5 ways vegan Bible quotes show veganism is the ethical ideal

5 ways vegan Bible quotes show veganism is the ideal

When advocating for veganism to a religious audience, you might wish to cite vegan Bible quotes to appeal to your listeners. Firstly, we must recognize that the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments are filled with contradictory messages about killing animals and eating meat. 

Many Christians eat meat believing that God intended animals for human consumption. Yet when we examine the Biblical foundation on which this belief rests, we find it to be on shaky ground. So, let’s find out what vegan Bible quotes there are to make the case for veganism from a Christian and Jewish perspective.

1. Genesis: God instructs humans to eat vegetation and treats humans and animals equitably.

Free Green Leaf Plant Beside River Stock Photo

“And God said, ‘Behold, I give you every plant that produces seeds upon the earth and every tree that has fruit with its seed inside of it: these shall be your food.  And I give all green plants to every wild animal and to all the birds of the air and to all creatures that move upon the surface of the earth and that have the breath of life in them.’ And it was so.”

—Genesis 1:29-30

This chapter suggests God only gave permission for humans to eat vegetation. There was no violence in the Garden of Eden.

Genesis also speaks of God treating humans and animals in an equitable way. When God saved Noah and his family from destruction, God treated the animals in a similar manner:

“And God remembered Noah and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark.”

-Genesis 8:1

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.”

-Genesis 9:8-10

God made this covenant not only with Noah and his descendants but also with “every living creature.” God made no distinction between people and animals in establishing God’s covenant “between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-17).

2. Genesis 1:26-29: “Dominion” over animals in the Bible means “stewardship.”

What does the Bible say about eating meat? 4 essential things you need to know

 “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

-Genesis 1:26-29

People often use the concept of “dominion” over animals and the fact that ancient Israelites ate animals to justify eating animals today. Yet this often-misunderstood concept of dominion means humans have a responsibility to be stewards of creation. This passage does not provide a license to plunder it.

Furthermore, in other passages God declares that the land and all that is in it belongs to God. In Leviticus (25:23), God proclaims, “the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” Similarly, the Twenty-fourth
Psalm says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and they who dwell therein …”

Also, Deuteronomy 10:14 proclaims, “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it …” All living things belong to God, and God declares in Psalm 50:10-11, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.”

The Hebrew words used in Genesis 1 to describe having dominion over animals include ‘abad,’ which means “to work or serve; to cultivate,” and ‘shamar,’ which means ‘to exercise great care over.’  Furthermore, it occurs in the context of humans being made in God’s compassionate image and likeness. Furthermore, even if interpreted as permission to kill animals, it is not a mandate.

We must also ask ourselves: would a compassionate and benevolent god condone the extreme suffering we inflict on animals? Many passages in the Bible urge us to be merciful stewards of animals, to have regard for their lives, and to humbly recognize all that we share in common with them. They convey a vision of animals being at peace with humans.

Moreover, would a selfless creator want us to genetically breed and modify them to make them more profitable? To destroy the planet by raising animals for food? The passages that encourage humans to respect and protect the environment suggest otherwise.

3. Genesis 9:2-3: Lowering standards for humans, God begrudgingly gives permission to eat meat, along with a curse.

While the follow may not seem like a vegan Bible quote on its face, don’t forget the context: God only begrudgingly gives humans permission to eat animals, and this permission comes with a curse.

“The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands… Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat.”

-Genesis 9:2-3

As the story goes, this happened right after The Flood. Humans had sunk to such immorality that God eradicated life and started over. To keep the promise of never again unleashing such a flood, a disappointed God lowered the standards for human behavior, making some concessions to our baser instincts.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel during the British Mandate era, interprets the passage this way: “Because people had sunk to an extremely low level of spirituality, he wrote, it was necessary that they be given an elevated image of themselves as compared to animals, and that they concentrate their efforts into first improving relationships between people. If people were denied the right to eat meat, they might eat the flesh of human beings due to their inability to control their lust for flesh.” He views the permission to slaughter animals for food as a “transitional tax” until a “brighter era” is reached when people would return to plant-based diets. 

The permission to eat meat comes with a curse. The animals, who were created to be Adam’s companions, will now “fear and dread” humans. Before “The Fall,” Adam and Eve were given the wealth and abundance of plants to eat.  After sin entered the world, they were told they could eat animals, and that those animals would live in fear of them.

According to Christian Vegetarians and Vegans UK, “From a biblical perspective the concept of eating anything but plants by any animal – human or otherwise – only entered the world after The Fall. That surely should tell the reader something.”

4. Jesus and the later prophets rejected the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, certain animals were deemed “unclean” to eat (Leviticus 11:41-43; Isaiah 66:17). However, in the New Testament, Jesus lifted the laws about what was considered “clean” and “unclean” to eat. In Mark 7:18-19, Jesus is quoted saying, “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” Here Jesus explains that the old notions of clean and unclean food are done away with. No longer were external sacrifices what made a person “clean.” Instead, the teaching was that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, a person’s heart is what makes them acceptable to God.

