Animals in the bible

A friend is a vegan and wants to know how the Bible can line up with her beliefs about animals and how people shouldn’t kill animals. She believes that since God gave them the ability to feel pain, people should never kill animals to eat them. What scripture can I show her to prove that God does care for animals?

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A few passages come to mind:

Exodus 20:10 (Animals, like humans, are to have rest on the Sabbath)
Deuteronomy 25:4 (The principle that every worker should have a share in the harvest extends even to beasts of burden)
Jonah 4:7 (God shows concern not only for the people living in Nineveh, but also their livestock)

Of course, there are a great many other areas of Scripture that are incompatible with your friend’s philosophy (among others, I can think of the Old Testament’s usage of animal sacrifice, the fact that animals are held accountable for taking human life, and the fact that Jesus Himself consumed fish and, as part of the Passover, lamb). So while God does care about animals, they are not held at an equal level with humans.

On a related note, I’m not sure I follow the logic of your friend’s perspective. If humans are not to kill and eat animals because they feel pain, does the same apply to animals, which kill and eat each other in far more gruesome ways (and often while the prey is still alive)? If not, does that not imply that humans are intellectually or morally superior to animals, and so are not their equals? Why, then, should it offensive for the Bible to also teach that humans have been made superior to the animal kingdom?

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@Sgpage I work in a very secular environment and many of my colleagues are vegan. I try to reach them by explaining that in the beginning before sin and death entered our world we see that:

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Genesis 1:11-13 ESV)

We also get a picture of what the new heaven and earth will look like in Isaiah 66:25.
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

I believe that God’s plan is for there to be no death, once again in His ultimate plan.

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In Genesis 1:29 God says, “I give to 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.”

There’s no mention that God told Adam and Eve that they could also have dairy and eggs for food. So it may be that Adam and Eve were actually vegans, like your friend.

But we do know for sure that they were at least vegetarian. And that they took care of the animals.

Although some passages show us that people did eat meat before the Flood, God didn’t tell people that they could eat animals until after the Flood. So it would appear that killing animals for food is part of the fallen world we live in.And eating meat is something that God allows us to do, but that was not part of His original plan. Even then, the animal was to be killed in a humane way (the instructions to the priests on how to kill an animal for sacrifice was one that was least painful for the animal, and God told us that it was forbidden to eat an animal that still had its blood in it - which I think means while it was still alive) and though meat was a part of the Israelite diet, it was a much smaller part of their diet than we have today.

Perhaps, in the killing of the animals as sacrifices for our sins, we were to see just how costly for the animal that was, and so understand how costly our sins are.

And in the eating of meat, we are reminded of how fallen our world is, and so this is yet another thing that makes us long for Jesus to return and restore all things.

Since we know that Jesus did eat fish and that he must have followed a typical Jewish diet of the time (there is no mention otherwise) I do eat dairy, eggs, and meat. But I do try to eat less meat, source my eggs from free range farms, and my meat and dairy from farms where animals are raised humanely.

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Hi Sadie,

Psalm 50.10,11 tells us, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all of the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.”

This same Owner has given names to the stars according to Psalm 147.4 and has numbered (arithmeo - to enumerate or count) the hairs on our head, as we read about in Luke 12.7. These verses point to an infinitely wise, concerned, loving, aware, knowing, and involved Creator towards His creation.

In the book of Job chapter 38 verse 39 and continuing on until the end of chapter 41, a very detail-oriented account is given to the creation of some species of animals. Again, these details can’t help but point us back to the power, care, beauty and glory of the Maker of all.

I pray the Lord will give you wisdom and insight as you share with your friend about the love of God towards His creation in such a way that it becomes an eye-opening revelation of His personal love and care for her.

Grace and peace,
Mary Beth

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@roslynfarmer781 I’m not familiar with any passages indicating that people ate meat before the Flood. Which passages do you have in mind?

As for not eating meat with blood in it: As I understand it, an animal’s blood symbolized its life, which belonged to God. Thus, in not eating an animal’s blood, the Israelites were honoring the animal by acknowledging that its life belonged to its Creator, not to them.

