Cremation; is it Biblical? Part 1

cremation-urn-8344a-hands-6001Sometimes I sense that we believers like to shy away from “difficult to talk about” subject matter.

The cremation of our bodies at death is a sensitive subject and that’s why I want to discuss it in more detail.

My guess is that all of you reading this blog have thought about this topic sometime or another. My guess is that a loved one in your family has been cremated.

My guess is that many of you pass this subject off as, “It doesn’t matter what happens to our bodies after we die. It’s not worth discussing.”  In fact, you may not read this blog. This blog isn’t about passing judgment, or making people feel guilty.

“After all, all of us die and most don’t have a say in how they die. Some die unrecognizable in a fire, some are lost at sea, some are eaten by a shark (pleasant thought), some are obliterated in a rocket explosion, or a jet airliner crash.”

“Our God is a miracle worker and will give us glorified bodies when the time comes for that to happen, no matter what the form of our bodies are in!”

burial-vs-cremation-map1Cremation, which turns the human body into about four pounds of lime dust, rather than burial, is becoming an acceptable mode of disposing of our dead or “passed away” loved ones. There are many reason for this. Today, probably a key reason is that it is far cheaper than burial. But if this is the fact, then why does Mississippi have the lowest cremation rates in the US? After all, it’s clearly one of the poorest states.

But I ask this question; what if we do have a choice for cremation or not?

Is there a significance of cremation and what does the Bible say about it? Is the intentional obliteration of our bodies the way God wants it? We certainly don’t know his mind, only the Scriptures. This is a controversial subject and Christians have opposing views. Many denominations have had strict laws about it over the years.

Some say that since the Bible does not specifically prohibit the practice, then it is an acceptable act.

Others point to Isaiah 8:20 which says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this world, they have no light of dawn.” In other words, since the practice of cremation is seen in a negative light throughout the Bible, then we should not practice it, as long as we have a choice. Many take this stand.

Many Christians that I talk to simply say that “it just doesn’t matter,” and that it is a “non-point.” Our God can do anything. He can resurrect the lime dust into a perfect replica of the human form at the Second Coming.

If it is wrong, then how do you deal with Christians that have been burnt to a crisp in a house fire, or pulverized in a nuclear blast like what took place at Hiroshima? Certainly, our Creator God can make sense of an “obliterated” body. So what is the difference if he resurrects a body of bones or dust?

Let’s look at:

 Historythe world religions of Hinduism and Buddhism have practiced cremation for WOR-96-128-36thousands of years. It was popular among the Greek and Roman civilizations, where “economy or convenience had a good deal to do with the choice.” Cremation was practiced in Europe up until the dawning of Christianity.  Christians (and Jews) began to reject cremation on the basis of the “doctrine of the resurrection.”

Native American Indians have also widely practiced cremation. It was often practiced to prevent the “spirits of the departed” to return to the buried bodies and bring trouble to the living. Interestingly, the Egyptians embalmed and buried their dead.  Historically, many of the Chinese believed that dead bodies should be “buried in China’s earth.”

Old Testament experienceJews have believed in burial of the dead for thousands of years. It was considered to be a religious commandment in Genesis 3:19 (for dust you are, and to dust you shall return) and Deuteronomy 21:23– “be sure to bury (the dead) that same day.” The oral law of the Jews in the Mishnah considered the burning of a corpse to be idolatry. It was against the dignity of the human body. (Av. Zar. 1:3)

In 1 Kings 2:10, when King David died, “he slept with his fathers, and was buried.”  Regarding prophecy of the resurrection, Daniel 12:2 says, “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” Isaiah prophecies in Is. 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy…the earth will give birth to her dead.” King David says in Psalm 71:20, “Though you (the Lord) has made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.”

Part 2 on Cremation next time will look at more Biblical examples of cremation and the New Testament conclusions.

Principles for the Christian Life e-book for reference for individual or group Bible Study.

About Dr. Robert

I am married to Janet and we have four children. I am active in Grace church in Racine, Wisconsin and serve there in leadership and teaching . I have been an internist for 30 years and keep busy by taking care of a full load of patients. On the side, I like to write, coach, mentor, spend time with my family just hangin' out, and help take care of our three dogs; two Golden retrievers named Reagen and Finley and a Bernese named Sadie'.
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