In reply to: God gave us dominion over the animals and put them here for us to eat, and the Bible condones eating them
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
- 1 Context
- 2 Talking Points
- 2.1 Times were different then.
- 2.2 Because the Bible does not require us to eat animal products, we are each free to follow our own conscience.
- 2.3 The Bible seems to condone many practices that we no longer deem acceptable.
- 2.4 The word dominion carries the obligations of stewardship and responsibility .
- 2.5 The Bible does not support the notion that animals were put here for us to eat.
- 2.6 The Bible presents the vegan diet as an ideal.
- 2.7 Because the Bible seems to contradict itself on the topic of eating meat, it's hard to draw conclusions from the Bible.
- 2.8 There are Bible scholars who believe the Bible directly supports vegetarianism.
- 2.9 Religion-focused vegetarian and vegan associations can help you sort this out.
- 3 See Also
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 Meta
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.
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.
Related Article: In reply to: Humans have souls; animals do not.
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. 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.
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 or 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 Deem) 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, which supports a literal interpretation of 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."
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."
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.
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 our introduction to veganism for details and citations.
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.
Religion-focused vegetarian and vegan associations can help you sort this out.
The following organizations may shed additional light on the topic:
- “When Was the Bible Written?” Biblica(blog), July 28, 2016. https://www.biblica.com/resources/bible-faqs/when-was-the-bible-written/
- In reply to: We need animal products to be healthy
- 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
- 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/
- “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
- “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
- Bible Dominion Stewardship Responsibility - Google Search.” Google Search. Accessed August 21, 2018. https://www.google.com/search?q=bible+dominion+stewardship+responsibility
- Young, Richard Alan. Is God a Vegetarian?: Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights. Open Court, 2012
This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.