What Does the Bible Say About Cremation?

Cremation vs. Burial: A Biblical Perspective

man holding urn
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With the rising cost of funeral expenses today, many people are choosing cremation instead of burial. However, it's not unusual for Christians to have concerns about cremation. Believers want to be sure the practice is biblical. This study offers a Christian perspective, presenting the arguments both in favor and against the practice of cremation.

The Bible and Cremation

Interestingly, there is no specific teaching in the Bible about cremation. Although cremation accounts can be found in the Bible, the practice was not common or accepted at all among ancient Hebrews. Burial was the acceptable method for disposing of corpses among the Israelites.

Ancient Jews rejected cremation most likely because of its close resemblance to the forbidden practice of human sacrifice. Also, since the pagan nations surrounding Israel practiced cremation, it was closely linked with paganism, giving Isreal another reason to reject it.

The Old Testament records several instances of Jewish bodies being cremated, but always under unusual circumstances. In the Hebrew Scriptures cremation is usually presented in a negative light. Fire was associated with judgment, therefore, it would be difficult for the Israelites to relate cremation with any positive significance.

Most of the key people in the Old Testament were buried. Those who were burned to death were receiving a punishment. It was considered a dishonor for the people of Israel not to receive a proper burial.

The customary practice of the early church was to bury a corpse immediately after death, followed by a memorial service three days later. Believers chose the third day as an affirmation of faith in the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of all believers. Nowhere in the New Testament is there a record of a believer being cremated.

Today, traditional Jews are prohibited under the law from practicing cremation. Eastern Orthodox and some Fundamental Christian denominations do not allow cremation.

The Islamic faith also forbids cremation.

What Happens During Cremation?

The word cremation is derived from the Latin word "crematus" or "cremare" meaning "to burn up." During the process of cremation, human remains are placed in a wooden box, and then into a crematorium or furnace. They are heated to temperatures between 870-980 °C or 1600-2000 °F until the remains are reduced to bone fragments and ashes. The bone fragments are then processed in a machine until they resemble coarse sand, light gray in color.

Arguments Against Cremation

Some Christians object to the practice of cremation. Their arguments are based on the biblical concept that one day the bodies of those who have died in Christ will be resurrected and reunited with their souls and spirits. This teaching assumes that if a body has been destroyed by fire, it is impossible for it to be resurrected later and reunited with the soul and spirit:

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. 
…Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:35-55, excerpt verses 42-44; 54-55, NLT)
"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NIV)

Practical Points Against Cremation

  • Unless the cremated remains are interred in a perpetual care cemetery, there will be no permanent marker or place to honor and memorialize the life and death of the deceased for generations to come.
  • If inurned, cremated remains can be lost or stolen. It is important to consider where and by whom they will be kept, as well as what will happen to them in the future.

Arguments for Cremation

Just because a body has been destroyed by fire, doesn't mean God can't one day resurrect it in newness of life, to reunite it with the soul and spirit of the believer. If God could not do this, then all believers who have died in a fire are without hope of receiving their heavenly bodies.

All flesh and blood bodies eventually decay and become like dust in the earth. Cremation simply speeds the process along. God is certainly able to provide a resurrected body for those who have been cremated. The heavenly body is a new, spiritual body, and not the old body of flesh and blood.

Practical Points in Favor of Cremation

  • Cremation can be less expensive than burial.
  • In certain circumstances, when family members wish to delay the memorial service, cremation allows more flexibility in scheduling a later date.
  • The idea of allowing the body to decay in the ground is offensive to some people. Quick, clean disposal by fire is sometimes preferred.
  • The deceased or family members may wish to have the cremated remains placed or scattered in a significant location. While this is sometimes an important reason for choosing cremation, additional considerations should be made first: Will there also be a permanent place to honor and memorialize the life of the deceased? For some, it’s crucial to have a physical marker—a place that will mark the loved one’s life and death for generations to come. If the cremated remains are to be inurned, it is important to consider where and by whom they will be kept, as well as what will happen to them in the future. For this reason, it may be preferable to have the cremated remains interred in a perpetual care cemetery.

    Cremation vs. Burial: A Personal Decision

    Often family members have strong feelings about the way they want to be laid to rest. Some Christians are firmly opposed to cremation, while others much prefer it to burial. The reasons are varied, but usually private and very meaningful.

    How you want to be laid to rest is a personal decision. It is important to discuss your wishes with your family, and also know the preferences of your family members. This will make funeral preparations a little easier for everyone involved.