Evidence vegetarianism was widespread among early Christians

your say March 14, 2018 01:00

Re: “Please include a map for your wisdom treasures”, Have Your Say, yesterday.

That many early Christians were vegetarian can be gathered from various sources in scripture and the surviving writings of early Christians.

The verse where Paul says he will not eat meat if it makes his brother stumble is 1 Corinthians 8:13.

James, the brother of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church, was a vegetarian, as stated by Epiphanius, an orthodox believer. He refers to the Ebionites, Jewish Christians. “Ebionite” is a word derived from Hebrew meaning “the poor”. This group traced its vow of poverty back to the first Christian community described in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35), and was a spiritual community that shared all of its possessions in common.

Epiphanius quotes their gospel, the Ebionite or Hebrew Gospel, as ascribing these words to Jesus: “I have come to destroy the sacrifices” (Panarion 30.16.5), and as ascribing to Jesus rejection of the Passover meat (Panarion 30.22.4). These are analogous to numerous passages found in the Recognitions and Homilies (Recognitions 1.36, 1.54 and Homilies 3.45, 7.4, 7.8).

The Ebionite or Hebrew Gospel quotes Jesus as saying, “I have come to abolish the sacrifices, and if you cease not from sacrificing, my wrath will not cease from you.” (Panarion 30.16.5)

One of the earliest Ebionite Christian documents is the Clementine Homilies, a work based on the teachings of St Peter. Homily XII states, “The unnatural eating of flesh meats is polluting, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts.”

The practice of vegetarianism appears to have been very widespread in early Christianity, both in the leadership and among the laity. Origen’s work “Contra Celsum” quotes Celsus commenting on vegetarian practices among Christians he had contact with.

Ian Martin