Eschatology, Death, & Animals

What if Christianity’s great, final vision–where sin and death are no more but have been swallowed up forever–what if this great, final vision is not just for us?

What if the specter of death is removed from all creation? What if this is indicative of a harmonious cosmos in which there is no fear of anything because death (whether natural or violent) is no more?

What if the great messianic banquet and the wine Jesus promised in the age to come indicate a feast without death?

Image: dan /

In other words, might the eschatological picture of new creation entail a world of peace for animals?

Don’t tell me if this is right.

You see, I believe not so much in realized eschatology but in faithful realizing of what lies ahead. In other words, our calling is to see the new creation God is creating in Christ and bring it to bear on the present (by way of the cross).

So if the future is one of peace. If, say, the lion will lie down with the lamb and the ox with the bear–and not in the reclining posture of lion eating said lamb or of bear eating said ox!–then you might very well make a strong case for Christians to be vegetarians.

I know that Richard Bauckham wrote an essay on this, waxing theological on the phrase that Jesus was “with the wild animals” in Mark 1′s temptation scene.

So it’s been said before. But I’m looking for a loophole. If you would: please tell me why I’m wrong. We shouldn’t be vegetarians, should we?

Let me know. I’ll read it after I get done firing up the grill for a nice steak or something.

42 thoughts on “Eschatology, Death, & Animals”

  1. Considering I am pretty much the opposite of a vegetarian, this is disturbing.

    So, if it means no meat THEN, I’m hoping we either a) won’t need food or b) we’ll just eat manna that will taste like whatever we want. Kind of like the meal-flavored gum in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

    As for now…well, I would bet that Jesus ate meat and since we’re supposed to follow him…

  2. We shouldn’t be vegeatarians because our paleolithic ancestors were not adapted to grains. The agricultural revolution introduced substances into our diet and we have not yet adapted to them. Didn’t the Noahic Covenant give us permission to eat the animals?

    1. I’m not sure that being adapted to grains is relevant to whether or not we should or should not eat meat. Grains are not an adequate protein replacement. Rather, beans, nuts, seeds, etc. provide an adequate if not superior source of protein over animal based proteins.

      It seems that if we take the Old Testament seriously, then the Noahic covenant is compensation for things not being the way they were intended as outlined in Genesis 1.

      If death is no more in God’s renewed creation it seems anthropocentric to assume that this would not extend to all of God’s creation, let alone sentient beings. Also, if death is no more then there would be no place for degradation of energy and thus no reason to replenish through intake of nutrition.

  3. Daniel – you and your crazy appeals to divine authorial intent can’t solve all our problems!

  4. I don’t know about vegetarianism, but, at a minimum, would we not have to care for the animals around us rather than driving them to the brink of extinction? And wouldn’t that at least trump claims (misguided to begin with, to be sure) that the creation mandate is, effectively, a divine sanction for humans to act toward animals without regard to the characteristics they may in fact share with homo sapiens?

  5. Animal imagery in the prophets tends to refer to nations, not actual beasts. This is explicit by the time we get to apocalypses.

    I’ll know God wants us to be vegetarians when I start seeing meat trees.

  6. Isa 25:6. . . Looks like barbecued ribs at the eschatological banquet to me!

    And remember, according to the Sages, Leviathan has been turned into beef jerky for the eschatological banquet (Baba Bathra 74b) :)

  7. Well, if Jesus hit Peter over the head with a blanket full of formerly unclean animals to eat, I assume they (and the previously permitted animals) are also good for eating.

    And why animals but not plants? Why should plants have to die for us to live? Shouldn’t we just not eat, well, anything? I mean, will there be plant death in the final restoration? If yes, then why not animal death?

    1. Didn’t Jesus serve fish when he reconciled with Peter… I think they still count as critters. And this is post resurrection.

      Also Peter and Paul were eating ham sandwiches in Galatia. And the Council in Jersusalem said ok to meat too.

      Think we are good for chowing on some cow… fire up that grill!


  8. This is one of the main reasons I eat vegetarian-ly. My personal take is that original stewardship of the earth involved the responsibility to care for and ennoble the “lesser” beasts. Part of (or maybe the very essence of) the Fall was choosing to kill/eat our animal cousins instead of teach them.

    A compelling way to tie certain things together, anyway!

        1. Well, that’s one way of putting it. Another way would be to say that these animals have enjoyed some years of life before they die (as everything else dies), which they would not otherwise have enjoyed. Some breeds would never even have existed.

  9. The legs of the elk punctured the snow’s crust
    And wolves floated lightfooted on the land
    Hunting Christmas elk living and frozen;
    Inside snow melted in a basin, and a woman basted
    A bird spread over coals by its wings and head.

    Snow had sealed the windows; candles lit
    The Christmas meal. The Christmas grace chilled
    The cooked bird, being long-winded and the room cold.
    During the words a boy thought, is it fitting
    To eat this creature killed on the wing?

