Burial vs. Cremation
By Betty Miller
Should a Christian choose cremation as a burial plan? What does the Bible say about cremation? How should a person plan for a Christian funeral? Although the Bible does not specifically speak to the subject of cremation, we do find in the Word of God that only the heathen tribes cremated people (burned their bodies with fire after death), while the Jews always buried bodies in graves in the ground, or entombed their dead in a cave or in an sepulcher, similar to our modern day mausoleums. It was basically a stone room with a stone coffin where a body lies. The word comes from the Latin sepulcrum, which means “burial place”.
Although, the scripture does not forbid cremation; neither does it condone it. Before I go any further, let me say now, that even if you had a loved one cremated or know a Christian who was cremated; it will not affect their eternal destiny. A relationship with Christ or lack of it determines our eternal destinies.
Christian Tradition or Heathen Practices?
However, there are Christian practices and heathen practices and in our day because of a lack of knowledge, some in the church have adopted heathen practices in numerous areas, besides just the practice of cremation. We can clearly see in the Bible the tradition of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, was to always bury their dead and never to burn dead bodies, as the heathen round about them did. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. Jesus, Himself, was buried in a tomb. Here are scriptures that record how people were buried, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Genesis 23:19 “And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.”
Genesis 25:10 “The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.”
Genesis 49:31 “There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.”
2 Samuel 19:37 “Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother. But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee.”
Acts 2:29 “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.”
John 20:11:12: “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.”
How Do Other Religions View Cremation?
Christianity and Judaism discourage cremation and Islam prohibits it. Hinduism practices it and we saw this while on a missionary journey to India. In the seventies, while there, so many people were starving and dying on the streets of Bombay, that every morning the government would send out trucks to pick up the dead bodies and take them to a local place where they burned the dead bodies. How sad it was to see no dignity given the dead. The Roman Catholic Church discourages cremation; as they believe the body is holy and should be treated with honor and respect and felt that cremation constituted a denial of the resurrection of the body.
We notice from all the above scriptures from the Bible that the reference is made to burying “people”, not a reference to burying “bodies or corpses”. They always talk of a person’s name when mentioning burial. This being the case, the practice of burial has always been the biblical tradition and the church was united in this practice until the middle of the 19th century. There was an attitude that, not only was the passing of someone a solemn event that included stewardship of a person’s body, but it also was to be a demonstration of the glory of God when a saint went home to be with the Lord.
List of Five Reasons People Choose Cremation
Lately, more Christians are becoming open to the idea of cremation and are embracing this means of disposing of the bodies of their loved ones for a number of reasons.
- Some have felt they cannot afford the expense of a traditional funeral, and choose cremation because of the expenses involved in burial. Funeral homes price cremation cheaper than the traditional casket and burial costs and they recommend this method if expenses are a concern, so bereaved people just go that way.
- Some have become environmentalists and are concerned about the lack of burial plots as space has become less available in cemeteries in certain locations.
- Some feel there are fewer decisions that need to be made, so cremation is easier.
- Some do not want the issue and cost of transportation when the body is away from home.
- Some romanticize saving the ashes of their loved one to be distributed in some emotional setting getting their cues from some movie they have seen
List of Five Reasons for a Christian Burial
As Christians, we need to approach this delicate subject with a different mindset as the cheapest and easiest option is not always the right one. As Christians our approach to anything should be – “How will this bring glory to God?” Applying this to the option of “burial versus cremation” here are some things that we believe that the Biblical tradition of burial will not only bring glory to God, but will bring peace to those who witness a burial or attend a funeral.
- A Christian funeral or memorial service should focus on the gospel and invite the attendees to think about their heavenly destination and even offer an altar call to the lost to give their lives to the Lord while they are yet alive as one day they too will face death.
- A Christian funeral also gives the family and those who mourn an opportunity to release their sorrow and many times when they are allowed to view the body of a deceased person that is the moment they are touched by God to give their life to Christ.
- A Christian funeral as opposed to cremation also brings closure to bereaved families as they can view and touch the body. (I think of the horrible tragedy of the destruction of so many lives during 9/11 and how all the families where awaiting some trace of their loved ones to be found in the rubble and they struggled with closure because there was none.)
- A Christian burial site also affords the family to visit the place of burial so they can come back to it for a time of reflection and memory of that loved one.
- A Christian burial also promotes the issue of having a timely burial as a body must go in the ground, usually within days, instead of Cremation Memorial Services later, when people are already over their grief, or sometime the memorial services are done away with altogether.
The Mystery of New Bodies at the Resurrection
A Christian funeral is to communicate the church’s belief in the promise of an eternal physical and spiritual existence. It should communicate the hope of the church which is the future bodily resurrection. Just as Jesus was resurrected and now has an eternal physical body, the saints of all ages are promised this same existence at the second coming of the Lord.
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (NASV)
What About People Who Die in Fires or Their Bodies are Destroyed?
One thing the Bible is very clear about is the fact that once a man’s body dies the body itself will eventually return to dust regardless of how they die. However, their spirits will go to either heaven or hell awaiting a day when they receive their resurrected bodies.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”
Daniel 12:2 “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
The Bible does not have any commands or laws against cremation. There are, however, biblical examples of how Christians were buried recorded in the Bible. Many of the heathen nations around the Israelites traditionally cremated their dead. The Israelites always buried their dead or put them in a tomb. The Jews in Jesus’ day continued with the same tradition and so did the New Testament Christians.
All Bodily Remains Return to Dust
Eventually, we will all return to dust whether we are buried or cremated. However, we should pray about how our lives can bring glory to God at the finish of our lives, as well as during our time on this earth. We can plan and save for a Christian burial and leave a last will and testament outlining our beliefs so that when we have each finished our race here on this earth, we can still have a witness at the end of our lives. This will allow others to celebrate our life in Christ through a Christian service and burial instead of accepting the ways of heathen religions that do not understand that, as Christians, we get a new body at the resurrection, as our old one is put to rest in the ground.
This article is not written to bring condemnation to any who have had loved ones cremated, as we understand the lack of knowledge on this subject and the stress of the moment and the lack of means for a burial could have led you and the family to that decision. It is rather written so that in the future those who have had questions about this topic of cremation may want to seek the Lord and pray how He would lead you to bury your dead or leave instructions as to how you want to be buried.
God is able to gather up the ashes of any person’s body and recreate it into a new body no matter how scattered they are upon the face of the earth, so just leave that to the Lord and know if your loved ones knew the Lord as their personal savior, then they are now in heaven, awaiting their new bodies at the second coming of the Lord.
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