For your traditional Christmas dinner, you may be eating glazed ham, candied sweet potatoes, along with a few sugar cookies and gingerbread men for dessert.
What better way to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior than to eat some of the foods that Jesus did while he was on earth.
Probably all of them are healthier than what’s on your dining room table for the holiday!
Of course, anyone claiming to know exactly what Jesus ate for breakfast or his precise meal plan is embellishing, to say the least. No human alive today can answer those questions, but we have a number of specific foods in the Bible referenced, as well as good archeological data as to what the people in Israel were eating during that era.
With normal historical figures, one would have to pick and choose as to which foods they ate that seemed healthy.
That’s not the case here!
Everything points to the diet of Jesus being balanced, nutritious, and healthy, as confirmed by science some 2,000 years later.
The list of foods
What follows are 15 foods that Jesus definitely ate or likely ate based on the evidence.
1. St. Peter’s Fish
Today, fishing in the Sea of Galilee for is actually banned periodically. The last was a 2-year ban between 2011 and 2013. This was because the levels of fish had fallen dangerously low. (1)
However before mankind desecrated the environment and made this food a risky endeavor due to rampant pollution, fish were an excellent choice for a meal. Even if you were eating it everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Though it’s worth mentioning that Jesus most likely ate breakfast and dinner without a lunch. That was typical back for his culture.
In the Sea of Galilee, which is actually freshwater, there is what’s known as St. Peter’s Fish or mango tilapia (Sarotherodon galilaeus). It’s large, up to 16 inches in length and weighing up to 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg).
You will also find this species in Syria, Jordan, and the northern and central parts of Africa.
According to a United Nations FAO report, 96.4% of their diet is plankton, with the rest being other submerged vegetation. (2)
Contrary to popular belief, fish do not make omega 3, as they get it from the plants they eat. Being that St. Peter’s Fish were on an entirely vegan diet, if Jesus ate this species of fish (and he almost certainly did) then he would be getting omega 3 from them.
Tilapia are not considered a rich source of omega 3, however most are farm-raised and those have lower amounts than wild caught. (3)
These days bread gets a bad rep. However the versions and circumstances 2,000 years ago made it a healthy part of a daily diet, particularly for those working what we would call blue collar jobs.
If you were a carpenter like Jesus, or a fisherman like Peter, your energy requirements each day were high. Slow-digesting carbs were important in providing the energy you need to get through the work day.
The flours of today often have the germ and bran removed, which strips many nutrients. The remaining inner grain is ground into a fine powder and possibly bleached. This is why most breads today are high-glycemic carbs, since they get digested rapidly.
Two millennia ago it was quite different.
Without modern milling, the germ and bran would be left intact. The grains were ground using a stone mortar and pestle, which presumably resulted in a more course flour. This would be a lower glycemic bread, offering a sustained source of energy.
What kind of bread did Jesus eat?
Following the dietary laws of the Hebrew Scripture meant that unleavened bread, which is made without yeast, would be eaten by Jesus during the Jewish holidays. Aside from those, the daily bread would be made with yeast using a coarsely ground flour; wheat, barley, and possibly sorghum. The shape may be a flatbread, as this worked better for dipping in pureed legumes and olive oil. From the past through today, that remains a custom.
Not quite the same, but something along the shape of this Trader Joe’s flatbread is a likely possiblity. The flour would be more course and rustic though.
When traveling, the bread may have been made in a more traditional loaf shape.
For a working class family in Nazareth, there’s a good chance that barley would often be used, as it was a cheaper grain than wheat. Barley loaves are even mentioned in John 6:9, 13.
With the exception of the Sabbath, each day in the village likely began with the women grinding the grain. This would be combined with yeast and possibly a little olive oil, though given its expense, oil would be used sparingly.
In the case of Nazareth, the grinding may have taken place on the village “mill” which was basically a large natural stone that was centrally located. Women would go to grind their wheat, barley, or sorghum using a pestle.
