Per Genesis 9:3, man is given the animals as food after the flood. A reasonable implication of that statement is that prior to this, man was supposed to be vegetarian.

That said, Genesis 4:2 clearly states that Abel kept flocks, and of course God was pleased by the sacrifice of meat that Abel brought.

So, is the implication of 9:3 justified, or did Abel keep flocks for some other reason?

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    The fat that Abel offered God could have been a bowl of cream. Alternatively, it was unclean animals people were allowed to eat after the flood. Nov 8, 2020 at 0:12

8 Answers 8


Yes, only after Gen 9:3 did God expressed clearly that human may eat meat after they took the life of the animal. Though we can argue that the violent-ness of mankind on Noah's time (Gen 6) included some bloody deeds, like gulping down living animal. Still, it is reasonable to concludes that Adam and family ate only vegetables, as God also ordered him of this, before Adam was chased away from the garden of Eden (Gen 3). NIV did write 'flocks', you can try to read parallel verse of the bible. The Hebrew word tson refers to small cattle, sheep and goats, flock.

I'm no master in shepherding, but you can get other things out of sheep and goat other than their meat. You can get wool (some goat also have long hair), milk, butter and cheese from them. Well, at least milk, since the fermentation method might not be established yet. And they can help clear the land, since they're eating grass, before mankind can plant anything.

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    They're also good for sacrificing.
    – Jas 3.1
    Apr 7, 2015 at 0:47

The context of the commandment to Noah is important. If you read it in context, it is not for the first time allowing meat as food, it is simply forbidding eating meat that is not slaughtered, meat which is still alive, with blood coursing through it's veins. I suppose this is why swallowing live goldfish was a popular fraternity hazing practice in the 1950s.

Anyway, here is the passage:

Bear fruit and multiply, and fill the land. And your peculiar feats will awe all the land animals and all the fowl of the sky. All that will crawl the land, and all the fish of the sea; into your hands they are given. Every land crawler that lives, will for you be for eating, of green plants, I give you all. But flesh, with its soul still in its blood you will not eat. And even the life-blood of your soul I will demand, by the hand of every animal, I will demand it, and by the hand of man, in the hand of a man and his brother, I will demand the soul of man. Who spills man's blood, will that man's blood be spilled: because in the image of God, is man made. And you, bear fruit and multiply; infest the land and be many there.

First, the permission is granted to eat plants, which is not a new thing. The "Bear fruit and multiply" is not new either. The new thing here is the commandment for killing killers and to not eat things that are alive.

The nature of this commandment is simple: don't murder and eat whatever you want, so long as you kill it first. It is this governance for non-Jews, to be contrasted with the more detailed Mosaic law that follows, which applies to Jews. The Mosaic law is very detailed regarding what one should do in this circumstance or that, the Noahide law is the religious version of anarchy.


At least one other reason for keeping flocks in addition to other answers here is so that sacrifices could be made. In Genesis 4:4, it is recorded that Abel offered a sacrifice from his flock. This provides us some important clues. From the same passage, we know that Cain offered a grain offering (4:3). Based on the fact that this was offered "at the designated time" and that grain offerings were often offered along with peace or burnt offerings. If the case was the former, then this would be the first recorded instance of meat-eating in The Bible, but we simply have no way of knowing for sure which offering this is.

Additionally, in Genesis 8:20, Noah offered a burnt offering. The fact that they made a burnt offering would tend to indicate that eating meat was not taboo as it is doubtful that you would be willing to kill an animal, but not eat meat. However, that is not conclusive proof for this position.

Regardless, it would have been impossible to make these burnt and peace offerings without keeping flocks.


#1 The beginning of Genesis never says man did not eat meat.

#2. Gen 1:24-26 from the very beginning YHWH made cattle which in Strong’s it is had livestock / cattle which is literally a domestic animal. We see in Gen 4 what kind of domestic animal man kept - sheep. What are sheep for? Primarily eating and sacrifice from a comprehensive biblical perspective!

#3 The book of Jasher expresses exactly what these animals were for, read it for yourself. Jasher 1: 13 And she called the name of the first born Cain, saying, I have obtained a man from the Lord, and the name of the other she called Abel, for she said, In vanity we came into the earth, and in vanity we shall be taken from it. 14 And the boys grew up and their father gave them a possession in the land; and Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep. 15 And it was at the expiration of a few years, that they brought an approximating offering to the Lord, and Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought from the firstlings of his flock from the fat thereof, and God turned and inclined to Abel and his offering, and a fire came down from the Lord from heaven and consumed it. 16 And unto Cain and his offering the Lord did not turn, and he did not incline to it, for he had brought from the inferior fruit of the ground before the Lord, and Cain was jealous against his brother Abel on account of this, and he sought a pretext to slay him. 17 And in some time after, Cain and Abel his brother, went one day into the field to do their work; and they were both in the field, Cain tilling and ploughing his ground, and Abel feeding his flock; and the flock passed that part which Cain had ploughed in the ground, and it sorely grieved Cain on this account. 18 And Cain approached his brother Abel in anger, and he said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou comest to dwell and bring thy flock to feed in my land? 19 And Abel answered his brother Cain and said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou shalt eat the flesh of my flock and clothe thyself with their wool? 20 And now therefore, put off the wool of my sheep with which thou hast clothed thyself, and recompense me for their fruit and flesh which thou hast eaten, and when thou shalt have done this, I will then go from thy land as thou hast said? 21 And Cain said to his brother Abel, Surely if I slay thee this day, who will require thy blood from me? 22 And Abel answered Cain, saying, Surely God who has made us in the earth, he will avenge my cause, and he will require my blood from thee shouldst thou slay me, for the Lord is the judge and arbiter, and it is he who will requite man according to his evil, and the wicked man according to the wickedness that he may do upon earth. 23 And now, if thou shouldst slay me here, surely God knoweth thy secret views, and will judge thee for the evil which thou didst declare to do unto me this day. 24 And when Cain heard the words which Abel his brother had spoken, behold the anger of Cain was kindled against his brother Abel for declaring this thing. 25 And Cain hastened and rose up, and took the iron part of his ploughing instrument, with which he suddenly smote his brother and he slew him, and Cain spilt the blood of his brother Abel upon the earth, and the blood of Abel streamed upon the earth before the flock.

