In Genesis 1:29-30 man is given seed and fruit to eat but the animals are just given green plants. This verse has been misread to imply a vegetarian state. The correct reading gives a better picture of God’s heart for His children and the deeper issues involved.
Many cases are known where animals eat seed and fruit which seems contrary to a plain reading. There is no mistake here, but the first step to seeing things more clearly is to is to look into the deeper things, then come back to the natural. Let’s look for the significance of “seed” and “fruit” in Scripture.
The seed is the Word of God in Matthew 13:18-23 and Luke 8:11. We see other things like faith in Matthew 17:20, but for the moment I will just consider the Word of God. Fruit speaks of the spirit, “fruit of the spirit”. This is given to man and not to animals because man has a spirit and not animals. The fruit given explicitly states “fruit with seed in it”, so you cannot have the spirit without truth.
What did Adam lose when he sinned? He lost access to the fruit of the tree of life. He lost close intimate walks with God in the garden. Jesus said that God is Truth and Spirit and that true worshippers must worship in truth and spirit. (John 4:23-24) Can you see how truth is associated with the Word and Spirit is associated with this close intimate relationship. Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross enabled God to again pour out His Holy Spirit on believers, thus restoring the close intimate relationship of worship in the spirit. Truth was not lost. Adam still had access to seed after he sinned. That is Adam and his descendants could still hear the God speaking to them.
If you have grasped the above simple significance of seed and fruit then consider skipping the rest of this article. You have the key point. However some saints have defended Genesis 1 at the plain level for a long time and they will see concerns. There are also some misunderstandings that have grown out of this. I expend many words to calm these concerns, but here is a brief summary. I feel that there are other more important articles to read before tackling the detail here, unless of course you feel the need to clarify your concerns.
There are a couple of “reality checks” at the end of this article. It may be worth checking these out lest you too easily accept my symbolic meanings and drift into a mode where everything becomes symbolic and spiritual, forgetting the real Adam and the real garden.
Late Update: Many points in the rest of this article were later covered in the Created Mortal article, particularly the section on “The food issue”, which suggests why misunderstandings crept in. You will probably benefit from reading that article first, if you have not already.
In general I see that Genesis 1 has both a spiritual and natural understanding so I would also like to explore that. Because animals were only given plants, it is suggested that there were no carnivores and man did not, at least in the beginning, eat meat. This also means that carnivores only appeared, or changed to eating meat, after Adam sinned. Is this a reasonable natural understanding of this Scripture? I did not like it but I took a while to see the most powerful answer in Scripture. It’s a little bit of a journey and a lot of words but there are some interesting side issues, so I hope you will persevere. While we are on this journey, let’s recall Paul’s warning in Romans 14:3 not to judge those who hold a different opinion on eating or not eating meat.
Though I don’t like it, the idea that everything was vegetarian at the start seems to be consistent with some Scriptures suggesting that all creatures will be vegetarian in the end times. For example Isaiah 11:7 that describes the lion eating straw. But Isaiah 35:9 has “no lion living there”. This tends to push you into a symbolic understanding rather than plain understanding of Isaiah 11:7 as well as Genesis 1:29. Also the end portrayed in Revelations has the New Jerusalem as paradise, not a garden. So the “end” and the restoration of all things is not returning to the “start”.
Isaiah 65:25 is another relevant scripture where the lion eats straw. But when I started looking into this so many exciting things opened up that I created a whole new article. Have a look at More than a menu.
Genesis 1 is necessarily a brief summary of what happened. Fruit and seed is the best and most concentrated goodness that plants produce and so it speaks about eating from the “fat of the land” and of dominion over, and top of the food chain which is exactly what the previous verses are saying.
It is true in general that man eats seed and fruit and not green plants. It is true that most animals eat green plants. One important reason is that in general the animals don’t gather and store food as man does and since seed and fruit are seasonal, the animals needed to eat vegetation that was present all year round.
