Christian vegetarianism is a Christian practice based on effecting the compassionate teachings of Jesus, the twelve apostles, and the early church to all sentient or living beings through vegetarianism or, ideally, veganism. Alternatively, Christians may be vegetarian for ethical, environmental, nutritional, or other spiritual reasons.
Various church founders have recommended vegetarianism, such as William Cowherd from the Bible Christian Church and Ellen G. White from the Seventh-day Adventists. Cowherd, who founded the Bible Christian Church in 1809, helped to establish the world's first Vegetarian Society in 1847.
While vegetarianism is not a common practice in current western Christian thought and culture, the concept and practice has scriptural and historical support. According to the Bible, in the beginning, before the Fall, human and nonhuman animals, who are beings who have or are an ānima, Latin for soul, were completely vegan, and "it was very good".[Genesis 1:29-31] According to some interpretations of the Bible, raw veganism was the original diet of humankind in the form given to Adam and Eve by God in Genesis 1:29, "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food".
Immediately after the Flood, God permitted the eating of meat,[Genesis 9:3] but forbade consuming "blood, which is life".[Genesis 9:4] However, some maintain that God permitted the consumption of meat only temporarily because all plants had been destroyed as a result of the flood, despite the lack of any reference to this in Genesis itself. Christian vegetarians interpret that passage not as a free pass to kill for eating if the blood is supposedly excluded from alimentation, but as an invitation (rhetoric or not) to necrophagy. "The biological fact is: no matter what you do you can never remove all the blood from the flesh of a slaughtered animal."
One of the Ten Commandments says categorically, "Thou shalt not kill" — without specifying that some animals are allowed to be killed. Isaiah states "He that killeth an ox [is as if] he slew a man."[Isaiah 66:3] However, specific sacrifices of animals for the atonement of sin were also mandated, by Moses, what may be inconsistent with the principle of grace or that one cannot force God to forgive. When the Moabite king Mesha offered in a holocaust "his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead" in order that his army were spared in a war against Israel, the Israelites felt so outraged, that they decided to stop the battle "and returned to their own land".[2Kings 3:27]
Centuries after Noah, Leviticus 11 records God giving the Israelites rules about what types of meat may be eaten, suggesting that certain meats were acceptable. The Old Testament says that God commanded the Israelites to eat meat on some occasions. During the Exodus out of Egypt and the first Passover, God commanded that all of the Israelites to slaughter a Passover lamb and eat it. This was to be a lasting tradition.[Exodus 12:24] The sacrifices (including the Paschal Lamb), however, are considered as types of the Lamb of God, an innocent victim, tortured and murdered.
The Israelites tired of manna, a food of which "The Rabbis of the Talmud held that […] had whatever taste and flavor the eater desired at the time of eating" and which probably was not an animal product and was offered to them by God during The Exodus.[Numbers 11:4-10] They preferred meat, and were condemned for it.[Numbers 11:32-34] Because of that lust, the place where the incident happened became known as Kibroth Hattaavah.
[…] The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. […] They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
Some people believe that the Book of Daniel also specifically promotes veganism as empowering. Daniel specifically refuses the king's "meat" (paṯbaḡ, Strong's #5698) and instead requests vegetables (zērōʿîm, Strong's #2235).[Daniel 1:8–16] However, current common theology argues that in this instance Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are rejecting food that is considered to be unholy by their faith (eating food that had been sacrificed to pagan gods), and not meat per se, despite that "at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat".[Daniel 1:15]
Philo says that the Essenes, “being more scrupulous than any in the worship of God […] do not sacrifice animals […], but hold it right to dedicate their own hearts as a worthy offering”. They maintained that the sacrifices "polluted" the Temple.
There is a special interest on Jesus of Nazareth in the matter of animals rights and the Bible, that is thought to be divinely inspired and, supposedly therefore, necessarily consistent. Critics of the supposed Biblical inerrancy may use verses like Proverbs 4:7 or Proverbs 9:9 in order to support what they understand as impartiality. (See Biblical criticism.) Jesus is regarded in Christianity to be the "Son of God" and-or the "Theanthropos", the incarnation of God. The Gospels offer that Jesus gave fish to others.[Matthew 14:17-21, Mark 6:38-44, John 6:9-12] According to Luke 24:41-43, Jesus ate fish himself after his resurrection, what could be explained by the so-called "synoptic principle". The Synoptic Gospels narrate that Jesus expelled a legion of demons out of two people and allowed the unclean spirits, by their own request, to indwell a large herd of pigs, about two thousand. The swine ran violently down a steep bank into the Sea of Galilee, and died in the water. According to Proverbs 12:10, "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
Luke's Acts of the Apostles portrays a story where the Apostle Peter has a vision where God declares previously unclean meat as "clean"[Acts 10:7-16] and orders Peter to "kill and eat". Christian vegetarians maintain that "Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the dream might mean".[Acts 10:17] John Vujicic argues that "In the sheet were also so called CLEAN animals. Peter could have at least selected some sheep or cattle and killed but he didn’t. Simply because he considered all flesh defiled and unclean. Peter was vegetarian as he himself states in Clementine Homilies. […] Peter would not kill any of them because he knew that this vision had another meaning […]. Any animal which is slaughtered is defiled and its meat defiles. Peter explains this in Clementine Homilies." He recognized its meaning when the gentile Cornelius invited him to dinner. Peter realized that the dream was instructing him not to go out and eat meat, but to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Jewish dietary laws should not prevent the spread of Christianity, and, at Cornelius' dinner, Peter related to his hosts, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean."[Acts 10:28]
A number of Christian leaders, both ancient and modern, observe that vegetarianism was and is a sincere part of Christian faith. The Reverend Andrew Linzey has supported the historical view that Jesus was a vegetarian. In his book, The Lost Religion of Jesus, author Keith Akers presents evidence that the historical Jesus was vegetarian.
