One question people consistently ask me is, how should Christians think about cremation? If Christian families opt to have a believing loved one cremated instead of being buried, are they sinning? Should we cremate or bury? How will God reunite our body with our spirit, if there is not a body to join? This post addresses these questions and more.
What Is Cremation?
Cremation, defined, is burning a dead body, reducing it to ashes. Though there are instances of cremation in the Bible, the Bible does not give any explicit teaching on cremation.
Cremation Among Ancient Israel
Ancient Israel did not typically practice cremation. The Israelites stigmatized cremation as abhorrent. They viewed it as tantamount to desecrating the body:
Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) Then Josiah turned and looked up at the tomb of the man of God who had predicted these things. … He executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them. Finally, he returned to Jerusalem. 2 Kings 23:16, 20
Among the ancient Israelites, God disciplined those who desecrated the body by burning it:
This is what the Lord says: “The people of Moab have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They desecrated the bones of Edom’s king, burning them to ashes. Amos 2:1
Though Israel did not typically practice incinerating a body as a viable burial practice, there are several reasons why they might burn a body. It seems Israel reserved cremation as punishment for the worst criminals:
The one who has stolen what was set apart for destruction will himself be burned with fire, along with everything he has, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel. Joshua 7:15
Also, according to 1 Samuel 31:12-13, Israel burned bodies to prevent their enemies from further abusing the body. Furthermore, in trying circumstances, Israel might burn a corpse and bury the ashes.
Cremation Among Early Christians
Though there is was no command to affirm or prohibit burning the body, the early Christians did not practice cremation. Expectations of the Lord’s early return and New Testament examples of the dead being raised contributed to their reluctance to cremate the dead. Jesus’ burial is another example of why early Christians rejected burning the body.
In this respect, the Christians, like the Jews, differed from many of their contemporaries. Greeks regarded the body as a prison of the soul. Hebrews and Christians saw the body and soul as an integrated whole. Furthermore, Christian emphasis upon the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit increased believers’ resistance toward cremation:
Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,… 1 Corinthians 6:19
Should Christians Today Consider Cremation?
Should Christians consider cremation is the $64,000 question. Now, remember there is no biblical command to affirm or prohibit cremation. As has been mentioned above, sometimes, Christians object to cremation today because it is somehow incongruent with the teaching that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, some Christians object to cremation because it doesn’t affirm the truth that one day God will resurrect our bodies and reunite them with our spirit. How can our bodies be joined when our bodies are reduced to ashes and scattered all over the world?
But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38
Whereas this is a good question, sometimes believers forget that Christians who have been dead for a long time are now ashes. In fact, as our bodies decompose, they turn back to dust. Therefore, cremation speeds up the inevitable.
God Is Greater than Scattered Ashes
Now, when we cremate a body, it doesn’t make it any harder for God to resurrect our bodies and reunite them with our spirits. The same God who, by the power of his words, spoke the world into existence, is the same God who is powerful enough to recreate scattered ashes into a glorious body. God created our bodies in the beginning, and it certainly will not be a problem for him to create them again.
So, if you decide to cremate the body of a loved one, you are not sinning. If you choose to bury the body, you are not more righteous than someone who opts for cremation. When it comes to cremation or burial, I believe we have the freedom to choose. No matter what you decide, you should ask our generous Father for discernment (James 1:5).
What did you think about cremation before reading this post?
Do you believe God is greater than scattered ashes?