When it comes to whether God cares about animals, or more pragmatically speaking, whether we should care about animals enough not to hurt or destroy them, one of the most common questions asked is why Jesus ate fish. The logic is that if Jesus ate fish, this proves that God does not care about animals and hence as followers of Jesus we likewise have no reason to care about animals. I believe this line of reasoning is incorrect and serves to hinder the work of the holy spirit in the world today. As believers in God and ministers of the Gospel of Christ, I believe we ought to overcome this faulty logic by including animals in our love. In this article we will consider why Jesus ate fish and what bearing that should have on our attitude toward animals in general.
Let’s begin with the passage of Jesus eating fish:
“They [his disciples] gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:43).
The purpose of Jesus eating fish in this passage was to prove that he had really risen from the dead and was again alive in the flesh and not just a ghostly apparition. It was to prove that God really has the power to resurrect from the dead and that we would all someday likewise be raised from the dead. So regardless of where we end up regarding our stewardship of God’s creatures, it should at least be clear that the purpose of Jesus eating fish in this passage is not to provide us a license to disregard the welfare of animals but rather to prove that God had really raised him from the dead.
Setting aside the possibility that the Greek word translated “fish” may actually refer to dried seaweed as some scholars believe, even if we assume it was in fact a dead sea creature that Jesus ate, I believe there is still enough evidence that God wants us to care about animals.
So why did Jesus eat fish?
This is admittedly one of the harder questions to answer, and there may be a better answer out there than the one I am about to give, but this one is the best I have come across and should hopefully be sufficient to motivate you to care about animals even if Jesus ate fish.
First off, if we assume that Jesus eating fish proves that God does not care about animals and that we thus have no reason to refrain from harming them, then many of the core ideas in the bible would be turned on their head. For instance:
- The coming kingdom would be a hell for animals if they are not living at peace in the kingdom.
- Fear is the direct result of sin (Genesis 3:10) and is the antithesis of love (1 John 4:18), so causing animals to be afraid by killing them (Gen 9:2, Habakkuk 2:17) would not be consistent with the love God has for all creation and instructs us to likewise have for all creation (Ephesians 1:4).
- The prophecy in Isaiah (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25) would end up false, and God’s promise to the animals that one day bow and sword will be banished from the earth and they will lie down safely (Hosea 2:18) would never happen.
- If animals are excluded from the new covenant commission “that you should love one another,” (John 13:34) then instead of the new covenant being good news for all creation (Romans 8:19, Mark 16:15), it would be terrible news for the animals since they were included in the original covenant (Genesis 9:9-10).
- The many other passages that demonstrate God’s love for animals would no longer make sense.
- God’s love would be weaker than the love many people in the world have since many people love animals enough to care about them and not harm them. I don’t believe it is possible to be more loving than God since God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Therefore if humans are able to love animals and God’s love is at least as strong as the love any human has, then God’s love must also include animals.
So if we assume God does care about animals, then why did Jesus eat fish?
When we look at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we see Jesus instructing his followers to hold themselves to a higher standard than is required by the laws given to Moses and to those given to the other Old Testament prophets. He said not only to refrain from adultery but also to refrain from lust (Matthew 5:27-28); not only to refrain from murder but also from hatred (Matthew 5:21-22); not only to love your friends but also your enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). The recurring theme throughout the sermon is to do more than what scripture requires of you, and to do so as an act of devotion to God (Matthew 6:3-4). Many people hear the words of Jesus and wisely put them into practice (Matthew 7:24-25).
Christians today not only have the Old Testament scripture for guidance but also have the instructions given by Jesus, including those spoken in the Sermon on the Mount. So if we carry that same principle that underlies the Sermon on the Mount, namely to do more than what scripture requires, and apply it not only to the Old Testament laws as Jesus did but also to the instructions in the New Testament given by Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the apostles, in what way can we do more than is required by the new covenant?
The new law that Jesus gives us is to love each other (John 13:34, 15:12), and Jesus makes it clear that no one should be excluded from our love – not the poor or needy (Matthew 25:40), not the strangers (Matthew 25:35, Luke 14:13), not those who do evil (Matthew 5:45), and not even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). In fact, our love should be impartial and complete, even perfect (i.e. all-inclusive) just as God’s love is impartial and all-inclusive (Matthew 5:48).
So then how is it even possible to do more than is required if what is required is to exclude no one from our love?
Well, one way to do more than is required is to not only include all people but also all animals in your love. We know that animals were at peace in the beginning before fear and death were introduced into the world (Romans 5:12, Genesis 1:31), and we also know that they will again be at peace as fellow inhabitants of God’s holy kingdom (Isaiah 11:9, 65:25, Hosea 2:18). And given that Jesus prayed for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), it would thus be inevitable that at some point the spirit would implore us to extend our love to animals in order for that kingdom to fully arrive. The good news is that, based on what I see going on in the world today, including within the church, that seems to be exactly what is beginning to happen! Hallelujah!
Let’s consider one final passage that is otherwise very difficult to understand but is illuminated by this explanation of why Jesus ate fish even though eating fish is not part of God’s perfect plan for the kingdom. It comes from the Gospel of John where Jesus describes a sign of those who truly believe in him. He says, “Those who believe in me will do the works I do and will also do greater things because I go to my Father” (John 14:12). The works of Jesus that we are to replicate are the works of mercy (Luke 6:36), the works of humility (John 13:14, James 4:10), the works of devotion to God (Luke 4:8), and the works of love (John 15:13). The greater things must in some sense build on the foundation Jesus laid (Matthew 16:18, Matthew 7:24-25). And if the foundation Jesus laid is an all-inclusive love, then building on that all-inclusive love by including animals in our love would be one way to not only do the works of Jesus but also to do greater works. In other words, doing not only the things Jesus explicitly asks of us (love each other) but also doing more than what he asks of us (love animals) proves that we truly believe in him, according to his own testimony, and it also proves that we are guided by God’s holy spirit (Matthew 7:16, Galatians 5:22-23).
And just so we’re clear, no one is greater than Jesus (John 13:15-16). It is not we who are doing these greater works but God who is doing them in us (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:13). We are collectively the living body of Christ on earth today (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 10:16). We are his hands and feet (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are vessels for the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) to work in the world and lamps for God’s light of love to shine upon the world (Matthew 5:14-16).
This is what I believe Jesus means when he says he goes to the Father: just as the words of Jesus built upon what was given by God to Moses and to the other Old Testament prophets, the followers of Jesus, guided by the holy spirit (John 16:13), will build upon what was given by God to Jesus, and will thereby cause the world to come ever closer to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). This work being done in each of us will eventually culminate in the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer of the kingdom coming and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27). We must have faith (Luke 8:25), but even more importantly we must have a love that proves our faith (1 Corinthians 13:2, James 2:18).
In conclusion, I believe Jesus ate fish in order to leave room for his true followers to do more than what he explicitly asked them to do.