By Shari Abbott, Reasons for Hope* Jesus
Is there anything in the Bible that speaks against cremation?
The answer to this question is really very simple. No. There is nothing in the Bible that commands that a body can only be buried. Nor is there anything that suggests today’s practice of cremation is unacceptable.
We know that the soul and the spirit depart the body at death. So disposal of the body (human remains) is really about dealing with the “vessel” (or tabernacle) in which a person’s spiritual being was “housed” while they lived here on earth. We know that the “vessel” (the body) is earthly and perishable. We also know that God created man to have a perfect body that would never die. That changed when sin entered the world and brought death.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
While Romans 6:23 speaks of death and contrasts it with spiritual life, there was both a spiritual death and a physical dying imposed when Adam and Eve sinned. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve died spiritually and they began dying physically. (Read: Is there an error in Genesis 2:17 because Adam & Eve did not physically die?)
The spiritual death was conquered by Jesus on the cross and regeneration to spiritual life is available to all who trust in Him, but physical death of the body remains for all people.
In ancient biblical times, bodies were buried or placed in tombs as the method the Israelites used to dispose of human remains after death. Burning someone to death (the practice of pagan religions and cultures) and the burning of bones after decomposition is not the same thing as cremation. While there is a historical record of the Romans disposing of dead bodies by fire (as depicted in the movie “Risen”), the Bible does not record this Roman practice.
I personally believe that both burial and cremation are acceptable. I also believe that God cares more about respecting and honoring the deceased person than He does about the actual method of disposal of the human remains. Whichever method is chosen, the body should be respectfully handled to honor the person who has died, and to honor our God who created the body and gave it life (lack of respect and honor for the dead person and the dead body is a good reason to think that the Roman practice of burning dead bodies would not have been acceptable to God).
What about the bodily resurrection?
Christians often raise questions about cremation and ask what bearing it might have on the bodily resurrection that is promised by God. While it is clearly stated that God will raise the bodies of believers from the grave (1 Thessalonians 4:16), it should be noted that bodies, which have been in the grave for a long period of time, would be decomposed and reduced to dust. We know that God can, and will, raise those remains that are dust. Therefore, we can believe that He is able to raise any body that has been reduced to ashes by cremation.
Even if someone’s ashes have been scattered, I believe God is able to gather those ashes together to be raised. This cannot be supported with Scripture, but it is supported by the amazing works of our Almighty Omnipotent God and the truth and faithfulness of His Word. Because He says He will raise the bodies of believers from the grave, He will! And He can do so even if the body was cremated…and even if the ashes were scattered.
The Resurrected Body
God created us from the dust of the earth and one day the bones, dust or ashes that remain will not only be raised, they will also be transformed into the promised glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). This is not the earthly body that once housed the soul and spirit. While the resurrected and glorified body is created from the remains of the human body (bones, dust, ashes), it is a “born again” body of a new nature…just as in the rebirth and transformation of our souls in salvation.
Burial or Cremation?
The choice that each of us must make is whether to have a funeral and then have our body buried, or to have our body cremated and then have a memorial service. The choice of cremation has nearly doubled over the 15 year period from 1999 to 2014, increasing from 24.8% to 46.7%. ¹ It is believed this increase is primarily due to the cost of cremation versus a traditional funeral. Burial or cremation is a very personal choice and for Christians it should be made prayerfully and thoughtfully.
Cremation in the Bible?
In closing, it should be noted that the Bible records two times that bodily remains were burned by fire by the Isralites. The first is the bodies of Achan, his sons and daughters in Joshua 7:24-25. Achan was stoned to death for disobedience and it is thought that his children must have been accomplices. Following their deaths, their remains were burned. The second example is that of King Saul and his three sons. Following their deaths in battle, their bodies were burned, however not to the point of ashes. Then their bones were buried.
1 Samuel 31:12-13 all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
Although burning of the bodily remains was not practiced by Israelites, these two instances give us further reason to believe that our modern day practice of cremation is acceptable. In neither case, did God rebuke His people for having disposed of bodies in a manner other than their traditional method of burial.
Again, I believe that God cares more about honoring the deceased person and therefore whatever method is employed, burial or cremation, it should be done respectfully. Since the Bible does not speak clearly about the practice of cremation, we must discern based upon that which we know to be true. We know that we have been given liberty in Christ because we belong to Him and we are sealed by His Spirit (Galatians 5:1, Romans 8:1). We also know that we are to honor God in all we think, say and do (Colossians 3:17). That is done when we seek God’s will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all decisions.
Related article: In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve died spiritually and they began dying physically. Read: Is there an error in Genesis 2:17 because Adam & Eve did not physically die?