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Was Jesus a Vegetarian?

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

On March 17, 1999 the Omaha World Herald reprinted a hilarious article by Bill Broadway of the Washington Post. It seems the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have launched a campaign to claim that Jesus was a vegetarian. Billboards stating "Jesus was a vegetarian. Show respect for God's creatures - follow Him" are being placed around the country.

What is the basis of this unusual claim?

  1. "Jesus belonged to the Essenes, who some historians believe were one of several Jewish sects that abhorred animal sacrifice and were practicing vegetarians."
  2. When Jesus drove the money changers from the temple, "he directed most of his ire at vendors in this 'den of thieves' who were selling animals for sacrifice and consumption."
  3. "There is no mention in the New Testament of Jesus eating poultry, beef, or lamb, even during the last meal with his disciples, where Scripture mentions only bread and wine."
  4. "Passages in the Bible prove that God - from the Garden of Eden on - always meant for humans to be vegetarians."

To answer these claims, we need to note that Jesus was a Jew who perfectly kept the Law of Moses perfectly.

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf . . ." (II Corinthians 5:21)

"... One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:16)

As a Jew, Jesus must have kept the Law of Moses perfectly. Yet that same law required all Jews to keep the Passover celebration.

"All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate [the Passover]." (Exodus 12:47)

The Gospels specifically mention Jesus keeping three Passover feasts in Jerusalem. However, in order to keep the feast, the participants were given roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread to eat (Exodus 12:3-4). The entire lamb had to be eaten during the feast. If there were any leftovers, they had to be burned (Exodus 12:10). If Jesus did not eat the lamb, he would have been violating the Law and could have been accused of sin.

"... observe the Passover to the LORD. 'In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 'They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it. 'But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin." (Numbers 9:10-13)

The New Testament records that Jesus did eat the Passover feast, which would include the eating of the roasted lamb (Luke 22:14-15). In fact, before the last Passover meal, Jesus specifically instructs his disciples to prepare the meal, including the lamb, for their observance.

"Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it."" (Luke 22:7-8)

Not only did Jesus eat lamb, but he also ate fish. "But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, 'Have you any food here?' So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence" (Luke 24:41-43). He served it for the 4,000 in Matthew 15:34-37. Jesus also promoted the catching of fish for the purpose of consuming them.

"So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." 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. ... So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught." 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise." (John 21:5-6, 9-14)

I noticed the folks at PETA were careful to avoid saying that Jesus did not eat fish. What is the difference between the consumption of a land animal and a sea animal?

It is true that in the beginning, mankind only ate vegetables (Genesis 1:29-30). However, this was changed when Noah departed the ark.

"Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant." (Genesis 9:3)

Under the Law of Moses, the eating of various kinds of meat was allowed (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:3-20). The eating of beef, lamb, various poultry and fish were permissible for any Jew. Jesus' eating of these animals would not violate the Law.

The claim that Jesus belonged to a group of vegetarian Essenes is simply wishful thinking on PETA's part. The Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament, nor is there any mention of Jesus belonging to any Jewish sect.

The idea that Jesus and God, the Father, would oppose the killing of animals is hilarious! Did you know that God was the first to kill animals to make clothing for Adam and Eve? (See Genesis 3:21.)

God's Law to Israel required numerous animal sacrifices. If Jesus protested animal sacrifices, then he would have been protesting the teachings of the Law of Moses. Fighting God's law is a sin, yet Jesus was without sin. When Jesus cast out the money changers from the temple, he was protesting the profiting being made from an ordinance of God (Mark 11:17).

"And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, "Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business."" (John 2:14-16)

Christians are not forbidden to eat meat. Any meat may be eaten except for blood and strangled animals (because the blood remains in the meat). Peter was commanded by God to kill and eat the animals God presented before him (Acts 10:9-16). Paul instructed Christians to eat anything sold in the meat market without question (I Corinthians 10:25-26). In fact, the forbidding of eating certain foods is an indication of people departing from the Christian faith.

"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 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. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." (I Timothy 4:1-5)