Friday, September 09, 2005

Of all meat which may be eaten (Gen 9:1-4)

The flood over, we reach chapter nine, which clearly has a lot to comment on, as the SAB has a note for nearly every verse. A lot of these comments are excellent food for thought, but I think there are very few that pose serious problems to the Bible's credibility, as they are largely a matter of opinion.

God tells Noah and his family to "replenish the earth," but what of the modern problems of overpopulation? Should the Bible address the matter? First of all, "overpopulation" is actually a matter of opinion, and I even say that as a person who does think the earth is presently overpopulated. There are a lot of people who disagree, and think the earth can handle many, many more people if we simply did a better job in handling our natural resources. I also tend to agree with that, but don't see any evidence that we're making much progress in that area. It's a really big "if". Also, the Christian view is that the world is eventually going to come to and end, and perhaps this time will come before we really reach a critical point in the world population. That's conjecture, of course, but a real possibility; in fact, the world may be forced to come to an end through a natural disaster brought on by overpopulation, who knows? Whatever the case may be, I do think the Bible indirectly addresses the matter. While the Bible only says to replenish the earth once after the flood, the whole book from beginning to end is full of admonishments to take care of the poor. One of the effects of "overpopulation" is that many people end up living in substandard conditions, suffering from poverty and malnutrition. When such things are going on, our first priority should be to deal with these problems, whether you're approaching the matter from a Biblical or secular viewpoint.

Do all animals fear humans? The SAB says no, but once again, I think this is a matter of opinion. I think it's in our nature to be violent creatures, and any animal that has extensive exposure to humans comes to realize it's wise to fear them. I think any animal with sufficient brain power to experience fear will do so to some extent in the presence of humans. (Just my opinion, but I think it holds water as well as anything.)

The SAB notes that some have undoubtedly used verse two as justification for cruelty to animals and environmental negligence. I think this was addressed in chapter two, but I don't mind repeating this as it's worth saying again. The SAB is right; it has been used that way by some. I think it's wrong, and I think it's a shame. What else can I say?

What about meat eating? The SAB gives a long list of verses in which it seems to be said
(A) Don't eat any meat.
(B) Eat only certain meats.
(C) Eat any kind of meat at all.
These would be on the mere face of things contradictory, but we have to consider context once again. Understand (and should come as no surprise to anyone who's read much Bible at all) that God throughout a great deal of History has set aside the nation of Israel as special. This one race of men was meant to be God's representatives here on earth, and as such, god made some special rules that apply only to them. Among such rules, there are a number of dietary restrictions. (God also has one dietary restriction for all men, but I'll get to that.) Let's take the verses quoted on this page largely in order as they are presented.

In Gen 1:29, this is not so much a command as an observation: there's all the food Adam and Eve need in the fruit hanging on the trees in the garden. I think Adam and Eve were vegetarians, but not because they were forced to be. Pr 23:20 is not a condemnation of meat-eating, but of gluttony. Daniel's refusal to eat meat in Dan 1:8 is not due to a desire to be vegetarian so much as a desire to want to avoid "the king's meat", which may have been unkosher for numerous reasons. Unable to assure himself of a source of kosher meat, he chose not to eat meat at all. Rom 14:21 is pretty nearly universally understood to mean that if you have a Christian friend who, due to something in his past, feels uncomfortable with eating meat, you'd do well to respect his feelings and abstain from meat while around him. Note that this verse, like the one in Proverbs mentions wine as well. It can be thought of much as the way it would be insensitive to drink alcohol around your friend who's a recovering alcoholic. So I don't think we're meant to be vegetarians, but if one chooses not to eat meat, I know of no reason why this would be a bad thing. In fact, if you're considering being a vegetarian for the cause of combating cruelty to animals, I'd advise you to look into veganism.

The two verses that follow are passages from the Levitical law, and represent dietary restrictions on Jews only. Even most Jews agree that these are not meant to be laws upon gentiles.

Now the last set of verses largely come from the New Testament, and need to also be taken in context. The Gen 9:3 verse, which I am covering now, is God allowing meat eating officially for the first time, and it occurs before the establishment of the nation of Israel, so no restrictions except that people should not eat/drink the blood of animals. I don't think too many people follow this dietary restriction; we tend to like our steaks bloody. Mark 7:18-20 is a passage I have to admit I'm not really clear on. Jesus is making a spiritual point, and while many people do interpret this passage as Jesus putting a stamp of approval on all meats, I'm not fully convinced. In any case, the point of what Jesus is saying is not primarily about meat, but about morals, and that what you do to your fellow man is more important than what you put in your mouth. The passage from Acts 10 is a vision that Peter has that god uses to teach him about the way that he is to conduct himself with respect to non-Jewish believers. The passages from 1Corinthians and Romans are both telling gentile believers that they don't have any obligations towards the kosher laws. (Note that this Romans verse is in the very same chapter as the earlier one quoted; how would it make sense to interpret Paul as saying, "Eat meat...but don't eat meat," in almost the same sentence?) 1Tim 4 is likewise a warning to be on guard for people who try to place extra rules on top of the ones that God has given through His Word, such as that they should follow the kosher laws even though they are not Jewish.

Now if you'll excuse me, all this talk about meat is making me hungry.

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