Explanation of Vegetarianism in Genesis 1:29-30

I take it as descriptive, not prescriptive. The source of life, and provision, and bounty is God. He provides and cares for his creation.

Here is a more detailed write-up of a possible answer to your question, with Scriptural support from elsewhere in the Bible.

Welcome to the BioLogos forum, by the way. :monkey_face:

Ah, thank you!

This instruction in Genesis 1 is almost unique in the Old Testament. It has a counterpart in Genesis 9:3, where meat is now expressly given to Noah and his descendants. However, the only other place in the Old Testament where a vegetarian diet is represented as superior to eating meat, is in Daniel 1:3-15. This is no surprise if you understand (as I do), that Genesis 1-11 were written in Babylon during the exile, most likely by Daniel himself. This makes a lot more sense of the instruction in Genesis 1; it’s part of Daniel’s anti-pagan polemic.


As I have mentioned on another thread, you and I are one of the few that happily place large portions of the Biblical text in the POST-EXILIC period. And so I always hope we can find MORE areas of agreement over time…

Below is a portion from the Wiki article on the book of Daniel:

"Traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, modern scholarly consensus considers the book pseudonymous, the stories of the first half legendary in origin, and the visions of the second the product of anonymous authors in the Maccabean period (2nd century BC).[3: Collins, John J. (2002). “Current Issues in the Study of Daniel”. In Collins, John J.; Flint, Peter W.; VanEpps, Cameron. The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception. BRILL, page 2.]

I am not convinced that the Babylonians had much to contribute to the concept of vegetarianism. However, during the same period, we read about the Maccabees interest in avoiding the defilement of animal flesh:

"2 Maccabees 5:27 (circa 167 BCE)
“Judas, called Maccabaeus, however, with about nine others, withdrew into the wilderness and lived like wild animals in the hills with his companions, eating nothing but wild plants to avoid contracting defilement.”

2 Maccabees 5:27 (circa 167 BCE)
“Judas, called Maccabaeus, however, with about nine others, withdrew into the wilderness annd lived llike wild animals in the hills with his companions, eating nothing but wild plants to avoid contracting defilement.”

Solving the Romans Debate
By A. Andrew Das

P. 107

"The avoidance of meat on the part of Roman church members may reflect the same avoidance of meat on the art of Roman church members may reflect the same neo-Pythagorean influence that perhaps impacted the Colossian congregation. [FN 215 Col 2:15-23; Henrich Schlier Der Romerbrief (HTKNT 6; Freiburg: Herder, 19770, 403-406; Ulrich Wilckens, Der Brief an die Romer, 3.111-112. ]

The problem with a neo-Pythagorean rationale for the avoidance of meat and wine at Rome is that the weak are observing these practices “for the Lord” (Romans 14:6) and could lose their faith if forced to drop their customs (Romans 14:20).

“It is hard to image Pythagorean vegetarianism being so closely wedded to Christian faith as to be an issue on which believers could feel their loyalty to God depended.” [FN 216 "As John M.G. Barclary has observed, (“Do we Undermine the Law?” 292). This objection would equally apply to Max Rauer’s thesis in Die “Schwachen” in Korinth und Rom nach den Paulusbriefen (BibS[F] 21, 2/3; Freiburg: Herder, 1923) that the “weak” are adherents of GNOSTIC, HELLENISTIC mystery religions. This was taken up by Robert J. Karris, “Romans 14:1 - - 15:13 and the Occasion of Romans”, CBQ 25 (1973): 68 (repr. The Romans Debate, 65-84, [rev. and enl. ed.; ed. Karl
P. Donfried; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991]), even though he disagreed with Raur’s overall conclusions. For a detailed criticque of Raur, see Nelio Schneider, Die ‘Schwachen’ in der christlichen Gemeinde Roms (Theologie 5; Munster: Lit, 1996). ]

Page 108

“Romans 15:7-13 provides additonal evidence that the weak Paul describes in the immediately preceding verses are observing Jewish customs. He urges Jews and gentiles in Christ maintains the thread that has dominated the letter from its beginning in 1:16. The “weak” appear, then, to be observing the Jewish customs from
the very Law discussed at length throughout the letter.”

"Pythagorean asceticism was a matter of personal choice. Why, then, would the weak [to use Paul’s term] consider their lifestyle a universal mandate for all and judge the “strong” in 14:2? . . . .


It would seem that vegetarianism we find in the Bible comes out of a POST-BABYLONIAN matrix…

They didn’t. They were big meat eaters. That’s why vegetarianism in Daniel 1 is an anti-Babylonian polemic.

Yes it’s well recognized that Pythagoreanism is the background of some of Paul’s comments in Romans. But this was not an issue for exilic era Jews; they weren’t Pythagoreans.


… but interestingly … the Essenes were frequently likened to the Pythagoreans… they were also very fixated on purity. The Therapeutae appear to be more convincing representations of this ascetic wing of Judaism… since we seem to find animal bones in connection with sites that are typically also connected to the Essenes.

I do not need the Essenes to be the vector for Vegger ideology … all I have to show is that vegger asceticism really didn’t get its’ kick off until the rise of post-Babylonian asceticism.

Yeah but Daniel isn’t advocating “vegger asceticism”; he is objecting to “the king’s meat”, not objecting to the eating of meat as such. Nor is the writer of Genesis 1-11 advocating “vegger asceticism”. That’s clear enough from Genesis 9:3 in which all the animals are given to humans as food.

It does seem like God didn’t plan on humans to EAT the beasts… they were supposed to eat the “fruit” of trees…

Hi @Sau5er5, welcome to the Forum!

So my starting point, when it comes to the early chapters of Genesis, is that they are not meant to reveal literal history but instead are designed to point to larger truths about God, man, and nature. This, for me, applies to all of the “primeval narratives” (Gen 1-11). So when I read about God restricting diets to plants to Genesis 1 (and then allowing meat-eating after the Flood), my question is not, “how does it fit into scientific/natural history”, but “what role does this imagery play in the story, and what can it tell me about God and humanity?” And honestly, I don’t know. It’s not an issue that I’ve personally studied. Diet is a big deal in the Bible, so I imagine that its related to this motif. As someone who has a seminary degree, this is a bit embarrassing. Let me ask some Bible scholars I know and get back to you.

Hello! I am looking forward to hearing what you are able to find out. Thanks for your time!

I asked John Walton and Tremper Longman about this, and they both agreed that there’s just not enough in the text to make a strong statement about the diet of all living creatures, especially in the light of a mountain of scientific evidence indicating that animals have been eating each other as long as there have been animals. But it is somewhat mysterious that this is one of the big differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 9. There is possibly some sort of original symbolic context that is lost to us.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

I understand. I definitely still seems weird. Blending science and theology (while they are two different things) is always tough. Thanks for taking your time to ask them that, I appreciate it!

The FIRST ANIMAL that appears to have died is revealed here:

Gen 3:19
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Gen 3:21 - 22:
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever…"

Even before Adam and Eve have been evicted from the Garden, God has slaughtered animals to make skins for the couple…

That was after the fall.


Yes… after the Fall… but apparently BEFORE the ejection.

It seems the first DEATHs were performed by GOD him/herself.

The verse does not command the animals to not eat each other. The verse puts plants at the bottom of the food chain. The sheep eats the grass. The wolf eats the sheep. The wolf is not commanded to not eat the sheep. Both are dependant on the grass because without the grass you have no sheep. The Venus flytrap is not mentioned because that would just be dumb. Vegetarianism is not commanded in the text. It is not implied in the text. Don’t read into the text what is not there. Handing you a head of lettuce is not prohibiting you from eating a chicken.

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