Lastly regarding the vegetarian confusion in reference to Noah that is referencing not eating meat with the blood still in it. Secondly regarding what kinds of meet we see that Noah took 7 of every “clean” animal in the ark. What does this express? Obviously and simply that there were animals they ate and others they didn’t eat. More can be said but I will leave it at that. Mankind did eat meat from the beginning.


And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. (Genesis 4:2) [ESV]

"Keeper" רָעָה would mean to shepherd, to care for. While sheep are relatively easy to care for, there is one task which must be done for them: shearing. Sheep do not shed their coat: it must be removed for them. Failure to do so will cause overheating and possible death in summer, a general loss of mobility, and greater potential for disease.

God was pleased Abel cared for the sheep and, while it is customary to assume Abel killed the best of the flock as his offering, it is possible Abel brought the best of the wool as his offering. Such an offering would be one way of acknowledging God as Creator.

That is, Abel understood the sheep had been created so as to require human care to remain healthy and this care could also provide material for clothing without the shedding of blood.


It is my opinion that Abel kept flocks for all the practical reasons of milk, clothing and yes, meat. A diet of vegetation alone does not provide sufficient protein. But, of course the story is that Cain and Abel apparently became of 'accountable' age at the same time. Did Abel, apparently 'out of the blue' decide that the animals would be an acceptable sacrifice? I don't think so. If as in Hebrew law 'accountable age' is about age 13-14, then it seems to me that he must have had some help in his flock-keeping. I vote for Adam's instruction. Because in fact, Abel did NOT make the first recorded animal sacrifice.

Because, after all, Adam knew that animal sacrifice is needed and God requires a blood sacrifice. True, one may say, but the law was not yet given about the blood sacrifice! Yes it was, my friend. It was not only previously written, it was also demonstrated by Christ Himself, and used to forgive the sins of Adam and Eve. How can we think Abel knew?

Gen 3:21:

"Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them."

It does not require a lot of thought to see that those animals couldn't give up their skins without losing both their lives and their blood. Thus, in plain sight it is written in Gen 3 that Christ Himself showed Adam and Eve the (then) acceptable requirement for forgiveness. In this case it was both a physical "covering" as well as a spiritual one acceptable to God. Now think for just a moment. Can you imagine what an impression this act must have made on Adam and Eve? They had NEVER seen ANY death up till this time, yet here is some totally innocent being shedding it's blood for THEIR sins. Oh yeah---they knew alright...and it is obvious that Abel listened to mom and dad..he tended the critters.

Does this first sacrifice remind us of something? It does remind me of Christ who came through Adam and Eve's offspring to pay for all of the sins of all mankind, He being declared "the lamb of God" at His Baptism.

The punch line? Surely, Adam and Eve told Cain and Abel what God expected, but Abel alone believed, and worked toward it. That is why Abel did it just right (Gen 4:4). Cain surely was told, but just did not accept. He wanted to do it his own way.

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    Welcome to BH. You have given this answer some thought, but you have not shown your sources or how you arrive at the conclusions you offer, a requirement for answers on this site. Apr 10, 2015 at 7:10

It’s possible that Abel kept sheep solely for their fleece. Genesis 3:21 states that God made coverings of skin (‘o-wr) or hide for them after the fall. The text does not specifically state whether he killed an animal to obtain it. If he did, that would have been the first creature killed to cover the sin of man. It would have been a horrific thing for Adam and Eve to witness considering where and how they lived. According to scripture, their sin brought death into the world. Perhaps this first sacrifice was a sheep. Maybe the first family partook of sheep milk as well since they were cast out of Eden, where everything was provided for them, but afterwards had to work for food. Sacrificing lambs would ceremonially cover their sins and allow them to attain more milk from the ewes bereaved of their babies to help feed them and maybe even other animals that might have been with them.

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    May 2 at 13:02

Genesis 3:21 began the sacrificial offerings. Skin for skin. Garment. (woops, I see the above person said the same, sorta, so, I agree with the person above me)

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