • There will be no more death in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:4).

So there was no death in the “very good” beginning state. There will be no death in the eternal state. And death is the enemy for this time in between.

Death is something God hates. In fact, death is the antithesis of everything revealed to us about God. Why should we then continue in something that promotes further death?

We can then add to this the biblical principle that we are stewards of this earth and the animals. Yet many of the methods used today in the raising and slaughtering of animals are nothing short of barbaric. Can we with good conscience participate in this?

Arguments for eating meat

The Bible does explicitly allow us to eat meat.

  • After the flood, God officially stated that humans are allowed to eat “any moving thing that lives” (Genesis 9:3, NET).
  • Though God placed numerous dietary restrictions on the Israelites, they were never forbidden from eating meat.
  • Under the New Covenant, even those restrictions have been done away with.
  • When Paul weighed the pros and cons of eating meat sacrificed to idols, he didn’t mention the idea that we shouldn’t be eating meat in the first place (1 Corinthians 8:1–13; 10:18–31).

But as I already stated, this way of thinking only shows that we are allowed to eat meat. I want to know if it is best for me to eat meat. For that, I know of nothing better than to examine the life of Jesus.

What did Jesus eat?

Jesus lived a perfect life. He was absolutely pleasing to the Father in every way, and his life is our ultimate model to follow. But Jesus ate meat.

The gospels record a number of occasions where Jesus ate fish, served fish, and even helped catch fish. So the most we could argue would be that Jesus was a pescetarian.

[On this note, it is interesting to me that one prophecy usually understood as referring to the eternal state includes a note about fishing (Ezekiel 47:10). Perhaps it’s simply symbolic of something, or perhaps we’ll be practicing catch and release. Otherwise, it seems we may be eating fish even after death has been abolished. That raises another interesting question regarding whether fish have the same sort of nephesh life possessed by humans and most animals, or whether fish only have the nonsentient life possessed by insects and plants. But I’m now on a rabbit trail if ever there was one.]

However, I do believe that Jesus ate other meat as well.

Jesus diligently observed the Passover every year. He did so with his family when he was young (Luke 2:41). He did so during his public ministry (John 2:23). And he did so right up until his death (Luke 22:15).

The Passover meal included lamb meat. Eating the meat as part of the Passover was an essential ordinance for the Israelites. It therefore seems unreasonable to me that Jesus would have broken this custom without there being a single mention of it in the gospels. Such an abstinence would have created an uproar. So I think we can deduce with a pretty high level of certainty that Jesus did indeed eat lamb meat.

Final considerations

If Jesus did not have a problem with eating meat, then I do not either. And I’ll wait until the eternal state before I concern myself too much over what we’ll be eating then.

As for the excessively cruel conditions that animals are subjected to in many slaughterhouses today, I think we should be completely opposed to it. Such practices are not in accord with good stewardship. It’s often hard to know where our meat is coming from, but to the extent that I can know, I try my best to avoid supporting anyone who does not treat their animals well while they are alive.

To wrap this up, I’m going to include some words from Paul, encouraging the unity of believers despite differing opinions over matters such as this one.

Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1–4, NET)