When did God first allow people to eat meat?

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By BibleAsk Team


The transition from a plant-based diet to the inclusion of meat in human consumption as permitted by God is a significant development in the biblical narrative. This shift is intricately linked with key events in the history of humanity, particularly the Great Flood.

Creation and the Original Diet

In the beginning, God established a plant-based diet for humanity. This is clearly outlined in Genesis 1:29: “And God said, ‘See, 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.'” This verse indicates that the original diet intended for humans was vegetarian, consisting of nuts, grains and fruits.

Furthermore, the diet for animals was also specified as plant-based: “Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food’; and it was so” (Genesis 1:30). These verses underscore that the initial divine provision for both humans and animals was strictly vegetarian.

It was not the will of God that humans should kill animals for food, or that animals should feed on one another; accordingly, the cruel and often painful destruction of life by man and animals is a result of sin. And there will be no killing of animals in the New Earth (Isaiah 11:6–9; 65:25)

The Post-Fall World

The fall of humanity, described in Genesis 3, introduced sin into the world, significantly altering human life and the environment. However, the diet of humans and animals is not explicitly mentioned as changing at this point. Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the subsequent curses affected their lifestyle, labor, and the ground, but there is no biblical record indicating a shift from a plant-based diet immediately following the Fall to a diet that includes meat.

The Antediluvian Period

During the period between the Fall and the Flood, known as the antediluvian period, there is little mention of dietary practices and the eating of meat. However, the focus of the narrative during this time is primarily on the moral decay and increasing wickedness of humanity. Genesis 6:5 highlights this condition: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

The Great Flood and Post-Flood Instructions

The Great Flood marks a pivotal point in biblical history. After the floodwaters receded and Noah and his family emerged from the Ark, God established a new covenant with humanity, accompanied by new instructions regarding human diet and the eating of meat.

Genesis 9:1-3 provides the first explicit divine permission to eat meat: “So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.'”

This passage marks a significant change from the initial plant-based diet provided in Genesis 1:29-30. Now, the Lord allowed people to eat meat (Genesis 9:3). This permission did not imply the unlimited meat eating of every kind of animal. The phrase, “Every moving thing that lives,” clearly eliminates the eating of unclean animals which the Mosaic law specifically forbade (Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 22:8). Noah knew about the distinction between the clean and unclean beasts when he took animals into the Ark (Genesis 7:2). For he offered only clean animals as his burnt offering to the Lord (Genesis 8:20).

This distinction was known to early man so well that it was not necessary for God to draw Noah’s special attention to it. It was only when this distinction had been lost through the centuries of man’s separation from God that new and written laws were given regarding clean and unclean animals (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). The unchanging character of God (James 1:17) prevents us from interpreting Genesis 9:3 as permission to kill and eat all creatures without distinction. Animals that were unclean for one purpose could not have been clean for another.

Conditions and Restrictions on the Eating of Meat

While Genesis 9:3 permits the consumption of meat, it is immediately followed by a crucial restriction in Genesis 9:4: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” This prohibition against consuming blood underscores the sacredness of life, represented by the blood, and establishes an important boundary in the consumption of meat.

Significance of the Change

The post-Flood world presented new challenges and possibly harsher conditions for survival. The inclusion of animals in the human diet could be seen as a practical adaptation to these new conditions, providing a broader range of nutritional resources.

Dietary Practices in the Mosaic Law

The Mosaic Law includes detailed regulations regarding clean and unclean animals, sacrificial practices, and further elaboration on the prohibition against consuming blood.

Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 provide comprehensive lists of clean and unclean animals, distinguishing which animals can be eaten and which cannot. For instance, Leviticus 11:2-3 states: “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat.'”

These laws serve multiple purposes, including health and purity.

Conclusion

The permission to eat meat, as first granted by God to Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9:1-3, marks a significant shift in the biblical narrative. This change, framed within the context of the post-Flood covenant, highlights the practical adaptation to a new world. The accompanying restriction against consuming blood in the meat underscores the sanctity of life and sets a precedent for later dietary laws.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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