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What does the Bible say about cannibalism?

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Cannibalism is mentioned in the Bible. Although there is no direct statement such as, “Thou shalt not eat human flesh,” the obvious indication from Scripture is that cannibalism is a terrible evil.

After the global flood, God gave Noah permission to eat meat. "Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). However, God specifies that the “food for you” does not include fellow human beings. People are treated much differently from animals: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6).

Cannibalism is mentioned several times in Scripture (Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:53-57; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 2:20; 4:10; Ezekiel 5:10), but in each case, the practice is regarded as a horrible curse and inhuman act of desperation. Moses and other prophets predicted that, if the Israelites forsook God, they would fall into such awful degradation as to cannibalize their own children. These harrowing prophecies were fulfilled during the siege of Samaria during the reign of King Jehoram (2 Kings 6:28-29). Cannibalism was the physical horror which accompanied the spiritual horror of apostasy.

Cannibalism has been ritualized in some pagan cultures as part of a religious ceremony or cultural superstition. Thus, not only is the act itself wrong, but also the reason behind the act is wrong. For example, some people groups would eat the flesh of dead family members, believing that doing so would allow the spirits of those who had died to live on. Such cannibalistic rites have no biblical justification. The Bible teaches that the spirit does not remain in the body, nor does it wander around at liberty. A spirit either goes to be with the Lord immediately upon death (2 Corinthians 5:8) or goes to hades to be kept until the judgment (Luke 16:19-26; Revelation 20:11-15).

Murdering someone in order to cannibalize him (homicidal cannibalism) is undeniably wrong. But what about cannibalizing someone who is already dead (necro-cannibalism) in order to prevent starvation? This is not an entirely hypothetical question, as “survival cannibalism” has indeed occurred. Those who have resorted to cannibalism to stave off starvation include the Donner party in 1846 and the survivors of a 1972 plane crash in the Andes. However, given the Bible’s wholly negative portrayal of cannibalism, it would seem that self-preservation cannot justify such barbarism. Even in the direst and most desperate circumstances, cannibalism should not be a consideration.

In summary, while Scripture gives no explicit command against cannibalism, from the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27) God made it clear that mankind is unique and distinct from the animal kingdom. Mankind, created in God’s image, has a value and honor above that of animals. The Old Testament closely associates cannibalism with the final stages of judgment from God, thus marking it as a loathsome and evil practice.

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What does the Bible say about cannibalism? Is there cannibalism in the Bible?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022