Before I get into the topic of this post, I’d just like to set the backdrop for it.  In researching this subject, I came across an essay by Dr Dean O. Wenthe, the President of Concordia University in Ft Wayne, Indiana.  (For my overseas readers — Concordia is affiliated with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS).)

Dr Wenthe discusses modern university education in ‘Postmodernism & Sacred Scripture’. It goes some way in explaining why our everyday world is so puzzling on so many levels.

Many of the prominent names come (as indicated) from the larger circles of philosophy and literature: Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Stanly Fish, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jurgen Habermas, Paul Ricouer, Richa[r]d Rorty-to mention only select authors. Similarly, certain schools of thought take on labels: contextual pragmatism, deconstructionism, feminism, liberation theology, power-interests, semiotics, speech acts, structuralism, etc.

I studied semiotics, reading Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin at university for film class, so, yes, this is a fairly typical list of thinkers and topics.  Note that Habermas was part of the Frankfurt School.

The way we think today

Dr Wenthe comes up with some amazing quotes.  First, what about this from David Lyon of Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario)?

Only tribal truths and tribal decisions about right and wrong can be made.

In other words, your personal truth depends on what you have gleaned from your national origins and what faith you practice.  A ‘tribal truth’ is, therefore, based on a collectivist  perspective.  The people around you — through their actions, conversations and governance — will tell you what your notion of right and wrong is.

But someone following Jacques Derrida’s theories can always manage to ‘deconstruct’ these truths.  As Dr Wenthe explains:

Every statement invites a plurality of interpretations. Possible meanings multiply.

And we end up with the relativism that we encounter today.  This is one reason why people get so emotional when they come up against hard data and historical evidence.  As my better half often jests, ‘Surely you’re not going to bring fact into this discussion!’

Therefore, when it comes to Scripture, about which untold books have been written since Christ’s time on Earth, all this has been overturned (emphases mine):

Robert B. and Mary P. Coote have applied such a lens to the Bible in their book Power, Politics, and the Making of the Bible, (Fortress 1990) … Consider these exegetical adventures: (a) The Yahwist was “designed to appeal for the loyalty of tribal sheikhs in the Negeb and Sinai. It is David’s buttress against Egypt in the south and therefore suggests that Israel’s early chiefs, the Patriarchs were southern sheikhs like themselves.”5 (b) Or, when the texts describe the “fear of God” they remind us “that like all the privileged, Jeroboam feared himself in other men and hence projected this fear, in the guise of cultic and judicial respect“, or the “fear of God” as public policy.6 Hence, the fear of God becomes a nervous politician’s effort to handle his insecurities. (c) And, disingenuously, the beautiful Messianic psalm-Psalm 2-is described as a “raucous salute to the Davidic imperialism.”7

Jesus and the Gadarene Swine

So, it’s no wonder that we end up with conversations such as this British one on the United Reformed Church forum about Jesus’s ‘cruelty’ to animals.  This thread discusses the story of the Gadarene Swine: Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39). (This scene — courtesy of the Tate Collection — is pictured above in an 1883 painting, The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine, by Briton Riviere (1840-1920).)

Robbie, who does not appear to be a Christian but rather a strong apologist for animals, writes (24 October 2010, 7:05pm):

My motivation is to discern the truth but it is also irrelevant – what matters is whether the argument is correct o[r] not

It is the awful fact of Je[s]us’s appalling cruelty that you seem unable [to] escape. Think of the reports to the RSPCA if that happened today.  And all the evidence is in the bible.

The FACT is that if we bel[i]eve the evidence of three gospels Jesus was cruel to animals in a way that would make him utterly reviled by decent modern society.  I certainly have vastly more compassion than thatas do very many 21st century humans. I denounce him for his cruelty just as I denounce Luther for his vast works of evil.

In addtion it would be clear that Jesus’ suffering on the c[ro]ss was not suffering at all – just appearance

It’s the breathtaking postmodernist reasoning in that quote which, putting it politely, stuns me.  First, the truth doesn’t matter as much as the validity of the argument does. (Huh?) Then, he sets himself up to be higher than the Son of God.  (Oh, boy.) Then, that Jesus never suffered on the Cross is ‘clear’? (It’s incredible that someone can even write those words.)  Yet, this is fairly common argumentation today.  And, of course, we have the mention of the all-powerful, pathological RSPCA.

