1

Three points:

#1 The “vegetarian mandate” was part and parcel of God’s original plan for creation. If one looks closely, one finds that the first chapter in Genesis is consistent in showing that the Creator never gave the birds, fish, and animals to the humans for food. The author of Genesis thus presents God as commanding his human creatures to be entirely plant and fruit eaters (today we would say "vegetarians"):

God said, "See, I have given you [humans] every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so (Gen 1:29-30 NRSV).

enter image description here

Gen 2-3 makes the point that God himself is the master farmer and that he trains Adam [and later Eve] to be a farmer like himself. The human purpose given to Adam is “to till it [the earth] and keep it” (Gen 2:15). In this environment that is entirely agricultural, God creates the animals and birds and fish and brings them to Adam in the hope that he will find a solution to his loneliness (Gen 2:18-20). Animals and birds are never given to Adam to cover food shortages. It is also abundantly clear that Adam has been exclusively eating fruits and grains because (as yet) there were no animals, birds, or fish even created as yet to even be considered as food. [Note here that, according to Gen 1, the animals, birds, and fish were created before humans.]

What the opening chapters of Genesis make clear is that the animals and birds are also entirely “vegetarian.” Thus the original design of the Creator was to insure that neither the human nor the animals had any reason to kill any living thing for food or for their pelts.

#2 The “vegetarian mandate” was part and parcel of God’s plan for building Noah’s ark. During the extended stay of more than a year in the ark of salvation, neither the humans nor the animals would ever kill each other. This is made clear by virtue of this provision: “Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you [Noah and his family] and for them [the living creatures]” (Gen 6:21). When one hears the word “food” here, one thinks of the Creator saying, “Everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food" (Gen 1:29-30 NRSV). Thus, even aboard the ark, the author of Genesis shows that the “vegetarian mandate” was faithfully observed (Gen 1:29-30, 9:1-3).

#3 After the Great Flood, however, the author of Genesis presents God as suddenly overturning the “vegetarian mandate”:

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you [earlier in Gen 1:29-30] the green plants, [now] I give you everything [for your food] (Gen 9:1-3 NRSV).

Yipes! Why this sudden reversal? The “vegetarian mandate” had been in effect for 1657* years. Part of the “righteousness” of Noah was the fact that he trained his family not to kill the animals, the birds, and the fish nor to eat them as their food. God spared Noah and his family because they were not “violent” like the others. For an entire year, they had been practicing the “vegetarian mandate” while living on the ark.

So the big question is this: Why does the author of Genesis present God as suddenly abandoning his “vegetarian mandate” after maintaining it for over 1500 years?


A good, better, and best response would have to respond to one, two, or three of the following:

Issue #1: In Gen 1-8, there are only two mandates given to humans and animals: (1) “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22 for birds and fish; Gen 1:28 for humans; Gen 8:17 and 9:1) and (2) Be “vegetarian” (Gen 1:29-30, 6:21). So, after the revival of the earth following the flood, God blesses Noah and his sons [Why are the women left out?]. Then he repeats the first mandate and negates the second. What reason does Genesis offer for this unexpected turn-around? Why does this turn-around seemingly come at the very moment when Noah and his family are ready to create a new world order dedicated to the “vegetarian mandate”? [So a good response will have to decide whether the text of Genesis offers a clear reason for this unexpected turn-around. If no clear motive is discovered, are you perhaps ready to identify an "implied motive" (by reading between the lines)?]

Issue #2: God is presented as fully aware that negating the “vegetarian mandate” will wreck violence upon his creatures: “The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal, bird, and fish” (Gen 9:1-3). Earlier, Genesis tells us that God lamented “that he had made humankind” (Gen 6:6). Later, this same God is lamenting the fact that he had destroyed “all flesh” outside the ark saying, “Never again. . . . Never again. . . ”(Gen 9:11). But then the author of Genesis seemingly ignores these regrets and lamentations when God is presented as laying the groundwork for enabling humans to become more and more violent. [So a good response will have to either allow or to deny that Genesis presents God as regretting and lamenting his own violence. Is God permitted to reflect on his own conduct and to acknowledge his bad choices? Does this regretting and lamenting inspire confidence in Noah or distrust? Finally, when God is presented as negating the “vegetarian mandate,” the reader will have to decide whether this is another instance of regretting and lamenting. Does this turn-around inspire confidence in Noah or distrust? Can the reader of the text know whether this turn-around will be expected to increase or reduce human violence in the future? ]

enter image description here

Issue #3: It is significant that the “vegetarian mandate” tacitly shows up again in the end times material of the bible. Take, as an example, Isa 11:6-7:

