What Does the Bible Say About Cannabis?

Bible about Cannabis


What does the Bible say about cannabis? Well, a lot, actually. But at the same time, not very much. I know, confusing, right? Contradictory even. Fair enough. So, please allow me to explain what I mean by this.

First off, the Bible doesn’t specifically mention cannabis by name. Well, according to some folks, it doesn’t. Others, like 20th century Polish anthropologist Sula Benet, argue that the Bible does discuss cannabis. In fact, she goes so far as to suggest that the recipe for the anointing oil given by God to Moses includes cannabis (in Hebrew, the term is kaneh bosm) and that through a series of mistranslations, we’ve completely missed this vital point. The overall line of thinking goes something like this:

Both in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament and in the Aramaic translation, the word ‘kaneh’ or ‘keneh’ is used either alone or linked to the adjective bosm in Hebrew and busma in Aramaic, meaning aromatic. In Exodus 30:23, God directed Moses to make a holy oil composed of ‘myrrh, sweet cinnamon, kaneh bosm and kassia.’ In many ancient languages, including Hebrew, the root ‘kan’ has a double meaning—both hemp and reed. In many translations of the Bible’s original Hebrew, we find ‘kaneh bosm’ variously and erroneously translated as ‘calamus’ and ‘aromatic reed,’ a vague term.

Calamus is a fragrant marsh plant. The error occurred in the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, in the third century BC, where the terms ‘kaneh, kaneh bosm’ were incorrectly translated as ‘calamus.’ And in many translations that followed, including Martin Luther’s, the same error was repeated. In Exodus 30:23 ‘kaneh bosm’ is translated as ‘sweet calamus.’ In Isaiah 43:24 ‘kaneh’ is translated as ‘sweet cane,’ although the word ‘sweet’ appears nowhere in the original. In Jeremiah 6:20 ‘kaneh’ is translated as ‘sweet cane.’ In Ezekiel 27:19 ‘kaneh’ is translated as ‘calamus.’ In Song of Songs 4:14 ‘kaneh’ is translated ‘calamus.’

“Another piece of evidence regarding the use of the word ‘kaneh’ in the sense of hemp rather than reed among the Hebrews is the religious requirement that the dead be buried in ‘kaneh’ shirts. Centuries later, linen was substituted for hemp.

“In the course of time, the two words ‘kaneh’ and ‘bosm’ were fused into one, ‘kanabos’ or ‘kannabus,’ known to us from the Mishna, the body of traditional Hebrew law. The word bears an unmistakable similarity to the Scythian ‘cannabis.’ Is it too far-fetched to assume that the Semitic word ‘kanbosm’ and the Scythian word ‘cannabis’ mean the same thing?” Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp, from “Cannabis and Culture,” Rubin, Vera & Comitas, Lambros, (eds.) 1975. 39–49.

So, that’s essentially the argument, and some, like Jewish botanist Michael Zohary, find merit in it, while others—folks such as Olof Celsius and John Forbes Royle—completely disagree.

Regardless of the position one holds, no one can argue against the fact that the Bible also mentions how God is the God of every created thing, including every herb, bush, plant, shrub, and tree. The first creation narrative found in the book of Genesis makes this clear. So, in a round about way, the Bible begins by talking about cannabis. Not directly, of course, but that isn’t the point. The point is something much broader, with the logic being as follows:

  • God created everything.
  • God saw that everything was good.
  • God created humanity.
  • God saw that humanity was very good.
  • God gave humanity the task of having dominion over everything.

So, right off the bat, we have biblical warrant to suggest that everything God created is very good and that we, as human beings, are supposed to figure out how best to utilize God’s creation for good.

The question we should ask ourselves, then, is this: Can cannabis be used for good? Well, we all know it can. Heck, human beings have known the value of it—especially in the form of hemp—for eons. Historically speaking, it’s been used in numerous ways, from textiles to paper to medicine.

In more modern times, we are beginning to see how beneficial cannabis can be for folks who suffer from various ailments. From Celiac disease, to Crohn’s, to epilepsy, to insomnia, cannabis has been shown to be a great remedy.

Does any of this prove or disprove anything with regards to cannabis and the Bible? Does it help us discern whether or not the Bible even mentions cannabis? No, not really. But that’s okay. In fact, given the fact that we will probably never know for sure, it’s a bit of a moot point.

What we all need to remember, however, is that everything in the whole of creation is very good. Not everything is good in every context—I mean, we don’t go around using poison oak because we think the Bible deems it good to do so—but in terms of our overall understanding of the created order, everything is good.

Again, as those tasked with having dominion over all the earth, indeed, even over the entirety of the cosmos, it’s our job to figure out what is best for us and our bodies, as well as what should be avoided.

As the Bible emphasizes on numerous occasions, discernment is the key. Weigh all things, be diligent in understand what the Spirit is guiding us toward, and trust in the goodness of God and in the goodness of everything God has created.

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Matthew J. Distefano
Matthew J. Distefano
Matthew J. Distefano blogs for the Progressive Christian channel on Patheos. He is the author of 4 books, including 2 Amazon best sellers, and co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour podcast. He lives in Chico, Ca with his wife and daughter.

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