What Would Jesus Eat?

Was Jesus a Vegetarian?

What Would Jesus Eat?
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What would Jesus eat? While most Christians are familiar with bracelets and pendants with the initials WWJD--What Would Jesus Do?--we're a little less certain about what the Son of God ate.

Was he a vegetarian because of the moral issue of eating meat? Or did Jesus eat anything he pleased because he is God incarnate?

In a few cases, the Bible actually tells us what foods Jesus ate. In other instances we can make accurate guesses, based on what we know about ancient Jewish culture.

Leviticus Applied to Jesus' Diet

As an observant Jew, Jesus would have followed the dietary laws laid down in the 11th chapter of the book of Leviticus. More than anything, he conformed his life to the will of God. Clean animals included cattle, sheep, goats, some fowl, and fish. Unclean or forbidden animals included pigs, camels, birds of prey, shellfish, eels, and reptiles. Jews could eat grasshoppers or locusts, as John the Baptist did, but no other insects.

Those dietary laws would have been in effect up to the time of the New Covenant. In the book of Acts, Paul and the apostles argued over unclean foods. The works of the Law no longer applied to Christians, who are saved by grace.

Regardless of the rules, Jesus would have been restricted in his diet by what was available. Jesus was poor, and he ate the foods of the poor. Fresh fish would have been plentiful around the Mediterranean coast, Sea of Galilee and Jordan River; otherwise fish would have been dried or smoked.

Bread was the staple of the ancient diet. In John 6:9, when Jesus was to miraculously feed 5,000 people, he multiplied five barley loaves and two small fish. Barley was a coarse grain fed to cattle and horses but was commonly used by the poor to make bread. Wheat and millet were also used.

Jesus called himself "the bread of life" (John 6:35), meaning he was essential food. In instituting the Lord's Supper, he also used bread, a food obtainable by everyone. Wine, used in that rite as well, was drunk at almost all meals.

Jesus Ate Fruit and Vegetables Too

Much of the diet in ancient Palestine consisted of fruit and vegetables. In Matthew 21:18-19, we see Jesus approach a fig tree for a quick snack.

Other popular fruits were grapes, raisins, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, melons, pomegranates, dates, and olives. Olive oil was used in cooking, as a condiment, and in lamps. Mint, dill, salt, cinnamon, and cumin are mentioned in the Bible as seasonings.

When eating with friends like Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, Jesus probably would have enjoyed a vegetable stew made of beans, lentils, onions and garlic, cucumbers, or leeks. People often dipped chunks of bread into such a mixture. Butter and cheese, made from cows' and goats' milk, were popular.

Almonds and pistachio nuts were common. A bitter type of almond was good only for its oil, but a sweet almond was eaten as dessert. For a sweetener or treat, diners ate honey. Dates and raisins were baked into cakes.  

Meat Was Available But Scarce

We know Jesus ate meat because the gospels tell us he observed the Passover, a feast to commemorate the angel of death "passing over" the Israelites before they escaped from Egypt under Moses.

Part of the Passover meal was a roast lamb. Lambs were sacrificed at the temple, then the carcass was brought home for the family or group to eat.

Jesus mentioned an egg in Luke 11:12. Acceptable fowl for food would have included chickens, ducks, geese, quail, partridge, and pigeons.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus told of the father instructing a servant to kill a fattened calf for the feast when the wandering son came home. Fattened calves were considered delicacies for special occasions, but it's possible Jesus would have eaten veal when dining at Matthew's house or with Pharisees.

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles and asked them for something to eat, to prove that he was alive bodily and not just a vision. They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it. (Luke 24:42-43).

(Sources: The Bible Almanac, by J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White Jr.; The New Compact Bible Dictionary, T. Alton Bryant, editor; Everyday Life in Bible Times, Merle Severy, editor; Fascinating Bible Facts, David M. Howard Jr., contributing writer.)

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Zavada, Jack. "What Would Jesus Eat?" Learn Religions, Dec. 6, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-would-jesus-eat-700167. Zavada, Jack. (2021, December 6). What Would Jesus Eat? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-would-jesus-eat-700167 Zavada, Jack. "What Would Jesus Eat?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-would-jesus-eat-700167 (accessed June 10, 2023).