Selected biblical passages on vegetarianism

(UPDATE May 1, 2018: This article was first published on this web site when it went “live” in 2001 (as a static page). Before that it had circulated, in various versions, in print form at talks I gave during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. When I converted the web site to WordPress in 2012, though, it somehow got lost, and I am now inserting into my blog backdated to its original date. This list is essentially what I had in 2004, with a few extra comments.)

All biblical quotations are from the King James Version or the American Standard Version of 1901 (public domain), unless specified otherwise. I have cited passages both pro and con; the Bible does not take a consistent stand. My explanations are in <angle brackets>; for lengthy passages I have only added an explanation of the passage.

Supportive of vegetarianism

Original Ideal and Ultimate Hope

Genesis 1:29-30
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, [I have given] every green herb for food: and it was so.

Numbers 11:4-34
<The people in the desert are tired of manna, and so ask for meat. Quails are sent, but as soon as they eat the quails, they are struck with a deadly plague.>

Isaiah 11:6-9
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

Daniel 1:3-16
<Daniel and his friends refuse to eat from the king’s table which has meat on it, but eat vegetables instead. After ten days they are found to be healthier than those who eat at the king’s table.>

Hosea 2:18
And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the birds of the heavens, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely.

Revelation 4:6-7
. . . and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, [were] four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first creature [was] like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature [was] like a flying eagle.

Revelation 21:4
. . . and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.

Compassion to animals

Exodus 20:8-10
<Animals are to abstain from work on the Sabbath as well as the humans.>

Exodus 23:5
If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, thou shalt forbear to leave him, thou shalt surely release [it] with him.

Deuteronomy 22:4
Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

Deuteronomy 25:4
Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out [the grain].

Proverbs 12:10
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.

Isaiah 66:3
He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man.

Matthew 12:11
And he said unto them, What man shall there be of you, that shall have one sheep, and if this fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

Matthew 25:40
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, [even] these least, ye did it unto me.

Luke 12:6
Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God.

Luke 13:11-16
<A woman who has been bent over for 18 years comes to Jesus and is healed on the Sabbath. The ruler of synagogue objects.>
But the Lord answered him, and said, Ye hypocrites, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, [these] eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?

Luke 14:5-6
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up on a sabbath day? And they could not answer again unto these things.

God’s relationship to animals

Genesis 9:9-11
And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you. Of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

Psalms 36:6
O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.

Psalms 104:24-30
<God feeds the creatures of the sea.>

Psalms 145:9
The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.

Psalms 145:16
Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

Matthew 6:26
Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them.

Animals are like (or superior to) humans

Proverbs 6:6-8
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

Proverbs 30:24-28
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer; The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

Ecclesiastes 3:19
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

Isaiah 1:3
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; [but] Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Animal sacrifices

Isaiah 1:11-16
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil. . .

Jeremiah 7:22
For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. . .

Ezekial 20:25-26
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.

Hosea 6:6
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Amos 5:21-27
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts.

Micah 6:6-8
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Matthew 9:13
But go ye and learn what [this] meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice . . .

Matthew 12:7
But if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Matthew 21:12-13
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. <Parallels at Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45-46, and John 2:13-17, which is quoted below.>

Mark 13:2
And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. <Predicting the destruction of the temple, the site of the animal sacrifices.>

John 2:13-17
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told thos who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a hosue of trade.” <Revised Standard Version. See parallels at Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45-46, and Matthew 21:12-13, which is quoted above.>

Acts 7:42-51
<Stephen compares animal sacrifice to idolatry and condemns the temple.>

Acts 15:29
<The decision of the apostles:> That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.

Revelation 2:14
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

Not supportive of vegetarianism

Genesis 4:1-16
<The story of Cain and Abel, in which Abel offers an animal sacrifice which is preferred to Cain’s plant sacrifice.>

Genesis 9:3
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

Leviticus 3 ff.
<Many commands to offer animal sacrifices are described in Leviticus.>

Matthew 8:28-32
<Jesus sends some demons who have been driven out of their human hosts into a herd of pigs; the pigs go into the sea and drown.>

Mark 6:34-44
<The miraculous feeding of the multitude with loaves and fishes (though Jesus apparently does not eat fish himself).>

Matthew 22:1-14
<The parable of the wedding feast, for which oxen and fatlings are killed.>

Luke 15:11-32
<The parable of the prodigal son, for whom the fatted calf is killed.>

Luke 24:42-43
And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. <This actually leaves ambiguous whether he ate the fish, the honeycomb, or both. The reference to the honeycomb is omitted in some manuscripts. Most ancient manuscripts include the honeycomb reference, but most modern translations rely on the very earliest manuscripts which lack the reference to the honeycomb to exclude this from the verse.>

Acts 10:9-16 :
<Peter’s vision of a sheet descending from heaven with animals on it, with a voice saying “Up, Peter, kill and eat.”>

Romans 14:1-2
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

Romans 14:20-21
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anythying that makes your brother stumble. <Revised Standard Version. This verse is ambiguous. It is disapproving of the attitude of the weak in faith (the vegetarians), but says that we should abstain from meat if the eating of meat will offend other “brothers” (fellow Christians).>

I Corinthians 9:9
Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? <Revised Standard Version. This re-interprets the verse, Deuteronomy 25:4 (cited above), in which God says that we should not muzzle the ox, as having nothing to do with kindness to animals.>

I Corinthians 10:25
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles [the meat market], eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

Colossians 2:16
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days. . .

I Timothy 4:1-4
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils . . . Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.