Many questions will never be answered. At least, not to everyone’s satisfaction.
- What’s the meaning of life?
- Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
- How can something be new and improved?
- Why does your phone always ring right before the biggest play of the game?
Right at the top of the list, though, are the meanings of Bible passages.
That’s why, beginning with the Jewish Talmud and continuing through the current day, theologians have devoted their lives to understanding the meaning of Biblical scripture — and have rarely reached full agreement. There’s even a name for the pursuit, Biblical hermeneutics.
It’s no surprise, then, that there’s widespread disagreement about what the Bible does or doesn’t say about weed.
But it seems there’s more interest in finding “pro-weed” and “anti-weed” passages, than in understanding what the passages mean.
Let’s look at both sides.
A passage often cited by cannabis advocates comes from Genesis 1-29.
“Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.”
Advocates argue that there are no exceptions in that verse. They point specifically to the words “every plant,” saying that marijuana produces seeds and isn’t excluded from the description of God’s gift of plants as food.
They also emphasize that the point was repeated in Genesis 9-3:
“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.”
(We’re using the New American Standard Bible for translations; notably, the King James Version translates the last part of that verse as “the green herb.”)
Those who oppose the use of weed don’t use scripture to argue this interpretation. They try logic instead. Some poisonous plants like hemlock have seeds, they say, so the passage wasn’t intended to mean that all plants yielding seeds were meant to be used for food.
They also point to the fact that the passage originated before the creation of sin in the Garden of Eden. Their argument claims that some of the plants God created might no longer be in their original form, meaning “every plant” could no longer be taken literally once Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
We know, this all sounds like nit-picking — but that’s what much of Biblical hermeneutics involves. What does the passage mean? We’ll leave that up to you.
A Hebrew phrase appears regularly in scripture: kaneh bosem. It’s been translated in various ways, and there’s been much commentary on the translation.
Let’s start with the most-often cited verses, Exodus 30:23-24, which describe God telling Moses to create a sacred anointing oil:
“Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh…and of fragrant cinnamon…and of fragrant cane…and of cassia…and of olive oil.”
Some authorities, like the New American Standard Bible we’ve just cited, use the term “fragrant cane.” However, many others like the King James Bible translate it as “fragrant calamus.”
There are many references to kaneh bosem, or calamus, in the Bible. They’re found in Solomon’s Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, among other verses.
What is calamus?
The closest botanical match is the Acorus calamus. That’s a flowering plant also known as sweet flag, which has medicinal properties and contains psychoactive chemicals. And readers have undoubtedly already noticed the similarity between the original Hebrew phrase “kaneh bosem,” “calamus,” and cannabis.
One other note: the literal translations of the words “kaneh” and “bosem” are “weed” and “fragrant.”
That’s given rise to speculation among cannabis advocates that God’s Biblical recipe for anointing oil included weed. Not everyone agrees.
The influential Hebrew Bible scholar Maimonides believed “kaneh bosem” referred to ginger grass, which was native to the region. Today, many anti-cannabis advocates insist he was right. Other experts say there’s no way to be sure.
Or is there?
Polish anthropologist Sula Benet was a scholar specializing in Judaic customs and traditions. In 1936 she began publishing analyses of ancient texts and etymology and concluded that kaneh bosem indeed referred to cannabis. She also says that kaneh bosem was used during religious rites, possibly as an intoxicant.
Not all scholars agree that kaneh bosem was used for its psychoactive purposes, but many now do believe that the phrase referred to the cannabis plant.
There’s one final, interesting twist on the debate.
In the 1960s, a 6th century BC shrine was discovered by archaeologists. There was residue on the altar identified as animal fat, frankincense, and dung — plus a dark, mysterious substance that couldn’t be identified at the time.
Last year, scientists were finally able to identify it. It was cannabis, and it still had enough THC content to produce a high when it was inhaled.
So did the Bible discuss the use of weed at length? We’ll leave that conclusion to you.
A Plant of Renown?
Cannabis advocates also point to Ezekiel 34:29. The King James translation:
“And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen anymore.”
Was the plant weed? That interpretation may be a stretch. Other translations substitute phrases like “renowned plantations” and “a renowned planting place” for “plant of renown.” Those who argue against the Bible’s supposed references to cannabis say this verse discusses a place of planting, not actual plants.
Mentions of Cannabis Use and Abuse
The Bible is specific when discussing alcohol, both positively as in Proverbs 31:6:
“Give intoxicating drink to one who is perishing And wine to one whose life is bitter.”
And negatively, as in Isaiah 5:10:
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning so that they may pursue intoxicating drink, Who stay up late in the evening so that wine may inflame them!”
Those making arguments in favor of weed use those two passages to say that scripture considered moderate use of intoxicating substances normal and acceptable. They also mention the numerous times the Bible cited wine’s place in everyday rituals, and the “production” and consumption of wine by Jesus.
The anti-weed side agrees that wine is regularly mentioned in scripture, but points out two other facts.
One is that (in their view) cannabis was never mentioned in the Bible, and certainly was never mentioned in the same way as wine. Their other contention is that weed can’t be put into the same category as wine because it’s possible to drink alcohol without becoming intoxicated. That can’t be said for marijuana.
As with all of the other Bible verses we’ve discussed, there’s no definitive right or wrong answer, simply interpretation, and opinion. And it’s difficult to see the pro-and anti-weed sides coming to any sort of meeting of the minds.
Weed in the Bible: FAQ
Q: Is the hemp plant mentioned in the Bible other than in the context of kaneh bosem?
A: Not specifically. Scholars believe that kaneh bosem may also have been used to refer to non-intoxicating uses of the hemp plant, but there’s no other phrase in scripture that’s been translated to mean hemp.
Q: What about the claims that Jesus used cannabis himself, or used it as part of his healing mission?
A: Those remain simply claims. Kaneh bosem or similar terms aren’t mentioned in the New Testament, and there’s never been any firm evidence connecting Jesus to weed in any way.