Vegetarianism and Creation

We received the following question from a reader and brother.  Rather than lose the question in a mess of other discussions we thought it worth a special response.  While the question may have been raised before it pretty much escaped our notice.  The question was:

Dear COD

I have tried to show throughout this book that we must let the Bible speak for itself. We must not twist it, to make it mean what we think it ought to have said. We must let it make its own message clear to us.”[1] 

I did ask the question on another post about how an EC would interpret the verses that appear to identify a change in diet, to becoming carnivores, before/after the flood. The language appears quite clear to me. Perhaps this provides an opportunity to answer that question?”

The first part of the question quotes from Alan Hayward’s excellent book “God’s Way” written in 1973.  We don’t agree with some of the conclusions in the book, but neither do many modern Christadelphian creationists.  However, it was a great contribution to the discussion about the interface between scripture and science.  Bro Hayward points to the importance of genre, the impact of culture and different expectations as to what is accurate history in our world and the Hebrew one.  He quietly acknowledges some of the challenges with the traditional reading of scripture, whilst firmly rejecting any role of evolution in God’s plan.  It is a shame Hayward is given so little credit by many in the Christadelphian community today.  While we disagree with his conclusions, we appreciate his work and much of the material.  Recommending Alan Hayward’s work is not the point of the question nor therefore the post, so on we go.…

Certainty is a wonderful thing but is rarely the earned privilege of human minds.  Hence Job points to creation as unknowable – we were not there when God “laid the foundations of the earth” Job 38:4 (another reminder of accommodating language since there are not literal foundations in the spherical planet).  To many things we confess – we don’t know.  To almost everything we say, ‘we wish we could know’.  In God’s grace maybe one day that desire will be satisfied.  It warms the heart to see a fellow brother ask a question in a manner which acknowledges less than absolute certainty (which is what we read in the phrasing “appear to” and “the language appears quite clear”).  Thankyou for the reminder to be less dogmatic in expression and exploration.

Genesis 1:29-30 says:

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon 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 air, 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.

Some people understandably understand this to be saying that God designed all things to be strictly vegetarian.  This view is partly based also on Gen 9:3 is that then after the flood God said:

You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything

This seems to imply a change in diet, as asked in the question we received.  But does it?

 

Gen 1:29-30 – opinions vary

That the verses mean a change in diet is not a universal Christadelphian position – although it may be a popular one (e.g. Bernard Burt[2], Arthur Waring[3] and John Martin).

Harry Whittaker puts it hesitantly, marking the statement as a question rather than a conclusion[4].

Andrew Perry (another brother opposed to EC) went further, positively rejecting the suggestion of vegetarianism stating:

Gen 1:30 is not saying that all animals were vegetarian; rather, it is directing the first human pair to feed the animals that came under their dominion with arable produce[5]

While many commentators read the verses in Genesis 1 as pointing to vegetarianism, there are alternatives.  The Jewish Study Bible takes the verses as indicative of an idealised peaceful creation[6].  Kidner makes what we think is an excellent reading, in line with Bro Perry’s:

The assigning of every green plant for food (rsv) to all creatures must not be pressed to mean that all were once herbivorous, any more than to mean that all plants were equally edible to all. It is a generalization, that directly or indirectly all life depends on vegetation, and the concern of the verse is to show that all are fed from God’s hand[7]

My view is aligned with this (and some other Christadelphians like Perry) that Genesis 1:30 is best understood as a an ideal of a creation at peace rather than competition.  The pronouncement is given as permission, not restriction.  Reading a prohibition against meat into Gen 1:30 is a (small) addition to the text.

 

Did meat eating start with Gen 9:3-4?  Opinions vary…

While the verses appear to be extending the permitted diet of humanity, this is not the conclusion of many creationists.  For consistency any reading which puts Gen 1:29-30 as saying man and beast were vegetarian, should have a common lifting/change point.  [For the textual evidence that shows Genesis 1 and 2 are different events see here – for this article we shall ignore this issue]

Many creationists put predation and death as starting from Genesis 3 onwards, declaring such things were not part of the original creation, eg Ron Cowie:

biological decay, ageing, parasites, disease, death or carnivorous activity”.[8]

Tony Bedson (long time editor of The Testimony Magazine) placed animals becoming carnivorous after the events of Genesis 3[9].

Now there are some significant difficulties with the suggestion of predation etc starting post Genesis 3 (putting aside the physical evidence):

  • For Old Earth Creationists predation etc was present in the earth in previous ages. They posit that it was temporarily absent in the ‘current creation’ made in Genesis 1.  This leaves unresolved how death, predation and disease came to be and why it all previously ended in a manner consistent with God’s principles
  • In all the detailed punishments of Genesis 3 there is no mention of a significant reworking of the bulk of creation to turn the animals into carnivores with appropriate teeth, claws, instincts and digestive systems etc and instilling defensive mechanisms and instincts into the unlucky prey species. Surely it is significant that God never mentions this as a consequence.
  • Central to the normal creationist position is that God ceased His creative work at the end of Day 6. How creationists account for the massive reworking of so many animals while simultaneously claiming God ceased His work is typically not explained.