But note Robbie’s lack of relief and gratitude that Jesus cast the demons out of the man, that the demons recognised Him and they themselves asked to be cast into the herd of swine. From the Bible story written by a retired schoolteacher and linked to in the preceding sentence:

The people of the area, the Gadarenes, believed this person was possessed by a devil. When he had started acting strangely, they had bound him with chains and forced him to live outside the town among the tombs. However, the wild man had superhuman strength and easily broke his restraints …

A strange thing happened when he saw Jesus. He ran up and bowed before Him. The demons inside knew who Jesus was all right, and they were forced to acknowledge His Divinity. Jesus commanded in a stern voice:” Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” …

The man’s rasping voice replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Then, all the evil spirits who possessed the man begged Jesus not to send them away, but to send them into a herd of pigs who were  grazing on a nearby hillside. Jesus granted their request, but it did them no good.

As soon as the demons entered the pigs, the animals immediately stampeded down the hillside into the Sea of Galilee and were drowned.

This story is really about the continual battle between Jesus and Satan. Yet, today, people worry more about a demon-infested herd of pigs than a man’s mental health which Jesus, in His mercy, restored?  Something is seriously wrong with Western society.

From this type of reasoning, we progress to Christians drawing in their denominational founders to support claims of vegetarianism.  This thread comes from another British blog post with comments from vegetarians. The blogger, the Revd Richard Hall, a Methodist minister in Wales, balances out the discussion, particularly on whether John Wesley was a vegetarian:

Certainly JW went through veggie phases. On Dec 29th, 1747, he wrote in his journal, “I resumed my vegetable diet (which I had now discontinued for several years), and found it of use both to my body and soul; but, after two years, a violent flux which seized me in Ireland obliged me to return to the use of animal food.” Then in September 1749: “Today I resumed my spare diet, which i shall probably quit no more.” But whether he did or not, I don’t know.

Now, on to the main topic.

The biblical-based relationship between humans and animals

It’s important to really study this carefully and not just through a few hand-picked quotes. (This blog post is not meant to be a definitive statment on the subject but to give you ideas for further research.)

Going back to John Wesley for a moment, this is what the United Methodist Church has to say on the matter:

… some United Methodist theologians who’ve studied the issue say Wesley did forgo meat occasionally for health reasons.

“There’s no doubt about it—he followed a vegetarian diet from time to time,” said Randy Maddox, a United Methodist theologian and John Wesley specialist at Duke University.

He never made that a requirement, and it wasn’t his consistent practice,” Maddox said …

Wesley stopped eating meat at times because it made him feel better, said Charles Wallace, a religion scholar and chaplain at Willamette University in Salem, Ore …

Maddox said Wesley ate animals while also crusading for their welfare.

“At one time, if an Anglican priest preached against cock fighting, they were accused of being Methodist,” Maddox said.

An Evangelical minister, Dr Stephen Vantassel, who teaches Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School in Kent (England), is also the webmaster for the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.  In ‘Why Christians Cannot Support Animal Rights’, he observes:

People are generally intrigued by my line of work, but become unsettled upon learning that I am also a minister with a Ph.D. in theology. They seem puzzled that a minister would be teaching the public about techniques that involve shooting, trapping, and killing wildlife. After all, aren’t they God’s creatures? Shouldn’t ministers be about peace and love and harmony?

Unfortunately, what they fail to understand is that there is no fundamental contradiction between responsibly killing animals and following Christ. In fact, the contradiction lies with those who reject our right to kill animals on the grounds that such actions are non-Christian …

Dr Vantassel explains what Man’s God-given ‘dominion’ over the animal kingdom means:

First, Scripture clearly says that God gave dominion to humanity (Gen 1:26-8). Dominion does not mean despotism. Humans were to govern the world in service to God as managers run an apartment block for the interests of the owner. Genesis 2 explicitly relates God’s command to work the garden and to protect it. The evidence suggests that God wanted humans to protect species from extinction. Individual animals did not receive that protection. If you have any doubts, ask how our lives would be different if Adam and Eve decided to express dominion over the Serpent rather than listening to it. Adam and Eve failed to protect the garden because they failed to eject, or dare I say kill the Serpent, for its blasphemy. In short, they failed to express dominion over the serpent.

He also gives evidence for Christ’s pronouncing that all foods are ‘clean’ — suitable and good to eat.  Also note the mention of the Gadarene Swine:

Contrary to the limits in diet proffered by animal rights activists, Christ gave humanity permission to eat all animals. By declaring all foods ceremonially clean, Christians were no longer bound to follow the restrictions of Kosher Laws (Mk 7:19) and could enjoy the flavors of pigs and lobster with divine blessing. Christ’s actions towards animals are even more telling. He allowed demons to drown pigs without ever bothering to run into the Sea of Galilee to save them (Lk 8:33). He even helped the disciples kill more fish through the miracle of the fishes (Jn 21:6).  If we listen to the claims of the Christian animal rights activists, then we have to wonder whether Christ sinned by his treatment of animals. Of course, if Christ was not perfect, then we are still lost in our sin and we know that is not true.

