The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is It Wrong to Eat Meat?
“HERE I HAVE GIVEN TO YOU ALL VEGETATION BEARING SEED WHICH IS ON THE SURFACE OF THE WHOLE EARTH AND EVERY TREE ON WHICH THERE IS THE FRUIT OF A TREE BEARING SEED. TO YOU LET IT SERVE AS FOOD.”—Genesis 1:29.
EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Sujata, from a vegetarian Hindu family, readily agreed with God’s dietary instruction to the first man, Adam. But she immediately asked: “Why, then, do people kill animals for food when there are so many other things to eat?”
Many people around the world echo these sentiments. Hundreds of millions in the East follow a meatless diet. In addition, the number of vegetarians in the West is increasing. In the United States alone, about 12.4 million people claim to be vegetarian, about 3 million more than a decade ago.
Why do so many prefer a meatless diet? What is the proper view of animal life? Does eating meat show disrespect for life? In view of what is stated at Genesis 1:29, is it wrong to eat meat? First, consider why some do not eat meat.
Why Do Some Not Eat Meat?
For Sujata, her diet involves her religious beliefs. “I grew up as a Hindu, believing in the doctrine of reincarnation,” she explains. “Since a human soul can come back as an animal, I consider animals my equals. And so it seems wrong to kill them for food.” Other religions also advocate a vegetarian diet.
Factors besides religious beliefs influence people’s eating choices as well. Dr. Neal Barnard, for example, flatly asserts: “The only reasons to eat meat are habit or ignorance.” His strong stand is based on his views concerning the health risks of meat consumption, such as heart disease and cancer.*
In the United States, teenagers are said to be the fastest growing segment of vegetarians. And concern for animals is one reason. “Kids love animals,” says Tracy Reiman of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “When they start learning about what happens to animals before they are killed for food it just reinforces the compassion they feel.”
Many environmentally conscious individuals also make the connection between their diet and the tremendous demand made on natural resources in raising animals for food. It takes, for example, about 390 gallons of water to produce just one pound [3,300 liters to produce just one kilogram] of beef and 375 gallons per pound [3,100 liters per kilogram] of chicken. For some, this then becomes a reason to avoid meat.
What about you? Should you abstain from eating meat? Before answering that question, consider another viewpoint. As found at Psalm 50:10, 11, Jehovah God, the Maker of all things, says: “To me belongs every wild animal of the forest, the beasts upon a thousand mountains. I well know every winged creature of the mountains, and the animal throngs of the open field are with me.” Since all animals really belong to God, it is important to understand how the Creator feels about animal life and man’s use of it for food.
Is It Wrong to Kill Animals?
Some who, like Sujata, consider animals to be man’s equals feel strongly that taking the life of an animal for any purpose is wrong—killing them for food even more so. Nevertheless, the Scriptures indicate that God differentiates between animal life and human life and allows the killing of animals for various reasons. In Israel an animal could be killed, for example, when it posed a threat to human life or one’s livestock.—Exodus 21:28, 29; 1 Samuel 17:34-36.
From earliest times, God approved of offering animals as sacrifices in worship. (Genesis 4:2-5; 8:20, 21) He also instructed the Israelites to memorialize their Exodus from Egypt by celebrating the Passover annually, which included sacrificing a lamb or a goat and eating its flesh. (Exodus 12:3-9) And under the Mosaic Law, there were other occasions for animal offerings.
Reading the Bible for the first time, a 70-year-old Hindu woman found the thought of animal sacrifices unpleasant. But as she progressed in her knowledge of the Scriptures, she could see that sacrifices commanded by God had a purpose. They pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which was to fulfill the legal requirement for forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 8:3-5; 10:1-10; 1 John 2:1, 2) In many cases the offerings also served as food for the priests and at times for the worshipers. (Leviticus 7:11-21; 19:5-8) God, to whom every living creature belongs, could rightfully institute such an arrangement for a purpose. Of course, once Jesus died, the animal sacrifices were no longer required in worship.—Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 10:1-12.