    He had killed it himself, climbing out
    Alone on snowshoes in the Christmas dawn,
    The fallen snow swirling and the snowfall gone,
    Heard its throat scream as the gunshot scattered,
    Watched it drop, and fished from the snow the dead.

    He had not wanted to shoot. The sound
    Of wings beating into the hushed air
    Had stirred his love, and his fingers
    Froze in his gloves, and he wondered,
    Famishing, could he fire? Then he fired.

    Now the grace praised his wicked act. At its end
    The bird on the plate
    Stared at his stricken appetite.
    There had been nothing to do but surrender,
    To kill and to eat; he ate as he had killed, with wonder.

    At night on snowshoes on the drifting field
    He wondered again, for whom had love stirred?
    The stars glittered on the snow and nothing answered.
    Then the Swan spread her wings, cross of the cold north,
    The pattern and mirror of the acts of earth.

    - Galway Kinnell

  10. I had these same thoughts four or five years ago, and now it has been four or five years since I stopped eating meat. I don’t take it as any kind of command – and while I sometimes crave a medium-rare steak or a greasy-spoon Reuben – I consider it a great joy and gift to be able to participate now in God’s victory over death.

    I think of all that as personal – both calling and gift.

    At the same time, Christians are called to be stewards of creation and exemplars of Christ’s kingdom, and the conditions of factory farms are cruel and horrible, devastating animals, families, communities and economies. I think Christians generally need to be challenged to rethink their participation in such systems, regardless of whether they feel personally called to abstain from eating meat.

  11. Hi,

    My vision of the Kingdom of God is why I try as far as possible (ie excluding temptation every few months to eat bacon) to eat vegetarian.

    Firstly because of respect for the dignity of animals – I have real issues with a food system that effectively turns living creatures into unwilling cogs in a machine, to be raised, kept and slaughtered on an industrial scale. That in itself seems so out of keeping with any original command to eat meat because we’ve lost touch with our environment.

    The biggest and most compelling reason for me, however, is how much food and grain the meat industry uses to feed the animals – it takes unbelievable quantities of biomass to keep the average cow alive and next to none of this energy is successfully converted into energy in meat. Therefore, we are feeding these animals on an industrial scale and getting little or no benefit from all the biomass we give them.

    In a world where many people are suffering starvation or living on less than a handful of rice a day, I find this completely unethical and I cannot in any way reconcile this fact with my Christian faith and vision of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, I would argue that vegetarianism (or as near as possible) is the only valid Christian ethic in this situation.


  12. We will not be married in the new world, but does it mean we should be unmarried now?

    I think eating meat belongs to the “not yet” part. We don’t have to worry about the future world; it’s up to God to make all things new, including veggies, animals and our tastes. If we want to be married and like sex here but won’t be married (and apparently won’t have sex) there, and yet shouldn’t be worried about losing something, why should us be worried about our future food?

    And vice versa – we don’t have to worry about eating meat now. As long as it’s ethically produced. But the production is the hard part of it nowadays. So, eating meat isn’t the problem, but how we handle animals is.

  13. Doesn’t this question raise another broader question about how much of an embodiment of the new creation Jesus’ earthly life and behavior was. So Jesus ate fish. If we see him as the full embodiment of the world to come then there’s no way we can say that to go vegetarian now is to embody the world to come. The only way we can say that is if Jesus’ earthly life is somewhat less of an embodiment of of the new creation. Does that make sense, of am I missing something here?

  14. “So if the future is one of peace. If, say, the lion will lie down with the lamb and the ox with the bear–and not in the reclining posture of lion eating said lamb or of bear eating said ox!–then you might very well make a strong case for Christians to be vegetarians.”

    Well, go on, make it, then we can try replying!

    “I believe not so much in realized eschatology but in faithful realizing of what lies ahead. In other words, our calling is to see the new creation God is creating in Christ and bring it to bear on the present (by way of the cross).”

    Well, go on, say something about what you take to be the new creation, and how you see it being brought to bear on the present, then we can try replying!

  15. The lion, with its digestive system and teeth, is adapted as a carnivore, so much so that if it were to lose those traits it would no longer be a lion. It is all very well for people to give up eating meat, but how about getting foxes to give it up? And sharks? And come to that, how about eating fish? Jesus ate fish after his resurrection…

    The fact is that people who try to conjecture what the resurrection will be like are described by Paul as fools (1 Cor 15:35-38).

    1. The problem isn’t the lion’s digestive system (…textured soy protein?…) but its brain, that believes it must kill to live. You are probably right that a pacifist lion would be a new creation. Likewise, humans will be prepared for the Kingdom when we come to understand that we don’t need to kill each other to live.

  16. Some speculate that we won’t eat all: 1 Cor 6:13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.

    1. That depends where you place the quotation marks (which, of course, are added by translators based on exegetical deduction; they are not present in the manuscripts). I’d suggest the whole portion you quoted should be in quotation marks. Paul is quoting the Corinthian letter to him, something he started to focus on with 1 Cor. 7:1.