This verse about fruit and seed comes just after man has been given dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth. This does not include plants. So Genesis 1:29 is just a continuation. It declares which plants are to be eaten by which creatures. Saying it slightly differently, wherever we come across seed and fruit it, is for us and even though some animals eat seed and fruit we don’t have to leave a percentage for them. But we are not to deny the green plants to the animals because God has given that to them.
If it is only viewed as the distribution of plant food sources then it makes no direction on the eating of meat. Since this verse only mentions plants it raises a really interesting question. Why is it being read in the restrictive sense of denying the eating of animals? Where did the “only” word creep in? Where does it say man was “only” given seed and fruit? Sadly the answer is because the person reading it that way, is running a personal agenda that is inconstant with the rest of Scripture. It presumes that killing an animal for food is bad and could be misconstrued further to suggest that we were only given permission to eat meat because of our stubbornness, just as Moses gave permission to divorce your wife because of our hardness of heart (Mark 10:5). Next thing you know someone will be saying that if this was the way it was in the beginning when everything was perfect, then you become more holy by not eating meat. (Colossians 2:22)
Genesis 1:26 gave man dominion over animals – specifically over fish, birds and all the animals that inhabit land, whether domestic, wild or crawling. This was very specific and very broad. I just tend to use the one word, “animals” to cover this but God, though it was a brief account, mentioned all these types of animals specifically. But He did not include plants. So in verses 29 and 30, God allocates the plants, but since He has given man dominion over the animals He makes no allocation there. Do you see? God gave man authority over the animals to make decisions related to them. So the reason why animals are not mentioned in the food allocation verses is because God has given man the authority to make that decision.
Wow, that was revelation to me when I saw it. Page 1, and authority is given to man and God does not step in and attempt to force His authority in the area He has given over to man. But there is an interesting little saga that unfolds in the rest of scripture. I’ll paraphrase it for you...
It seems to me that from the beginning God wanted us to have everything that we might love and thank Him. As man became stubborn, some rules and regulations were added, so that by simply following the guidelines the Jew could live and not die. Then Jesus dealt with the root problem and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, believers come back to the heart issue in regard to all foods, namely, they are to be accepted in love and thankfulness. And just as in the beginning, we can choose to eat or not eat meat to the glory of God.
These points support the eating of food sources other than seed and fruit...
God does not change His mind like a man, yet the literal (strict, restrictive) interpretation here requires that He later changed His mind, without any reason given, when He gives permission to eat meat in Genesis 9:3. God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you” (NIV). But this verse is confusing because it goes on to say, “Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything”. But In Genesis 1:30 He gave the green plants to the animals and not to man. So I find it hard to see this as a definitive point in time that man is allowed to start eating meat.
In Genesis 9:3 Noah and his sons had just got out of the arc and were surrounded by all these wild animals, none of which were killed while on the arc. It seems to me that verses 1-3 are reassuring Noah and his sons that the animals will fear them and be food for them and not the other way around. This is reaffirming the dominion given to man in Genesis 1:28. In fact several aspects are very similar. So if dominion gave permission to eat flesh and dominion was given from the start, then eating of flesh was allowed from the start.
Late update: See A different view of Genesis 9:3
If man needed God’s permission to eat flesh in this verse, then where do we see permission for animals to eat flesh and become carnivores? We don’t – it has to be read or misread into the curse.
An interesting way to look at this eating of meat issue is not that Noah is being given permission to eat meat but that he is being told not to eat meat with blood still in it. To say this another way, eating of meat was already a practice, but now they were not to eat meat with the blood in it. So what has changed? In verse 8 God establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants and also with every living creature. This is a covenant with every living creature, not just man. Every living creature has just been saved by the grace of God through the waters. The hand of God brought each pair of animals into the arc. The hand of God closed the door of the arc. Noah did not save the animals, God did. So as a result of this close encounter with God, God ordains respect for even the lifeblood of the animals. We see God’s compassion on animals explicitly mentioned in Jonah 4:11.
