What does the Bible say about Cremation? Part 2

It seems to me that here in the USA we are in denial when it comes to dealing with death. We prepare for the births of our children, we prepare for their educational years, we save for retirement…and some people do pre-pay and plan out their funerals, and take out life insurance policies on their spouses. But when it comes to final decisions regarding cremation or burial, we might be making them too blithely, without wanting to give much thought to particulars–without consulting God’s word for answers.

So a couple of weeks ago, our Sunday evening Bible study veered into the topic of death when we were studying the life of Joseph, and his father Jacob, in Genesis 47:29-30, was emphasizing his desire that his body be returned to be buried in the land of his fathers. Suddenly we were all discussing this matter of Christian burial, and wanting to know if cremation was a biblical option. Our pastor decided we’d devote a couple of Sunday evening classes to the topic, and here I am, to share my notes.

First a couple of passages stand out to me:

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Jeremiah 10:2, “Learn not the way of the heathen.”

Burning dead bodies has long been a heathen practice. Take India for example. We learned that cremation is centuries old in India. Did you know that Christians in India do not want to be associated with the heathens, and so they try to avoid cremating their loved ones when they die? Interesting.

Romans 15:4 tells us that the things written “aforetime were written for our learning“. In the Old Testament, in Genesis, we are given m.a.n.y. accounts of the deaths and burials of God’s people…so it seems we are given the scriptural example that burial is His way. Even in the New Testament we see Stephen, the first martyr, carried to his burial. Conversely, we see God using fire as punishment, as a way of showing forth His wrath.

  • He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire
  • When Aaron’s sons offered “strange fire” to the Lord, He sent a fire to consume their bodies
  • Korah’s group was swallowed up by the ground and immediately after God sent fire to burn up 250 men that were there offering incense
  • Idols were to be burned and destroyed
  • Achan and his family and livestock were stoned and then burned

But Amos 2:1-2 was the most convincing for me…

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:

But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, [and] with the sound of the trumpet:

Keep in mind, this is a PAGAN nation that *transgressed* by burning the bones of the King of Edom into lime! This pagan nation reaped bigtime punishment for what we Christians are ceasing to think twice about doing to our loved ones after death.

We reason it away though. We think, cremation is affordable. It’s sanitary. It’s just their body, not their soul or spirit. It’s easy. Our pastor pointed to Joseph’s bones…wouldn’t it have been easier to burn them rather than keep track of them for the 400 years the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, not to mention the hassle of carrying them around with them for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before finally getting to put them to rest in the promised land? It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Why weren’t the Civil War soldiers’ bodies heaped in a big pile and burned after the battles? That would have been easier, cheaper, more sanitary, and less messy. But it would have been so disrespectful. Instead, burial “details” were sent out to bury the dead, because those men deserved a special, honorable burial. Can you see how desensitized we’ve become?

1 Corinthians 6:19 says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Even though our spirit and soul are not there anymore, the temple is. God bought us–He owns our bodies. We should glorify God with our body, whether in life or in death.

Think about this a little more with me. Laws in the Old Testament forbid mutilation of the body. Are we “without natural affection” (2 Timothy 3:3)? A hundred years ago, when families prepared the bodies of their loved ones for burial, they called it a “decent, Christian burial.” Can you imagine them stoking up the fire outside and throwing their dead family member’s body into it? If we had to prepare our child for burial, would we choose to cremate? Could you burn the body of your pet when it dies? Most people, I would hope, would shudder at the thought. But we don’t have to “watch it happen”–so we sanitize it in our minds, we deny the horror of it.

Why did the Roman Catholic Church burn martyrs at the stake? To humiliate and dishonor their bodies. They actually exhumed the body of John Wycliffe, put it on trial, found his bones guilty and burned him at the stake. No doubt their intention was to dishonor this man and his work on the Holy Scriptures.

Romans 14:7-8 sums it up,

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

The Bible may not seem to summarily answer the question of cremation vs. burial for Christians, but it does put forth principles, that when studied, hold the answers. Do you agree?

Part 3 will deal with other options available to us when a loved one dies, because if you recall from Part 1, my horror at the embalming process is what turned me to consider cremation in the first place. So what is a gal to do? Stay tuned!

Read Part 1 here.

7 thoughts on “What does the Bible say about Cremation? Part 2”

  1. Hi there. I know I’m a little tardy in commenting on the post here but I wanted to chime in anyhow.
    As a saved sinner – having been baptized – and professing my faith in Christ, The Lord – As well as having spent a reasonable amount of time contemplating the issue of cremation I’ve come to my own conclusions.
    Countless numbers of humans have died a fiery death. Joan of Arc quite notably. And then how many were burned after dying from injury or smoke inhalation during a fire. Do you intend to imply that these people are deprived of eternal bliss in SPITE of their love and devotion to Christ ?(when that is the case of course.)
    It may be that there is some misunderstanding . Ashes to ashes – dust to dust. Who would you say is the victim of this “cremation”. I don’t believe that Almighty God would disown me any more than I would disown my own flesh and blood no matter how they chose to let their corpse be consumed. But you’re sure entitled to your opinion. Blessings to you and yours. Mike

  2. Oh no, Mike. I had hoped I was clearer than that, perhaps you didn’t read part 1, where I brought up similar points to yours. Definitely, this subject is not about how cremation of a Christian’s body would affect their eternity, not at all. Here’s what I said at the end of Part 1, a disclaimer, if you will:

    Now don’t take this wrong. I realize state laws vary regarding our options when a loved one dies. And you might have chosen the cremation route for economical reasons, this is not in judgement of anyone’s decisions whatsoever. It is our soul and spirit that go on to heaven, or hell, not our body…and many saints have been burned at the stake (another reason to rethink cremation?) or died in house fires or explosions. This is not about the body being gone, or unable to be resurrected on the day Jesus returns…this issue is merely, does God have anything to say about how we treat the bodies of our dead?

    I do hope you come back to read this reply, because I’m not sure how you formed the conclusion that God would disown anyone who went the cremation route, from reading what I’d written. I do want to point out tho, that in the Bible, there are many mentions of “dust to dust” but not of “ashes to ashes”…as concerning death, I did a search on it.

    We are not under law, but under grace. Cremating is not going to make or break salvation…Jesus’ blood shed on the cross covered every sin, nothing I do or don’t do will affect my eternity, apart from my faith in that shed blood being necessary for my eternal salvation. But as a Christian, my responsibility is to know His word, and seek first His righteousness…the Bible contains ALL the answers, even to the question of how God wants us to care for our dead.

  3. I know what you mean–but it’s always unsettled me to have the open casket up front as well. It’s not really a subject most of us want to plan for, or explore deeply…but I know if I lose a loved one, in the first couple of days of terrible grief, I won’t be able to make these kinds of decisions, and want to be informed!

    Btw, I can’t comment at your site, Bethanie…the captcha is impossible to decipher (for me anyway!)

  4. Thanks, I know it’s controversial, hopefully others will follow my thoughts on this, and not feel judged if they’ve already made up their minds, or have cremated loved ones in the past. I never thought to consult the Bible on these matters before…and was convinced cremation was the way to go before doing so. It is an interesting topic, for sure. I guess there are death midwives out there, too. Many more people are thinking this way than you’d ever believe, tho many of them are pro-home-funeral care for environmental reasons, not biblical. Isn’t it ironic how we so often return full circle to the way our ancestors did things? I appreciate your comments, E. It’s been a long time!

  5. His wife might be able to call around to funreal parlors beforehand and explain the situation and prearrange everything. She may just be billed for the expenses. I know it sounds horrible to have to do such a thing before someone actually dies, but it is more common than you might think.

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