For a long time, historians were perplexed because there was no suitable rock in the area of ancient Nazareth that would fit the bill.
That was until this was unearthed just a couple decades ago…
That’s a couple of us from Superfoodly standing on that actual rock in Nazareth. There’s a very good chance this was the same rock that Mary would have used to grind grain for her family.
What did Jesus eat after the resurrection?
The last recorded meal he was identified as eating himself is mentioned in Luke 24:42-43. Jesus ate broiled fish to prove he was not a ghost after the resurrection. In John 21, Jesus fed his disciples a breakfast of fish cooked over a fire along with bread. This also occurred after he had risen, though it is not stated whether or not Jesus ate some of this breakfast with them, but most likely he did.
The last foods Jesus ate on earth may have been the very two we just discussed… fish and bread!
Almonds or almond trees are mentioned several times in the Old Testament; Genesis 30:37, Genesis 43:11, Exodus 25:33-34, Exodus 37:19-20, Numbers 17:2-8, Ecclesiastes 12:5, Jeremiah 1:11.
Benefits of almonds include:
- More antioxidants than peanuts, cashews, macadamia, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts
- Among the highest protein nuts
- More dietary fiber than any other common nut
- Rich in the essential minerals manganese, magnesium, and calcium
- 37% of the daily value for vitamin E per 1 oz serving
Since it has been grown throughout Israel and the region, there’s a good chance this was one of the nuts Jesus ate during his life on Earth.
In Genesis 43:11, both pistachios and almonds are mentioned. Granted, that is the Old Testament and far before Jesus was born to this world, but given the fact that pistachios are native to the Middle East, there’s a very good chance Jesus ate them. Archeological records have documented it being a popular nut in the first century A.D. That’s when the Emperor Vitellius debuted pistachios in his capital city of Rome.
As we have reported many times, pistachios are probably the healthiest nut you could eat:
- Tied with cashews for being the lowest calorie
- Best branched-chain amino acid profile among all nuts
- Among the highest in antioxidants
- Contains over 1,000% more lutein and zeaxanthin than any other nut
- Resveratrol content that’s higher than white wine and rivals some red wines
- When roasted, it is the lowest acrylamide nut
Check out these and the other health benefits of pistachios. Be aware that roasting or baking these (and any other nut) changes their nutrition for the worse. Roasting creates acrylamide, which is a carcinogen, and that heat will degrade the resveratrol and many other types of antioxidants which are sensitive to heat.
You probably won’t see them sold at the grocery store, though we highly recommend eating raw pistachios (just as we do daily). Get some of these on Amazon. Being a 2 lb. bag of them already shelled, it’s a good deal.
There is little doubt that it was this nut tree mentioned in Song of Songs 6:11. We call them English Walnuts in the United States and Europe, yet their origin is not England!
Song of Songs is Old Testament, though being that the nut was cultivated in this region, it would have been just as likely to be a common food source in the first century A.D. as it was in the history before the birth of Christ.
After pistachios, walnuts are our favorite nut. They are the 2nd highest in antioxidants, losing out only to pecans. The drawback is that pecans are mostly fat, while walnuts have 67% more protein.
The rest of the calories in walnuts are coming from fat and unlike the high concentration of omega 6’s in pecans and pretty much every other nut, with walnuts you are getting ample amounts of the elusive omega 3 fatty acid.
You can see how both pistachios and walnuts compare side-by-side to other common nuts in our table showing the healthiest nuts to eat.
Do you only associate this spice with Italian food?
They may have been late to the game.
Consider this verse in the Bible of it being a favorite food thousands of years ago:
“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.”
That’s in Numbers 11:5, one of the many complaints made by the Israelites, as Moses led them through the wilderness. This was after they were set free from being slaves in Egypt.
One would think they would be thankful, but as time passed, they began to yearn for things they no longer had… including garlic!
Garlic is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament though being that it was a common spice in the culture, it was probably a regular part of Jesus’ diet.
