The Meatless Kingdom | 6

The Meatless Kingdom | 6


Now that we've explored some of the major scenes in the Old Testament as they relate to the topic of animal sacrifices and meat eating (from Adam and Eve allegedly being clothed with the skins of an animal that God killed, to God's supposed allowance for Noah to eat "all" things, all the way to the prophets who denounced animal sacrifices), we can now begin to step into the New Testament era.

John the Baptist, the Essene Prophet

The New Testament opens up with several key details as to who Jesus is and some of his early life, but it also opens up with one enigmatic figure standing between two crucial periods of history with a crucial message, and lifestyle, that bridges the gap between the older Prophets and Jesus. Thus, we'll begin with John the Baptist.

John is the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth[1] and is a prophet of God sent "in the spirit and power of Elijah"--a mighty, righteous prophet, no doubt. Of John, Jesus said, as it's recorded in Matthew 11:11 (KJV),

Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

This man is an important and influential figure as he relates to the Gospel, and we should consider his message and lifestyle. 

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.[2]

A first reading of this passage reveals several things about his message and lifestyle:
  • John preached "Repentance"
  • John preached the Kingdom of God
  • John was a prophesied figure
  • John lived a rough, wilderness life
    • "raiment of camel's hair"
    • "leathern girdle"
    • food consisted of "locusts" and "wild honey"
The question that relates to our study centers around what John ate.

Reference to "locust" here seems foreign to us, but in the area in which John lived, eating such things wasn't uncommon. According to James Tabor, a Biblical Scholar and Professor of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (at great length)[3],

The most commonly held view of John’s diet, based on our text in Mark, is that he ate locusts, a migratory form of the grasshopper of the family Acrididae, still commonly consumed by desert peoples in Arabia.

Indeed, the most common view of John's diet is one small piece of this larger puzzle of what's permissible to eat or not. Surely, if John did eat meat, it must've been in accordance with the Torah designations in Leviticus 11. "Grasshopper" is a clean food, and John was "at liberty" to eat it. But this assumes the word "locusts" is correctly translated. Tabor continues,

Others have suggested the word translated “locusts” refers to the beans of the carob tree, commonly called “St. John’s bread.” However, the Greek word translated “locusts,” (akris/ακρις) seems to clearly refer to a species of grasshopper. The problem is such eating of “flesh,” even if that of an insect, seems to contradict the sources that emphasize his ascetic vegetarian ideal. Paul, for example, refers to members of the Jesus movement who abstain from eating meat and drinking wine (Roman 14:1-4). We also have traditions that James, the brother of Jesus, practiced a strictly vegetarian lifestyle, which was also common among the Jewish Christian community that became known as the “Ebionites,” see my post here. Somehow “locusts” seem out of place.

A possible solution to this confusion about John’s desert diet is found in the fragments we have of the lost “Gospel of the Ebionites,” as quoted by the 4th-­century Christian writer Epiphanius (Panarion 30.13.4-5), who hated the group but fortunately, nonetheless, can’t resist quoting them--thus preserving some precious material. The Greek word for locusts (akris/ἀκρίδες) is very similar to the Greek word for “honey cake” (enkris/έγκρίς) that is used for the “manna” that the Israelites ate in the desert in the days of Moses. According to this ancient text was not locusts but these cakes cooked in olive oil. If this is the case then John would have eaten a cake of some type, made from a desert plant, similar to the “manna” that the ancient Israelites ate in the desert in the days of Moses. This “bread from heaven” is described as “like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31; Numbers 11:8).

What we learn from this passage in Tabor's article is that there seems to be discrepancies between other sources that claim John was a vegetarian and the typical rendering of the word we think means "locust, the grasshopper." In other words, there is more to be considered than just what's found in most translations because there's a greater, often ignored, context.

First, Tabor mentions "The Gospel of the Ebionites," which was quoted by early Christian writer Epiphanius in Panarion 30.13.4-5. The relevant fragment is as follows:[4]

Fragment Two
1. During the time when John was baptizing, the Pharisees approached him and were baptized – along with many from Jerusalem.
2. He wore clothing made of camels' hair, with a leather belt around his hips. And his food was wild honey prepared with oil cakes, which tasted like manna.

Fragment Two of the Ebionite Gospel differs from the Synoptic accounts in that it's very clear that John ate wild honey prepared with oil cakes. In the Panarion, we find the same: "And John had a garment of camel`s hair and a leather girdle about his loins, and his food, as it is said, was wild honey, the taste if which was that of manna, as a cake dipped in oil." Interestingly, this rendering, as it appears in the commentary on the Ebionite Gospel, suggests the honey tasted like a cake dipped in oil. Regardless of these seeming discrepancies, Epiphanius' claims, "Thus they were resolved to pervert the truth into a lie and put a cake in the place of locusts." To Epiphanus, the Ebionites had made the corruption of the text. To the Ebionites, others had made the corruption. So, which do we believe? The better question might be which is more consistent with the data so far? In other words, Which rendering is more in line with the Creator's original design of creation and with the messages of the more ancient Prophets? Aside from the Ebionite fragments, we have another nuance to consider. 