And yes, meat was generally a much smaller part of the diet of ancient Israelites, but I daresay that was more a matter of practicality than ethics: Animals took a lot of time and space/feed to raise, making meat costly to produce. However, the Israelites were allowed to eat as much meat as they liked in accordance with the Lord’s provision (Deuteronomy 12:15), and people of means often kept animals penned up and fed on special diets to fatten them for use during special occasions (ex. the fattened calf in the Parable of the Prodigal Son).

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Hi Micah,

The idea that people may have been eating animals before the Flood came from a commentator’s remarks that I read and is, you are right, tenuous. The idea comes from the fact that corruption that existed in people before the Flood. God told Cain that sin was crouching at his door. The commentator pointed out that the word “crouching” brings to mind a crouching animal when it is hunting - so God was saying that sin was crouching like a hunting animal, ready to pounce on Cain. When God says this, it sounds more like an animal crouching and pouncing to kill, rather than to play.

Genesis says that in Eden the animals themselves were plant eaters. But here, before the Flood, it would appear that Creation was corrupt enough for animals to be hunting other animals for food.
We know that people were killing each other (Lamech, a descendant of Cain bragged about killing a man - Genesis 419-24) so then likely animals were killing each other as well. So then it is likely that fallen people were hunting and killing animals for food and their hides as well. Part of the curse on Adam was that that the earth would no longer be easy to grow plants in - “through painful toil you will eat food from it” - Genesis 3:17. Genesis tells us that the earth was full of violence and wickedness before the Flood. I assume that Noah and his family, honoured God by obeying Him and not eating meat because after the Flood God told him that He was giving them meat to eat.

I know of your interpretations of the life blood, and agree with it. Also, some commentators add that it shows reverence for the animal’s life having come from God. But I think that not eating an animal with its life blood in it would also encompass our not eating the animal when it is still alive. I’m thinking here of some restaurants that serve a living king crab - the diners cut off pieces of a live king crab and eat it while the crab is still walking around on the table.

I agree with what you say about the meat diet. But the animals kept penned up were just for special occasions - not a regular part of the diet. Many animals were more valuable to the Israelites alive. I read one article on the ancient Israelite diet and it mentioned that they would eat goat meat regularly, but lamb only on occasion because the lamb was needed to produce wool. In the same way a cow was needed for its milk, and an ox for its strength to pull a plough. Fish, however, would have been of little value to them alive, and so was a staple part of their diet.

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@Sgpage. Another way to perhaps expand your friend’s conviction would be to explore how vegan she is with humans? Unless her, touch not, mishandle not, harm not conviction is extended to all forms of life, is it a true conviction? Maybe it can be a preferred way to unknowingly practice GOD’s commandment? "Love thou neighbor as you do yourself.

If she can honestly say that she loves the Lord with all her mind, body, and soul, and her neighbor as herself then we all should be food, mind, and body vegans. I think she will not be able to answer in the affirmative. We wrestle against each other all the time. We harm each other consciously and unconsciously. We consume one another all the time.

Sin, as it has been stated, changed the purpose of this world. We all have pain, death finds us all. Are we short-sighted when we only offer ‘a pass’ from these conditions for the edible animal? And how do we convince the animals that they should not eat one another or kill one another? What does it mean that even in the world of animals, many are carnivores? All destroy for survival.

@Sgpage, I would first of all affirm your friend for the fact that she cares deeply for God’s creation. I would say to her, ‘You’d really get on well with God because He cares deeply too!’ And then show her Psalm 104. It’s a beautiful Psalm about God’s care for His creation, the animals and humans.

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According to the story in Genesis, Cain was a tiller of the field and able raised sheep, goats and cattle. Cain offered ‘of his crops’ Abel offered the ‘best’ of his flock. The difference being ‘of’ and ‘best of’. Regardless, after the offering to the Lord, the people ATE the offering. This implies that people did eat meat before the flood.