A short and sweet letter from Paul Pinos, via Facebook:
“How would you respond to someone citing Gen 1:29-30 as evidence for animals being vegetarian prior to the fall?”
Ah, Adam and Eve, bless them. The original hippies, they were! Think about it: They lived in harmony with nature, were naked all the time, and they were vegan! All they needed was an acoustic guitar and they’d have been made in the shade.
But I digress. Paul had a question, and it’s a good one. Here’s Genesis 1:29-30, as rendered in the NIV:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
The context begins with God addressing newly created humans, but he broadens out his statement in verse 30. I admit that a cursory reading does appear to indicate that all animals must have been vegetarians in Genesis 1 — but only if you believe the account was meant to be understood as literal history. Which I don’t. However, looking more deeply at the text, one of the first things I notice is that God’s statement does not actually prohibit humans or any other animals from eating meat. It only specifies that the fruit-bearing trees and green plants are his “gift.”
What does that mean, exactly? There’s a lot that could be unpacked. But to conclude that this short passage says, for certain, that animals did not eat meat until after the fall of man, is to read something into the text that is simply not there, in my opinion. It would be like me saying, “Here’s the salt,” and you interpreting it to mean you can’t use pepper.
To understand God’s true perspective on a question like this, we must also look at what he has revealed elsewhere in scripture. For example, other Old Testament passages not only acknowledge but seem to celebrate the carnivorous qualities of meat-eating animals: e.g., lions and ravens (Job 38:39-41), hawks (Job 39:29-30), the Leviathan (Job 41:14) and lions again (Psalm 104:21; also see verses 27 and 28). Most of these passages seem to directly credit God as the source of food for the carnivore being discussed, and Psalm 104:27 says, “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.” All creatures — including, presumably, the meat-eating ones.
If carnivorous animals are the result of a creation gone rogue thanks to Adam and Eve’s hankering for forbidden fruit, it seems unlikely that the Holy Spirit would later inspire writers to describe God as blessing the behavior in these ways.
Under the new covenant, those who trust in Christ find justification and new life that Romans 5 seems to describe as not just restoring us to, but actually surpassing, our prelapsarian (pre-fall) state. So, if we had originally been created to eat nothing but plants, one might reasonably expect the New Testament writers to consistently abhor the eating of meat. But that’s not what we find. Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:3-5:
They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Paul’s position in 1 Corinthians 8 seems to be more take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to meat, but it’s pretty clear that his only hangup is when it has been sacrificed to idols. (Even then, he’s cool with it, but warns his readers to be careful in how their behavior might influence other believers.) Also of note is Peter’s vision in Acts 10, which is centered around the killing and eating of animals. Yes, the vision was most likely intended as a metaphorical demonstration that the gospel is for everyone, including non-Jews — not a ringing endorsement of barbecues and McRibs. Still, it seems a strange choice of analogy if God is a vegan.
But, in the end, what I find to be the most persuasive scriptural evidence against this idea is the example of Christ. If carnivorism is a direct result of sin, then of all people, sinless Jesus would have been a vegetarian. And yet, we see him eating fish, miraculously multiplying fish for human consumption, twice, and participating in and eating the Passover, which, by law, required the roasting and eating of a lamb.
Finally, we should not completely ignore what science has shown us, because this is a biological question. There are lots of animals that eat meat, but some that eat only meat (or virtually nothing but meat). Interestingly, all of the animals mentioned in the OT that I referenced before fall under this category, with the exception of the raven. We don’t know exactly what the Leviathan is, but if it is a hyperbolic description of a crocodile or an orca, as some scholars have suggested, it would fit as well.
This group, “obligate carnivores,” also includes all other cats, snakes, sharks and all other raptors. The young-earth/literal Genesis model would necessitate that a massive and fundamental overhaul of these animals occurred (not just outwardly, with their sharp teeth and claws), but in the makeup of their brains (hunting instincts), senses and basic physiology (cats, for example, are unable to absorb some of the nutrients they need from vegetables. They must eat meat, or they die).
I fail to see why such a significant (and if it were true, very tragic) change would not have seemed worth mentioning by God when he is describing the curse in Genesis 3, or the author of Genesis, when he is describing the overall events. You would think he might have taken a quick break from the pages and pages of genealogies to add a blurb, like, “And, by the way, the curse also turned cuddly lions and playful sharks into killing machines.”
God, of course, is free to judge however he likes (it is his universe, after all), but it does strike me as bizarre and unfair to give a handful of creatures a Freddy Krueger makeover as a way to punish us for our sin.
For those of you who normally dwell in a more sane and reasonable world, the answer to the question you might be pondering is, “Yes, creationists really do believe this vegetarian lion stuff.” Here’s a link to a recent article on the subject by the venerable Institute for Creation Research.