Second, Tabor brings out interesting linguistic nuances. The term for "locusts" is akris; a very similar term for "honey cake" is enkris. It appears there's only a one or two letter difference in translation--and the difference is drastic.

In light of these two interesting points, the conclusion of John's diet must be based on the entire context we've been able to structure up to this point: the creation order and God's original design; the translation issues of the Cain and Able scene; the plain language of God to Noah; the message of all the prophets denouncing the meat diet and sacrificial system; and the Ebionite fragments and how they bring nuance to the mainstream translations of "locusts." For the uncertain reader, it's anyone's guess what John ate. Most people prefer the locust-eating prophet simply because it fits better with their own meat-eating preference. But if John didn't eat the locust and instead ate a sort of bean or cake (translation pending), then the New Testament opens with a vegan/ vegetarian prophet and there's less justification for the mainstream meat diet for churchgoers. Besides, even if John did eat actually locusts, and there is no translation error, that itself doesn't prove that John ate meat. Certainly, eating locusts seems a lot more friendly. 

Jesus, the Essene Prophet and Messiah, and his Disciples

Now to the more interesting questions: Did Jesus the Messiah serve people fish? Did he himself eat fish? While the answers to these questions are a little more nuanced than the one we asked concerning John, a reasonable conclusion can be reached--especially keeping in mind all the data we have so far. Our analysis of what Jesus ate will depend on the same sources we briefly considered when studying John. Josephus, Hegesippus, and Epiphaneus can help us. What follows is a collection of quotes that underscore the habits of the Apostle Peter and one of Jesus' brothers named James, the author of the New Testament Epistle.
  • NazActs 7:6 [Apostle Peter]But maybe, although you live with me, you do not know my manner of life. I live on bread alone, with olives, and seldom even with pot-herbs; and my dress is what you see, a tunic with a tallit: and having these, I require nothing more. This is sufficient for me, because my mind does not regard things present, but things ageless, and therefore no present and visible thing delights me. For we—that is, I and my brother Andrew—have grown up from our childhood not only orphans, but also extremely poor, and through necessity have become used to labor, whence now also we easily bear the fatigues of our journeyings.
  • Hegesippuss’ Fragments from Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, Book V James, the Lord’s brother, succeeds to the government of the church, in conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just, from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh; no razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, nor make use of the [public] bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not wear any woollen garment, but fine linen only.

We can see here from these historical testimonies that the Apostles and Jesus' own family member were vegetarian and didn't eat meat. It should be noted that these testimonies are with regards to the ancient sect known as the Essenes/ Ebionites, a sect that was well known for their non-violence, vegetarianism, rejection of the sacrificial system, and rejection of Paul as an apostle.[5] If James didn't eat meat growing up, how is it possible to conclude that his brothers and sisters did? If Jesus never ate meat, then why would his Apostles have special license, especially if the evidence suggests they were Essene/ Ebionites, a group famous for their vegetarianism? Additionally, we must remember that the prohibition of meat eating is based on the idea that YHWH never commanded the sacrifices, which we learned served as a pretext for the meat diet. The Homilies of Peter[6] suggest this. In them, he says,

But that He is not pleased with sacrifices is show by this: those who lusted after flesh were slain as soon as they tasted it, and were buried, so that it was called the grave of lusts. He then who at the first was displeased with the slaughtering of animals, not wishing them to be slain, did not ordain sacrifices as desiring them; nor from the beginning did He require them. For neither are sacrifices accomplished without the slaughter of animals, nor can the first-fruits be presented. But how is it possible for Him to abide in darkness, and smoke, and storm (for this also is written), who created a pure sky, and created the sun to give light to all, and assigned the invariable order of their revolutions to innumerable stars? 

Dear reader, you can see that, so far, I've been echoing the words of Peter, an Apostle of Jesus. Peter's observation of the famous "manna and quail" incident given to us in Torah is the same as ours: when they ate the meat, they disobeyed YHWH and were therefore worthy of punishment. To reiterate the point I've consistently labored to prove, meat eating is outside of the will of the Creator.

In addition to The Homilies and Acts of the Nazarenes, we have additional gospels that testify to these notions that were held by the Essenes/ Ebionites/ Nazarenes. From the Ebionite/ Essene Gospel, we find these sayings attributed to Yahshua:

Fragment Six

1. “I have come to abolish the sacrifices.

2. “If you don’t stop sacrificing, the suffering won’t stop weighing upon you.”

