Many people argue, on the basis of 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 the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”), that God did not originally intend man to eat meat, but that He removed that prohibition after the Flood, when He said in Genesis 9:2–3, “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.”
However, several things in the text of Genesis suggest otherwise. I shall note them here in order not of strength but of sequence in the text.
First, the argument from 1:29–30 is logically faulty because it derives a negative from an affirmative. “This shall be food for you” does not mean “That shall not.”
Second, when Adam and Eve sin and become ashamed and try to hide their nakedness, God (mercifully!) makes coverings of them from animal skins (Genesis 3:21). At the very least this indicated the legitimacy of killing animals for human benefit. It is quite likely, too, that God accompanied this action with the institution of animal sacrifice to atone for sin—something suggested by the fact that their firstborn son, Abel, knows to bring an animal sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:4). Whether God instituted sacrifice with the killing of the animal(s) needed to give Adam and Eve their coverings of skin or sometime later, that such began during mankind’s first generation is clear. But everything else we know of animal sacrifice from the Old Testament (and pagan customs) is that it always involved a meal, in which the part of the animal offered on the altar represented God’s portion, and the part consumed by the worshiper represented his portion, and the meal consumed together indicated peace and reconciliation between God and the sinner. Thus it is at least very likely, if not certain, that Abel would have eaten some of the animal he sacrificed to God, and assuming that he learned the sacrificial ritual from his parents, they would have been doing likewise for some time before.
Third, by the eighth generation (Jabal, in Cain’s line) after Adam, we read of one described as “the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” (Genesis 4:20)—that is, of nomadic shepherds. The text doesn’t say for certain that they kept these livestock for food, but it is possible.
Fourth, when God instructs Noah to take animals into the ark, two of every kind, He goes out of His way to instruct him, “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:2–3). Why seven of the “clean” animals, and what made those animals “clean”? They were “clean” because they were suitable for sacrifice: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’” (Genesis 8:20–21). Again, the likelihood that the sacrificial ritual included, as it does throughout the Mosaic practice, a symbolic meal eaten together by God and the worshiper comes into play. If the worshiper was to consume some of each animal he sacrificed, the animal was “clean” for purposes of both sacrifice and eating.
These four clues then suggest that God intended man to eat animals before the Flood.
But those who say otherwise argue, “But surely Genesis 9:2–3 is conclusive. It is only after the Flood that God says to mankind (all represented in Noah), ‘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.’ When did He give them the green plants as food? At creation, in Genesis 1:29–30. But now, and only now, does He also give them animals to eat.”
But that interpretation of 9:2–3 fails to consider its context adequately.
Having said, “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,” God goes on immediately to say, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). This is the change: not the permission to eat meat, but the prohibition to eat it with the blood. The permission in verses 2–3 then is given not to remove a prior prohibition (to eat meat) but to preclude a faulty inference from a new prohibition: “We’re not to eat blood? Then are we forbidden to eat meat?” “No. You may eat meat, as before, but no longer with its blood.”
This then reinforces the message, implicit in the sacrifices all along, that redemption from sin will be by blood, particularly the blood of the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15), later to be identified as the Messiah (Isaiah 53 and elsewhere). Acceptable sacrifices for sin before were bloody, as in Abel’s, pointing ahead to Christ’s, but now the point becomes more clear, as God later makes explicit through Moses: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11).
In Genesis 9:2–4, then, we have not the beginning of the permission to eat meat but the beginning of the prohibition of eating meat with its blood still in it. That prohibition continued until after Christ, when, it having been a shadow of what was to come, it was done away when the substance arrived (Colossians 2:17), maintained temporarily only so far as necessary to prevent offense to Jews (Acts 15).