Well, yes, as we saw above, some believe the RSPCA would have run Jesus out of town.

Dr Vantassel elaborates further in another essay, this one on hunting.  Before I take a quote from there, I would like to interject that, until recently, good stewardship of nature meant that man hunted not only for food but to ensure that the number of animals — particularly game — was kept at optimum levels.  Too many deer or pheasant, for example, led to starvation and disease. Leaving predators to multiply also threatened animal populations, in the wild or on farms. Therefore, hunting was a form of population control.  Similarly, at the end of the harvest, farmers used to burn their fields.  The ash from their crops would penetrate the ground and enrich it for the following year.  Now, both practices are frowned upon — if not forbidden — in places.

Christianity teaches that humanity has a stewardship role on the earth. Unlike the preservationists, we believe that it is our job to manage the animal kingdom with the natural predators that God has provided to keep populations in balance. We disagree that letting nature take its course is the correct action. For we are part of that nature. It always strikes me as strange how animal rights people think its okay for diseases to reduce a burdensome animal population, but they don’t think it’s okay for a human to preemptively reduce that population and even make money doing it …

In Christian terms, since animals are not humans they do not command the same moral rights as humans do. Just as plants are not on the same vital plane as animals … Scripture and experience both tell us that humans, while sharing many animal like characteristics, have something in them that is fundamentally different than what animals possess. Some call this different thing, soul, others spirit, still others reason

… the Bible clearly teaches that humanity is created in God’s image (Gen.1:26). Scripture never asserts that animals are created in God’s image. The image of God consists of our ability to self-aware, to control our surroundings and to create.

How man came to eat meat in the Old Testament

James Hughes, an elder in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Canada, has traced man’s food consumption in the Book of Genesis, noting the disagreement of Protestant theologians on what was eaten.  John Calvin believed that man might have been eating meat all along.  Over a century later, the Calvinist minister and Bible scholar Matthew Henry wrote that man’s eating habits changed after the time of Noah and the flood.

Mr Hughes offers these hypotheses:

– They may have resorted to cannibalism. Cannibalism is found among the most degraded portions of mankind after the Flood, so it is not far fetched to surmise that this same evil also occurred before the Flood. If men ate the flesh of other men, it is not inconceivable that they also found a reason in their invented religions to eat animal flesh.

– It appears that God introduced animal sacrifice after the Fall (Gen 3.21; Gen 4.4,5) as a symbol of atonement from sin. It may be that men lusted after the ‘food of God’ and took animal flesh for food so that they could be ‘like God’.

He then explains Calvin’s and Henry’s points of view:

Calvin, assuming that men ate meat before the Flood, says further in his comments on Genesis 9.3 that the reasons God explicitly granted animals for food to men were: 1) to control unbridled licence since the right was granted by God after the Flood, 2) free men from having doubts about the propriety of eating meat. In other words, God validated what men had been doing without explicit licence before the Flood

Matthew Henry states that he thinks that men were vegetarians before the Flood, and provides another perspective on why God may have granted man the right to eat meat.[2] He suggests that immediately following the Flood, there was a shortage of food since all the vegetation had been washed away, and thus men needed to eat meat. This seems like a peculiar reason since God had told Noah to take into the ark sufficient food for himself and the animals (Gen 6.21), and it does not explain why man was permitted to continue eating meat once the vegetation had re-grown.

Mr Hughes, however, believes the shift was in relation to a change in God’s covenant with Man.

There is however, an element found in all the subsequent covenantal administrations that is not found in the Covenant of Creation. This is the redemptive-substitutionary element …

With the introduction of the redemptive-substitutionary element there was an associated change in the covenant fellowship meal. In the first covenant administration the meal was based on life—fruit from the Tree of Life, and did not involve sacrifice or blood since there was no sin and no need for substitution. The second covenant administration, however, required both sacrifice and shedding of blood (Heb 9.22). The covenant fellowship meal was changed from ‘life’ to ‘death’ in that it involved eating a portion of the redemptive-substitutionary sacrifice—a portion of the meat of the clean animals that were sacrificed to God …

