– By Lisa Hall Wilson
Does the Bible endorse or condemn a particular eating lifestyle? Veganism over being an omnivore, being a vegetarian over a raw vegan, and there are those considered demi-vegetarian… It seems really complicated, especially when every diet fad and craze pulls out Scripture to back up their lifestyle.
In writing “When Christians Eat Healthy – Really Healthy” I found many Christian diet plans that pulled out Scripture to support their lifestyle. If you choose to be a vegan or a vegetarian, I have no issue with that. It’s a personal choice. Where I struggle is when Scripture appears to be twisted, or at least taken out of context, to support these lifestyles. I wasn’t convinced by anything I read or in my own research that vegetarianism or veganism is endorsed or condemned in the Bible.
But I’m far from a theology scholar, so I turned to two pastors who have done a whole lot more studying than I have who could speak to this issue. Understand I have no argument with these lifestyles, per se, there’s lots of documented clinical evidence stating that one can thrive on either lifestyle. I’m concerned with the biblical veracity of the claims made by many of the Christian diet plans I came across in my research.
Norm Millar is the Senior Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel London (full disclosure – Norm is my pastor). Norm’s been in pastoral ministry for 22 years, has an MDiv and is working towards a DMin. Does the Bible support a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle?
“Christians are to seek to do what they can to live healthy lives as good stewards of what God has entrusted to them,” says Millar. “To suggest that a pre-flood diet (vegan or vegetarian) is a biblical mandate is to go beyond what Scripture says…Certainly the Bible allows for a non-meat diet, but it does not commend one.”
Something I frequently encountered in my research was this idea that eating the way Daniel ate, or Noah ate, is more beneficial. Should we eat less processed, deep-fried, instant, colour-dyed, artificially flavoured whatever – sure. No argument. But to say the Bible specifically condemns eating that way…that’s where I think things go off-road a bit.
Cyril Guérette is the Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Heritage Baptist College, and the Senior Pastor at FreeChurch Toronto. I asked Professor Guérette if there was any theological support for a pre-flood diet, or eating what Daniel ate, over the diet given after the Flood or in the New Testament.
“It is obviously interesting to ruminate on the idea of our ancient ancestors never eating meat until the Flood, but there isn’t any hint that God wanted the Israelites or the early church to return to that diet.”
Guérette goes on to explain that Daniel’s diet was one borne out of necessity. It was forbidden to eat pork or shellfish, but more importantly it was forbidden to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The meat and wine in the King’s court would most certainly have been dedicated to foreign gods, so Daniel and his friends ate the way they did in order to remain faithful. “It is telling,” Guérette says, “there is no encouragement to replicate this diet anywhere in Scripture.”
Guérette points to the story in John 21 of a Resurrected Christ feeding the disciples fish. “In the story he definitely cooked the fish for them, gave it to them to eat, and actually was the main catalyst in their catching the fish in the first place. If the Resurrected Christ is helping catch, cook, and consume fish, we would be hard pressed to then condemn it for contemporary believers.”
There are a lot of really sound reasons to choose veganism or vegetarianism, most commonly being issues of conscience or personal ethics. Many choose to be demi-vegetarians and only eat free range or organically raised meat. These are all personal choices, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
To be fair, none of the Christian diets I read about condemned eating meat, at least not outright, but proposed that veganism or vegetarianism was more beneficial and could be supported biblically. There are a lot of believers who will read that this fad diet or that lifestyle is biblically based, or biblically mandated, and might not ever dig into it as I have to learn the truth — and that’s where I take issue.
Millar’s warning about the claims made that these diets are biblically based or endorsed is clear. “Do not build a theology from what the Bible doesn’t say. Developing your theology from the white spaces in Scripture is never a good idea.”
Guérette offered several cautions including eating with a clean conscience (either way) and legalism. “If we begin to push following certain diets with the gospel then we are in very dangerous territory,” Guérette wrote in an email. “Culturally speaking, it may further hinder the gospel as it ties faith in Him to what many in our culture see as fad diets.”
Have you tried a Christian diet plan? Did it work for you? If you’ve chosen to be vegetarian or vegan, share why you made that choice.
Lisa Hall-Wilson is a freelance writer in London, Ont.