Genesis 7 describes how both clean and unclean animals were taken into the arc – seven pairs of the clean animals but just one pair of the unclean. Where did this understanding of “clean” originate? It was not mentioned before this. It is also mentioned that Cain and Abel made sacrifice and that Noah made sacrifice after leaving the arc. Where were these rules of sacrifice laid down? God dictated the book of Genesis to Moses. God dictated statutes about sacrifice and eating of only clean animals through Moses in Leviticus 7:19. So God did not need to include these laws and statutes in the book of Genesis.
It is clear that God must have communicated the concepts of clean animals before Cain and Abel made their offerings. Though it is not stated clearly we can now assume that Cain’s first offering in Genesis 4:5 was not pleasing to God because he had not followed the procedures God laid down, probably because of some hardness of heart. The statutes in Leviticus indicate which animals can be eaten as well as which animals can be sacrificed. It even details what parts of the sacrifice are presented to God and what parts are to be eaten. So why should we assume that Cain and Abel were given a special set of rules that told them what to burn but not what to eat?
Did this knowledge of cleanness and of sacrifice come from the knowledge of good and evil? Perhaps, but I don’t think so, or it would not have been dictated again in Leviticus. It seems more likely that God spoke to Adam’s descendants about this. So not everything that God spoke was recorded! In this case because it was going to be recorded in Leviticus. But what we learn is that we must use the concepts and character of God laid down later in Scripture to understand what is happening in Genesis! Obviously I do that a lot. Do I go too far at times? You work it out.
Throughout the Bible God uses food to remind us of Him. That he provides and sustains our mortal and eternal lives.
At all times He uses the food that sustains our mortal bodies to draw us or turn us back to Him. Sometimes it is through thankfulness and sometimes through sacrifice and sometimes by the removal of food via drought. With this in mind, ask yourself, why didn’t God create Adam to be able to live forever rather than give him a mortal body that needed the fruit from the tree of life? It was so that whenever Adam and his descendants came to eat from the Tree of Life, they would remember God’s provision and be thankful. If it had been a birth right, we would all too easily take it for granted. Of course there are many other aspects to why I suggest Adam was created mortal and how God designed in mortality and these are discussed elsewhere.
I cannot believe I have written so many words about what seemed to start as a small debatable issue in the natural understanding of this brief verse. In hindsight there seems to have been something a little deeper involved. Perhaps you have seen it.
This is all I can assert from Scripture:
A note to passionate believers...
If you still have a theology of Fruit and Seed that precludes eating of meat until after the flood then that’s fine, but you don’t have definitive or even strong case from Scripture, so don’t get too stressed if I or others don’t see it your way.
I started looking at the reality of the trees here but it later grew into “The Trees, Sin, and God”. Much more than I expected.
I heard a well known evangelist use the above phrase in reference to two sides of the Church which needed to be more in unity or at least less critical of each other. Those founded on sound Bible teaching and those more interested in an experiential relationship of God. Recall how Genesis 1:29 gave Seed and Fruit with Seed in it to man. The Seed is the Word of God and the Fruit is the close relationship with God and worship of God. Next time you have breakfast and enjoy crunchy whole-grain cereal topped with fresh fruit then you know we need both aspects. But even the experiential part has to be based around and consistent with the Word of God for we were only given the fruit that has seed in it.
When I first started writing these articles I was tempted to keep it all based around what I considered sound Bible teaching. But increasingly I felt the need to slip in small experiences of my own testimony here and there. Initially it made me feel a little vulnerable and I wondered if detractors would use it to undermine the revelations that I have shared. Now I know that you cannot separate the two. You will never know God from just an understanding of His Word. Nor will any spiritual experience of itself reveal the depth of His Word. The moment of our salvation is a revelation of the truth of His word, that sin brought death, but also an experience of His love, His Grace, His mercy when His Son paid the price for us. Not a head knowledge, but a heart knowing both Truth and Grace.