To be clear, the following anti-cancer effect is not proven or tested in humans, though lab research on cultured human cells is finding that garlic exhibits significant antiproliferative activity, while not harming the healthy cells.
These charts are for cultured cancer cells of the breast, prostate, lung, and brain (glioblastoma).
The cell proliferation (numbers 0-150) shows you what percentage of cancer cells are left after they were exposed to the given vegetable. 100% means that all of the cancer cells survived and when the bars goes above 100% it means they kept multiplying.
The lower the bar, the better. It means the cancer cells were dying off. As you see in all four of these charts, garlic is on the far right, with a bar that’s at zero or close to it.
You also see leeks and onions nearby, which were vegetables Jesus almost certainly ate too, as they were staples in ancient Israel.
This study was done by a team of scientists and doctors at a cancer research lab at a Quebec hospital. To reiterate, this is lab research only and what works in a Petri dish often does not translate to animals and humans. Garlic should NOT be used to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. (4)
There’s this well-known parable told by Jesus:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
It makes sense why he would say mustard seed. Being that it was a commonly used spice, the analogy of the tiny seed and how big the plant grew from it would be something everyone would understand.
As to what form of mustard Jesus and the others of his day ate is open to debate. Whatever the case, this is another superfood spice.
Yellow mustard seeds have an ORAC value of 29,257. They’re chock-full of antioxidants.
As recently as a century ago, the mustard bath was a recognized medical treatment for treating colds and other ailments. That used black mustard seeds.
This is another spice in the Bible, as it’s specifically mentioned by name in the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:25-27) and the New Testament (Mathew 23:23). Here’s the verse for the latter:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Being that it was one of three spices cited as examples, it must have been popular for recipes and cooking.
Spices back then were exponentially more expensive than they are today (relative to income) so even smaller amounts would have been used. With an ORAC value of 50,372, cumin is a high antioxidant food so even a tiny amount is good for you.
On an equal-weight basis, it has about the same concentration of antioxidants as pure unsweetened cacao powder, which has an ORAC of 55,653.
Agriculture today in Israel is truly a miracle.
In less than a half-century, the Hula Valley went from being a malaria-infested swampland that the neighboring countries didn’t even want, to becoming the most prosperous region in the Middle East for agricultural output.
If we rewind 2,000 years ago though, the soil and environment here and elsewhere in Israel did not lend itself well to growing a diverse array of vegetables. We already discussed root vegetables like onions and leeks which were eaten. One that did grow well above the ground was cucumbers.
The Bible mentions cucumbers three times; Numbers 11:5, Isaiah 1:8, and Jeremiah 10:5.
No references are in the New Testament of Jesus eating cucumbers, though it’s safe to assume he did given that it was among the most common veggies in the area.
With around 95% water-content, they would help keep a person hydrated. That was particularly important on long journeys by foot, where you may or may not have had water supplies along the way.
Another benefit that cucumbers might offer for travel is their anti-inflammatory potential, which certainly could come in handy for those sore and swollen feet!
Lab research suggests an antioxidant in them called fisetin may act as a COX-2 enzyme inhibitor. The prescription drug Celebrex works by helping to block COX-2.
Fisetin has also been researched in the lab for several types of cancer including colon, lung, prostate, pancreatic, and melanoma. Brain protective benefits have also been observed in animal models of neurodegenerative diseases. (5)
We will never know the nutrition facts for the cucumbers ate in Jesus’ day, though the modern cultivation of the this vegetable (which is likely less nutritious) still contains a broad array of vitamins and minerals.
A single cucumber (8.25″ long) is only 45 calories, yet it offers you 442 mg of potassium and over 40% of your daily value for vitamin K. Those are just a couple perks of many. (6)
10. Frankincense and myrrh
You can’t help but associate these with Christmas!
Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were brought by the magi (wise men) to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
For his death, the burial as described in John 19:39 involved:
“…Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.”
