Izaak van Oosten – Garden of Eden
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6.  Conclusions

In summary, in this essay I have argued that 1 Timothy 4 is simply reiterating the teachings of traditional Judaism about the goodness of God’s creation, marriage and the body. It does this within the framework of Genesis 1 and 2 and also based on the incarnation and resurrection of Christ in the body, which definitively vindicated the goodness of creation, and of God. I hold that in these verses Paul is condemning a particularly harsh form of asceticism in regard to food and the body. Paul’s condemnation of this form of dualistic asceticism in 1 Timothy 4 follows closely the same pattern used in Colossians 2 and 3: it juxtaposes severe bodily mortification and false humility with true inner holiness and love. This is also one of the reasons why Paul at the end of the letter talks about ‘God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (1 Timothy 6:17), in contrast to the Gnostics and their depreciation of the physical world. Moreover, I maintain that Paul is not inventing some novel doctrine that Christians have to eat meat or animal foods in order to please God, but is underlining that food, in general, and creation — having been pronounced good — are to be received with thanksgiving.

What I have attempted to show is how in the exegesis of 1 Timothy 4 the chapter has been severed from its immediate context, the other Scriptures of the New Testament, the overarching biblical story that began in Genesis, a historical understanding of diet, and traditional concepts found within Judaism. In this distorted interpretation Paul ends up condemning and contradicting the very Genesis account that he was in fact strenuously defending. Paradoxically, in this view Paul is cut off from the Hebrew Scriptures and is himself cast as a sort of Gnostic who believes that God’s original perfection was demonic.

Jesus’ mission was — and is — to restore the perfect world of Genesis 1 and 2.[1] Moreover, death, killing and predation are the result of sin in the Bible story,[2] and meat eating is a concession only made by God in Genesis 9 after the Flood. Jesus himself considered Genesis 1 and 2 to be God’s ideal world (Matthew 19:8), and we are told that one day God intends to restore it (Isaiah 11:6-9, Romans 8:19-23, Revelation 21-22). All this makes up the Bible story that has at its centre the cosmic redemption — of humans, animals and creation — purchased by Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross: this is also the framework for the gospel message of which Paul was both a preacher and apostle. Conversely, many interpretations of 1 Timothy 4 appear to create a fracture in the Bible narrative, and end up pitting the New Testament against the Old.

No doubt various factors have brought about what I believe to be a deeply distorted interpretation of 1 Timothy 4, including a general Church tradition and the development of the Christianity in the West which, while deeply interesting, go beyond the scope of this essay.[3] This interpretation has also been used more recently by forces within society which are seeking to make a case against the growing vegan movement. And yet I have attempted to demonstrate that the whole argument simply falls apart under greater scrutiny, and creates stilted and legalistic doctrines which are contradicted by the rest of Scripture. This interpretation also seems to misrepresent God and his character. God is merciful to both man and animals: ‘The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made’.[4] Furthermore, meat-eating is made into a false test for Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy: a doctrine that does not appear in Scripture, which upholds Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection, and authentic Christian holiness based on love, as the basis for both.

Contrary to what is often promoted, I maintain that veganism is a dietary choice that is perfectly in line with Scripture if a Christian is led by God to make it. Our freedom in Christ, motivated by love, and guided by the Spirit allows for it.[5] Paul talked about Christians abstaining from certain foods for the Lord (Romans 14:1-5), and even affirmed that he would never eat meat again if necessary (1 Corinthians 8:13). Jesus taught that what counts is the inner disposition of the believer: God’s truly looks to the heart (Matthew 15:11-20). While it may not have always been possible for all believers throughout history, veganism still represents God’s original blueprint for humanity and new reasons for being vegan have arisen strongly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These range from human health, animal cruelty, the environment, to the use of resources and world hunger, with many of these become more compelling by the day.[6] But above all veganism can be seen as a sign of hope for the restoration of God’s creation, and a disruption of the history of death and violence of the world. In this sense, it can help to create a horizon of expectation for the coming kingdom of God, and the ultimate and final victory of Christ (Revelation 19-22).

In fine, it appears sad, and dumbfounding, that God’s ideal, and future hope, have been maligned to the point of being called ‘demonic’ or ‘evil’; no doubt even this is part of the pain and mockery that Christ has to bear in his journey through history, and it is part of the cross that Christian vegans and vegetarians have had to faithfully carry with him. But, together with the apostle Paul, we eagerly look forward to the coming resurrection of the body and the restoration of all of God’s good creation.

For the entire article, go here:  1 Timothy 4 and Veganism- A Closer Look

[1] Matthew 18:11.
[2] See also Andrew Linzey, Animal Gospel: Christian Faith as though Animals Mattered (London: Hodder&Stoughton, 1998), 32-36.
[3] See also Grumett and Muers, Theology on the menu, 89-106.
[4] Psalm 36:6; Psalm 145:9.
[5] Galatians 5:13-25.
[6] See Cowspiracy, “The Facts,” accessed 15 March, 2018, http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/; Marco Springmann et al., “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change,” PNAS 113, no. 15 (2016): 4146-4151; Bojana Bajželj et al., “Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation,” Nature Climate Change 4 (2014): 924–929; Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin, “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming,” Earth Interactions, 10 (2006): 1–17; FAIRR, “Factory Farming: Assessing Investment Risks, 2016,” accessed 19 November, 2017, http://www.fairr.org/wp-content/uploads/FAIRR_Report_Factory_Farming_Assessing_Investment_Risks.pdf; Wired, Brandon Keim, “Swine Flu Ancestor Born on U.S. Factory Farms,” modified May 1, 2009, https://www.wired.com/2009/05/swineflufarm/.

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