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Should You Chow Down on In-Vitro Meat?

According to the Los Angeles Times, scientists are producing meat by in-vitro cell growth, with the prospect that it will replace raising livestock.
If it becomes commercially affordable, there will be no greenhouse gases or killing of animals.

The Christian consensus before the mass apostasy of AD 249-251 was that no food is religiously forbidden or unclean.

Jesus himself declared all foods clean (see Mark 7:18-19; Matthew 15:11-18). In Acts 10.10-16, the Lord told Peter not to call “unclean” any animal God has made clean (fit to eat).

The church father Origen commented on regarding as unclean and religiously forbidden even foods which Jewish law permitted.

He said this is foundationless in the objective reality of God’s will and arises from failure to correctly perceive the real sources of defilement.

Origen was dean of Christianity’s foremost educational institution of the early third century.

Christianity, Origen wrote, recognizes no food as unclean, although simplicity of mind and faultiness in one’s powers of reflection mislead some hyper-scrupulous Christians to believe otherwise. He forbade judging the uncleanness of animals.

However, he allowed for sensitive consciences that have reservations about foods sacrificed to idols, in which case the strong in the faith should not disturb weaker Christians by eating any in their presence.

Ancient Christians opposed deliberate abstinence from particular foods if the abstainer thereby considered himself closer to God.

Romans 14:3 reads: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats,” while 1 Timothy 4:1-3 warns of evil spirits and liars who require abstinence from foods that God created.

Clement of Alexandria, Origen’s predecessor as dean, wrote similarly in the 190s.

He observed that the Bible allows eating animal flesh, such as ravens bringing Elijah bread and meat (1 Kings 17:6) and Samuel giving Saul a leg of meat to eat (1 Samuel 9:24), and also referenced Romans 14:2-3.

Clement dismissed as “blockheads and atheists” people who ungratefully abstain from reasonable food.

Many early authors considered that abstaining from particular foods shows ingratitude to God who provided them.

Clement summarized, “We are not, then, to abstain wholly from various kinds of food, but only not to be taken up about them. We partake of what is set before us, as becomes a Christian, out of respect to him who has invited us.”

The only mainline Christian reservations about food in early times were blood, meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and strangled animals (Acts 15:29).

As for blood, the Christian Minucius Felix, sometime between AD 166 and 249, said, “We do not use the blood even of eatable animals in our food.” In-vitro meat uses no blood, but relies on synthesis of vegetable matter.

Around AD 125, the Christian apologist Aristides of Athens wrote of his co-religionists, “Of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat.”

The pagan Roman governor of Bithynia reported around AD 112 that Christians refused to buy sacrificial meat at public meat markets.

Origen reasoned that to eat meat from sacrifices to demons is to join the table of demons.

Strangled animals are forbidden by Scripture because the blood is still in them; and blood, especially the odor arising from it, is reputedly the food of demons, thus causing the eater to dine with them.

A Christian is to refrain from particular foods if they constitute a stumbling block to someone who is weaker in Christian knowledge and discernment.

This principle dates from the Apostle Paul. “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21), and “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8.8-9).

This sentiment is repeated in Origen, and in a Syrian manual of Christian instruction of his era.

A Christian should not abstain from particular foods if it will cause uneasiness for other Christians.

Around AD 177, there was a Christian who had “lived an exceedingly austere life, confining his diet to bread and water.”

While in prison awaiting martyrdom, a pillar of the church persuaded him that he “was not pursuing the right course in refusing to use the creatures of God, and living an example which might be a stumbling-block to others.”

He thereupon “partook freely of all kinds of food.”

Whether we eat meat from stem cells or from traditional means, Christians ought to eat and drink to the glory of God and His community (1 Corinthians 10.31).

According to Origen, “A Christian should eat if another Christian is edified by it; and a Christian should not eat if God’s work grows by abstaining.”

David W.T. Brattston is a retired lawyer residing in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.