Both frankincense and myrrh are aromatic gum resins that are produced by closely related trees in the Burseraceae plant family.
The Bible mentions them many times and most often, they are not mentioned together. This suggests they had different purposes.
To be clear, eating them was never mentioned, as they were mentioned for aromatic and ceremonial purposes only.
What can be said is that in Middle Eastern culture it was (and still is) a common practice to eat very small amounts, though primarily for the purpose of traditional medicine.
Chewing them like gum was also done. In the process, you would inevitably ingest some, because unlike a stick of Juicy Fruit, this “gum” is a tar-like sap that will eventually disintegrate in your mouth, if you chew it long enough.
No one can claim that Jesus or even his disciples ate these gums, since there is no documentation of that. If they did though, it would be interesting, given the many medical uses of myrrh being researched and the lab studies involving frankincense and cancer.
For this category, what Jesus eats while he was on earth was probably not much different than his Hebrew ancestors ate, and what those in the region eat to this very day.
Lentils, broad beans, and chickpeas are cultivated there and used in soups, stews, and ground into pastes and purees. One of which you certainly recognize – hummus from chickpeas!
When we think of “dipping the bread” we often assume it was olive oil, but that assumption should not be made.
Oil was expensive.
In Biblical times, there would often be a common dish at the meal. Flat, round pieces of bread would be dipped into it. Or the bread would be used to wrap around a small piece of food in that common dish.
That dish could have been lentils, or it could have been a mash of cooked chickpeas (hummus).
Whichever legumes were being eaten by Jesus, those grown in the region all have similar nutritional benefits.
Protein concentration in ground beef is 7.8g per 100 calorie serving. Many beans offer a comparable amount – 6 to 8 grams – for 100 to 120 calories. Best of all, beans have zero cholesterol and lots of fiber. They’re loaded with non-heme iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and thiamin. (7)
In our day and age, are canned beans healthy? Yep!
Between the mentions of olive trees and olive oil, you will find this plant mentioned in some capacity over 150 times throughout the Old and New Testaments.
There’s no doubt olives were important.
Not just as a food, but the oil was used for burning in lamps. The wood of the tree also served utility.
And let’s not forget that after the last supper, Jesus prayed under an olive tree on his way to Jerusalem, knowing that he would be crucified shortly thereafter. That took place in the Garden of Gethsemane (literally translates as “Garden of the Oil-press”) located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.
- Oleuropein is a compound that’s unique to olives and it has been found to decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. (8) (9)
- Hydroxytyrosol is a major phenol in olives that has demonstrated “excellent antioxidant, antimicrobial and anticarcinogenic activities” in research. (10) (11)
- Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) is prevalent. One tablespoon of olive oil has about 2mg, which is around 13% of your RDA. (12)
Something to keep in mind is that a person of socioeconomic standing like Jesus would be consuming olive oil sparingly.
That was before the days of mechanical farming and machine pressing. Today it’s cheap to produce.
Even though olive oil is cholesterol-free (butter isn’t) and contains more of the healthier monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), it’s not healthy to consume a lot of it.
All refined oils are around 120 calories per tablespoon, meaning weight gain can be a common side effect.
However the bigger issue is that purified fats (i.e. oils) contribute to atherosclerosis, which is stiffening of your arteries. That increases your risk for stroke and heart attacks. (13)
To be clear, fat is good for you but not in liquid form. The solid unrefined fats in pistachios are slow to be digested and therefore, don’t hit your circulatory system all at once. It’s like comparing simple sugars to complex carbs.
The takeaway? Eat the oil like Jesus probably did – sparingly!
Being that fig leaves were mentioned in Genesis, this plant was known from the beginning of the Bible!
We already mentioned some of the complaints in Numbers 11:5. After escaping slavery in Egypt, the Israelites complained about no longer having fish, cucumbers, and garlic.
A few verses later in Numbers 20:5, they complain about the fruits they no longer have:
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.”