      This explains why Paul follows this errant view with a correction of both halves (not just the first half that many translations put in quotes). 1 Cor. 6:13b corrects the view that our bodies are only “meant” for what we do with them (“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body”), and 6:14 corrects the view that the end of the physical body is destruction (“And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power”).

  17. I wonder if the fact that the resurrected Jesus ate fish tells us anything about the age to come?

    Of course, the Bible seems to distinguish fish from mammals by recording their creation on different days. So maybe we’ll eat birds and fish in heaven, but no cows?

  18. If we need stop eating meat because we might stop eating it in the eschaton, then maybe should stop marrying because in that day we will “neither marry nor be given to marriage.” The eschaton doesn’t always inform our actions today.

  19. The resurrected Jesus eats fish and helps people catch fish (I’ve heard a vegetarian says this doesn’t matter because the end of Revelation says “there was no more sea”…I don’t buy it). Also, the overall trajectory of the New Testament is a movement away from dietary restrictions. In my mind, that’s enough.

    And are we sure that the lion laying down with the lamb is a literal statement rather than a figurative image of shalom? That image is found in symbolism-filled prophetic and apocalyptic contexts, right? I’m not saying that it’s definitely not literal, but I don’t think you can be certain that it is.

    1. If we are talking New Testament ethics here, though, surely our duty to our neighbour is more compelling than our freedom from dietary requirements. If us taking full advantage of our right to eat meat directly means (as countless studies suggests it does) that many other people are starving, do we not lay down that right and deny self for the greater Shalom. It’s a freedom to rather than a freedom from thing.

      And yes, tongue in cheek, I feel even if the image is literal, the lion will be a lot happier with the new sleeping arrangements than the lamb is . . .

  20. I’m assuming animals are part of the eating controversy in 1 Timothy 4 (probably sacrificed ones). And Paul’s appeal there seems creation-rooted. So I’ll take that to mean all is well in backyard bbq-land. I also like calling vegetarians “liars” and “demonic teachers”. :)

  21. Animal imagery in the bible is one of the most neglected areas of biblical scholarship. Yet it is an area that sheds much light if understood, or much abused when read literally. What we have still going on today is scholars picking up the bible and reading it like an uneducated farmer would for the first time. We deserve better from our scholars but it’s another case of them often choosing to stay away from the difficult to explain sections of scripture and leaving it to the literalist.

    Context almost always tells you how to understand biblical imagery and animals denoting biblical groupings such as Israel as the sheep (clean) and the Nations as the beast (wild and unclean) are the consistent norm. The eating of animals and devouring of them are symbolic means of describing their assimilation or destructive inclinations regarding the faithful. Take a few minutes and read carefully Ezekiel 34 which uses classical domestic animal and wild beast imagery to tell story. As a Jew you would have understood Peter’s vision imagery just as they did regarding the Gentiles. We have no clue but those back then in the know did and used it often.

    Most scholars know that Isa 11 represent messianic literature pointing toward a time when Jews (domestic animals ) will lie down safely with the Gentiles (wild untamed animals). Hosea 2 and Ezekiel 34 & 47 helps verify it. However if you really want a good taste of Jewish biblical imagery read the section in the book of Enoch called the “Vision of the Animals” that should lay any doubt to rest on how the Jews utilized these images. Of course we will look for any excuse we can find to ignore the truth of scripture so we can make hay with it any way we want to. Reading it literally is the ole trump card of biblical hermeneutics that we can always pull out of our sleeve to wander all over Gods creation of misbegotten ideas.

    Hos 2:18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.

    Eze 34:25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. … 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. … 31 And ye my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are men (adam) …

    Eze 47:9-10 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. (10) Fishermen will stand beside the sea. (fishers of men from the Gentile sea)

  22. I’m a Christian. I’m a vegetarian. The reason I don’t eat meat is not to do with meat-eating per se: it seems to me likely that Jesus ate meat from time to time (I tend to think, on balance, that something as counter-cultural as vegetarianism would have been remarked upon). Peter was told to ‘kill and eat’ in Acts. So I conclude the prohibition of meat eating could not be an absolute for Christians. And why should it -in the sense that it goes on all over the place in the non-human world?
    But … it would be a witness to an eschatological reality to abstain.

    However, even more important is the matter of justice and environment. On a planet with 7 billion human mouths, we simply cannot support meat eating on the scale of USAmerican consumption. Something has to give if we aren’t to litterally gobble up all the earth’s resources. It’s not just diet that sees westerners over-indulging on a global scale.

    My refusal to eat meat is a modest contribution to reducing our excessive consumption of resources. It is also an invitation to those I end up talking with to consider eating less meat and using less of the planet’s finite resources. I don’t think our desire for flesh should trump the needs of the many.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.