This is a very important topic to understand as it is in direct contradiction of old-earth creationism. This is only true because the fossil record, as it is currently understood, indicates that there were carnivorous animals prior to the time of Adam. The idea of a strictly vegetarian diet prior to the flood of Noah originated from Genesis 1:29-30. This is obviously an issue, how can we have carnivorous animal fossils that predate Adam if all living beings were vegetarian?
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food. And to every beast of the earth and every bird of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth—everything that has the breath of life in it—I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.Genesis 1:29-30
I’ll admit, these verses out of context absolutely indicate that both humans and animals were vegetarian initially, but there are other factors that need to be considered. Let’s start with the most obvious, these verses do not ban eating meat nor do they command eating only vegetables. In fact, later on in Genesis 2 when Adam is made, God places him in the garden of Eden and tells him something a little different.
And the LORD God commanded him, “You may eat freely from every tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”Genesis 2:16-17
Again, these verses do not imply a ban on eating meat nor a command to eat only vegetables. The tone of the phrases seem much more like God is explaining to Adam that he is welcome to eat the fruit from the trees while he waits for his crops to yield produce. Remember, Adam had been brought to the garden in order to cultivate and keep it but at this point there hadn’t been enough time for the crops to yield any food. It is also unlikely that Adam had weapons or tools with which to hunt or prepare animals for food. In light of these facts, the phrases take on a different meaning and are received in a more welcoming tone rather than a commanding one. God was taking care of Adam in his new home until he could provide for himself.
Additionally, we should consider that God gave Adam and Eve animal skins for clothes after their sin. If we believe that there had been no death up to this point in time, then it follows that the very first animal death may very well have been directly at the hands of God. This seems like something Genesis wouldn’t have casually glossed over but rather, something that would hold some symbolical prominence had it been true. We should also remember that Abel was a shepherd and sacrificed the firstborn lambs to the Lord. What were the remaining lambs used for?
What About God’s Words To Noah Following The Flood?
Every living creature will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things.Genesis 9:3
Following the flood, God is telling Noah that He is providing for him. Just as He gave Adam the fruit from all of the trees in Eden as sustenance until he could cultivate the ground, God is now providing for Noah in the same way. Remember, there had just been a massive flood destroying life across the planet, it seems very unlikely that there would be much vegetation capable of providing food in the short term. It would take a while before Noah and his sons could plant and harvest food from the ground. God was providing them with all of the food they would need until then.
Was Adam’s Sin The Cause Of Death For Mankind?
A common perception of creation before Adam sins is that it was intended to be a paradise and there was no death. I believe this is a misconception though. A careful reading of Genesis regarding Adam’s sin reveals the following verse.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil. And now, lest he reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…”Genesis 3:22
This verse implies that Adam and Eve were already mortal and would age, and subsequently die, unless they partook from the tree of life. If mankind was mortal at this point, I would also consider it safe to assume that animals were also mortal and would not live forever.
Wasn’t The World Perfect Prior To Original Sin?
The answer to this question depends entirely on the definition of “perfect”. God refers to His creation as “very good” at the culmination of Genesis 1. Very good hardly implies perfect in the modern sense, but perhaps “good” or “towb (טוֹב)” in the original Hebrew isn’t even being used that way. Towb (טוֹב) can be translated as a few things, good is most common but beautiful or fitting are also potential candidates. If translated this way, Genesis 1:31 implies something very different. It shows a God that is very happy with His creation, not that the creation was a utopia without death.
To me, based on a holistic reading of early Genesis combined with what is observable in the world around us, it seems unlikely that the animals and humans were initially vegetarian. Whether of not God prohibited the eating of meat for humanity is a different topic but I would suggest that if animal kind contained carnivores, given the similar language used by God in Genesis 1:29 and 30, humanity was likely not prohibited from eating meat either. It also seems unlikely that death was an unfamiliar concept in the early world.