The wolf shall lie with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Thus the end of days will have some features that were present at the grand beginning in Gen 1. There will be no violence between animals because the “vegetarian mandate” will finally become a lived reality. This reality, meanwhile, also demonstrates how nations will also be harmless and that the Lord shall negotiate peace:

[God] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their swords into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit down under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken (Mic 4:3-4 = Isa 2:4)

[So a good response will explore whether the prophet Isaiah wants his hearers to believe and to hope that the “vegetarian mandate” of Gen 1-8 will someday flourish again and bring about universal peace and security between animals and between nations. If so, how might this impact the way that Isaiah and his followers would understand Gen 9:1-3?]

PS: In a future question, I want to explore to what degree contemporary churches (and synagogues) embrace the reading of Genesis and of Isaiah that has been presented here.

*Computed using the internal genealogies in Genesis

11
  • I've read and re-read the quote. If I say "I've given you this land to grow food on" does that mean you can't grow food elsewhere? So can you say more about why we think there is a mandate in there (or scope the question to those who think there is a mandate)? Sep 30, 2022 at 17:15
  • I will concede that the roles of animals in the Bible is complex (why does the book of Jonah mention the animals along with the people at the beginning and end, as though they needed to repent as well?). But mostly this question seems to reflect a person's desire to like God, but is struggling with all this omnivore and sexism stuff He promotes (the question includes the point that God only refers to males...).
    – jKevinBarr
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:10
  • You may certainly ask God a question in prayer, but please don't ask Him here. As far as I know He hasn't formally registered on the site. (although we may be entertaining angels unawares...). For more info: christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3983/why-does-god And yes, we do have more rules than Blockbuster Video.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:33
  • To complicate things, note that originally only fruits and grains (and perhaps nuts) were allowed (fruitarianism): "I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food." (Genesis 1:29). After eviction from the garden, other vegetation was allowed: "And you shall eat the herb of the field." (Genesis 3:18). (See commentary: Genesis 1:29 with Ramban). Sep 30, 2022 at 20:36
  • 1
    @Peter Turner. Point well taken. I was using the folksy style of a preacher. I now see that the detachment of a scholar is more in place here. I am learning. . . . Oct 1, 2022 at 4:35

2 Answers 2

5

This is not really explained. I would go along with your analysis in that in Genesis 1-2, animals are not food. How could they, if there is no death yet? But as soon as we leave the garden, the first things that happen are:

  1. God makes clothes from animal skin, teaching man by example that animals are also resources
  2. Abel herds animals, and sacrifices them. This is compared to Cain who grows plants (food!). Abel is the righteous one.

While I don't see it is made explicit that animals were eaten, both clearly establish that man has some kind of authority to kill animals. I think it is not far reached to assume they were eaten (after all, later priests also ate parts of the sacrificed animal, and clearly they were used for resources, and it would be a waste to not eat what you killed for clothing). But no explanation whatsoever. Sacrifices that God approved, but no recorded commandment to do so. Something happened here that is, quite simply, not recorded. As such, I challenge that a vegetarian mandate was actually in effect after the garden was left. What Noah was told mirrors what Adam was told in the garden, minus the eating animals. Speculation: Maybe it actually mirrors, in full, what Adam was told after he left the garden?

Genesis 4 essentially just says: after the garden, animals are resources and can be killed, but man shall not be killed. And immediately after comes Noah. No time to explain, we want to get to Abraham ASAP, apparently ;-)

4
  • 1
    I wonder how it would be sacrificial for Abel to kill his livestock as an offering to God if they were not a resource he could use for himself (food, clothing, bones for tools, etc). Otherwise he happens to just be shepherding animals for fun and occasionally killing them to make God happy? That doesn't make any sense.
    – jaredad7
    Sep 30, 2022 at 15:11
  • @kutsci says, "I challenge that a vegetarian mandate was actually in effect after the garden was left." OK Consider again God's instruction regarding "food" for the animals on the ark. And "...just as I gave you [earlier in Gen 1:29-30] the green plants, [now] I give you everything [for your food] (Gen 9:1-3 NRSV). Oct 1, 2022 at 7:17
  • @AaronMilavec I think those insertions don't belong there. None of the translations I checked had them. I also think my arguments are fine and find them convincing, but will grant that of course, ultimately, I can be in the wrong here.
    – kutschkem
    Oct 7, 2022 at 13:09
  • I notice that Cain and Abel are a reversal from how we view things nowadays. If man had written the Genesis account, the vegetarian would have been murdered by the man who made animal sacrifices.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 8, 2022 at 2:06
3

Issue 1

One reason God might withdraw the vegetarian mandate for Noah is that Noah was the savior of the animals by bringing them onto the ark. His dominion over them was more absolute than Adam's, because without him they would not exist.

