Animal Rights and Vegan Advocacy
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In response to: 
“God gave us dominion over animals and put them here for us to eat—and the Bible condones eating them.” WIP

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This piece addresses several related objections to veganism and animal rights that center around religion. These objections seek to justify eating animals based on scripture and theology, enlisting several questionable or misconstrued ideas  that we have dominion over animals, that animals were put here for us to eat, and that scripture condones eating them.

Another related objection involving the question of souls is addressed separately in “Humans have souls  animals don’t.”

Here we assume the perspective of the Christian religion, as Christianity is the predominant religion in the countries of most of our readers. See the last talking point for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim initiatives supporting veganism and vegetarianism.

Times were different then.

The Bible was likely written between 1400 BC and 100 AD, with much of the text centered around people living in the desert or semi-arid lands.1“When Was the Bible Written?” Biblica(blog), July 28, 2016. https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/when-was-the-bible-written/ The people in those times and places most likely did not have available to them the abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains that most of us enjoy today. Nor did they have the science we now have that clearly shows we do not need to eat the flesh of animals or products that come out of animals to be healthy.2Fuller, Greg. “A Response to ‘We Need Animal Products to Be Healthy.’” Justice For Animals, October 29, 2016. http://justiceforanimals.org/objections/quote-we-need-animal-products-to-be-healthy/

It is not our intent to judge harshly the dietary choices of those whose circumstances differ from our own in the availability of foods or knowledge of nutrition. But for people today to use circumstances of a time and place entirely removed from them as a justification for making choices that result in unnecessary suffering seems, at a minimum, uncaring.

Because the Bible does not require us to eat animal products, we are each free to follow our own conscience.

Research reveals that most, if not all, Bible scholars who have addressed this issue (e.g., Rich Deem3Deem, Rich. “Should Christians Eat Meat or Should We Be Vegetarians?” God and Science. Accessed August 21, 2018. http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/vegetarian.html ) believe that the Bible permits us to eat meat but does not require it. You would be hard pressed to find a Christian scholar, philosopher, or cleric who believes that God requires us to eat animal products. If such people exist, they are outliers.

Because the Bible does not require us to eat animal products it would seem that each of us is free to follow our conscience on such matters. Even the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family,4Campaign, Human Rights. “10 Things You Should Know About Focus On The Family.” Human Rights Campaign. Accessed August 10, 2018. http://www.hrc.org/resources/10-things-you-should-know-about-focus-on-the-family/ which supports a literal interpretation of the Bible,5“How Do I Interpret the Bible?” Focus on the Family, April 27, 2009. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/the-study-of-god/how-do-we-know-the-bible-is-true/how-do-i-interpret-the-bible says that “the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that followers of Jesus are free to follow the dictates of their conscience when it comes to matters of dietary regimen.”6“Vegans, Vegetarians, and the Bible.” Focus on the Family, August 9, 2012. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/vegans-vegetarians-and-the-bible

They further state that the idea that “vegetarianism was part of God’s original purpose and plan for both man and the animals” is “not an unreasonable assumption.”7Ibid.

The Bible seems to condone many practices that we no longer deem acceptable.

It’s not difficult to find passages in the Bible that seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, death for adulterers, and many other practices we now renounce, but Bible scholars have hermeneutically rejected the idea that Christianity is compatible with such beliefs. Since the Bible is contradictory on the subject of eating animals (discussed below), it’s hard to see why the same kind of reasoning does not also apply here.

The word dominion carries the obligations of stewardship and responsibility.

According to Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

Some believe this verse gives us permission to do whatever we wish to animals and the environment. But many Bible scholars believe that the word dominion, in the context of this Bible verse and in its original Hebrew meaning, carries with it the obligations of stewardship and responsibility.8Bible Dominion Stewardship Responsibility – Google Search.” Google Search. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.google.com/search?q=bible+dominion+stewardship+responsibility

Today’s animal agriculture industry, it could be argued, is the opposite of stewardship and responsibility, both in its disregard for the lives and suffering of animals and its environmental destruction. See “An Introduction to Veganism” for details and citations.9Fuller, Greg. “An Introduction to Veganism.” Justice For Animals, May 29, 2018. http://justiceforanimals.org/basics/an-introduction-to-veganism/

The Bible does not support the notion that animals were put here for us to eat.

As is discussed below, Genesis 1:29 states that God gave man plants to eat for meat, with no mention of eating animals. Since the timeline of the Bible shows that animals were already created when that assertion was made, it’s hard to argue that the Bible supports the notion that God put animals here for humankind to use for food.

The Bible presents the vegan diet as an ideal.

It could be argued from the Bible that God’s original plan was for leaving animals off the plate. Genesis 1:29, which is of before the fall, states that “God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

And perhaps Isaiah 11:6–9 foresees a return to a meatless diet in depicting a world where carnivores coexist peacefully with herbivores, saying that “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” Wolfs and lambs, leopards and goats, and calves and lions shall lie down with each other and “the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”

Because the Bible seems to contradict itself on the topic of eating meat, it’s hard to draw conclusions from the Bible.

While there are passages in the Bible that, at face value, seem to condone eating meat, there are also passages that seem to forbid it. For example, to quote the English Standard Version of the Bible, Romans 14:21 declares that “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble,” while 1 Corinthians 10:25 says to “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.”

There are other similar passages in the Bible that either seem to be for or against eating animal flesh  so many, in fact, that it’s hard to reach any definitive conclusion from them.

Verses that seem to be mostly against eating meat include Leviticus 3:17, Leviticus 19:26, Isaiah 11:6–9, Isaiah 66:3, Acts 15:29, and Romans 14:21. Verses that seem to mostly support eating meat include  Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:3, Leviticus 11:1–47, Deuteronomy 12:20, Deuteronomy 14:1–29, Deuteronomy 14:21, Acts 10:9–15, Romans 14:2, and 1 Corinthians 10:25.

There are Bible scholars who believe the Bible directly supports vegetarianism.

Although you would be hard pressed to find a Bible scholar who believes the Bible requires we eat animal products, it’s not difficult to find Bible scholars who believe that the Bible directly supports abstaining from animal products.

Richard Alan Young, who teaches the New Testament at Temple Baptist Seminary, is one such scholar. In his book Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, he uses biblical ethics to make an argument for vegetarianism.10Young, Richard Alan. Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights. Open Court, 2012

Religion-focused vegetarian and vegan associations can help you sort this out.

The following organizations may shed additional light on the topic:

Outline

 Talking Points OutlineKnowledge Base
  • Context
    • This piece addresses several related objections to veganism and animal rights that center around religion. These objections seek to justify eating animals based on scripture and theology, enlisting several questionable or misconstrued ideas  that we have dominion over animals, that animals were put here for us to eat, and that scripture condones eating them.
    • Another related objection involving the question of souls is addressed separately in “Humans have souls  animals don’t.
    • Here we assume the perspective of the Christian religion, as Christianity is the predominant religion in the countries of most of our readers. See the last talking point for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim initiatives supporting veganism and vegetarianism.
  • Times were different then.
    • The Bible was likely written between 1400 BC and 100 AD, with much of the text centered around people living in the desert or semi-arid lands.11“When Was the Bible Written?” Biblica(blog), July 28, 2016. https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/when-was-the-bible-written/
    • The people in those times and places most likely did not have available to them the abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains that most of us enjoy today.
    • Nor did they have the science we now have that clearly shows we do not need to eat the flesh of animals or products that come out of animals to be healthy.12Fuller, Greg. “A Response to ‘We Need Animal Products to Be Healthy.’” Justice For Animals, October 29, 2016. http://justiceforanimals.org/objections/quote-we-need-animal-products-to-be-healthy/
    • It is not our intent to judge harshly the dietary choices of those whose circumstances differ from our own in the availability of foods or knowledge of nutrition.
    • But for people today to use circumstances of a time and place entirely removed from them as a justification for making choices that result in unnecessary suffering seems at a minimum, uncaring.
  • Because the Bible does not require us to eat animal products, we are each free to follow our own conscience.
    • Research reveals that most, if not all, Bible scholars who have addressed this issue (e.g., Rich Deem13Deem, Rich. “Should Christians Eat Meat or Should We Be Vegetarians?” God and Science. Accessed August 21, 2018. http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/vegetarian.html ) believe that the Bible permits us to eat meat but does not require it. You would be hard-pressed to find a Christian scholar, philosopher, or cleric who believes that God requires us to eat animal products. If such people exist, they are outliers.
    • Because the Bible does not require us to eat animal products it would seem that each of us is free to follow our conscience on such matters. Even the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family,14Campaign, Human Rights. “10 Things You Should Know About Focus On The Family.” Human Rights Campaign. Accessed August 10, 2018. http://www.hrc.org/resources/10-things-you-should-know-about-focus-on-the-family/ which supports a literal interpretation of the Bible,15“How Do I Interpret the Bible?” Focus on the Family, April 27, 2009. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/the-study-of-god/how-do-we-know-the-bible-is-true/how-do-i-interpret-the-bible says that “the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that followers of Jesus are free to follow the dictates of their conscience when it comes to matters of dietary regimen.”16“Vegans, Vegetarians, and the Bible.” Focus on the Family, August 9, 2012. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/vegans-vegetarians-and-the-bible
    • They further state that the idea that “vegetarianism was part of God’s original purpose and plan for both man and the animals” is “not an unreasonable assumption.”17“Vegans, Vegetarians, and the Bible.” Focus on the Family, August 9, 2012. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/vegans-vegetarians-and-the-bible
  • The Bible seems to condone many practices that we no longer deem acceptable.
    • It’s not difficult to find passages in the Bible that seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, death for adulterers, and many other practices we now renounce, but Bible scholars have hermeneutically rejected the idea that Christianity is compatible with such beliefs. Since the Bible is contradictory on the subject of eating animals (discussed below), it’s hard to see why the same kind of reasoning does not also apply here.
  • The word dominion carries the obligations of stewardship and responsibility.
    • According to Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
    • Some believe this verse gives us permission to do whatever we wish to animals and the environment.
    • But many Bible scholars believe that the word dominion, in the context of this Bible verse and in its original Hebrew meaning, carries with it the obligations of stewardship and responsibility.18Bible Dominion Stewardship Responsibility – Google Search.” Google Search. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.google.com/search?q=bible+dominion+stewardship+responsibility
    • Today’s animal agriculture industry, it could be argued, is the opposite of stewardship and responsibility, both in its disregard for the lives and suffering of animals, and its environmental destruction. See “An Introduction to Veganism” for details and citations.19Fuller, Greg. “An Introduction to Veganism.” Justice For Animals, May 29, 2018. http://justiceforanimals.org/basics/an-introduction-to-veganism/
  • The Bible does not support the notion that animals were put here for us to eat.
    • As is discussed below, Genesis 1:29 states that God gave man plants to eat for meat, with no mention of eating animals. Since the timeline of the Bible shows that animals were already created when that assertion was made, it’s hard to argue that the Bible supports the notion that God put animals here for humankind to use for food.
  • The Bible presents the vegan diet as an ideal.
    • It could be argued from the Bible that God’s original plan was for leaving animals off the plate. Genesis 1:29, which is of before the fall, states that “God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”
    • And perhaps Isaiah 11:6–9 foresees a return to a meatless diet in depicting a world where carnivores coexist peacefully with herbivores, saying that “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” Wolfs and lambs, leopards and goats, and calves and lions shall lie down with each other and “the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
  • Because the Bible seems to contradict itself on the topic of eating meat, it’s hard to draw conclusions from the Bible.
    • While there are passages in the Bible that, at face value, seem to condone eating meat, there are also passages that seem to forbid it. For example, to quote the English Standard Version of the Bible, Romans 14:21 declares that “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble,” while 1 Corinthians 10:25 says to “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.”
    • There are other similar passages in the Bible that either seem to be for or against eating animal flesh  so many, in fact, that it’s hard to reach any definitive conclusion from them.
    • Verses that seem to be mostly against eating meat (these are from the English Standard Version of the Bible):
      • Leviticus 3:17: It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.”
      • Leviticus 19:26: “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.
      • Isaiah 11:6–9: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
      • Isaiah 66:3: “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations;
      • Acts 15:29: That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
      • Romans 14:21: It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
    • Verses that seem to mostly support eating meat (these are also from the English Standard Version of the Bible):
      • Genesis 1:29: And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
      • Genesis 9:3: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
      • Leviticus 11:1–47: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.”
      • Deuteronomy 12:20: “When the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has promised you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ because you crave meat, you may eat meat whenever you desire.”
      • Deuteronomy 14:1–29 “You shall not eat any abomination. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep”
      • Deuteronomy 14:21: “You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
      • Acts 10:9-15: “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'”
      • Romans 14:2: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.”
      • 1 Corinthians 10:25: “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.”
  • There are Bible scholars who believe the Bible directly supports vegetarianism.
    • Although you would be hard pressed to find a Bible scholar who believes the Bible requires we eat animal products, it’s not difficult to find Bible scholars who believe that the Bible directly supports abstaining from animal products.
    • Richard Alen Young, who teaches the New Testament at Temple Baptist Seminary, is one such scholar. In his book Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, he uses biblical ethics to make an argument for vegetarianism.20Young, Richard Alan. Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights. Open Court, 2012
  • Religion-focused vegetarian and vegan associations can help you sort this out.
  • Meta
    • Contributors
      • Greg Fuller   Author
      • Isaac Nickerson   Copy Editor
    • Revisions
      • 08/22/2018 Initial post completed   glf
      • 09/19/2018 Copy editor’s first pass on article complete   isn