In the New Covenant we find the same concept. Those who partake of the covenant fellowship meal eat a portion of the redemptive-substitutionary sacrifice (Mt 26.26; 1 Cor 11.24). However, in the New Covenant, at least two changes occur: 1) the redemptive-substitutionary component is no longer bloody, because Christ’s blood has been shed once for all time (Heb 7.27); and 2) the participation in the eating is not physical but spiritual. The covenant fellowship meal has been changed from eating a portion of the sacrificed animals to symbolical elements (bread and wine) that allow us to participate spiritually in the once-for-all-time sacrifice of Christ …

I have emphasized the permissive aspect with regard to meat eating found in the Covenant enactment in Genesis 8 and 9. Without doubt, God permitted man to eat meat. However if we read the passage carefully, it appears that the provision of meat eating is not just permissive, but also prescriptive. Just as there is the command to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 9.1), there may also be a command embedded in the words “everything that lives and moves shall be food for you” (Gen 9.3 ESV).

As such, he has strong words for those who choose vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice:

Vegetarianism, even if not participated for ‘religious’ reasons, is rebellion against the Covenant. Personal-choice vegetarianism may be a slap in the face of God, and is to go the way of the heathen.

Meat in the New Testament

Dr Kim Riddlebarger, the widely-cited Reformed pastor and author, studies the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) in ‘To the Church in Pergamum’.  He clarifies what the issue was with food.  It was not with the fact that the Nicolaitans were eating meat but that it was meat sacrificed to idols:

That the Nicolaitans were not denying Christ directly, but doing so implicitly can be seen when Jesus warns this church about eating meat sacrificed to idols, as well as reminding them that Christians must avoid all sexual immortality, especially when these things are directly connected to paganism. These are very prominent themes throughout the New Testament even though they seem foreign to us so many years removed. Recall that Paul speaks about this same matter in his first letter to the Corinthians. It is addressed at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, when the leaders of the church affirmed with one voice the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone, while at the same time insisting that Gentiles avoid eating meat used in pagan sacrifices and sexual immorality.

What is in view here is not vegetarianism or celibacy. God is not against meat or sex. What is in view is the fact that Christians cannot eat meat which was left over from pagan sacrifices and rituals, and then sold in the marketplace at a discounted price. For a Christian to eat such meat is, in effect, to sanction or condone the pagan practice of animal sacrifice and bloody fertility rites. Paul calls this sharing the table with demons in 1 Corinthians 10 …

The principle for the church in Pergamum as well as the application for us today is very simple. Christians cannot worship Christ and at the same time participate in pagan or non-Christian religious practices

Although Dr Riddlebarger does not touch on the subject, I shall interject that it is for that reason many Christians are in a quandary as to whether they should eat halal meat.

However, generally speaking:

25Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  — St Paul (1 Cor. 10:25-27)

And, very importantly:

1Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. — St Paul (1 Tim. 4:1-5)

In fact, the Lord instructed Peter to eat meat:

9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15And the voice came to him again a second time,  “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. — Acts 10:9-16

Jesus ate meat:

41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. — Luke 24:41-43

Romans 14 is hotly contested between Christian carnivores and vegetarians because of verse 15:

15For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.

Note, however, that vegetarians apply it against carnivores but carnivores have the good grace not to apply it to vegetarians!

Jim Sawtelle, writing for the Reformed Herald, discusses Romans 14, legalism and Christian liberty — an article well worth reading.  Mr Sawtelle writes:

Two groups had emerged, the “strong” and the “weak.” The strong were able to grasp the significance of Christ’s death for daily living, such as receiving and using food, drink, etc. The “weak” were not able to sort out these things as of yet. But the heart of the problem, as Paul identified it, was not that there were differences of views. The problem was that the strong were despising the weak, and the weak were judging the strong (verse 3) …

First, both weak and strong are received by God in Christ. Both are justified. Behavior has nothing to do with acceptance before God. You are accepted because of the Christ’s death and righteousness. Therefore, receive the one who is weak in the faith and do not dispute with him or her over these minor differences. Do not despite this weak one, for this is one for whom Christ died; this is one whom Christ loves (see also Chapter 15:1,7).

Second, God is the judge of both the weak and the strong (verse 4). In other words, God is God and you aren’t! I’m not perfect and neither are you.

Third, God knows how to preserve and sanctify His people …

Because we are received by Christ, and in Christ, we can have differences of opinions; and yet these differences must never lead us to either “despising” or “judging” one another. No one’s actions and behavior led to God receiving them. Therefore, these differences over doubtful things … must never tear us apart from one another.

In conclusion, let’s not proscribe what God allows and may have actually prescribed: meat.  Furthermore, in our concern for our surroundings, let us take care not to exalt animals over humans.  Above all, let us love one another in Christian charity.