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Question: "What does the Bible say about cannibalism? Is there cannibalism in the Bible?"

Answer:
There is no direct statement in Scripture that says, “Thou shalt not eat human flesh.” However, there are some biblical principles and practices that indicate cannibalism is a terribly evil thing:

1. God says these words to Noah and his family after the global flood. "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man" (Genesis 9:1-6).

In verses 2-3, God gives mankind the authority to kill and eat all manner of meats taken from land animals, birds, and fish. God does not give Noah permission to eat human flesh. Instead you find a stark contrast in verses 5-6, in which mankind is treated very differently than the animals! The reason given is that mankind was made in the image of God, a characteristic not shared with animals. Thus, this passage prohibits cannibalism in two ways, first in that it does not give mankind permission to eat human flesh. Secondly, it clearly states that mankind was created in the image of God and has greater honor than the animals, and because of this he is to be treated in a manner reflecting that distinction. This prohibition, coming as it does before the Mosaic Law was given, was not intended for just the Israelites but for the whole human race.

2. In the Law that God gave to Moses to rule the people of Israel with, there are sections that deal with dietary restrictions. These contain further limitations on what meats can be eaten. In spite of covering almost every conceivable possibility of various animals, fish, and birds one might consider eating, these laws never once mention the consumption of human flesh. The fact that cannibalism is never mentioned is a strong indication that such a thing is understood so clearly to be wrong that it doesn’t need to be mentioned.

In addition, the Law specifically forbids the eating of the blood of an animal (Leviticus 17:10-14) “for the life of a creature is in the blood” (v. 11). The passage goes on to command that any animal or bird that is hunted and eaten must have the blood drained first. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time knew the Law well enough to be shocked by His statement that He was the bread of life and anyone who does not eat His flesh and drink His blood has no part in Him. “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:52). Although they didn’t understand the symbolic meaning of Jesus’ statement, they clearly did not accept the idea of literally eating His flesh, which they would have accepted if the Law permitted cannibalism.

3. Cannibalism is mentioned several times in Scripture (Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:53-57; 2 Kings 6:28-29; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 2:20; 4:10; Ezekiel 5:10), but none of these passages condone it. All of them either predict what will happen if the Israelites forsake God and/or give the fulfillment of those predictions. If the Israelites turn away from God and refuse to repent, God said he would send such judgment that they would wind up so hungry that even the most delicate and tender mother would become a cannibal, eating her own children, keeping it from the other family members so she would have more to eat. If cannibalism were no big deal, why would this be portrayed as the ultimate in desperation and degradation? The thought of families becoming cannibals among themselves is portrayed as it should be—as a wretched and terrible thing. Such treatment is in stark contrast with the way the dead bodies of honorable or innocent people ought to be treated and are treated in Scripture.

4. Cannibalism is a practice of some cultures, but it is practiced in rites or rituals that are contrary to Scripture. Thus, not only is the act wrong, but the reason behind the act is wrong as well. For example, there are certain people groups that would eat the flesh of loved ones who had passed away so that the spirits of those loved ones can live on. The Bible teaches that the spirit does not remain in the body, nor does it wander around at liberty. The spirit of the believer goes to be with the Lord immediately upon death (2 Corinthians 5:8), and the spirit of the unbeliever is kept under punishment until the second resurrection when they will be judged before the Great White Throne of Christ (Luke 16:19-26; Revelation 20:11-15). Therefore, ritual cannibalism is without scriptural justification.

While it is undeniably wrong to murder a person in order to cannibalize that person, if a person is already dead, would it be wrong, in an instance of starvation, to eat an already dead human being? This is not an entirely hypothetical question, as it has indeed occurred. The famous Donner party of emigrants to California in the 1840s were trapped in the snowy mountains for months and resorted to eating the flesh of their fellow travelers who had already succumbed to starvation. In such an instance, if cannibalism was truly the only way to stay alive, perhaps it would not be wrong. Again, though, it would take the most dire and desperate circumstances for cannibalism to even be a consideration.

5. Cannibalism is nowhere discussed in the New Testament. Once again this silence is because it was not an issue. Nowhere in the “civilized world” in which the Gospel had spread was cannibalism practiced. Therefore, there was no need to discuss it.

In summary, while there is no explicit command against cannibalism that one can point to in Scripture, from the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27), God made it clear that mankind was distinct from the animal kingdom, being made in His image. As early as Noah’s time, God made it clear that because man was made in His image, he was to be valued in a fashion above that of animals. While God gave man permission to eat a wide variety of meats, He never gave man permission to eat other people. The close association of cannibalism with the final stages of judgment from God also identifies it as the loathsome and evil thing it is.