Based on historical documents and the research of many Christian scholars, Jesus Christ and the early Christians were vegetarians.
It is believed that Jesus was a member of the Nazarenes, an Essene group living near Mount Carmel in Israel. The Essenes were one of the main religious sects in first century Palestine. Members wore white and followed a vegetarian diet.
According to the 4th century church historian, Epiphanius, and Jewish philosopher Philo, the Essenes were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but were nonviolent toward all living creatures and considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with animals. As a member of this group, Jesus would have to have been a vegetarian, as was His brother James (Jacob) and all His disciples.
The main Essene scripture is the Gospel of the Holy Twelve, also known as the Gospel of the Nazarenes. This is the Gospel repeatedly mentioned, described and quoted by many commentators of the first century Church. However, this ancient scripture was hidden away for centuries in a Tibetan monastery and was rediscovered only in 1888. Many of the most revered early church fathers, as well as a surprising number of scholars today, have declared that the Gospel of the Holy Twelve is nothing less than the long-lost original Gospel. According to legend, this Gospel was collectively written by the 12 apostles immediately following Christ’s death, and it is the scripture upon which all of the Biblical synoptic Gospels are based. It so happens that this version of the New Testament also portrays Jesus as a strict vegetarian.
In the modern-day New Testament, there is a story about Jesus feeding bread and fish to 5,000 people (Mark 6:31-44). As seen in the following story from the Gospel of the Holy Twelve, the food involved was only bread and grapes; there is no fish. Jesus fed the 5,000 people with six loaves and seven clusters of grapes.
(Gospel of the Holy Twelve, Lection XXIX, 1-8)
1. And the Feast of the Passover drew near. The Apostles and their fellows gathered themselves together to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, “Come you yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.
2. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew Him, and ran afoot away, out of all cities, and out went them, and came together to Him.
3. And Jesus, when He came forth, saw many people and was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep having not a shepherd.
4. And the day was far spent, and His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about into the villages, and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat.”
5. He answered and said to them, “You give them to eat.” And they said to him, “ Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?”
6. He said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they knew, they said, “Six loaves and seven clusters of grapes.” And He commanded them to make all sit down by companies of fifty upon the grass. And they sat down in ranks by hundreds and by fifties.
7. And when He had taken the six loaves and the seven clusters of grapes, he looked up to Heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and the grapes also, and gave them to his disciples to set before them, and they divided them among them all.
8. And they did all eat and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that were left. And they that did eat of the loaves and of the fruit were about 5,000 men, women and children, and He taught them many things.
This evidence indicates that the story of feeding the mass did not originally include fish.
There are countless passages in the Gospel of the Holy Twelve where Jesus teaches us to love animals and not eat meat. For example:
And some of the people said, “This man cares for all creatures. Are they his brothers and sisters that he should love them?” And He said to them, “these are your fellow creatures of the great household of God. Yea, they are your brothers and sisters, having the same breath of life in the eternal. And whosoever cares for one of the least of these, and gives it to eat and drink in its need, does the same to me. And who so willingly suffers one of these to be in want, and defends it not when evilly entreated, does the evil to me. For as you have done in this life, so shall it be done to you in the life to come.” (Lection XXXIV, 9-10)
And again that one asked, “If anyone comes to us who eats flesh and drinks strong drink, how shall we receive them?” And Jesus said to him, “Let such a person abide in the outer court until they cleanse themselves from these grosser evils; for till they perceive, and repent of these, they are not fit to receive the higher mysteries.” (Lection XCI, 8)
“You shall not take away the life of any creature for your pleasure, nor for your profit, nor yet torment it.” (Lection XLVI, 10)
“You shall not eat the flesh , nor drink the blood of any slaughtered creature, not yet anything which brings disorder to your health or senses.” (Lection XLVI, 12)
“You shall cherish and protect the weak, and those who are oppressed, and all creatures that suffer wrong.” (Lection XLVI, 18)
Another scripture, The Essene Gospel of Peace, was discovered in 1923 in the secret archives of the Vatican. The following are some sections of the words that Jesus shared with the Essenes taken from this scripture:
‘Thou shalt not kill,’ for life is given to all by God, and that which God has given, let not man take away. For-I tell you truly, from one Mother proceeds all that lives upon the earth. Therefore, he who kills, kills his brother. And from him will the Earthly Mother turn away, and will pluck from him her quickening breasts. And he will be shunned by her angels, and Satan will have his dwelling in his body. And the flesh of slain beasts in his body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself, and whoso eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats of the body of death. For in his blood every drop of their blood turns to poison; in his breath their breath to stink; in his flesh their flesh to boils; in his bones their bones to chalk; in his bowels their bowels to decay; in his eyes their eyes to scales; in his ears their ears to waxy issue. And their death will become his death. (Book 1)
Kill not, neither eat the flesh of your innocent prey, lest you become the slaves of Satan. For that is the path of sufferings, and it leads unto death. But do the will of God, that his angels may serve you on the way of life. Obey, therefore, the words of God: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is breath of life, I give every green herb for meat. (Book 1)
But I do say to you: Kill neither men, nor beasts, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. For if you eat living food, the same will quicken you, but if you kill your food, the dead food will kill you also. For life comes only from life, and from death comes always death. For everything which kills your foods, kills your bodies also. And everything which kills your bodies kills your souls also. And your bodies become what your foods are, even as your spirits, likewise, become what your thoughts are. (Book 1)
Why were some of Jesus’ teachings in the Essene scriptures excluded from or revised in the Bible? Why did Christianity later abandon its vegetarian roots? According to Steven Rosen in his book, Food for the Spirit, “The early Christian fathers adhered to a meatless regime…many early Christian groups supported the meatless way of life. In fact, the writings of the early Church indicate that meat eating was not officially allowed until the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine decided that his version of Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat eating interpretation of the Bible therefore became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practice in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down their throats if they were captured.”
Some groups that claim spiritual descent from the ancient Essenes and whose members currently describe themselves as Essenes believe that the 27 books we now call the New Testamentof the Bible and even some translations of books considered canonical were changed to censor certain beliefs such as transmigration, the feminine aspect of Divinity, and vegetarianism. These groups use the Nazarean Bible of the Essene Way, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadhi Library manuscripts and other recently discovered gospels as the basis for much of their beliefs.
Although the Bible is not complete and its many inconsistencies about meat eating and vegetarianism require thoughtful interpretation, countless passages that refer to vegetarianism remain. The following are some examples from the King James version:
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. (Genesis 1:29-30)
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. (Genesis 9:4)
Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:13)
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. (Proverbs: 15:17)
Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh. (Proverbs 23:20)
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats…And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil. (Isaiah 1:11, 15-16)
Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. (1 Corinthians 6:13)
(Jesus said,) I will have mercy, and not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7)
(St. Paul, one of Jesus’ disciples, said in his letter to the Romans) It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (Romans 14:21)
Many Christian scholars have concluded that vegetarianism is the ethic more consistent with the spirit of Christ’s teachings. Many Christian groups from the time of Christ have practiced vegetarianism, among them, the Seventh Day Adventist maybe being the most well known.
Throughout history, many Christians have become aware of the cruel and un-Christ like behavior of the meat eating habit. Nowadays, an increasing number of Christians are becoming vegetarian as a more merciful and compassionate way to live.