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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

Keith Akers' Major Contributions to Vegan Theology. By Dr. Chapman Chen, HKBNews

Updated: Feb 2




 

Abstract: Keith Akers, a Colorado writer and activist, has published influential books and articles on vegan theology, most notably The Lost Religion of Jesus (2020/2000). His major contributions to the field include his sound arguments that Jesus was a pioneering animal rights activist who actually died for the cause as a result of His emptying the Temple of animals about to be slaughtered for sacrifice; that Jesus strove to return the people to the original vegan Law of God rather than to create a new religion separate from Judaism; that not Orthodox Christianity or the modern-day Christianity but early Jewish Christianity got the core of Jesus' vegan message; and that Paul the anti-vegan apostate violated Jesus' vegan teachings as well as the Jerusalem Council's vegan decree.

 

 

1. Who's Keith Akers

 

Keith Akers is a writer, speaker, and activist in his seventies, who has published four books on veganism, simple living, and nonviolence, including EMBRACING LIMITS (Earth Animal Trust, 2023), DISCIPLES (Apocryphile Press, 2013), THE LOST RELIGION OF JESUS (Lantern Books, 2020/2000), and A VEGETARIAN SOURCEBOOK (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983). He’s also been published in VegNews, Vegetarian Times, and other vegetarian and vegan publications.

 

Akers has been a vegetarian since 1975 and a vegan since 2000. He’s been involved with various vegetarian or vegan groups for the past four decades, including the Vegetarian Society of D. C. (where he served as President), the Vegetarian Society of Colorado (where he also served as President), and the International Vegetarian Union (where he served as Regional Secretary for North America).  Currently he’s a co-organizer of the Meetup group Denver Vegans, is living in Denver, Colorado, U. S. A., and is married to Kate Lawrence.

 

Akers received a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Vanderbilt University in 1971, after studying there for three years. He then transferred to Northwestern University, where he received a BA in philosophy in 1973. He later received a MA in mathematics from the University of Colorado in 1976, and from 1978 to 1999 pursued a very successful consulting career in information technology and since then have retired. Consulting companies he worked for included American Management Systems, Pinkerton Computer Consultants, and CIBER; clients have varied from the State Department to various mobile phone companies.

 

 

2. Jesus was a Vegan Christ who Died for the Cause of Animal Liberation

 

2.1. Jesus was Vegan

 

Akers thinks that Jesus was vegan (Note 1) because his natural brother, James the Just, was vegan, and all the apostles, excluding Paul the apostate, were vegan:-

 

James the brother of Jesus, the first leader of the Jerusalem church after Jesus’ departure, was universally acknowledged to be a strict vegetarian, and in fact was raised as a vegetarian (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.5–6). Why would Jesus’ family raise James as a vegetarian, but not Jesus ? The natural conclusion is that Jesus’ parents raised Jesus and James as vegetarians and that this was part of the original gospel message. (Akers 2015)

 

All the apostles abstained from meat and wine (Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 3.5), and vegetarians were “without number” in the early church (St. Augustine, Of the Morals of the Catholic Church 33). (Akers 2017)

 

Further, Akers (2012) points out that in Saying 87, the Gospel of Thomas, as translated and edited by Stevan Davies (2002), Jesus said, "Wretched is a body depending on a body." Now, how can a body be dependent on another body? Only if the body consumes the other body. Davies thus comes to the conclusion that Thomas is not asserting that all bodies are "wretched", but just bodies which are dependent on other dead bodies, in other words, meat, for food. This kind of sayings in the Gospel of Thomas contains a “vegetarian criticism of meat-eating,” and imply a “vegetarian perspective,” according to Davies (2002: 10, 90).

 

 

2.2. Jesus as a Martyr for Animal Liberation

 

Akers is probably the first theologian or one of the first theologians to propose the idea that Jesus was not only a vegan but also an activist who died for the cause of animal liberation.

 

Akers (2017) points out that in the gospel of the (Jewish Christian) Ebionites, Jesus indignantly rejects the Passover meat, teaches vegetarianism, and attacks animal sacrifice, saying “I have come to destroy the sacrifices, and unless you stop sacrificing [animals], my wrath will not cease against you” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30). [Akers (2017) also notes that Jesus himself twice quoted the prophets when he said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7, quoting Hosea 6:6)]. According to Akers (2017), "that would explain why Jesus went into the temple and attacked what he found there."

 

Akers (2020/2000) then argues that prior to the Last Supper, Jesus, in emptying the Temple of animals about to be slaughtered for sacrifice, and in calling the Temple-turned-butcher-shop "a den of thieves", quoting Jeremiah 7:11, debunked the business fraud of animal sacrifice, and disrupted the chief priests' and scribes' lucrative revenue stream, who immediately afterwards conspired to destroy Him (Mark 11:15-18), eventually leading to His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection on Easter. In this sense, Jesus was a pioneer and martyr for animal liberation. (I would add that "Cleansing the temple" was an act of animal liberation not unlike Direct Action Everywhere's open rescue of animals from factory farm.)