A second, more likely, possibility is that God withdrew the mandate as a response to Noah's offering, made immediately prior to the mandate's suspension. This is strongly hinted at in the text:

Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man. (Gen. 8:20-21)

Thus, God may have been so moved by Noah's offering with its odor of cooked meat, that He wished to share His pleasure with Noah and his descendants. Perhaps more important, this sacrifice was the culmination of Noah's long course of righteous suffering, so we can presume that God was not only pleased with the aroma of the meat but also with the piety and heart with which it was offered. In the same verse, God pledges never to curse the earth again. Immediately afterward He blesses Noah with the removal of the vegetarian mandate.

Issue 2

Removing the vegetarian mandate reduced violence by reducing hunger. During the period between Adam and Noah, there were certainly periods of drought and famine, just as there were during the time of Abraham a few biblical generations later. This would lead to wars over land and was probably a contributing factor to the violence mentioned in Gen. 6. Animal husbandry would have ameliorated both starvation and violence. Thus, if we take literally the idea that God repented because of the violence, God may have taken partial responsibility for the conditions that led to it. Thus, he removed the vegetarian mandate after the Flood.

Issue 3

The vision of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah supposes a time when humanity returns to the Edenic state. It is debatable whether this is meant literally or in a poetic, hyperbolic sense. For my personal answer see the addendum below:


Addendum: was this "mandate" real?

The supposed "vegetarian mandate" is not actually specified in the Bible. There is no "thou shalt not eat meat" in the text as there is with regard to the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. There is simply a statement that fruit and vegetables are permitted. The same permission is given to the animals.

And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. (Gen. 1:30)

But are we to suppose that predatory animals were vegetarians both prior to Adam and between the time of Adam and the time of Noah, or that lions, cheetahs, and raptors were not predatory? Perhaps some do, but IMO the vegetarian "mandate" reads something into the text that is not there. It may be argued that the animals also fell when Adam did, and therefore did not follow the supposed vegetarian mandate that God gave them, but this too is not in the text. It also contradicts God's declaration of responsibility for "natural evil" in the Book of Job:

Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
    and spreads his wings toward the south?
 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
    and makes his nest on high?
 On the rock he dwells and makes his home
    in the fastness of the rocky crag.
 Thence he spies out the prey;
    his eyes behold it afar off.
His young ones suck up blood;
    and where the slain are, there is he.” (39:26-30)

Among the ancient Rabbis, some did accept the idea of a vegetarian mandate, but others did not. Working back from the eternal laws revealed at Sinai, Rabb Yaacov of Chanin said:

“When will it become fit for eating? When it is slaughtered. Here is hinted the [later] prohibition against eating a limb from a living animal.” (Bereishit Rabbah 16:6)

In other words, eating meat with the blood still in it was always prohibited, both to Adam and to Noah. And both of them were also allowed to eat meat that was properly butchered and cooked. This rabbinic interpretation is just as sensible as the theory of a vegetarian mandate.

5
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Matthew
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:16
  • This article may be helpful for understanding the usual Biblical-Historical perspective. Please use chat for any further discussion.
    – Matthew
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:29
  • @Dan F, There is no "thou shalt not eat meat" in the text. Agreed. The mandate is formulated as a positive directive (just as the "be fruitful and multiply" is a positive directive. Thank you for your insightful suggestions. You entered into the issue even when you were not able to give the "vegetarian mandate" the same emphasis that I did. I appreciate that! Sincerely, Aaron Oct 3, 2022 at 2:00
  • It bothers me that this question has been closed because it calls for opinions. The way I look at it, hermeneutics is inseparable from determining the meaning of a text and there are naturally going to be various opinions about this. Otherwise this would be a very uninteresting site. Your post generated a good deal of interest. I will vote to reopen it. Oct 3, 2022 at 2:07
  • Oops. I'm not qualified to vote yet... but I submitted an edit to the title of the question. It would be: "What was the reason for the suspension “vegetarian mandate” in Gen 9:1-3 after maintaining it for over 1500 years?" -- this removes the speculative nature of "why did the author of Genesis....". The moderators will decide if this is good enough to allow them to reopen it. Oct 3, 2022 at 2:14

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .