Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org



Did Jesus Eat Fish? Should We Eat Fish Ourselves?

From A Sermonette By Avweroswo Akpojaro on CreatureKind
August 2023

Eating fish may not be evil, but if one knows that eating fish would harm oneís neighbor and destroy the planet, then should one eat fish?


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A few days ago, I was talking to a very good friend who happens to be a theology student. We have been friends for many years, and we have always shared ideas about our work and passions. This time, I was sharing my thoughts about farmed animal welfare advocacy from a theological perspective. I told him we should all eat more plant-based foods as Christians because such would ultimately bring glory to God and be better for the earth. He replied that I shouldnít say everyone should eat plant-based foods. When I asked why, he said because Jesus ate fish.

During the last CreatureKind seminar that I organized at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, this same question came up in the discussions. I have observed that it is a common question and frequent objection to eating plant-based meals and practicing animal welfare. Christians in my context often assume that if Jesus ate fish, then eating fish must always be a good thing because our Lord never did anything wrong or committed sin. They say Jesus is the one in whom God is well pleased. He is our perfect example, and we are to walk in His steps in living the Christian life. This way of thinking about Christ is very interesting, and we will consider it in light of the questions before us in this sermon.

Though biblical scholars could debate the issue, I think itís safe to assume that Jesus ate fish. This is because Jesus lived in a cultural context where fish were farmed by the people in his community. Some of Jesusís disciples were even fishermen like Peter, Andrew, and John (Matt. 4:18-22). Jesus performed miracles that involved fish, like when he multiplied the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the multitudes (Matt. 14:16-21), helped Peter miraculously catch a lot of fish (Luke 5:1-8), and paid his taxes using the coin from a fishís mouth (Matt. 17:24-27). Jesus also spoke of fish in his parables about the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:47-50). He even cooked and ate fish after his resurrection (Luke 24: 41-43, John 21:9-13). Again, it seems clear that Jesus lived in a culture where fishing activities and eating fish were part of everyday life. Jesus almost surely would have eaten fish because he wasnít a man divorced from his historical and cultural context.

So if Jesus ate fish, should we eat fish too? Some would quickly say, ďIf Jesus ate fish, so will I. After all, I canít be holier than Jesus.Ē For them, itís a simple matter with a perfect conclusion. There can be nothing wrong with eating fish. Since the Kingdom of God isnít food and drink but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, what we eat is not the problem at

all. The scripture also says what we eat cannot defile us in any way (Matt. 15:11). They argue that eating fish or any other food is simply a matter of Christian liberty.

Well, is the question so easy to answer? If Jesus could eat fish, then am I free to eat fish as well? Indeed, itís true that a Christian is free to eat fish. It is also true that itís a matter of Christian liberty. The Christian is free to eat fish or not. For me, that much is granted and not in doubt. But liberty is not the primary issue to consider. I grant that a Christian eating fish is not committing a sinful or damnable act. Thatís not the real question before us. The real question is should a Christian eat fish? To answer that, we need to think through our Christian convictions again.

The idea that since Jesus ate fish, then we should eat fish today does not follow because we donít do everything Jesus did. Jesus fasted for forty days, and no one says we should do the same. Jesus paid his taxes using a coin in a fishís mouth, and no one says you should do the same today. Jesus wore tunics, but we donít today. Jesus rode donkeys, but we donít do that today. Jesus was simply a man of his time and lived with the knowledge and understanding of his historical context.

So many Christians think it's perfectly fine to eat fish because Jesus did it, and itís part of exercising Christian liberty. We tend to forget that the liberty of the Christian is not liberty to do whatever but freedom to do that which would be beneficial ó not just for the individual Christian but also for others in our community. Our freedom as believers should be used not only to please ourselves but to benefit others around us. We need to remember this in our actions. The freedom of the Christian is not to do whatever is not expressly prohibited by God but to do that which is most loving to oneís neighbor. Itís a freedom tailored to and guided by love in every situation and historical context.

Today, we know more about the world and its ecosystems. In Jesusís day, people didnít practice industrial fishing, which seeks to drain the seas of all life. They engaged in small-scale fishing ó much smaller when compared to what is done today. They werenít destroying the oceans. They had no synthetic plastics filling up the oceans and destroying marine life. Marine life could still thrive then. Things have changed. Our seas have changed. The waters are now populated by heavy, industrial-scale fishing vessels determined to catch all the fish they can carry for their selfish interests, damning whatever consequences such practices may bring. Fishing today is now harmful to the fish and the whole planet. Fish caught today could be filled with microplastics and other harmful substances. The state of todayís industrial fishing is sad to the point that some people are taken captive to work on fishing vessels.

Knowing all this information, as Christians, should we close our eyes to these present realities and eat fish simply because Jesus ate fish? Should we care so little about the harm caused by modern industrial fishing? Should we be a part of the often evil multibillion-dollar fishing industry and be careless about the people involved, the destruction of marine life, and the potential destruction of our planet simply because we want fish on our tables and are free to eat it? Is letting go of fish consumption for the greater good of the earth too great a sacrifice for us as Christians? Do we want to follow Jesus? Would Jesus eat fish today knowing that his actions were promoting so much harm to the earth? Is that what love entails? I dare say that following Jesus today is not about eating fish because he did, but seeking to love our neighbors and not eating foods that may harm them.

So, if Jesus ate fish, can it not be evil? Well, eating fish may not be evil, but if one knows that eating fish would harm oneís neighbor and destroy the planet, then should one eat fish?

I say no. Following Jesus is loving oneís neighbor, and love seeks the neighborís flourishing.


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