by Ted Altar
1. "I REQUIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE" (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7):
This is a significant message when we remember that in
the context in which this was said meat eating was
commonly considered part of these sacrifices.
Sacrificial offerings often entailed meat consumption
and a strict reading of Leviticus 17: implies that,
indeed, all meat consumption necessitated a sacrifice.
Also, the noted confrontation of Jesus in the Temple
suggests that he was not at all pleased by the
desecration of the Temple by the money changers AND by
"those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons"
(John 2:14-15) since these animals were being sold for
sacrifice before being eaten.
2. NO UNEQUIVOCAL BIBLICAL REFERENCE TO CHRIST EATING OR BUYING EAT:
Consider the verse where it is said that Jesus'
disciples "were gone away unto the city to buy meat"
(John 4:8). This translation from the King James
version has been misunderstood as meaning literally
"meat". In fact, the Greek word for "meat" from which
the James translation based its choice for this word,
simply meant nutrition in the generic sense. Hence, the
Revised Standard Version now simply translates this same
passage as "his disciples had gone away into the city to
Regenstein notes that nowhere in the New Testament is
Jesus depicted as eating meat and "if the Last Supper
was a Passover meal -- as many believe -- there is,
interestingly, no mention of the traditional lamb dish".
3. DID CHRIST EAT AT LEAST EAT FISH?(LUKE 24:43):
Note that on the two occasions where he is said to
have eaten fish, these were *after* his death and
resurrection. Also, we should maybe keep in mind that
fish was a well known mystical symbol among these early
Christians. The Greek word for fish (Ichthys) was used
as an acronym whose initials in Greek stood for "Jesus
Christ, Son of God, Savior". Given how the early
Christians employed the term, there is therefore good
historical evidence for the argument that all of the
"fish stories" that managed to get into the gospels were
intended to be taken symbolically rather than literally.
4. BIBLICAL BREAKS AND CONTRADICTIONS:
We should not forget that the Bible is not complete
and its many inconsistencies require thoughtful
interpretation. For instance, we have the contradiction
between Genesis 1:29-30 with Genesis 9:2-3. Some
scholars interpret the first prescription for
vegetarianism as the preferred diet, and suggest that it
was only after God became grievously disappointed with
human sin and flooded the earth did the second provision
become permitted, and not without qualification (and
maybe only as an expedient for the situation). To take
another example, the New Testament makes repeated
attacks on meat offered to pagan idols (Acts 15:20;
Revelation 2:14), but Paul gives assurances that eating
such flesh is all right if no one is offended
(Corinthians 10:14-33). Paul, then, would seem to be
5. EXAMPLES OF EARLY CHRISTIANS:
Not a few Christian scholars have concluded
vegetarianism to be the more consistent ethic with
respect to the spirit of Christ's teachings. For
example, we have the Ebionites, Athanasius, and Arius.
Of the early church fathers we have Clement of
Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Heronymus, Boniface, St.
Jerome, and John Chrysostom. Clement wrote, "It is far
better to be happy than to have your bodies act as
graveyards for animals. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew
partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh".
One of the earliest Christian documents is the
`Clementine Homiles', a second-century work purportedly
based on the teachings of St. Peter. Homily XII states,
"The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as
the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and
its impure feasts, through participation in it a man
becomes a fellow eater with devils". Many of the
monasteries both in ancient times to the present
practiced vegetarianism. For instance, Basilius the
Great's order, Boniface's order, Trappists monks, etc.
Also, we have the examples provided by the stories
around some saints like Hubertus, Aegidius and Francis
6. INDIRECT HISTORICAL EVIDENCE:
Knowledge about how the Essenes, the Nazoreans and
Ebionites lived suggests that Christ was probably a
vegetarian. The Essences were Jews who were remarkably
similar to the early Christians as evinced in their
deemphasis upon property and wealth, their communalism
and in their rejection of animal sacrifices. The first
Christians were known as the Nazoreans (not to be
confused with Nazarenes), and the Ebionites were a
direct offshoot from them. All three groups were
vegetarian which is suggestive of the central role such
a practice once played in Early Christianity.
Paul's need to constantly deal with these vegetarians
is also evidence of how prevalent they were and not a
few fellow Christians, it would seem, took issue with
Paul. Paul, if he is consistent with his words, would
have been vegetarian (Corinthians 8:13), notwithstanding
his opposition to the Ebionites. According to Clement
of Alexandria, Matthew was a vegetarian. Clementine
`Homiles' and `Recognitions' claim that Peter was also a
vegetarian. Both Hegisuppus and Augustin testify that
the first head of the church in Jerusalem after the
death of Christ, namely Christ's brother JAMES THE JUST,
was a vegetarian and raised as one! If Jesus's parents
raised James as vegetarian then it would be likely that
Jesus was also so raised.
Given the above points, it is reasonable to believe
that vegetarianism would be consistent with, if not
mandated by, the spirit of early Christianity, a spirit
that advocated kindness, mercy, non-violence and showed
disdain towards wealth and extravagance. Meat eating
would hardly have been considered the way of the
humility, non-extravagance and love for all of God's
creation. Hence, the orthodox early church father,
Christian Hieronymous, could not but be compelled to
"the eating of animal meat was unknown up to the big
flood, but since the flood they have pushed the strings
and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just
as they threw quails in front of the grumbling sensual
people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when
the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end
with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed for
us to eat animal meat"
Maybe an even more important question than that of
whether or not Christ was a vegetarian, was why
Christianity later abandoned its vegetarian roots.
Steven Rosen in his book, FOOD FOR THE SPIRIT, 1987,
The early Christian fathers adhered to a meatless
regime . . . many early Christian groups supported the
meatless way of life. In fact, the writings of the
early Church indicate that meat eating was not
officially allowed until the 4th century, when the
Emperor Constantine decided that his version of
Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat
eating interpretation of the Bible became the official
creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had
to practice in secret or risk being put to death for
heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten
lead down the their throats if they were captured.
Ironic indeed that pagan Rome here would have this
longstanding influence upon Christianity.
In any case, I think we can all be thankful that it is
a lot easier today to be a vegetarian. The occasional
rudeness and social disapproval a vegetarian must
tolerate is a pretty small inconvenience in comparison
to Constantine's way of dealing with vegetarians.
To cite another sad example: in southern France a
group of Albigensian vegetarians (a Cartharist
religious group) were put to death by hanging in 1052
because they refused to kill a chicken!