There is an adage that says, "The Bible can be used to justify any position." To a degree, that's a fair statement. Reading the Scriptures, one is presented with many messages that can't coexist. That is where theology comes in--making sense of sacred texts, attempting to discern the true meaning of divinity and existence.
Most reputable theologians consider Biblical interpretation to be the product of "progressive revelation"; that is, our understanding develops over time, in the same way that our understanding of science or linguistics or even computers develops over time. There is not one stationary truth, valid for all eternity. For example, 200 years ago, it was considered fine by most to be a slaveholding Christian; 300 years ago, Galileo was sentenced to the torture chamber for his belief that the Earth is not the center of the universe; 500 years ago, Martin Luther declared that Jews' "houses and synagogues should be set on fire" and called for death to Jews who attempt to worship or teach in public. Today, despite Biblical texts that justify these and other atrocities, we understand that the nature of God precludes slavery, torture, and anti-Semitism.
Scholarship and new discoveries, as well as a growing development of ideas, ethics, and common purpose, govern how we view Biblical revelation. God, in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), demands death for all manner of "sins," from adultery to sorcery to cursing one's parents. One story in the book of Numbers tells of a man who gathers wood on the Sabbath stoned to death in front of Moses, "as Yahweh had commanded." Most of the Patriarchs had slaves and multiple wives. Samuel, speaking for God, orders Saul to "kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Samuel 15). Pope John Paul II has said that any interpretation of Scripture that contradicts a rational understanding of God's goodness and mercy is incorrect.
So, yes, there are Scriptural passages that justify eating and exploiting animals. But there are many more passages that justify killing innocents in war, taking slaves, burning witches, anti-Semitism, and other clearly merciless, violent, and immoral actions. The good news is that there are far more and stronger Biblical arguments for treating all animals, human or not, as fellow creatures of God, worthy of respect and compassion, to be cared for, not exploited, tortured, or killed.
Most of us would agree that harming a dog or cat is unethical--unChristian even. It is both rational and Biblically sound to suggest, then, that harming any living being, including cows, chickens, pigs, and fishes, is equally immoral. A loving and merciful God, the God of the prophets and nonviolent garden of Eden, would not countenance animal abuse. The "Prince of Peace," prophesied in Isaiah, is Jesus Christ, according to Christian tradition. It would be unthinkable for the Prince of Peace to eat animals, considering God's original plan for the garden of Eden and Isaiah's vision of the "end time"--when even the lion will lie down with the lamb, and violence and bloodshed will cease to exist.
The Nazarenes of Mount Carmel
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