Indeed, figs were a useful food to eat. They could be made into raw “cakes” by pressing the fruits together, which served as a form of fast food while on the go. Listen to this preparation of such in 1 Samuel 25:18:
“Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys.”
When you skip ahead to 1 Samuel 30, you read about how David used that food to revive an Egyptian who was in pretty bad shape:
“They found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat— part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights.”
Skipping ahead to the New Testament, we have proof that Jesus ate figs, and presumably, also liked them. Turn to Matthew 21:18 where you will read:
“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.”
Jesus had good taste! For antioxidant activity, raw figs have an ORAC value of 3,383. That’s higher than goji berries of the same weight at 3,290.
What did Jesus eat for breakfast?
Based on Matthew 21:18 we know he ate figs in the morning. That is the ideal time of day to eat carbohydrates, because one doesn’t want to spike their blood sugar before bed. In addition to figs, we also know he ate fish and bread, as mentioned on other occasions.
Despite the intense sweetness of figs, they are loaded with fiber and therefore the sugars are slower to hit your bloodstream.
For a few dried fruits (60g) the glycemic index is 61. That makes it a “moderate” glycemic food, which isn’t bad when you consider that it’s sweet enough to serve as a dessert. Eating figs would be a much healthier option than our modern-day processed pies, cakes, and cookies! (14)
With an origin that’s believed to be somewhere in or around Iran, the pomegranate has been cultivated in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region since ancient times.
At least as far back as the book of Exodus in the Bible, which discussed the making of priestly garments with “pomegranates” of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. For them to describe a clothing accessory made to look like a fruit, then it’s safe to assume they were also eating them.
This is affirmed in Deuteronomy 8:7, where God describes the promised land he will be giving to his people:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land — a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey…”
In the New Testament, the word pomegranate is never mentioned, though it’s practically guaranteed to be among the list of foods Jesus ate. Whether it was Nazareth where he grew up, the towns along the Sea of Galilee, or in Jerusalem, this superfruit was cultivated and consumed throughout the areas Jesus lived and visited.
For total antioxidant content, raw pomegranates have an ORAC value of 4,479. That’s comparable to the 4,669 for blueberries of the same weight.
If Jesus ate one whole pomegranate, it would be providing him with 48% of his daily value for vitamin C and 44% for fiber. There are small yet decent amounts of vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and even about 5 grams of protein. (15)
We saved the sweetest food for last.
Did Jesus eat dates?
Being that he went up to a fig tree when he was hungry one morning, we know that he ate those and anyone who likes figs is almost guaranteed to love dates.
Although this fruit is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, it was cultivated and eaten in the region so it would be a common food that Jesus most likely ate on occasion.
As with figs, they were dried and pressed together to make raw natural “cakes” to eat on the road. You can read about this in 2 Samuel 6:19. After David had placed the ark of the Lord inside of the tent and completed the sacrificial offerings, he sent the people in attendance on their way with some to-go goodies:
“Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.”
Many are surprised to hear how much antioxidants there are in dates. Here are the ORAC values for two common varieties:
- Deglet Noor dates = 3,895
- Medjool dates = 2,387
Both of those are higher antioxidant activity than the same weight of raw asparagus, boiled broccoli, purple cauliflower, and even lacinato kale!
Of course given their sugar content, the bad news is that even though dates are antioxidant-rich, you should only eat small portions. Unlike say, broccoli and kale, which you can eat unlimited amounts of.
If you use dates as a natural dessert, they will be healthier than cookies or almost any other baked treat. Their impact on blood sugar isn’t as bad as you might think.
United Arab Emirates University took 5 common species of dates found in the region and tested their glycemic index values. They ranged from 46 to 55. Those fall within the “low glycemic” range. Even more surprising, these tests were done using relatively large serving sizes too, ranging from 72.5 to 76.2 grams (over 2.5 ounces). (16)
This is why if you’re a regular reader of Superfoodly, then you already know the number one sweetener we recommend if you want a real sugar (i.e. not stevia).
