When Did Man Begin Eating Meat?

Question from a reader:

In Heaven Randy writes that it appears that neither animals nor people ate meat until after the flood. But Genesis 4 says Abel kept flocks and gave fat offerings, which suggests he ate meat. What are your thoughts?

Answer from Linda Jeffries, former EPM staff:

Genesis 1 tells us of God’s instructions to Adam and Eve, “and God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seen in its fruit. You shall have them for food’” (Genesis 1:29). He also goes on to say even the animals shall eat the “green plant for food”, and later adds “in the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the first fruit of the ground and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:3-4). God gave man authority to care for all the animals. Abel was a keeper of sheep. His offering was a firstborn animal and its fat. I can see where one might assume they ate animals, but Scripture doesn’t seem to support that they began eating meat at this time.

Additional thoughts from Julia (Stager) Mayo, former EPM Research Assistant:

Further, after the flood God said to Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.  The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:1-3). This text seems to show a fundamental shift in man’s relationship with animals, and is the first time the Lord says that “moving things” shall be food. Abel tended the flocks and used them for sacrifices. It’s possible he ate the meat, but it’s also possible (and perhaps more likely in light of Genesis 1 and 9) that Abel recognized blood needed to be shed (an animal needed to die) to atone for sin and therefore kept sheep for sacrifices, not food.

Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.