Using Animals for Food
What, though, of killing animals for food? It is true that man’s original diet was vegetarian. But Jehovah later expanded it to include animal flesh. Some 4,000 years ago—in the days of righteous Noah—Jehovah caused a global deluge and brought an end to the then existing wickedness on earth. Noah, his family, and the living creatures he took into the ark survived the Flood. After they emerged from the ark, Jehovah for the first time stated: “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you.” (Genesis 9:3) At the same time, however, God gave the law: “Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.” (Genesis 9:6) Clearly, God did not place animals on the same level as humans.
Actually, Sujata’s conviction about animals was based on her belief in the doctrine of reincarnation. In this regard the Bible explains that although humans and animals are souls, the soul is not immortal. (Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Acts 3:23; Revelation 16:3) As souls, both humans and animals die and cease to exist. (Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20) Humans, though, have a marvelous hope of resurrection in God’s new world.* (Luke 23:43; Acts 24:15) This too indicates that animals are not man’s equals.
“Still, why the change in diet?” Sujata wanted to know. The earth’s climate evidently had undergone drastic changes because of the Flood. Whether Jehovah introduced the addition of meat to man’s diet because he anticipated the needs of future generations living in the areas where vegetation would be scarce, the Bible does not say. But Sujata could accept that the Owner of all living things had a right to introduce a change.
Showing Respect for Animal Life
Yet, Sujata wondered, ‘Shouldn’t we at least show some respect for animal life?’ Yes, we should. And the Creator of all things has told us how we may do this. “Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat,” states his decree at Genesis 9:4. Why the restriction on eating blood? “For the soul [life] of the flesh is in the blood,” says the Bible. (Leviticus 17:10, 11) Jehovah has stipulated: ‘You should pour the blood of the slain animal out upon the ground as water.’—Deuteronomy 12:16, 24.
This is not to say that the provision to eat meat is a license to indulge in the needless spilling of animal blood for the sheer thrill of the hunt or to display personal prowess. Nimrod evidently did this. The Bible identifies him as “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.” (Genesis 10:9) Even today, excitement over hunting and killing animals can easily develop in some. But such a spirit goes hand in hand with wanton disregard for animal life, and God does not approve of it.*
Being Compassionate Toward Animals
Some vegetarians today also have sincere concern over the treatment of animals by the modern meat industry. “Agribusiness has little interest in the natural instincts of animals,” comments The Vegetarian Handbook. “Raised in horribly close quarters and unnatural environments,” the book notes, “modern-day animals are exploited more completely than animals have ever been before.”
While the use of animals for food is not against the will of God, their cruel treatment is. “The righteous one is caring for the soul of his domestic animal,” says the Bible at Proverbs 12:10. And the Mosaic Law enjoined proper care of domestic animals.—Exodus 23:4, 5; Deuteronomy 22:10; 25:4.
Should a Christian Be a Vegetarian?
As shown in the foregoing, the question of becoming a vegetarian—or remaining one—is strictly a matter for individual decision. Because of health, economics, ecology, or compassion for animals, a person may choose to follow a vegetarian regimen. But he must recognize it as only one way of eating. He should not criticize those who choose to eat meat, just as one who eats meat should not condemn a vegetarian. Eating meat or refraining from it does not make one a better person. (Romans 14:1-17) Neither should one’s diet become the prime concern in his life. “Man must live,” Jesus said, “not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.”—Matthew 4:4.
As for cruelty to animals and misuse of earth’s resources, Jehovah has promised to bring an end to this corrupt and greedy system and to replace it with the new world of his making. (Psalm 37:10, 11; Matthew 6:9, 10; 2 Peter 3:13) In that new world, man and animals will be forever at peace with one another, and Jehovah will ‘satisfy the desire of every living thing.’—Psalm 145:16; Isaiah 65:25.
See The Watchtower of May 15, 1997, pages 3-8, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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