Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages
Were All Men Vegetarians before the Flood?
After the creation of man and land animals on day six of the Creation week, God instructed Adam saying, “I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29). There is no record of God telling Adam and Eve that they could butcher cows or smoke chickens, but He did authorize them to eat the seeds and fruits of plants and trees. In the very next chapter of Genesis, it is recorded where God told Adam that he could eat “of every tree of the garden” (except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—2:16-17). Notice that nothing is said here about animals—only vegetation. Then again, in Genesis 3, when God sentenced Adam and Eve to a life outside of the Garden of Eden, He said: “And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground” (3:18-19). Three times in the first three chapters of the Bible, God instructed man regarding his diet. Each time, the Bible records only where God permitted man to eat vegetation (some of which could be made into bread—3:19). The Bible nowhere mentions man receiving permission from God to eat any kind of animal until after the Flood. It was then that God said:
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs (Genesis 9:1-3, emp. added).
Just as God had authorized mankind to eat “green herbs” many centuries earlier, after the Flood, God gave His permission for mankind to eat “all things”—including all animals that move on the Earth and swim in the sea. [NOTE: It appears that laws regarding the eating of clean and unclean animals were not given until the Law of Moses (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:3-21). Although a difference was made between clean and unclean animals prior to the Flood (cf. Genesis 7:2-3), this distinction seems to have applied only to the matter of which animals were suitable for sacrifice, not for consumption (cf. Genesis 8:20).]
To answer the question, “Were all men prior to the Flood vegetarians?,” one merely can conclude that the Bible reveals God giving instructions only regarding the eating of food made from vegetation prior to the Deluge. God’s Word is conspicuously silent regarding the eating of animals. However, just because God apparently did not authorize man to eat animal flesh before the Flood, does not mean that mankind abided by this regulation. It seems likely that there were some people who went beyond what God allowed, and ate various kinds of animals anyway. It is not difficult to imagine those living just prior to the Flood, whose every thought was evil continually (Genesis 6:5), leaning over a sacrificial sheep, smelling the sweet aroma, and taking a bite out of the lamb’s leg (cf. 1 Samuel 2:12-17).
Some have asked why Adam’s son Abel raised flocks, if he and his descendants were supposed to be vegetarians? Although the Bible does not say exactly why Abel was a “keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2), most likely it was because by raising sheep, Abel could provide clothing for himself and others, as well as provide animals that people could get from him to sacrifice to Jehovah. One thing we can know assuredly is that before the Flood, we never read of God granting permission to humans to eat animal flesh. Yet, at least three times prior to the Flood the Bible mentions God authorizing the fruit of the Earth for man’s consumption. Furthermore, Genesis 9:2-3 stresses that after the Flood a vastly different relationship existed between animals and humans. Animals developed a fear of humans, and humanity was permitted to use the flesh of animals for food, “even as the green herbs” were permitted since the beginning of the Creation (9:3; 1:29).