From our summer Five Minute Moment (5MM) People’s Choice, someone asked me afterwards about what the Bible says about Cremation. This is a great question and incidentally one of the most frequent questions I receive, especially from those with more life behind them than ahead of them.
Traditionally cremation was only an Eastern practice. It has become more common in formerly Western Christian lands in recent years, particularly in places such as Europe or North American cities which have less ground available for burials or where this ground is expensive. Even here there is a movement back against cremation to natural burials because of environmental concerns.
The Bible doesn’t explicitly touch on the subject of cremation but it does provide a number of compelling principles that weightily inform a Christian perspective.
From start to finish there is a story of burial and hope of a bodily resurrection in the Bible.
As early as Gen 15:15 there is mention of burial, and though the practice was to be buried in a tomb (Gen 23:6), there is a sense in which a burial is a burial. It was the Egyptians and Babylonians who used coffins and embalming, in preparation for their future life. The greatest example of burial is of course the Lord Jesus, who was buried and on the third day rose (1 Cor 15:4). Because the Bible says Jesus will return from the east Christian graves traditionally always faced that direction, in anticipation.
Likewise, a bodily resurrection is the hope of the believer. The wages of sin is death (Ro 3:23). Though we are spiritually ensured eternal life upon belief, the physical benefit awaits the Resurrection. The Old Testament foresaw the Resurrection in verses like Isa 26:19a and 53:11a. It became a key tenet of the Pharisees (Acts 24:21). In fulfilment of these foreshadowing’s, and Christ’s own Resurrection, is the promise that the believer will share in a resurrection like His (Ro 6:5). This is why Christians have always believed in the Resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting (Apostles Creed).
The Bible values the entire person and so the entire person, including the body, is treated with respect both during life and after death (hence why we don’t desecrate graves).
Not so in Eastern religions (from which we get cremation). Here the body is of little consequence in comparison to the soul. Eastern religions believe the body can impede the soul from moving on to its next journey. As such, the cremation and funeral is undertaken speedily in order to free the soul.
The grand theme of the Bible is one of burial and resurrection. While there are no commands to “be buried” the weight of these principles and the living example of Scripture is why Christians traditionally have always buried their dead. In fact amongst the Eastern Orthodox (and Orthodox Jews) cremation is prohibited.
Yet we know people can die terrible deaths, be eaten, incineration, exploded or suffer death at sea. Certainly the power of the Lord is able to resurrect their bodies, even from dust. He can do the same with cremated bodies. Still the imagery and care of the body is absent in cremation.
I am not going to be cremated. I don’t believe it is prohibited in Scripture but I also don’t believe it is encouraged. Like the Lord Jesus and the saints before Him, it is my wish to follow his example and be buried. There my body will await His return.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.