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Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation

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Way Out of Context: "Thou Shalt Not Kill"--Go Vegetarian

by  Kyle Butt, M.A.

Driving down one of the main thoroughfares in Montgomery, Alabama, the other day, a large billboard caught my eye. On the left side of the advertisement, there was a picture of a huge man who had white hair, a long white beard, and who was wearing a white robe. In his right hand, he was holding what looked like a walking staff, and his left hand, he held what appeared to be a large sprig of celery. Big, bold letters on the right side of the sign read, “Thou shalt not kill,” and underneath this quote from the Old Testament was the imperative “Go vegetarian.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against being a vegetarian, and certainly would not fault anyone for being one. However, it is a grotesque miscarriage of God’s Word to rip a verse out of context and use it to justify or condemn a practice that is not even addressed in the text. Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear the commandment not to kill did not apply to animals, but only to the unlawful murder of humans. In Genesis 9:1-6, God directly said to Noah and his sons that they could eat “every moving thing that lives.” In that passage, however, he made it clear that the human life was different than animal life. In verse six, he stated: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.”

To imply that God’s commandment, “thou shalt not kill” (found in Exodus 20:13), applies to animals is further shown to be ridiculous when one realizes that God Himself sent quail for the Israelites to eat (Exodus 16:8,13), and He also commanded the Israelites to kill and eat lambs during the Passover feast. Concerning the Passover lamb, Moses wrote: “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year…. Then the whole assembly of the congregation shall kill it at twilight. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire...” (Exodus 12:5,7,8). Obviously, God’s injunction not to kill did not extend to any animal, but only to humans.

The New Testament explicitly documents the fact that certain “religious” people would attempt to forbid the eating of certain foods. Paul wrote to Timothy:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1,3-5).

To take “thou shalt not kill” out of context and apply it to animal life aligns the person who does such with those who Paul said would “depart from the faith.” Furthermore, it strikes at the very heart of God’s insistence that He created man in His own image, unlike any other creature, endowing only man with an immortal soul. Whichever vegetarian group sponsored that billboard, certainly has not spoken from God that which is right (Job 42:7).

And, by the way, some would classify celery (a plant) as a “living organism.” If “thou shalt not kill” applies to all life, wouldn’t the man on the billboard who was holding a decapitated sprig of celery be guilty of killing a living thing? And would those who sponsored this billboard therefore suggest that the Bible condemns killing mosquitoes, roaches, or fire ants? Once a Bible verse is taken out of its proper context, and is used improperly to either justify or condemn something, where does such a practice stop?




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