Did man eat meat before the Fall and the Flood?

Question
Did man eat meat before the Fall and the Flood?
Answer
The Bible does not specifically answer this question. However, let's briefly examine some of the arguments. The first argument assumes there was no death at all before the Fall. From this follows that man could not have eaten animals, since animals could not die.

So was there death before the Fall of man? Yes there was. God is the One who ordained the cycle of the "seed." Genesis 1:11-12 state:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

In the process of sprouting, a seed must sacrifice itself, or "die," in order to grow and become a plant. Jesus himself spoke on this very point saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24; 1 Cor 15:36). In addition, since Adam and Eve ate plants then the plants necessarily died when they were eaten. Clearly, there was death in the world prior to the Fall.

The giant pacific octopus mates and then dies. Squids die shortly after giving birth. After spawning North Pacific Salmon die. Mayflies only live to procreate and then die. Praying mantis' have a rather violate mating pattern; the female literally bites off the head of the male; sexual cannibalism. Female ticks die after laying their eggs. Eels die after spawning. Certain spiders, moths, and frogs die after giving birth as well. So, there was death before the Fall.

God set-up these cycles of life from the very beginning and said that they were not only "good" (Gen 1:12, 21), but "very good" (Gen 1:31). Death for animals and plants before the Fall was not a bad thing; just the natural process God himself ordained. So, while man did not die before the Fall (Gen 2:17; Rom 3:23; 5:12-19), this does not mean that animals and plants did not die before the Fall. While man's sin ultimately affected the entire Creation (Rom 8:19-22), this does not mean that death did not exist prior to the Fall for plants or animals.

We have established that there was the death of at least some plants and animals before the Fall. What about after the Fall?

After the Fall, God himself sacrificed an animal (Gen 3:21; cf. 1 Pet 1:19-20; Rev 13:8). God shed blood (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22). This was a sacrifice typifying the grace of God in salvation (Eph 2:8-10). God not only supplied the sacrifice (Gen 3:21: cf. Gen 22:8, 13), but the application of it too; Adam and Eve did not clothe themselves with the skins, but rather God clothed them (man is not saved by his own fig-leaf type works, Gen 3:7).

God's sacrifice in the Garden, at the very least then reveals the legitimacy of animal sacrifice for human benefit. Abel, a keeper of sheep, understood how to make an acceptable sacrifice using animals (Gen 4:3-4). Why was Abel a keeper of sheep? For what purpose? Perhaps to eat? Moreover, the description of Abel's sacrifice is instructive. Notice the phrase, "and of their fat portions" (Gen 4:4). This is similar to the peace offerings offered later where the "fat" was burned and the meat was eaten (Lev 3:9). Cain offered a grain offering. Later in the Old Testament we learn that grain offerings were accompanied by peace offerings (Lev. 3; 6:14-23). So, in Genesis 4 we may be observing the first coupling of peace and grain offerings. If so, then part of the offering may have been eaten by man.

Jabal, was the father of those who had livestock (Gen 4:20). Were any of these animals used in sacrifices? Were they used for meals? The Bible does not say. Noah received a special command by God to take 7 pairs of each clean animal upon the Ark (Gen 7:2-3). Clean animals were used for sacrifices. After the flood Noah offered an acceptable sacrifice to God (Gen 8:20-21). How did Noah know how to make an acceptable sacrifice? Did he just continue the practice from Abel? (Gen 4:3-4). Clearly, there was at least two animal sacrifices after the Fall and before the Flood; and probably several others.

It is important to note that many animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were often accompanied by a meal; God's portion was offered upon the altar and the worshipper's portion was consumed in a meal. Some covenants were confirmed with sacrifices, followed by meals (Gen 26:28-31; 31:54; Exod 24:3-11). Peace offerings (compare Abel's sacrifice, Gen 4:3-4) involved community meals (Lev 7:11-38; Deut 12:6-7; 27:7, etc.). Such meals and sacrifices were held at important points in Israel's history (Deut 27:7; 1 Chron 16:1-3; 2 Chron 7:1-10, etc.). And Paul compares the Lord's Supper to these sacrificial meals (1 Cor 10:16-21). Though the Mosaic Law was not officially given until Moses (Rom 5:13-14) and the Bible is silent on the issue, the fact that peace offering accompanied with meals remains a very real possibility in the society prior to Noah (Rom 2:14-15).

Some argue that Adam was given specific instructions in the Garden to only eat vegetation and not meat. They quote:

Genesis 1:29-30 And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on.

Does this affirm that Adam and Eve were merely vegetarians? Not necessarily. The text only states the positive command that man could eat vegetation; it does not explicitly forbid the eating of meat. So, while the text does dictate that man may eat vegetation it does not outlaw the eating of meat. Rather than establishing a diet for the Garden, with the repeated use of "every," Genesis 1:29-30 may just be laying the groundwork for God's command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17).

Others continue the argument and state that the first animals were eaten in obedience to Genesis 9:1-4. The text says:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

Genesis 9:1-3 is a re-issuing of the original lordship command given to Adam; even the "blessing" to "be fruitful and and multiply" (Gen 9:1, 7) is divinely similar to Genesis 1:28. The 'beasts of the earth, birds of the heaven, and fish of the sea' of Genesis 9:1-3 are all mentioned in Genesis 1:20-26, 28-30. So, we witness a re-creation or a renewal in Genesis 9:1-3. As John Gill wrote:

This is a renewal, at least in part, of the grant of dominion to Adam over all the creatures; these obeyed him cheerfully, and from love, but sinning, he in a good measure lost his power over them, they rebelled against him; but now though the charter of power over them is renewed, they do not serve man freely, but are in dread of him, and flee from him.

So, as Genesis 9:1-3 is not speaking of a brand new creation, but rather a renewal, so is it not necessarily speaking of a new command that man can eat animals, whom he already had full dominion over (Gen 1:26; 2:20). So, Genesis 9:1-3 is not necessarily a new permission to eat meat; especially seeing that meals involving the eating of meat may have accompanied earlier sacrifices after the Fall. However, there was definitely a new prohibition not to eat meat mingled with blood (Gen 9:4).

So, Genesis 9:1-3 refers to re-Creation. God adds the command not to eat meat with blood (Gen 9:4), Why? Because life is in the blood (Lev 17:11; cf. Gen 9:5-6). This reinforces the message implicit in all sacrifices; that redemption from sin would be "with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Pet 1:19-20; Gen 3:15; 21; John 1:29; Rom 3:25: 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:2).

Lastly, we need to take into account the depravity of man. Genesis 6:5-7 states:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them."

The depravity of man was very great. It was so great that God destroyed the world, except for Noah and the others with him on the Ark. It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that no one would have thought of killing and eating animals for some 2300 years (app.) before the Flood; especially seeing animals were already being used in sacrifices. However, this is an argument from silence, so not conclusive.

So, there is no absolute evidence one way or the other whether man did or did not eat meat before the Flood; however more than likely he did. We do know however that Old Testament dietary laws are no longer in effect (Rom 10:4; 14:1-4; Gal 3:23-25; Eph 2:15).

Related Topics

Did it rain before Noah's Flood?
Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22
Why did the Ark require pitch?
The Ark and the Temple?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).