When talking to other Christians about the ethics of eating meat, they almost always say something like “God gave us permission to use animals for food in the Bible,” and that’s the end of the discussion. But should it be?
While it’s true God gave us permission, this permission was not unconditional; He did not say eat animals always, regardless of whether or not you need to, and regardless of the consequences. In fact, He gave several conditions for when we should not eat meat, and these conditions should clearly tell us that eating meat today is not right in the eyes of God:
1. The Bible Warns of Hurting Other People For Food
“For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. By what you eat, do not destroy that one for whom Christ died.” – Romans 14:15
“It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble.” – Romans 14: 21
“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” – 1 Corinthians 8:13
Every day, between 6,000 and 43,000 children die of starvation, and 1.1 billion people go without access to clean drinking water. Why? Because our current food system, which is primarily driven by meat and dairy production, is incredibly inefficient.
The world easily produces enough calories to feed 10 -11 billion people, but the majority of crops grown worldwide do not go towards feeding people. Instead they become feed for livestock so that people in developing countries can eat meat and dairy.
According to Cornell University, if we took the feed that went to livestock and gave it to people instead, we would be able to feed 800 million more people in the US alone! If just one person were to skip eating meat for one day and eat only plant-based instead, they could save enough grain to feed 40 people.
Eating meat is not just making our brothers stumble, it is literally a death sentence for millions of people worldwide every single year.
2. The Bible Warns of Destroying the Planet For Food
“So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats.” Romans 14:19-20
Modern day factory farming is destroying the planet. There is no question about it. It is by far the leading cause of water pollution, species extinction, and deforestation. According to the World Bank, 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second for cattle grazing, and on a whole, animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon destruction.
Factory farming is also the leading cause of air pollution. According to a UN report: “The livestock sector is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.” That’s about 40 percent more than all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships in the world combined!
If anything is tearing down God’s work, it is animal agriculture. See Cowspiracy for more facts like these.
3. The Bible Warns of Mistreating Animals For Food & Tells Us to Love Them
“Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened ox with hatred.” – Proverbs 15:17
“And He said to them, ‘Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?’” – Luke 14:5
“If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young.” – Deuteronomy 22:6
“Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” – Isaiah 40:11
Have a look at modern day factory farms, and slaughterhouses where animals are raised and killed for meat and tell me where there is love. There is none. Hatred doesn’t even begin to describe the way these animals are treated. See the dozens of undercover investigations conducted by Mercy for Animals, or watch Meet Your Meat or 10 Billion Lives.
Consider also the contrast between how God tells us to treat babies and mothers, and how they are treated on factory farms for eggs and dairy. Mother hens are kept in cages so small the cannot even stretch their wings. Her eggs are stolen from her, and her male baby chicks are ground up alive. Mother cows are imprisoned and forcefully impregnated. When she gives birth, her baby is stolen from her and killed, so that her milk can be taken for human consumption.
Given what God tells us, how can these practices be defended? Besides what the Bible says about caring for animals, The Ten Commandments also tell us not to steal or kill.
3. The Bible warns of gluttony
“Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.” – Proverbs 23:20-21
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” – Philippians 3:19
In the Western world today, we eat what our heart’s desire without regard for the hungry, without regard for the treatment of animals, and without regard for even our own health. Bacon, as a concept, is laughed at, and we put it on everything without a second thought.
It is, without question, gluttony to use the world’s resources, to take from the needy, and to torture billions of innocent animals, for what we do not need.
God giving us permission to use animals for food in the Bible is not the end of the story, and we need to stop pretending it is. Besides what God says about how we should treat animals, and the specific conditions He gives for eating meat above, He also tells us not to kill or steal, and teaches us to be kind, loving, and merciful: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) “Above all, love each other deeply.” (1 Peter 4:8) “Blessed are the merciful.” (Matt 5:7)
If we take into account all the Bible teaches us, it is quite clear that eating meat today is very wrong in the eyes of God.
A loving mother buys her son a baseball bat and tells him that he can hit some baseballs in the backyard. Then she leaves the house.
When she returns, she is horrified by what she finds. While hitting baseballs in the backyard, her son hit the dog and his little sister, and broke the kitchen window. The little girl is crying, and the dog is whimpering in the corner. What’s worse is he is still batting away.
His mother grabs the bat from his hands and asks: “What are you doing?”
The boy replies: “You said I could hit baseballs in the backyard.”
His mother is furious, and says: “But what about everything else I taught you about being kind to your little sister and the dog, and respecting the home I made for us? Certainly you didn’t think I meant hit the ball regardless of the consequences?”
You see, to ignore everything else God taught us, is to be like the boy in the story. Just like him, we are destroying the home God made for us, His creatures, and our own brothers and sisters, all for the sake of our appetite; for the sake of a piece of flesh that we do not need. Where is the mercy; where is the love? What about everything else he taught us?
A Plant-based Diet is the Only Solution
A plant-based diet is not only the solution to feed the world, stop animal suffering, and restore the earth, it’s also depicted in the Bible as God’s ideal, and this is evident in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament:
In the Old Testament, God hands down the first dietary law to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden where all creatures lived peacefully: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” – Genesis 1:29
In the New Testament, we foresee a return to the vegan world where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all coexist peacefully:
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” – Isaiah 11:6–9
Should we not strive toward the harmonious world Isaiah envisioned; to be guided by the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven”?
Watch the award-winning documentary: Earthlings
Other Relevant Versus That Show Animals Matter
God cares for animals
“For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. “I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine.” – Psalms 50:10-11
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” – Luke 12:6
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” – Matthew 6:2
“The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” – Psalm 145:8-9
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” – Matthew 10:29
“He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:11–12
“Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.” – Psalm 36:6
“He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.” – Psalm 147:9
“Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.” – Joel 1:20
All creatures share in the Sabbath rest
“But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” – Exodus 20:10
“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.” – Deuteronomy 5:14
Animals praise God
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all the depths; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word; mountains and all hills; fruitful trees and all cedars; beasts and all cattle; creeping things and flying fowl” – Psalms 148:7–10
“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.” – Psalm 150:6
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” – John 3:7–9
Animals are present in eternity
“The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.” – Isaiah 65:25
“And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” – Revelations 5:13