The best choice you could make would be date sugar. It’s made from dried dates which are then ground into powder.
Even here in Los Angeles, we never see it sold at any store, though you can buy it on Amazon.
FAQs about his diet
Did Jesus eat eggs?
In the Bible, eggs are only mentioned a few times. Most instances are for analogies rather than as an explicit food source for humans.
The very first mention of the word is in Deuteronomy 22:5-7, which says:
“If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.”
While God says “you may take the young” that might not include the eggs, because in sentence prior to that it’s made clear that young and eggs are two different things (“mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs”).
The only other verse in the Old Testament that may be interpreted as eggs being food for humans is Isaiah 10:14, which says:
“As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as people gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.”
Yes, this verse is an analogy, but it’s sounds to be an analogy about people gathering a potential food source (“as people gather abandoned eggs”). Something interesting to note here is that it says “abandoned” eggs which is quite different than eggs that a mother bird (i.e. modern day chicken) is actively nesting.
This verse actually lends further support to the theory that in Deuteronomy 22:5-7, it distinguishes between taking young vs. taking eggs.
In the New Testament, we only have eggs mentioned once and that is in Luke 11:11-13, which is a parable:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Matthew reports this parable as a son asking for bread and getting a stone instead (Matthew 7:9-11).
In Luke’s version, a son asking for an egg in the first place suggests he’s asking for it as food. After all, one can’t think of many other reasons why a son would ask his father for an egg, right?
Even if we make the assumption he was asking for it to eat, that still doesn’t explain the source. Based on the Old Testament verses, it might have been an abandoned egg.
There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus did not eat eggs, but at the same, there’s no evidence he did. Jesus never mentions eggs in the Bible. It is not a food specifically mentioned at any meal he was a part of, but that doesn’t exclude their possibility.
The possibility seems likely given that the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 87:5) addresses eggs. Eggs are reported as being a neutral food (pareve) which means they are not counted as meat or dairy. Eggs are permissible to eat with meals containing either, but not with both at same time (because meat and dairy together is always prohibited). There is also the egg (beitza) used on the Jewish Passover Seder plate.
Eggs were an expensive food, a delicacy that was enjoyed by the upper-class more than the common man. Luke aside, that might be an explanation as to why they didn’t come up in conversations or descriptions of meals that Jesus would partake in.
Was Jesus a vegetarian?
No. This is a fact since we have Biblical evidence of him eating fish, including after the resurrection in Luke 24:42-43, in which he ate broiled fish to prove he was real and not a ghost.
In Matthew 14:17-21, he also fed the crowds with fish and the bread he multiplied. Some have argued this would be unusual for Jesus to do if he was vegetarian, because why would he give people fish if he didn’t eat it himself?
That is a valid point, though it wouldn’t necessarily be unusual. Today, many vegans and vegetarians are more than happy to feed their house guests eggs and meat even if they don’t personally eat them. It would be silly to say that every food you serve someone, is a food you have to like and eat yourself.
Plus if you pay careful attention to the wording in Matthew 14, you will see the fish is only mentioned at the beginning, as to the limited quantity of food they had on hand (5 loaves of bread and 2 fish). After that, fish is never mentioned, and it’s leftover baskets of bread that are collected (no fish is mentioned). The fish might not have even been multiplied for the crowd.
However this is all a moot point because even setting that debate aside, the bottom line is that we know Jesus ate fish after the resurrection. There are other scenarios too where one can at least make a reasonable assumption he was eating fish, along with others in his presence who were eating them. Therefore, Jesus was not a vegetarian or vegan given the fact that he ate fish.
Did Jesus eat red meat or chicken?
While there is clear evidence that Jesus ate fish, it requires at least some conjecture to claim he ate meats such as beef, chicken, or lamb.
We can likely rule out Jesus eating pork while he was alive on earth, because eating pigs was not kosher.