If God cared about animals, why were there animal sacrifices to begin with? The supposed purpose of the sacrifices was to atone for sin, so animal sacrifices may have been thought necessary to replace human sacrifice (Numbers 31:30, 40). The later prophets, including Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah, condemned animal sacrifice.

“I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.”

-Isaiah 1:11-13

“He who slaughters an ox is like he who kills a man …”

-Isaiah 66:2-3

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.”

-Hosea 6:6

“Your offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me”

-Jeremiah 6:20

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

-Micah 6:8

5. Psalms, Proverbs and the Gospels speak of compassion towards animals.

The Bible proclaims compassion toward animals in multiple passages.

Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.

-Proverbs 12:10, ESV

“The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. … he satisfies the desire of every
living thing.”

Psalm 145:9

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

-Luke 12:6-7

I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

Matthew 9:13, 12:7

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?”

-Luke 13:15-16

Here Jesus uses the Biblical laws of humane treatment of animals to justify healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath.

“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”

-Matthew 21:21

Here, the “Cleansing of the Temple” shows Jesus rejected selling animals for sacrifice.

Reflections on eating meat and other animal products from modern day religious leaders

Akiva Gersh, known as the “vegan rabbi,” also encourages Jewish people to consider veganism to fulfill the Torah’s mandate of causing pain to animals and wasting resources, as well as protecting one’s health. He holds that thousands of years of Jewish teachings on compassion support going vegan today. He too says that the Garden of Eden was a plant-based environment, as God gave permission only to eat vegetation before the Flood. He also interprets Torah’s permission to eat meat as a concession rather than an ideal.

The Christan philosopher, Simon Kittle, says that most modern-day beliefs Christians have about animals “stem not from the Bible but from cultural habit.” Recognizing that “might enable us to evaluate honestly the violence we are now implicated in… so that we can turn… from the evil of causing unnecessary violence to animals.”

Dr. Andy Alexis-Baker, who is a vegan, author and lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies, says, “When I looked at how God calls people to live, I knew that the arc of my life had to bend toward justice, toward peace, toward compassion.” Finally, Reverend Tom Harris, a vegan Christian pastor, says that he struggled as a child having to deny his compassion towards animals. What ultimately led him to veganism was his own compassion.

Beyond vegan Bible quotes

What does the Bible say about eating meat? 4 essential things you need to know

The “spirit of the law” is peace and compassion

As I learned as a religious studies major in college, the Bible is full of contradictory messages like these about eating meat because it is a collection of books written by many different authors and edited by countless others. Various councils decided which books to include and which to reject based on their beliefs.

As Rabbi Rami Shapiro observed, “Often, people prefer knowing Biblical passages that reinforce their preexisting beliefs. People memorize parts of texts that they can string together to provide the Biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in, but ignore the vast majority of the text.”  In other words, people can reference parts of the Bible to make the case for or against veganism. Given this, why not take the approach that references the “spirit of the law”?

What most spiritual people take from the Bible to apply to their lives are the values of love, compassion, peace, gentleness, kindness, and selflessness. When using the Bible to determine whether it is acceptable to eat meat and animal products, consider these foundational values.

Let us reason here for a moment: does it not seem morally preferable to eat food that does not first have to be killed? Does it not seem that avoiding killing God’s creation for dinner shows more honor than killing it?

Eating meat was a necessity in the Bible, but it is a choice now

Yes, Jesus and other figures in religious texts ate meat. Yes, Jesus fed fish to the five thousand. Ancient Israelites lived in a time of limited resources and frequent famine. Eating animals may have been a necessity for them to survive. Today, it isn’t. As such, eating meat in the Bible out of necessity does not justify it now. We now have the freedom to choose. Why, then, would we choose to do harm?

Making a “personal choice” to harm animals as a result of Biblical ambiguity does not provide moral justification

Some might contend that the contradictions and ambiguity leave it up to the individual to decide what one thinks is right. But “personal choice” does not provide moral justification when someone else is harmed. If it did, we could say it’s our “personal choice” to kick a dog on the street or to justify any other action.

What would Jesus do today?

What does the Bible say about eating meat? 4 essential things you need to know

Referencing the Bible is a logically unsound justification for eating meat and animal products. This is because the Bible has contradictory messages about eating meat; the concept of “dominion” refers to stewardship, not exploitation; eating meat was a matter of necessity in ancient times; and the “spirit of the law” encourages compassion.

So when making the case for veganism from a religious perspective, you can include specific vegan Bible quotes, but be sure to move beyond them. Ask your audience to consider what seems consistent with the teachings of this prophet of compassion and peace.

Would Jesus participate in or radically oppose a system that degrades the Earth and violates human rights and animal rights? Never mind what Jesus and his disciples did thousands of years ago when eating meat was a matter of survival – what would Jesus do today?

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