The New Testament describes Jesus eating fish (Luke 24: 41-43). In context, the reason appears to be Jesus demonstrating that he had risen in the flesh, not that he relished eating fish. The important question is, would Jesus eat meat today? Modern animal agriculture, also known as “factory farming,” is inherently cruel. It has expanded greatly since the 1950s, in part because routine use of newly discovered antibiotics, has prevented miserable, suffering, highly stressed animals from succumbing to infections. We cannot imagine that Jesus would be pleased to see the horrors of modern-day agribusiness, which harms human health, abuses animals, and damages the environment.
Christians often justify animal abuse by citing Genesis 1:26 which gave Adam “dominion” over the animals. However, shortly thereafter God instructed them Adam and Eve to eat only plants (Genesis 1:29). “Dominion” obviously does not include using animals for food, and since Eden was paradise, humans were not to harmfully exploit animals, either. Humanity’s dominion over animals should be like the dominion of a good king over his subjects, not like a tyrant’s dominion over miserable subjects. We understand “made in [God’s] image” (Genesis 1:27) to reflect humanity’s capacity to rule over Creation as God would - with compassion (Luke 7:13), mercy (Luke 6:36) and diligence (Proverbs 27:23). We are to count others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
The Book of Daniel details the eponymous Jewish figure’s capture in Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is taken to Babylon to serve the King and learn the language. For three years the King offered Daniel a typical royal meal of meat and wine. Daniel was worried about the meat not being Kosher and/or that it was sacrificed to a Babylonian god. Consequently, he requested only vegetables and water. The guard assigned to Daniel was surprised that after ten days Daniel was in better health than the captives who ate flesh and drank alcohol. Thus, Daniel continued this essentially vegan diet while he learned. Many Evangelicals have adopted this diet in the last 20 years, often as a weight loss method. Daniel demonstrated that a diet free of animal products can promote health. A 2010 study confirmed the health benefits of the Daniel Diet, including reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure. (1)
The Bible does not explicitly condemn people for eating meat. However, life in Biblical times differed greatly from how most people live today. For many people living 2000 years ago, food was often scarce. Their typical diets consisted of whole grains, starches, fruits, and vegetables, which were mostly locally cultivated and available only in-season. People generally ate meat only occasionally, primarily when plants would not grow, such as during winters and droughts. Today most people have access to plenty of starches, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit options that are generally available all year-round. Nonetheless, the vast majority of people in contemporary society gluttonously eat meat, and the Bible condemns gluttony (Proverbs 23:20-21). Animal flesh is eaten today almost always for tradition, convenience, and taste preference, not because it’s necessary.
Many Christians have claimed that animals do not possess eternal souls. Perhaps they wish to justify contribution to humanity’s ongoing horrible treatment of them. However, if animals do not possess eternal souls, then we should treat animals with compassion and dignity, because this is the only life they will ever experience. We should have less regard for the quality of our own lives, if our great joy and glory is to come.
However, there are actually good reasons to conclude that the Bible supports the notion that animals have souls, God created the animals in Eden (Genesis 1:25) and called them “good.” Fast forward to the “New Heaven and the New Earth” - in which Eden will essentially be recreated for all eternity (Isaiah 65:25) - which speaks of predatory animals becoming tame and all creatures living in peace. The Bible is not clear whether these are “new” animals or the “recreated” animals of the old Earth but we like to believe these are the souls of earthly animals that have found restoration from their cruel treatment.
The most solid Biblical evidence of animals possessing an eternal soul is the Hebrew term “nephesh chayah,” which evidently translates as “soul.” This Hebrew term described both animals (Genesis 1:30) and humans (Genesis 2:7) in the Garden of Eden. If humans are said to have eternal souls (Matthew 25:46), then animals would as well since the Bible appears to assert that both humans and animals have souls.
This rather bizarre story, known as “The Exorcism of the Gerasene Demoniac” (2) has been widely used to justify enslaving and killing animals. Jesus encountered a man possessed by multiple demons, who requested that Jesus allow them to enter a herd of pigs grazing on a nearby hillside. Jesus did so, and subsequently the pigs ran down the steep bank and drowned. Why did Jesus allow this to happen? Perhaps there was no other way to exorcise the man. Importantly, this story appears to be an allegory and not a historical event. The synoptic Gospels offer differing accounts, including the location of the event. Though many possible interpretations exist, none justify harming animals unnecessarily.
(2) (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39)
Banner and Corresponding Photo Credit: Indraloka Animal Sanctuary