That doesn’t mean he personally thought it was wrong, right, good or bad for you to eat pork, but rather we know he respected the dietary laws from Hebrew scripture, at the very least out of respect for the others of his time and culture.
Perhaps the best evidence we have that Jesus did not think it was wrong to eat meat was in Mark 7:14-20, in which this is said:
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
However this is not in reference to pork, red meat, chicken, or any other specific food. If you rewind to the start, it’s about the practice of not washing your hands prior to eating, as the law required.
Regardless, it seems Jesus’ focus is on an unclean heart versus unclean hands or what goes into your mouth.
With all that said, just because meat, sugar (honey in his time) and so forth are not “wrong” to eat, that doesn’t mean they’re good for your health, or that they’re the best choice among the vast food options we have today.
In fact, one of the most cited verses against sexual immorality could also be cited in the care of your body in all regards. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Paul says:
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.“
Bold emphasis added.
Perhaps eating unhealthy is not the equivalent of sexual immorality, though both are dishonorable to your body, which as stated above, are temples of the Holy Spirit.
This is particularly true on a longer-term basis. If you make destructive dietary decisions on a daily basis, imagine the strife and sorrow it you may cause your family, friends, and loved ones if such decisions result in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a premature death?
Just as sexual immorality is dangerous and destructive, food can be too in a different way. What they have in common is that they both disrespect your body and possibly cause others to suffer.
Even though it’s not evil or wrong to eat meat and chicken loaded with cholesterol and cancer-causing heterocyclic amines, one has to admit that a vegan or vegetarian has a point if they say they don’t eat these foods out of respect for their bodies.
On the flip side, if a vegan is going around eating processed junk food all the time, then he or she is being a hypocrite, if they cite health and respect for their bodies as the reason for not eating meat, dairy, and eggs.
In the same way, a pastor who rails against people he or she believes to be sexually immoral is being a hypocrite, if that pastor is overweight and eating unhealthy food regularly.
Both are acts of disrespecting the body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
We digress though. Getting back to the topic of whether or not Jesus ate meat aside from the fish…
Vegetarian diets were not unusual in the early history of the Christian and Catholic faiths. St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Francis of Assisi were all vegetarian.
In the Old Testament, there is even compelling evidence that Daniel was vegetarian or vegan. He refused to eat the meat offered to him while in prison. The assumption has been made that it was because the meat was offered to Babylonian gods. Yet the vegetables were also offered to the gods and Daniel ate those!
Furthermore, Daniel even recommended the adaption of a vegetarian diet in Daniel 1:11-16, touting the health benefits of doing so:
Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over him: “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their meat and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
So that was before Jesus was born. Is it possible Jesus followed a diet similar to Daniel?
If Jesus was a member of the Nazarene Essenes, it was a Jewish sect that rejected the animal sacrifices and followed a vegetarian diet. Although that remains speculation, there are historians who adamantly believe Jesus was of this sect.
Not cutting hair is another practice of the Essenes. If you believe the Shroud of Turin is real, analysis of that suggests long hair was wrapped in it.
The King James version does mention Jesus eating meat in a couple verses, though if you look at the Greek word it was translated from, it’s “broma” which only means food generically. So that may or may not have been meat.
Jesus did participate in Passover feasts and other celebrations, where it’s almost certain that lamb and red meat was present. The assumption might be made that Jesus ate all of the foods there, though this too may be incorrect. As we all know, for any number of reasons, you may or may not eat everything available at a dinner party.
In can be theorized that there’s a good chance Jesus ate red meat like lamb and white meat like chicken and other fowl, yet the possibility remains that he might have been a pesco-vegetarian. Technically that is not a vegetarian diet, as it still involves fish, which is meat by most definitions.
At the end of the day, topics such as this are fascinating to study, yet one should not allow the diet of Jesus to serve as grounds for disagreements and disputes. What he ate is the least important thing, at least relative to his message!