This is a response to the post from James R Hughes in his article “Why Did God Permit Man to Eat Meat? The article can be viewed here.
I was originally researching opinions on why God prescribed a plant based diet in Genesis 1:29 and then permitted man to eat meat in Genesis 9:3. I stumbled across the article by James R Hughes, and it started out pretty interesting. It included some perspectives from John Calvin and Matthew Henry, among others. But then it took a strange turn.
Hughes argues that Genesis 9:3 is a covenant between God and Noah and all Noah’s descendants (i.e. the rest of humanity from that point on) and therefore the whenever a person eats meat, they are participating in this covenant and being reminded that death is a result of sin.
He then goes on to say that the verse about eating meat is “not just permissive, but also prescriptive.” (He then compares it with Genesis 9:7, which is important, as we’ll see later). In other words, Hughes is saying that we are required to eat meat because Genesis 9:3 uses the phrase “shall be food for you” (as opposed to “can be food for you”, I suppose?).
He then goes as far as saying that not eating meat is an abomination to God and to go the way of the heathen.
That escalated quickly!
The glaring problem with Hughes’ argument is that if Genesis 9:3 is a command, then we are required to eat EVERY moving things that are alive.
Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.
In other words, we can’t just eat pig and chicken and call it a day. Those are just two of the virtually limitless moving things that God has created. By Hughes’ logic, we are required to eat golden retrievers, bald eagles, tarantulas, poison arrow frogs, garden slugs, polar bears, and the list goes on. We’d have to devote our entire existence to seeking out every moving thing and eating them all. And even if we did spend our lives dedicated to this absurd cause, we’d fail – we’d fail so hard.
Hopefully you can see the problem here – Genesis 9:3 makes absolutely no sense as a command. If the verse said something along the lines of, “Farm animals shall be food for you; I give them to you, as I gave the green plant”, then Hughes might be on to something. Even then it would be murky, as some countries farm dogs for food, while other countries find that practice repulsive. Would we have to eat all animals that are considered farm animals anywhere?
So was God making a covenant that he knew was impossible for any man ever to keep? I would argue that no, He was not. I think the reason why God permitted man to eat meat in Genesis 9:3 is because He knew people wouldn’t always necessarily have access to fruits and plants like they would have in Eden. In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat meat rather than starve, which never would have been an issue in paradise.
Earlier I mentioned how how Hughes apparently believes that being fruitful and multiplying is also a requirement, or else you’re going the way of the heathen, etc. Yet Jesus and Paul (among many others) didn’t do this, so I think that renders the “prescriptive” covenant argument [even more] invalid.