Animals · Bible

Why Did God Permit Man to Eat Meat?

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.

Bonus round:

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.

Gluttony · World · Animals

Why do we eat [so much] meat?

250+ pounds per person per year (in America) is a lot of meat. The question is, why do we do it?

It turns out that there was a study to determine why people eat meat. It was based on the idea that people eat meat because of the four Ns: Necessary, natural, nice, and normal.

  • Necessary – People eat meat is because they believe it’s essential to a healthy diet.
  • Natural – Eating meat is something that humans naturally do.
  • Nice – Eating meat is enjoyable because it tastes good.
  • Normal – It’s a [big] part of our culture.

As Christians we might add a fifth option: nod (as in “nod of approval”. I wanted to keep with the “n” theme).

  • Nod – After the flood, God gave permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:3)

Out of those five reasons for eating meat, I tend to think only two would lead to meat gluttony.

We certainly aren’t consuming 250+ pounds of meat each year for health reasons. Sadly, our country isn’t known as a nation of health conscious citizens. The United States was ranked 34th in Bloomberg’s latest Global Health Index with a score of 73 (that’s like a C-). I think if anything, the nutrients that meat contains are a bonus to us – if meat contained no nutrients at all we would still eat it.

We also don’t really care how humans have always behaved. Humans have not always slept on soft beds or used indoor plumbing or brushed their teeth daily. Like the nutrition argument, it’s a nice bonus – we might find out that humans have “always” behaved a certain way, but we’re definitely not actively looking to emulate all the behaviors of people throughout history.

God did permit humans to eat meat, but He also warns against eating too much, so that’s definitely no justification for consuming 250+ pounds a year.

That leaves two more reasons why we eat so much meat (and what I would argue are the primary driving forces behind gluttony):

It tastes good and it’s part of our culture.

Doing things because they’re pleasurable and because they’re normal part of our society aren’t inherently wrong. But they are often the types of things we need to be mindful of and carefully moderate. Notice any similarities with alcohol?

The difference with alcohol is that its drawbacks are more obvious and hit closer to home. Alcohol abuse can lead to violence, tearing apart of families, and death. When someone is abusing alcohol, you don’t need statistics or studies to understand the reality of the impending (or already present) damage.

The damage that meat abuse causes is much more subtle, but that’s what makes it so dangerous. We’ve gotten to a point where meat abuse is tolerated and in some cases even glorified in our culture, and meat consumption per person is only expected to increase in the future. The problem with this level of meat consumption is that it:

  • Goes against God’s word (Proverbs 23:20)
  • Ignores the enormous problem of world hunger
    • By raising the incredible amount of animals necessary to satisfy our ever growing meat “requirements”, we are wasting resources that could be used to end world hunger
    • How can we witnesses for Jesus if we consider our appetites for pleasure more important than basic human necessities in other parts of the world?
  • Requires animals be treated less and less humanely
    • Like it or not, as Christians we aren’t given license to treat animals however we want (Deuteronomy 25:4, Proverbs 12:10)
    • To meet increasing demands for meat, living (and dying) conditions for animals decrease. Factory farms are the only efficient way to provide enough meat to meet the demand, and their treatment of animals is not only sinister, their conditions make the meat less healthy (even unhealthy). It’s lose-lose for everyone.

So as you can see, we can skate through life eating as much meat as we want without ever really being personally affected by the consequences.

Eating less meat is a very easy way that we Christians can:

  • Show that we don’t want anything to tarnish our witness for Jesus
  • Follow God’s word
  • Make a huge difference by helping to end world hunger
  • Prove that we are not controlled by things that give us pleasure or societal norms