Is it Sinful to eat meat?
As a Christian and a vegetarian / vegan, I frequently am asked why I choose not to eat meat. After all, meat consumption is clearly not forbidden in the Bible. People are usually pretty surprised by my answer. Lets quickly explore the question of meat consumption from a Christian Vegan's perspective.
I don’t know your faith background, so I don’t know what spiritual authority you trust to define sin, but I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and believe the Him and the Hebrew Scriptures that talk about Him (the Bible) to be the primary authority of all things. My answer is from that perspective.
Let me begin by saying my wife and I are vegan, she for health reasons, me because I believe the Bible sets up death as the enemy.
1 Corinthians 15:26 says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” While it’s clear in context this is referring to human death, I personally believe all death is inconsistent with the character of God in that I don’t believe He designed the world to involve death. It was simply a byproduct required by our invitation to allow sin to enter the world.
After sin entered the world, death is not only a consequence, but vital, according to Hebrews 9:22:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
But is eating meat actually sinful itself? The Bible’s answer is, No. In fact, it can be construed that at Passover, not eating meat may be sinful.
The Original Passover
Here is the original Passover command, from Exodus 12:1-11
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover.”
(The main point here is this isn’t the Passover of Israel – it’s YHWH’s Passover. Any people group that worships YHWH – The LORD – the God of Israel, must recognize this is something that is consistent with His character, at least when sin is a part of the world.)
For those that think this isn’t applicable today, verse 14 goes on to say:
This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
What Did Jesus Do?
As a Jew, we can undoubtedly conclude that Jesus ate lamb or goat, at least at Passover, from Luke 22:7-8:
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
What about after the resurrection – will a restored / resurrected human body eat meat? Let’s pay attention to this scripture, in Luke 24:32-43, directly following the events of Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, after He was crucified and resurrected:
They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Now, did Jesus ever sin? The Bible’s answer on that is crystal clear – this whole thing only works because He never did! 2 Corinthians 5:17-21:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Therefore, can we conclude it is not sinful or against the heart of God to eat meat in a humane way? Yes.
The Christian Response
As Exodus is “under the law” – and since Jesus was purposed to “fulfill the law” (His words) – we must take the information concerning Jesus after the resurrection – for the law had already been fulfilled – and of the disciples after the resurrection, as a model for Christian living. What is their response to all this?
First, a vision the apostle Peter had in Acts 11:4-10:
But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.
Full disclosure: this vision is not necessarily about food. Peter has an incorrect perception of people – that there are “clean” people – the Jews, who he believed have, by their way of living, “earned” the right to the gospel, and Gentiles (non-Jews), who live in an “unclean” way. God was telling Peter not to consider the Gentiles “unclean” if He has cleansed them.
But the words from God were “kill and eat.” And another scripture, James 1:13 plainly says “God does not tempt anyone.”
Since I don’t believe, as I’ve already stated, that this passage is actually about food, I will forego drawing any conclusion from it now, and provide it only for consideration of those who are interested in this topic.
Moving on to the words of the apostle Paul, who wrote nearly two-thirds of the New Testament, and whose opinions dictate the scriptural, dogmatic, and theological cannon of nearly all Bible-believing Christians to this day, in 1 Corinthians 8 (the whole chapter):
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
This is a favorite passage of vegetarian and vegan Christians. However, I want to point out the thinking to Paul. He is not saying eating meat can make your brother stumble, unless eating meat sacrificed to an idol can lead your brother into idolatry. Three times in the passage, Paul references that this is specifically food offered to idols, and the issue is not if that’s OK, it’s rather if it will lead others to worship the idols in that way.
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 10:25-32, he emphasizes freedom concerning this:
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,
Paul’s conclusion is “it’s better to never eat meat again than to lead my brother to worship an idol” because he judges that to be contrary to the goal of a Christian, who should be leading people to Jesus, and away from idols.
The Most Important Thing
Paul’s stance in the passage we just read actually must hit home, and clearly. Paul is saying his habits concerning food are “free” – but that he will happily alter his habits for the sake of preserving relationships and not offending someone else, Jew or non-Jew.
This does NOT mean Christians should expect others to “prepare food without meat” so they are not offended. It actually means Christians should prevent themselves from being offended, and go out of their way to not offend someone else.
In Genesis 3, when sin entered the world, “death” took place. Not just physical death. The Hebrew word for death/dead is מת met. Death is a separation – in the case of physical death, the separation of your body (which is אֲדָמָֽה adamah – ground/dirt, Genesis 2:5, from God’s רוּחַ ruach, or spirit / divine breath). That’s the Hebrew definition of death – that separation.
But the word death does not talk about merely separation of your dirt from divine breath (physical death). Two other things experienced death just moments after the eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:
- The separation of Adam from Eve … the first man from his wife. (Genesis 3:6-7) They covered themselves from each other, for neither could trust that the other defined good and evil in a way that was safe for them. They didn’t trust to remain vulnerable.
- The separation of humanity from God – Adam hid himself when God came looking. (Genesis 3:8-10) Why? Because he didn’t trust that God defined good and evil in a way that was good for humanity.
We see clearly two mets / separations / deaths took place long before either Adam or Eve physically died. Relationships.
Could it be that in telling the humans that they would die by eating, God was actually talking about all three — the two relational deaths and physical death? And if so, allowing all the scriptures we have reviewed to speak to us together, what can we conclude is the most important thing to God?
It’s clear that sin’s entrance into the world first destroyed relationships, and that our behaviors with regard to all things, including food, should be of the attitude of protecting other people and their relationships with God and with us. So anything in our thinking that causes us to break down and separate ourselves from each other, or others from God, when it comes to those relationships – that is sin. Jesus calls us to be in unity, John 17:11:
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
Relationships with others, and with God, really is the most important thing.
God Will Lead You
In Exodus 3, God sent Moses to Pharaoh in Egypt. In the book of Jonah, it’s clear God sent Jonah to preach a message to the Assyrians in the city of Nineveh.
Moses obeyed. Jonah initially did not. Moses was blessed with signs and wonders. Jonah found himself in the belly of a fish until he repented.
Does that mean it’s sinful for you not to go to Egypt? Or Nineveh? Of course not. There may be a way that the Holy Spirit is leading you or another person. And it could be He is doing that as a way of protecting or leading that person between Himself and that person. It should not be construed for that behavior to be applied to all people universally.
But if the Spirit of God is leading you to not eat meat, I would encourage you to not touch it (with the possible exception of Passover). It may not be an issue of sin/not sin, but rather … maybe there’s a disease He’s trying to prevent you from ever seeing decades in your future.
But again, if you do choose to abstain from eating meat, don’t make other people you have relationships with feel as if they are wrong for not applying the same standard to themselves. That is certainly not behavior becoming a follower of Christ.