Within Luke's Acts of the Apostles, he recounts that the Jerusalem Council recommended (at least for Gentile Christians) abstention "from things strangled, and from blood".[Acts 15:19–20] Vegetarianism appears to have been a point of contention within early Christian circles. Within the Bible's New Testament, the Apostle Paul appears to ridicule vegetarians, arguing that people of "weak faith" "eat only vegetables",[Romans 14:1–4] although he also warns believers to "stop passing judgment on one another" when it comes to food in verse 13 and "[It is] good neither to eat flesh" in verse 21. Paul also said, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They […] order […] to abstain from certain foods".[1Timothy 4:1–3] According to the Christian Vegetarian Association, Paul was not referring to vegetarianism, which was not an issue in those times, but to the practice of not eating meat from the meat market because of fear that (like the above issue involving Daniel) it were sacrificed to an idol.[1Corinthians 10:19-29] "Wherefore, if meat [brōma, Strong's #1033, 'anything used as food'] make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend."1Corinthians 8:13
In the 4th Century some Jewish Christian groups maintained that Jesus was himself a vegetarian. Epiphanius quotes the Gospel of the Ebionites where Jesus has a confrontation with the high priest. Jesus chastises the leadership saying, "I am come to end the sacrifices and feasts of blood; and if ye cease not offering and eating of flesh and blood, the wrath of God shall not cease from you; even as it came to your fathers in the wilderness, who lusted for flesh, and did sat to their content, and were filled with rottenness, and the plague consumed them."
According to Lightfoot, "the Christianized Essennes […] condemned the slaughter of victims on grounds very different from those alleged in the Epistle of Hebrews, not because they have been superseded by the Atonement, but because they are in their very nature repulsive to God; not because they have ceased to be right, but because they never were right from the beginning".
Other early Christian historical documents observe that many influential Christians during the formative centuries of Christianity were vegetarian, though certainly not all. The Clementine homilies, a second-century work purportedly based on the teachings of the Apostle Peter, 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."
Although early Christian vegetarianism appears to have been downplayed in favor of more "modern" Christian culture, the practice of vegetarianism appears to have been very widespread in early Christianity, both in the leadership and among the laity. Origen's work Contra Celsum quotes Celsus commenting vegetarian practices among Christians he had contact with. Although not vegetarian himself and vehemently against the idea that Christians must be vegetarians, Augustine nevertheless wrote that those Christians who "abstain both from flesh and from wine" are "without number".
The Bible Christian Church founded by Reverend William Cowherd in 1809 followed a vegetarian diet. Cowherd was one of the philosophical forerunners of the Vegetarian Society. Cowherd encouraged members to abstain from eating of meat as a form of temperance. Cowherd emphasized that vegetarianism was good for health, whilst eating meat was unnatural and likely to cause aggression. Later he is reputed to have said "If God had meant us to eat meat, then it would have come to us in edible form [as is the ripened fruit]."
The Seventh-day Adventists present a health message that recommends vegetarianism and expects abstinence from pork, shellfish and other foods proscribed as "unclean" in Leviticus. A number of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including Joseph Bates and Ellen White adopted a vegetarian diet during the nineteenth century, and Ellen White reportedly received visions regarding the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. More recently, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in California have been involved in research into longevity due to their healthy lifestyle, which includes maintaining a vegetarian diet. This research has been included within a National Geographic article. Another denomination with common origin, the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement recommends vegetarianism as a part of fellowship, with many of its members being practicing vegans as well. Typically, however, these sabbatarian pro-vegetarian Christian fellowships do not "require vegetarianism as a test of fellowship."