Fragment Seven

1. “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat for the Passover?”

2. To this, he replied, “I do not want to eat the flesh of this Paschal Lamb with you.”

Likewise, this saying is attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas: "(87) Jesus said: Wretched is the body which depends upon a body, and wretched is the soul which depends on these two." Despite whatever issue(s) one might take with these documents (especially Thomas’), these sayings seem authentic in light of the surmounting evidence we’ve seen already. Whatever corruptions have entered Thomas’ text, we should understand that no biblical text is without some falsification. Nevertheless, I say again, the overwhelming evidence supports a vegetarian society of disciples who followed a vegetarian Rabbi, Jesus the Messiah.

But naysayers will undoubtedly cite the few instances where Jesus [allegedly] feeds people fish, or eats it himself. There are two possible rebuttals we can consider, and it won't take much space:
  • Based on the historical data we've seen, the "fish accounts" are interpolations and miss-translations, acting as more justifications for the pagan meat eaters
  • We're not reading the text carefully enough because of our lusts

In Matthew 14:16-21 and 16:6-12 respectively [7], we read,

And Jesus said to them, `They have no need to go away -- give ye them to eat.' And they say to him, `We have not here except five loaves, and two fishes.' And he said, `Bring ye them to me hither.' And having commanded the multitudes to recline upon the grass, and having taken the five loaves and the two fishes, having looked up to the heaven, he did bless, and having broken, he gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes, and they did all eat, and were filled, and they took up what was over of the broken pieces twelve hand-baskets full; and those eating were about five thousand men, apart from women and children.

and Jesus said to them, `Beware, and take heed of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees;' and they were reasoning in themselves, saying, `Because we took no loaves.' And Jesus having known, said to them, `Why reason ye in yourselves, ye of little faith, because ye took no loaves? do ye not yet understand, nor remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many hand-baskets ye took up? nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? how do ye not understand that I did not speak to you of bread -- to take heed of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees?' Then they understood that he did not say to take heed of the leaven of the bread, but of the teaching, of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

It's clear that in Matthew 14 Jesus receives loaves and fishes, but the language doesn't suggest the fish were distributed because the text doesn't say they were multiplied or distributed. Rather, "he did bless, and having broken, he gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes, and they did all eat." A careful reading leads us to the conclusion that, though he might've received the fish, he didn't distribute them--and why would he, given that he was a vegetarian Essene? Proof of this comes two chapters later when Jesus says, "Do ye not yet understand, nor remember the five loaves of the four thousand [...] nor the seven loaves of the four thousand [...]" Why didn't Jesus frame the question with the fish? Because he either didn't distribute them or the fish were inserted later into the text. Either way, you won't have an Essene feeding others, or themselves, meat. In anticipation of more gainsaying, I'll quote a section from a Q&A found on the All-Creatures website. Brother John Vijucic makes several reasonable observations for the questioner:

In John’s version even though reference is indirectly made to Jesus’s breaking of the fishes, nevertheless the twelve baskets contained only the broken pieces of five loaves. It is therefore evident to me that Jesus used only five loaves to feed the people and the reference to the fishes is a later interpolation.

What's obvious from my analysis and John's analysis, as well as others', is that the text must be carefully read in order to prevent bias.

A good example of this is Luke 24:41,42 where Jesus asks for food, receives fish and an honeycomb, and eats. But is this the case? It depends on the translation.

A survey of the verses on Biblehub will show which versions keep and which omit certain details. There are different categories of versions for ease of comparison:

  • Modern Translations omit "and of an honeycomb"

niv, nlt, esv, bsb, nasb, nasb 1995; 1977; amplified bible hcsb, cev, gnt, God's Word translation, isv, net

  • Classic Translations either omit (o) or keep (k) "and of an honeycomb"

kjv (k), nkjv  (k), kj 2000 (k), nheb (o), web (k), akjv (k), asv (o), afv (k), dbt (k), erv (o), wbt (k)

  • Early Modern Translations keep "and of an honeycomb"

Coverdale, Tyndale

  • Literal Translations either omit (o) or keep (k) "and of an honeycomb"

lsv (k), blb (o), ylt (k), slt (k), let (k)

  • Catholic Translations keep "and of an honeycomb"

Douay-Reims, Catholic Public Domain Version

  • Aramaic Translations keep "and of an honecomb"

Aramaic Bible in Plain English, Lamsa Bible

  • New Testament Translations either omit (o) or keep (k) "and of an honeycomb"

 ant (k), gnt (o), hbt (k), mnt (k), wnt (o), worrell nt (o), worsley nt (k)

In every translation found on Biblehub, we see every one keeps "fish" but some omit "honeycomb." This might lead the reader to suppose the omitting versions are the more accurate. But this depends on which manuscripts are being worked from, and which of those are the most authentic. Frank L. Hoffman relates the same in his short article found on All Creatures. He says, 

Concerning the phrase, "and of an honeycomb", in verse 42, which does not appear in the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, or the New International Version, note the following:

"These words are absent from the most important uncial [old Latin lettered] manuscripts; but it is difficult to account for their having found their way into the text unless we suppose them to be genuine. They are unquestionably of high antiquity, being quoted by Athanasius and the two Cyrils, and extant of many uncial and nearly all cursive manuscripts."1

Another discussion arises over the translation of verse 43, and what Jesus actually ate. Most translations say that He ate "it", thus the interpretation could be that Jesus ate the honeycomb and not the fish.

