Vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore? What God’s Word says about our diet
The world is filled with advice on food and nutrition. We can become so absorbed with our diets that the Bible warns that our belly will become our “god”. As believers, we are to bring God glory in all that we do, including what we eat or drink. To some, that may mean eating a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet. To others, it may mean eating anything freely. Which is the better way?
Philippians 3:18-20 ESV For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The Bible gives us some very clear guidelines with regards to how we are to look at food.
- We should not be anxious about what we eat or drink, God will provide our needs | Luke 12:22,29-30 ESV And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
- What we eat does not commend us to God | 1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
- We are not to judge anyone who eats only vegetables or who eats both meat and vegetables | Romans 14:2-3 ESV One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
- We should abstain from certain foods and drinks if it makes someone stumble in their faith or their conscience | Romans 14:20-21 ESV Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
- We should not force others to abstain from certain foods. Love does not control others | 1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
The change-over of diets in the Bible
When God first created this world, He ordained every plant and tree with seeds as food for every other living creature on earth, including mankind. It was a vegetarian diet for all.
Genesis 1:29-30 ESV And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
This changed with the fall of mankind through sin, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were free to eat from every other vegetation in this world, but they still chose to eat from the tree that God warned would lead to their (spiritual) death.
Genesis 2:16-17 ESV And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
After this, we see that God ordained that “every moving thing that lives shall be food,” except whatever is still alive. By doing so, God added meat to mankind’s diet.
Genesis 9:1-4 ESV And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
At times, God instructed His people to eat meat and even fed them meat:
- God instructed that the Levite priests eat from the food offerings at the temple, which included beef and lamb | Deuteronomy 18:1,3-4 ESV “The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the LORD’s food offerings as their inheritance. And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him.
- God instructed the Israelites to eat lamb for the first Passover | Exodus 12:8-11 ESV They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.
- God then sent quail into the camp of Israelites as food | Numbers 11:31 ESV Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground.
- God sent Elijah bread and meat | 1 Kings 17:5-6 ESV So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
- Jesus blessed the five thousand with fish | Luke 9:14-17 ESV For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
- Jesus barbequed fish for His disciples | John 21:9-10 ESV When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
Prophet Daniel’s good example
Some may remember that the prophet Daniel had chosen a vegetarian diet when he lived in King Nebuchadnezzar’s quarters as a young man. Daniel and his friends refused to eat any meat, so as to distinguish themselves from others in the king’s quarters who worshipped idols. By honouring God with a vegetarian diet, we see that their appearances and bodies were better than those who ate the king’s food.
Daniel 1:11-15 ESV Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.
Daniel did not remain a vegetarian all his life. Later, he also ate meat regularly and would abstain from meat when he fasted.
Daniel 10:2-3 ESV In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.
Daniel is an example of someone who glorified God, whether he chose to eat a vegetarian or an omnivore diet.
The more important issues our about food and drink
We see that the Bible doesn’t advocate one type of diet over another. God’s Word does, however, counsel us on other matters related to food.
Romans 14:17 ESV For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
1. Avoid stumbling someone’s faith
As believers, we are called to look to the interests of other people and count them as more significant than ourselves. This includes matters of food and drink.
Philippians 2:3-4 ESV Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Different people have different diets and we should never make anyone stumble as a result of what we eat. Some of us may abstain from eating meat because of our concerns about animal cruelty, some have acquired certain tastes growing up, while others feel the need for meat for its protein. If our diet makes anyone uncomfortable, we should not insist on our own way. The exception is when it comes to eating food offered to idols or becoming drunk. On such matters, we ought not compromise.
1 Corinthians 8:13 ESV Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
2. Avoid food offered to idols
Food in itself is clean and we are free to eat anything – except for blood and food that we know has been offered to idols. Eating such food dishonours God and defiles the conscience. To read about this in greater detail, please refer to Deciphering our spiritual heritage of food, drink and incense sacrifices
Romans 14:14 ESV I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.
