What does the Bible
say about cremation?

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QUESTION: What does the Bible say about cremation?

ANSWER: Before we delve into the Bible and what its says about cremation, let us review a generic dictionary definition of the practice and what it is. It is the act of reducing a dead body to ashes or consuming it with fire. God's word does not have anything directly to say about the issue and, in general, on how to handle a dead body. It does, however, does give some examples of the burning of the dead. At the very least, cremation as a practice is not specifically prohibited or directly condemned in the pages of Holy writ.

It should be noted that some Christians are against cremation. They believe that the burning of a dead human is a pagan ritual that disrespects the body God gives to each human being. While this Web site respects the consciences of fellow believers regarding this issue, it offers this short article as something to consider.

The Greeks were known to practice cremation. People in the Near East who also practiced this means of disposing of a dead body were the Hittites and the Mitanni. The practice of the Biblical patriarchs was not to consume a body with flames but rather bury it. Abraham purchased a burial place for his wife Sarah, which later would be used for his own body as well as those of Isaac, Rebekah, Leah and Jacob (Genesis 23, 49:31). Moses was buried in the ground (Deuteronomy 34:5 - 6). Cremation is also not referenced in the New Testament, as both Lazarus and Jesus' body were placed in the ground upon death (John 11, 12:17, Matthew 27, Mark 15, etc.).

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The Bible does give a few examples where bodies were burned after death. The children of Israel, under Joshua, convicted a man name Achan of a grievous sin against God. Their punishment was to stone him to death then to burn his body completely (Joshua 7). After the Philistines killed King Saul, Israel's first human king, and his sons in battle, they took their bodies and nailed them to a city wall. Valiant men of Jabeshgilead heard what happened, retrieved the bodies off the wall, then burned them (1Samuel 31:11 - 12).

King Josiah of Israel, after executing several pagan priests who served at the altars of false gods, had their bodies burned (2Kings 23:19 - 20). This act was a fulfillment of a prophecy given by God through a prophet of Judah (1Kings 13:2). The Apostle Paul made a statement that implies that to offer one's body to be burned, like a cremation, is not sinful but actually highly self-sacrificing (1Corinthians 13:3).

God does not command all bodies must be buried. He also does not expressly forbid their disposal through fire like a cremation. The examples of burial reflect what was the accepted cultural practice and tradition of disposing bodies at the time of a person's death and not a Biblical mandate. How a person's fleshly existence is handled after they die does not affect their salvation or God's ability to resurrect them (see Ezekiel 37:1 - 14).

Here is something to consider. The costs associated with burial (the coffin, the burial plot, etc.) are usually far more expensive than cremation. This is especially true when a person's ashes are either scattered or placed in an urn that is not housed in a cemetery. The money saved would be of better use to those who are alive (family members in need, surviving family, charities) than to those who have departed. Each Christian should decide how others should dispose of their body, upon death, based on conscience and prayer to God.

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