I was raised a pescetarian, which is a fancy way of saying I was a vegetarian who ate seafood. I understood at a very young age the difference between vegan and vegetarian, and I never passed judgment on those with different dietary practices than mine. As an adult, I get to choose what I want to eat, and my vegetarian upbringing has a lot to do with the foods I eat today. At times, depending on the dish, I prefer a veggie-dog to a hot dog, and I love a Veggie Gourmet pizza from Round Table, or a vegetarian burrito from a local Mexican restaurant. But I also happen to enjoy bacon, fried chicken, ribs, calamari, salmon, hamburger, squid, and many other prepared meats both common and obscure. The diet does not make the man, so I have no judgment or resentment for another person based on their eating habits, that would be immature, in both the social sense and the spiritual sense. The apostle Paul has gone on record and given us his thoughts on judging others based on dietary practices in Colossians chapter 2 and verses 16 and 17:
Therefore no one is to [n]act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath [o]day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the [p]substance [q]belongs to Christ. [Source]
These verses apply to new covenant Christians who live without the requirements of the law regarding dietary restrictions, ceremonial washings, religious festivals and many (possibly hundreds) of other physical acts that all represent Christ and his holiness. But they also apply, in a more general sense, to our attitudes in general about one another’s personal lifestyle preferences, especially those in which there is no apparent sinfulness.
For example, the scriptures do not tell us that we should dress in formal wear when gathering with other believers at our appointed times, or if casual clothes are preferred, or even acceptable at all. And how much house is too much house? Should we monitor each other’s income to make sure we aren’t squandering the Lord’s money on excess living expenses? Similarly, we have no business judging another’s food intake, and we have no doctrinal ground to stand on when claiming that our diet is the correct one. On the contrary, Paul tells us in Romans 14,
“The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the [a]servant of another? To his own [b]master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” [Source]
But was Jesus vegan?
Having learned decisively from scripture that we are not in any place to condemn another’s diet, this discussion could seem to begin to lose its meaning altogether. It would seem that my very speaking on the topic is borderline disobedience to Paul’s command. But no, there is more to the topic of food and The Bible than we have covered so far.
Up to this point, I have spoken about my own dietary past and present, and I have called out a couple of the apostle Paul’s choice sayings regarding judging others based on their diets. Does that mean that we shouldn’t even be talking about it? Paul apparently didn’t think that was the end of the discussion. For in 1 Timothy, he had some strong comments regarding those who preach strict dietary regulation.
Chapter 4 verses 4 and 5:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will [a]fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. [Source]
This passage speaks of people who “advocate abstaining from foods” that God has created to be received with thanksgiving and partaken of. Paul goes so far as to call this teaching, a “doctrine of demons”. Paul thought that this was worth a little more discussion, and his comments come, according to verse 4, from the Spirit, so these are worthy additions to the discussion.
What is all this about anyway, and why did I bring it up? Well, there is a big push right now for veganism from anti-meat propagandists who would seek to persuade as many as will listen to abstain from animal products entirely. Does this sound familiar? Veganism as an alternative lifestyle sanctioned by new ages is nothing unheard of. But how did this vegan push enter into the Christian mainstream?
Some of those behind the vegan movement are using emotional ploys and even some quasi-logic plays to coax Christians looking for a healthier way of living into giving up meat entirely. Certain reasons cited include being compassionate towards God’s creatures, our stewardship role, and the original plan for mankind starting in the Garden of Eden. These examples serve as distractions to the example that we have been shown in the life of Jesus Christ.
Was Jesus vegan or wasn’t he?!?
We’re given two distinct examples that I think hold quite a bit of weight when speaking on the topic of Jesus and veganism/vegetarianism. The first is on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
Luke 24 36-43
36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your [n]hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still [o]could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them. [Source]
Ok, that answers both the question of vegan and vegetarian in one swoop. This is of particular interest, in my opinion, because Jesus has just completed the most glorious event in history. He took on sin, became our sacrifice, died, and brought himself back to life and is now visiting and comforting those whom he walked with during his ministry. He happens to be hungry after all of these events and asks for some grub. His disciples apparently hadn’t heard anything about being compassionate towards animals, or they had forgotten it and they offer Jesus some fish meat. He eats it! Well, maybe he was just being polite but he would have preferred a vegetarian dish…
John 21 4-6
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus *said to them, “Children, you do not have [c]any fish9 So when they got out on the land, they *saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus *said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn., do you?” They answered Him, “No.” 6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. [Source]
This story, that closes out the book of John, tells us of Jesus miraculously guiding many fish to their demise at the hands of several of his disciples. How many fish?
Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
The most important detail in this story though, is the food that Jesus was preparing for his friends. This isn’t a Jesus at the mercy of his guests, willing to eat whatever they happen to serve him. This is Jesus waiting for his friends, to host a breakfast fellowship, and Jesus is in charge of the menu.
9 So when they got out on the land, they *saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus *said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.”
12 Jesus *said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus *came and *took the bread and *gave it to them, and the fish likewise.
While it was likely that Jesus would have eaten lamb at the Passover feast, there is some debate whether he did or not, but what is clear is that Jesus ate fish when served it, and even served it to others. This rules out Jesus being a vegetarian or a vegan, and nullifies any argument from morality that we ourselves should avoid eating flesh. If there were a moral issue with it, Jesus would have likely condemned it if not publicly, at least privately to his followers. And he most certainly would not have eaten flesh and encouraged others to do the same if it were a moral issue.
Should I be vegan/vegetarian?
The beautiful thing about being free in Christ, is that you get to choose for yourself what to eat, when and how to worship. You don’t need another person to insist on a diet free from animal products, or listen to someone when they mandate that you eat meat. The individual gets to choose that. Enjoy eating your way, give thanks to God for each meal, as he is the provider. I encourage you to respond as God calls you, in diet, and in all other areas of your life.
And if someone insists that their diet is the right one, or condemns you for yours, you can tell them gently, to mind their own business.