 

3. Only Jewish Christianity Got the Core of Jesus' Vegan Message


Not Orthodox Christianity or the modern-day Christianity but early Jewish Christianity got "the core of Jesus' teachings" (Akers 2020:3), which consists of veganism, opposition to animal sacrifice, non-violence, simple living and allegiance to the Mosaic Law (Akers 2020:26). Jesus "never intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism" (Akers 2020:3). Instead, he was "a [Jewish] prophet who came to reform the Mosaic Law -- to return the people to the original [vegan] law of God, which had been given to Moses but then distorted by those who followed after Moses" (Akers 2020:14); in other words, Jesus "strove to make the Jewish law STRICTER than the Jewish tradition seemed to teach" (Akers 2020:8).


Apart from the mainstream Bible and the Gospel of Thomas, Akers bases his understanding of early Jewish Christianity on two early church documents -- the Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies -- as well as on the Panarion by Epiphanius, which describes Ebionite beliefs, the Ebionites being the most important early Jewish Christian group, and Epiphanius one of their major opponents. The Ebionites regarded Paul as an apostate who distorted Jesus' teachings and denigrated the Law (Akers 2020:28).

As pointed out by Akers (2020:3), in the 4th century, the First Council of Nicaea, following the footsteps of Paul, removed veganism, simple living and pacifism entirely from the core of Jesus' message, and replaced it with a complex and convoluted Trinitarian theology that placed a premium on the virgin birth, on substitutionary atonement, on the sacred meal as Jesus' blood and flesh, and on the Final Judgment, yet nowhere on Jesus' vegan message. 

 

4. Paul violated Jesus' vegan principle and the Jerusalem Council's vegan decree

 

4.1. "No Small Dissension"

 

Around A.D. 49, Paul "had no small dissension and disputation" (Acts 15:2 KJV) with certain men from Judea (the capital of which was Jerusalem) allegedly because they maintained that circumcision was a pre-requisite for salvation (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabus, etc. were then appointed to go up to Jerusalem from Antioch to negotiate with the Jerusalem Council, which comprised Jesus' 12 disciples and other elders, with Jesus' biological brother James the Just, Peter and John as the pillars, and to report to them that gospel which Paul had preached among the gentiles for 14 years (Galatians 2:2 KJV). Nonetheless, circumcision was probably just a pseudo dispute topic. For Tius, who was with Paul, being a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3).

 

4.2. Four Minimum Requirements Imposed by the Apostolic Decree

 

After "much disputing" (Acts 15:7 KJV), James passed the judgment that the gentiles be required to comply with Moses' Law on merely four points -- "to abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from thing strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20). It was also agreed that Paul should preach to the uncircumcised gentiles and the Jerusalem Council to the circumcised Jews (Gal. 2:7, 2:9).

 

4.3. More Veganism than Kosher Laws

 

Notably, three of the four prohibitions concern food. Akers (2020:157) argues that The apostolic decree pertains more to veganism than to kosher laws for the following reasons.

 

Firstly, the prohibition against animals strangled (πνίγω/pniktos) has been perplexing theologians and commentators, for this sort of strangling was literally unheard of in the Middle East in those days and in our modern world. (Akers 2020:152). A second likely meaning of the term pniktos is to a way of cooking meat, e.g., roasting, baking, stewing or cooking in a rich sauce. The ban on pniktos would then appear to either suggest or even recommend a vegan diet. [I have found that according to Liddell-Scott-Jones's (1843) A Greek-English Lexicon, πνίγω means 1. strangled, 2. air-tight, 3. baked or stewed.] (Note 2)

 

Secondly, it is at times claimed that the ban on blood is a reference to a kosher rule. But the decree never tells people to abstain from consuming blood; it just tells the believers to abstain from blood. "'Blood' could mean violence against either humans or animals; and some early Christians regarded blood as referring to violence against either humans or animals" (Akers 2020:152).

 

Indeed, according to Keith Akers (2000:240),

 

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1.26, reports an early Christian martyr who interpreted the prohibition of the blood of animals to imply vegetarianism. Minucius Felix refers to bloodshed in the arena and the blood of animals in the same breath (Octavius 29.6). Tertullian points out that Christians are forbidden both human and animal blood (Apology 9). Sandmel states that blood could refer either to the blood of a sacrificed animal or to human violence: Judaism and Christian Beginnings, p. 408.