Acts 15:29 ESV That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
1 Corinthians 10:27-29 ESV If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks?
3. Avoid becoming drunk
Alcohol can put us into a stupor or a trance-like state, not unlike other drugs. The Bible calls drunkenness debauchery. This grieves the Holy Spirit and dishonours Jesus who owns our bodies because He paid for us with His own blood. Drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God. To read about this in greater detail, please refer to Drunkenness opposes the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Ephesians 5:18 ESV And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
1 Corinthians 6:10 ESV …nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
4. Avoid carriers of disease
In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 14:3-20, Leviticus 11), the Bible made a clear distinction between two types of meat – ceremonially unclean and unclean. This included the snake, which was cursed in the Garden of Eden for its role in the fall of mankind.
Genesis 3:14 ESV The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
|Clean||Sheep, goat, birds (non-predatory), deer, fish with fins or scales, insects that also hop on the ground (e.g. locusts, crickets, grasshoppers)|
|Unclean||Different types of pigs, camels, rabbits, rodent-like animals (e.g. hyrax, rats, chipmunks, prairie dogs, squirrels), predatory birds (e.g. vultures, storks, herons, owls, hawks), bats, all insects that fly (e.g. mosquito, ticks, fleas), things that crawl on their belly (e.g. snakes, worms), marine animals without fins or scales (e.g. turtles, sea urchins, jellyfish) and dead animals.|
Later, Jesus declared all foods clean. No food should be rejected if it is received with prayer and thanksgiving. Even so, we would be well advised to avoid consuming or touching any insect or animal that may carry disease, many of which coincidentally also happen to fall into the traditionally unclean category.
Mark 7:18-19 ESV And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
1 Timothy 4:4-5 ESV For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
|Anthrax||Cattle, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs|
|Ebola||Chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope, porcupines|
|Influenza||Pigs, domestic and wild birds, minks, horses, and wild aquatic animals|
|Leprosy||Armadillos, mangabey monkeys, rabbits, mice|
|Leptospirosis||Rats, mice, dogs|
|Malaria, Yellow fever, Dengue fever, Zika||Mosquito|
|Plague typhus||Flea, lice||Chipmunks, prairie dogs, squirrels|
|Rabies||Woodchuck, bats, dogs, coyotes, wolves, cattle, monkeys, foxes, cats, skunks, mongooses, and raccoons|
|Rocky Mountain spotted fever||Wood tick|
|Sleeping sickness||Tsetse fly|
|Rift Valley fever||Hematophagous (blood-feeding) flies, Aedes mosquito||Contact with an infected animal’s blood or organs|
Deuteronomy 14:3-20 ESV “You must not eat any detestable animals that are ceremonially unclean. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the addax, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. “You may eat any animal that has completely split hooves and chews the cud, but if the animal doesn’t have both, it may not be eaten. So you may not eat the camel, the hare, or the hyrax. They chew the cud but do not have split hooves, so they are ceremonially unclean for you. And you may not eat the pig. It has split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. “Of all the marine animals, you may eat whatever has both fins and scales. You may not, however, eat marine animals that do not have both fins and scales. They are ceremonially unclean for you. “You may eat any bird that is ceremonially clean. These are the birds you may not eat: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon, buzzards of all kinds, ravens of all kinds, the eagle owl, the short-eared owl, the seagull, hawks of all kinds, the little owl, the great owl, the barn owl, the desert owl, the Egyptian vulture, the cormorant, the stork, herons of all kinds, the hoopoe, and the bat. “All winged insects that walk along the ground are ceremonially unclean for you and may not be eaten. But you may eat any winged bird or insect that is ceremonially clean.
Leviticus 11:20-23 ESV “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.
Leviticus 11:29-30 ESV “And these are unclean to you among the swarming things that swarm on the ground: the mole rat, the mouse, the great lizard of any kind, the gecko, the monitor lizard, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon.
Leviticus 11:41-43 ESV “Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them.
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