Despite these (ignored) difficulties Gen 3 as the start of predation and meat eating is a common reading.  It is not a reading which matches the question we received, which puts meat eating back to post Flood (ie Genesis 9:3).

The suggestion that vegetarianism was still a thing to the end of the Flood has the same problems as outlined above.  If Genesis 1 means all the animals and humans were vegetarian and Genesis 9 is the lifting of human vegetarianism, then consistency demands the animals also only changed post flood.  Again this requires a massive recreation of Noah’s world.  A recreation for the worse, a new and significant curse (as some state – though without sound scriptural support[10]).  But God’s judgement on Noah’s world was the flood.  This reading of scripture has God introducing a new level of judgment/suffering as He retools creation which is not described as such.

John Martin, in his book on Noah, expresses a view that vegetarianism was a thing until after the Fall.  He reads Gen 9 as an after the fact permission rather than marking a turning point in practice:

As a result of sin the earth had become full of violence…it would seem that as a result of man’s savagery, the animals had also reacted in a similar fashion…Man’s diet had been previously restricted to herbs bearing seed after their own kind (Gen. 1:29; 3:18). But now it was evident that man had acquired a taste for flesh; a taste which, it seems, was never Divinely intended. God knew that this lust would prevail and therefore He legislated to restrict it[11]

In the snippet above he does sensibly interpret the command to Noah as a restriction on violence against and consumption of animals rather than introducing a new condition.  This is consistent with the following verses in Genesis 9 restrict the consumption of blood and talk about the value God puts on all life.

While not in agreement with Martin’s view on vegetarianism from Genesis 1, I agree with his observations on Gen 9 that it doesn’t necessarily enable a previously impossible or outlawed thing (meat eating) as much as express allowance of what was already happening and regulate the practice.

 

Physical evidence contradicts meat eating as a new thing

The physical evidence like say this cave painting from the Lascaux Cave which clearly shows people hunting deer.  The bows and arrows might be crude depictions (better than I can draw) but are clear.

lascaux cave painting

The paintings date back 16,500 odd years.[12]  I.e. this demonstrates there was hunting and meat eating by people occurring well prior to Noah’s flood.  The dating is based on many lines of evidence including radio carbon dating of artefacts at the site, the age of some of the subject matter (i.e. the historical record/archaeological and the dating’s of the animals and plants depicted in the paintings) and comparison to similar sites of the subject material, style and techniques.[13]

Similar evidence can be found in archaeological sites where evidence of meat consumption is obvious and ancient – too ancient for any of the proposed creationist readings.

 

Conclusion

Genesis 1:29-30 is understood by some but not all creationists as speaking of vegetarianism.  Among such creationists, the lifting of this practice is proposed (without solid biblical support) to have occurred either after the fall or flood.  I.e. there are at least three creationist readings.

I think the words in Genesis 1:29-30 are not proscriptive or universal.  Rather they demonstrate God’s provision for all His creation.  This same situation continues now with Psalm 104:14 and 21 saying God:

                 “…provides grass for the cattle, and crops for people to cultivate, so they can produce food from the groundand additionally in v 21 The lions roar for prey, seeking their food from God

The similarity to Gen 1:29-30 is obvious.

Rather than being a change in creation or human permission, Genesis 9 is God introducing new regulations to Noah to protect his creation and teach more respect for life (in contrast to the violence/disregard for life which proceeded the Flood).

Evolutionary Creation does not require a novel nor complex reading of these two passages.  I agree with some of the views of a number of creationists.  Please note this answer is the individual opinion of one contributor to COD.  While others reviewed it and provided input, some would have differing views on how to address the question – which is why we have enjoyable discussions amongst ourselves.

Thanks for the question – this was a new exploration.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Hayward, A. (1973). God’s Truth.

[2] Ed. Thomas, J. (2015). Burt, Bernard “Gems from Genesis” The Testimony Magazine (Vol. 85).

[3] Ed. Benson, Tony. (1986) Waring Arthur “Geophysical events at the Flood” Testimony Magazine Vol 56, page 276

[4] Whittaker, H. (1986). Gen 1-4 (p. 31 and 44).

[5] Ed. Perry, A. W., Paul. (2006). Christadelphian eJournal of Biblical Interpretation Vol 2.

[6] Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael Fishbane, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 14.

[7] Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[8] Cowie, Ron (2015) “Why we believe what we believe” Study 4, 25 Min 30 sec

[9] Ed.  Bedson, Tony (1992) Testimony Magazine Vol 62 page 97

[10] Ed. Benson, Tony. (1986) Waring Arthur “Geophysical events at the Flood” Testimony Magazine Vol 56, page 276

[11] Martin, J. (1976). Noah:  Preacher of Righteousness (p. 42).

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lascaux#cite_note-5

[13] http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/lascaux-cave-paintings.htm

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s