A few translations say that He ate "these". The Greek really doesn't say either "it" or "these". They have been added by translators for clarification. The Greek says: "And taking before them, He ate." What did He eat? We don't really know. It could have been either or both.

Hoffman's footnote is the following: 1. Cook, F. C. ed., The Bible Commentary, Vol. VII, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1981, 469. Why wouldn't the supposition be that the words are the most ancient and authentic? It certainly appears someone has been inserting and removing words and phrases. Hoffman suggested that himself, stating, "A few translations say that He ate 'these'. The Greek really doesn't say either 'it' or 'these'. They have been added by translators for clarification. The Greek says: 'And taking before the, He ate'. What did he eat?" Hoffman asks a great question--if both are mentioned, and the Greek word(s) "it" or "they" are insertions, then which did he eat? I sought to discover if his analysis was true, and I found it was. When I looked at the Mounce Interlinear, the words are indicated to be absent; in The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-Greek-English by Green, the literal Greek translation is, "And taking before them, He ate."

Even more interesting are ancient references to the text in question. Here are four such references.

  • Justin Martyr (II Century), On the Resurrection,IX: And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily; and He did eat honeycomb and fish.
  • Tertullian (II century), De Corona, 14: For it was after the gall He tasted the honeycomb, and He was not greeted as King of Glory in heavenly places till He had been condemned to the cross as King of the Jews, having first been made by the Father for a time a little less than the angels, and so crowned with glory and honor. 
  • Athanasius (IV cent.), Against the Arians, IV: For certainly he who gives food to others, and they who give him, touch hands. For ‘they gave Him,’ Scripture says, ‘a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb, and’ when He had ‘eaten before them, He took the remains and gave to them
  • Jerome (IV cent.), Letter to Eustochium: And now do you in your turn answer me these questions... How do you explain the fact that ... Peter saw the Lord standing on the shore and eating a piece of a roasted fish and a honeycomb.

The interesting fact of these ancient witnesses is the presence of "honeycomb" in their reference. This means these writers were using texts that had "honeycomb" in them. Two of these writers are second century. Tertullian's commentary is even more interesting in that he only mentions the honeycomb and not the fish. But Hoffman's question stands: which did he eat? both? just one? Typically, the conclusion would be that this one text is ambiguous at best, which means we don't base doctrine off of it; besides, when else is a doctrine based off of just one obscure text? But if  we learned anything from the earlier ancient references about the Essenes/ Ebionites and all the previous historical and biblical data, as well as "Feeding the Multitudes" accounts, I think we can logically conclude that it just isn't likely Jesus ate fish or was even served it.

What about "The Passover"?

Still, meat-eaters will wonder about the Passover, assuming Yahshua presented and ate a lamb. The thought is rooted in the notion that since "he is our Passover lamb" the lamb must've been present as a sort of confirmation and symbol of this mystery. But the evidence is found nowhere in the text. No matter the Gospel you consult, there's no reference to a lamb on that table. Instead, we see the following[8]:

And as they were eating, Yahshua took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 

An obvious question arose in my mind when I read this anew. I thought, "If the Passover Lamb [animal flesh and blood] is the symbol, then why didn't Jesus point to a lamb and say, "Take, eat; this lamb's flesh is as my body, which is broken for you; and the blood of the animal is as my blood, which shall be shed for you"? The obvious answer is that no such words were uttered because no such animal was present as a symbol--but the vegetarian bread and wine were! 


Given that the famous persons such as John the Baptist, Peter the Apostle, and James the Just (Jesus' brother) surrounding Jesus were Essene/ Ebionites, a sect known for their non-violence and vegetarianism, it's difficult to persist in the idea that he sanctified animal sacrifice and meat eating. That is, unless you have no control over your lusts.


[1] Luke 1:5-25

[2] Mark 3:1-4, KJV

[5] From Iraenus' "Againist Heresies" Book 1, Ch. 26: "Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God."
[6] Homilies III, Chapter XLV: Sacrifices, p. 291; The Nazarine Acts of the Apostles or The Recognitions of Clement Expanded Edition
[7] Young's Literal Translation

[8] Matthew 26:26,27, DNKJV