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1.“When Was the Bible Written?” Biblica(blog), July 28, 2016. https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/when-was-the-bible-written/
2.Fuller, Greg. “A Response to ‘We Need Animal Products to Be Healthy.’” Justice For Animals, October 29, 2016. http://justiceforanimals.org/objections/quote-we-need-animal-products-to-be-healthy/
3.Deem, Rich. “Should Christians Eat Meat or Should We Be Vegetarians?” God and Science. Accessed August 21, 2018. http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/vegetarian.html
4.Campaign, Human Rights. “10 Things You Should Know About Focus On The Family.” Human Rights Campaign. Accessed August 10, 2018. http://www.hrc.org/resources/10-things-you-should-know-about-focus-on-the-family/
5.“How Do I Interpret the Bible?” Focus on the Family, April 27, 2009. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/the-study-of-god/how-do-we-know-the-bible-is-true/how-do-i-interpret-the-bible
6.“Vegans, Vegetarians, and the Bible.” Focus on the Family, August 9, 2012. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/vegans-vegetarians-and-the-bible
7.Ibid.
8.Bible Dominion Stewardship Responsibility – Google Search.” Google Search. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.google.com/search?q=bible+dominion+stewardship+responsibility
9.Fuller, Greg. “An Introduction to Veganism.” Justice For Animals, May 29, 2018. http://justiceforanimals.org/basics/an-introduction-to-veganism/
10.Young, Richard Alan. Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights. Open Court, 2012
11.“When Was the Bible Written?” Biblica(blog), July 28, 2016. https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/when-was-the-bible-written/
12.Fuller, Greg. “A Response to ‘We Need Animal Products to Be Healthy.’” Justice For Animals, October 29, 2016. http://justiceforanimals.org/objections/quote-we-need-animal-products-to-be-healthy/
13.Deem, Rich. “Should Christians Eat Meat or Should We Be Vegetarians?” God and Science. Accessed August 21, 2018. http://www.godandscience.org/doctrine/vegetarian.html
14.Campaign, Human Rights. “10 Things You Should Know About Focus On The Family.” Human Rights Campaign. Accessed August 10, 2018. http://www.hrc.org/resources/10-things-you-should-know-about-focus-on-the-family/
15.“How Do I Interpret the Bible?” Focus on the Family, April 27, 2009. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/the-study-of-god/how-do-we-know-the-bible-is-true/how-do-i-interpret-the-bible
16.“Vegans, Vegetarians, and the Bible.” Focus on the Family, August 9, 2012. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/vegans-vegetarians-and-the-bible
17.“Vegans, Vegetarians, and the Bible.” Focus on the Family, August 9, 2012. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/vegans-vegetarians-and-the-bible
18.Bible Dominion Stewardship Responsibility – Google Search.” Google Search. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.google.com/search?q=bible+dominion+stewardship+responsibility
19.Fuller, Greg. “An Introduction to Veganism.” Justice For Animals, May 29, 2018. http://justiceforanimals.org/basics/an-introduction-to-veganism/
20.Young, Richard Alan. Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights. Open Court, 2012