The Word of Wisdom is a dietary law given to adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement (also known as Mormonism), which states that "flesh also of beasts and of fowls of the air... are to be used sparingly," and that "it is pleasing unto [God] that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine". Unlike injunctions against tobacco and alcohol, compliance with this part of the Doctrine and Covenants has never been made mandatory by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the largest Latter Day Saint denomination. Many LDS Church leaders have expressed their views on the subject of meat, but since Joseph F. Smith became church president in 1901, emphasis on refraining from meat has largely been dropped. An official church publication states, "[m]odern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season". As recently as 2012, official church spokesperson Michael Otterson stated "the church has also encouraged limiting meat consumption in favor of grains, fruits and vegetables." Of note is that the LDS Church owns and operates Deseret Ranches in central Florida, which is one of the largest cow-calf operations in the United States.
Some members of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers) practice vegetarianism or veganism as a reflection of the Peace Testimony, extending non-violence towards animals. Historically, the early vegetarian movement had many Quaker promoters. Some Ranter sects back in the mid-17th century are known to have been vegetarian as well.
Roman Catholic monastic orders such as the Carthusians and Cistercians follow a strict vegetarian diet. Carmelites and others following the Rule of St. Albert also maintain a vegetarian diet, although the old and sick are permitted to eat meat according to this rule of life. St. Francis of Paola became a vegan, and veganism was a rule of the order he founded, the Order of Minims. However, Pope John III declared an anathema against the Priscillian vegetarian priests at the First Council of Braga in Portugal. (Not necessarily against vegetarianism but because it was related to the Priscillian heresy).
The Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA) is an international, non-denominational Christian vegetarian organization that promotes responsible stewardship of God's creation through plant-based eating. The CVA produced the 2006 film Honoring God’s Creation.
Forest gardening can be viewed as a way to recreate the Garden of Eden. Forest gardening is a vegan organic food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables. Robert Hart adapted forest gardening for temperate zones during the early 1960s with the intention of providing a healthy and therapeutic environment for himself and his brother Lacon.
During Lent some Christian communities, such as Orthodox Christians in the Middle East, undertake partial fasting eating only one light meal per day. For strict Greek Orthodox Christians and Copts, all meals during this 40-day period are prepared without animal products and are essentially vegan. Unlike veganism however, abstaining from animal products during Lent is intended to be only temporary and not a permanent way of life.
Eastern Orthodox laity traditionally abstains from animal products on Wednesdays (because, according to Christian tradition, Judas betrayed Jesus on the Wednesday prior to the Crucifixion of Jesus) and Fridays (because Jesus is thought to have been crucified on the subsequent Friday), as well as during the four major fasting periods of the year: Great Lent, the Apostles' Fast, the Dormition Fast and the Nativity Fast. Catholic laity traditionally abstain from animal flesh on Fridays and through the Lenten season leading up to Easter (sometimes being required to do so by law, see fasting and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church), some also, as a matter of private piety, observe Wednesday abstinence. Fish is not considered proper meat in any case (see pescetarianism, though the Eastern Orthodox allow fish only on days on which the fasting is lessened but meat still not allowed). For these practices, "animal rights" are no motivation and positive environmental or individual-health effects only a surplus benefit; the actual reason is to practice mortification and some marginal asceticism.
Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic monastics abstain from meat year-round, and many abstain from dairy and seafood as well. Through obedience to the Orthodox Church and its ascetic practices, the Orthodox Christian seeks to rid himself or herself of the passions, or the disposition to sin.
In Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism rules concerning fasting go from full abstinence to meat on every Friday and Wednesday to only Fridays during Lent. In the Eastern Churches of India such as the Indian Orthodox Church, Jacobite Church and Marthoma Church, the bishops and metrapolitans take the vow to remain vegetarian throughout their life.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1.26, reports an early Christian martyr who interpreted the prohibition of the blood of animals to imply vegetarianism. Minucius Felix refers to bloodshed in the arena and the blood of animals in the same breath (Octavius 29.6). Tertullian points out that Christians are forbidden both human and animal blood (Apology 9). Sandmel states that blood could refer either to the blood of a sacrificed animal or to human violence: Judaism and Christian Beginnings, p. 408.
The central issue for the vegetarian community is what has been called the "ethical" issue […] ethical vegetarianism is incompatible with the orthodox view of a meat-eating Jesus
If in obedience to the traditions of their fathers they abstain from such victims, they must also abstain from all animal food, in accordance with the opinions of Pythagoras, who thus showed his respect for the soul and its bodily organs. But if, as they say, they abstain that they may not eat along with demons, I admire their wisdom, in having at length discovered, that whenever they eat they eat with demons, although they only refuse to do so when they are looking upon a slain victim; for when they eat bread, or drink wine, or taste fruits, do they not receive these things, as well as the water they drink and the air they breathe, from certain demons, to whom have been assigned these different provinces of nature?
I had been vegetarian since 1910
Monod became a vegetarian and an ardent pacifist
Christian Vegetarian Association
The vegan lenten fast of Egypt's native Christian community
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