 

So much the more, for all sentient beings, life is blood, blood is life. As well put by Prof. Andrew Linzey (1993), "after all, who can take animal life without the shedding of blood? Who can kill without the taking of blood, that is, the life itself?... For the early Hebrews life was symbolised by, even constituted by, blood itself. To kill was to take blood."

 

Paul's contention that it is alright to consume animal flesh offered to pagan idols and even any kind of animal flesh is directly refuted by the apostolic decree as well as two sayings of Jesus' in Revelation (Akers 2020:152).

 

4.4. There's Nothing Wrong with Eating Meat?

 

In I Corinthians 8:4-13, Paul argues that eating meat offered to an idol is not immoral, because “an idol is nothing at all” (I Corinthians 8:4 NIV). “Food,” he asserts, “does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (I Cor. 8:8 NIV). "To the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15 NIV). "I [Paul] will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall. (I Corinthians 8:13)" is just a diplomatic measure to placate, and avoid offending, the vegetarian Christians who think otherwise (Akers 2017). [I think this's because at that time, the vegan Jerusalem Council was still the mainstream, whilst the anti-vegan camp of Paul was the periphery.]  Yet, as pointed out by Akers (2020:151), to Paul, "there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols, or any meat at all -- 'eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience' (1 Corinthians 10:25). This sanctifies all meat, whether or not it was sacrificed to idols."

 

4.5. Jesus Condemns the Eating of Flesh Sacrificed to Idols


On the other hand, in His message to the church in Pergamum, Jesus reproaches them for having "some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching... the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:14 NASB); similarly, in the letter to the church of Thyatira, Jesus rebukes them for tolerating a prophetess who "seduce[s] my servants to ... eat things sacrificed unto idols" (Revelation 2:20 KJV).  

 

As pointed out by Akers (2020:15), the confrontation between these two camps came to a head at Antioch (right after the Jerusalem Council meeting of A.D. 49) when Paul yelled at Peter for refusing to share a table of devils with meat-eating Gentiles (Galatians 2:12). The Jewish Christians, believed that demons enter anyone who eats meat (Homilies 7.4, 8.19). The "table of devils" is literally any table with meat on it.

 

5. Conclusion

 

Akers is arguably the first theologian to convincingly argue that Jesus was a pioneering animal rights activist, a vegan martyr for animal liberation. His studies of early Jewish Christianity, as based on Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies, and on  Ebionite beliefs as recorded in Epiphanius's Panarion, in relation to Jesus the Vegan Christ and to Paul the anti-vegan apostate, are impressive. It is indeed enlightening to learn from Akers that Jesus did not really intend to start a new religion distinct from Judaism; He just wanted to lead people back to the original Vegan Mosaic Law, which had been distorted by the lying pen of the scribes. After Jesus' martyrdom, the Vegan Law was simply stamped down by Paul the apostate, and subsequently forbidden by the Council of Nicaea. With the help of modern-day vegan theologians like James Tabor, Keith Akers, Andrew Linzey, David Clough, and we are now gradually able to rediscover the original, genuine, vegan features of Jesus and Jewish Christianity.


P.S. Pastor Robert Munro's Comment: 


Pastor Robert Munro is the founder of The Saint Francis of Assisi Parish of The Humanitarian Church. His Facebook comment on this article is:-

 

Truth, Jesus was the first known animal rights activist who was killed for disrupting the animal sacrifice just before Passover. Jesus Christ was not crucified for your sins, He was crucified for saving the animals.

 

Endnotes:

 

1. Jesus warns against meat-eating:- “Be on guard, so that your hearts do not become heavy with the eating of flesh" (Luke 21:34, Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe — Old Syriac-Aramaic Manuscript of the New Testament Gospels).  

 

 

References

 

Akers, Keith (2020/2000). The Lost Religion of Jesus. NY: Lantern Publishing & Media/Woodstock & Brooklyn.

 

Akers, Keith (2017). "Vegetarianism and Christianity -- Are they Compatible?" Compassionate Spirit, Jan. 9. https://compassionatespirit.com/wpblog/2017/01/09/vegetarianism-and-christianity-are-they-compatible/

 

Akers, Keith (2015). "Is the Gospel of Thomas Vegetarian?" Compassionate Spirit, Feb. 20. https://compassionatespirit.com/wpblog/2012/02/20/is-the-gospel-of-thomas-vegetarian/

 

Chen, Chapman (2023). "The Grievances between Paul and Jesus' VEGAN Church." HKBNews, Jun. 21. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/the-grievances-between-paul-and-jesus-vegan-church-by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Chen, Chapman (2021). "How St. Paul Perverted Jesus' Vegan Teachings." HKBNews, Dec. 31. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/how-st-paul-perverted-jesus-vegan-teachings-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews 

 

Linzey, Andrew (1993). "The Bible and Killing for Food", Between the Species: Vol. 9: Iss. 1, Article 8.

 

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