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Is eating meat a sin?

Some claim that the Bible says it’s a sin to eat meat. Here is one example:

Jesus didn’t feed people fishin [sic] the ancient text. FISH is actually Fishweed (Seaweed) . The fatted calf was also changed. The original text says throw a feast. (video)

In John 21:1-14, after Jesus’ resurrection, were Peter and the others fishing for seaweed? Did Jesus roast seaweed over fire after telling the disciples to catch a boatload of it? Keep in mind that the ancient text is fairly well-established (source), such that any claims about what it contains must be backed by sound scholarship. Now let’s check the original languages for the particular words in dispute:

Another source is this website about SDA dietary laws, but it can’t seem to make up its mind about eating meat. At the top it says No meats are allowed in their diets, including beef, chicken, fish and wild game. But under Other Foods it says While the religion advocates vegetarianism, followers do have the choice of eating meat if they choose to. And of course what they forbid for themselves is hardly what God forbids for everyone. They make no effort beyond cause no harm to assert that it’s a sin to eat meat.

Going back to the first source, and any others claiming eating meat is a sin, you’ll notice that the claim begins with a change of words. But what the Bible’s content should be has to be settled before its teachings can be studied or debated. So this study is about what the Bible says, not what some think it should or allegedly used to say, and only on the matter of eating meat rather than any and all killing of animals. There will be no disputing the words of the Bible in the original languages, or speculation on what might be missing. And there will be no hand-wave dismissal of the text by calling everything an allegory or code, since such an approach reduces Bible study or debate to a war of personal opinions. Now take note of the important points in this claim:

  1. The Bible says

    The principles of good reading comprehension apply to the Bible, meaning context and language are crucial to understanding. We can avoid complications arising from translation issues by consulting original language interlinears and lexicons, and we’ll get to the matter of semantic range later. When a claim is made that the Bible teaches or commands something, it can’t be left up to inference or assumption. It must be explicit or at least included in a general command, and there must be penalties stipulated for disobedience.

  2. It’s a sin

    Sin is rebellion against God. If God commands a person or group not to do something, or that they must do something, and they fail to obey the command, that is sin.

  3. To eat meat

    Meat in the Bible refers to the muscles of animals. Numbers 11:4-5 shows that fish was included, and that meat was clearly distinguished from fruits and vegetables.

So to back up the assertion that (1) the Bible says (2) it’s a sin (3) to eat meat, we must look in the Bible as it is, find at least a general principle about eating meat, and cite the penalty for failure to comply. The Bible not only permits eating meat, but sometimes commands it.

Jews and Gentiles

The 10 Commandments are part of 613 laws and precepts in a covenant between God and Israel, as also stated in the New Testament; see Ex. 34:27, Eph. 2:12, and Rom. 2:14. So who is in the covenant? Who is not in the covenant?

If appeal is made to the 10 Commandments, esp. #6 thou shalt not kill, then we need to consider all the laws of Moses about food, since if we’re not under those laws then none of them can be used to call eating meat a sin. It’s impossible to only be under some laws: see James 2:10 and Heb. 7:12.

Moral law comes from God, and the laws of Moses are only one expression of that law. So for us in the Body of Christ, being under a new priesthood, we’re under a new law; see Rom. 6:14, 7:1-4, 1 Cor. 9:20-21, Gal. 2:16, 21, 3:2-3, 6:2, and Phil. 3:9.

Now since we’re not under law but under grace, no appeal can be made to any of the laws of Moses. Even if we were under those laws, and kill in the 6th Commandment included animals, notice that nothing is said about eating. But please look at this word kill in both Hebrew and Greek, which is found in both Ex. 20:13 and Deut. 5:17.

Not one of those definitions, or any context in the Bible, equates the killing of animals with murder. Semantic range (range of meanings) doesn’t mean we can arbitrarily pick the meaning we want; context is everything. For example, take the word trunk: Is it an elephant’s nose, the base of tree, a human torso, male swimwear, a box with a lid, or the back compartment of a car? It would be nonsense to substitue elephant’s nose and base of tree in the sentence Put the trunk in the trunk.Likewise, we can’t arbitrarily insert put any living thing to death in the 6th Commandment.

As for the claim made by some that we can only eat animals we didn’t kill, consider Deut. 14:21. Was it a sin for the foreigners to eat meat? Clearly not. And remember what Jesus said in Mat. 15:11.

Romans 2:14 tells us that the Gentiles were not part of the covenant, but had a law on their hearts nonetheless. Did they rest on the Sabbath, or eat only kosher food, or refrain from wearing mixed fabrics? Of course not, because the law on their hearts is the conscience, not the laws of Moses; see Heb. 7:12, 8:8, and 8:13.

The Bible is quite clear that we’re not under the laws of Moses, so there can be no appeal to the 6th commandment in defense of the claim that it’s a sin to eat meat. But what about New Testament commands such as in Rom. 13:10? Killing is wrong or harm, right? Jesus himself defined neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 as a person in need of help and compassion, and in Mat. 12:11 he states that this applies to animals as well. So clearly it’s against God’s moral law to cause suffering or fail to alleviate it when possible.

Then we must ask whether killing an animal causes the animal suffering. In the case of murdering a person, even if the killing was quick and painless, the harm is done to the sanctity of human life and the family of the victim. In contrast, the quick and humane killing of an animal doesn’t cause suffering. In fact, allowing animals to be eaten is given by God as a blessing for all mankind in Gen. 9:1-6. So love does no harm to its neighbor does not mean animals can’t be killed for food.

The Bible teaches Christians to be flexible about eating meat as shown in Rom. 14:1-4 and 10. Another question also arose over whether meat offered to idols should be eaten, per 1 Cor. chapters 8 and 10, but the question was never whether any and all meat was forbidden, only the source or use of it. Remember also that innocent animals dying for humans began when sin did, even before animals could be eaten, per Gen. 3:21. Why God did that is a discussion of its own, but for now, see this list for other references about eating meat outside of Jewish law.


The Bible makes it clear that it’s not a sin to eat meat, and it’s neither commanded nor forbidden for Christians. Certainly we’ll eventually stop eating it, because death will be no more. But in the meantime, God leaves it up to individual conscience, and the only sin would be to violate that conscience. So making a law that we must not eat meat, or even trying to shame people about it, is the real sin. As Jesus said in Mat. 24:45-51, when he returns he’d better not find us beating our fellow servants.

We’re free in Christ— not to harm or control each other, but to build each other up. There’s room for conscience and disagreement, and with that must come room for grace, tolerance, and compassion. We need to agree on the essentials of the Gospel of Grace, and if we think someone’s in error, we should speak to them privately as a friend and an equal, rather than setting up debates. As the saying goes, Debate is for de fish.

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