IS CREMATION A BIBLICAL OPTION FOR CHRISTIANS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“In today’s American society, ‘cremation’ has become more and more acceptable upon death for various reasons, including the cost of funerals. Is this a biblical option for believers today or does it matter what we have done with our bodies? It seems that it is rooted in paganism instead of Judeo-Christian tradition. Is there a biblical precedent, or does it really matter to God either way?”
Thank you for that inquiry. We will see what the Bible says about cremation. Also, we will see why there is some apprehension to cremation.
THE BIBLE AND CREMATION
Not too long ago, I heard a television preacher say that he had a Bible verse that taught Christians should not be cremated. Intrigued, I listened even more closely to his next statement. He continued, “God told Abram in Genesis 15:15, ‘And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.’” And, I thought to myself… I wonder what this preacher would say to, “What about burying an urn of ashes? That would still be considered a ‘burial,’ no?”
The fact is, the Bible neither forbids nor teaches cremation of believers’ bodies. In fact, Scripture is almost silent about cremation. Bodies were usually buried unbroken (whole, intact) because of cultural or personal preferences. Jesus’ body was buried whole, wrapped in linen clothes for head and the rest of the body (John 19:38-42; John 20:6-7). Joseph’ corpse was embalmed (mummified) in Egypt, and then placed into a coffin (Genesis 50:26). Deceased Lazarus was dressed in grave clothes and tied up before being disposed in a sealed cave (John 11:44). David took the bones of King Saul and his son Jonathan and buried them in the burial cave of Saul’s father Kish (2 Samuel 21:12-14). An unnamed man whose corpse touched Elisha’s bones, that man was immediately raised from the dead (2 Kings 13:20-21). Obviously, both Elisha and the man were buried intact. King Josiah, when reforming idolatrous Judah and Jerusalem, burned the various “aids of worship” and the bones of the evil priests (2 Chronicles 34:3-7). This last event is the only “cremation” recorded in Scripture of which I am aware.
As a side-note, I should mention the following. The Jews, copying their pagan neighbors, burned their babies and their other young children alive in sacrifice to worship heathen gods Baal and Molech (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:2-6; Jeremiah 32:35). This may be why people have such a strong opinion against cremation. (We will deal with this in our next section.)
Still, and most important of all, the Apostle Paul never tells us what we, as members of the Church the Body of Christ, should do concerning our funeral arrangements. There is no explicit command to be buried intact, and there is no explicit command not to be cremated. (We will come back to this later.)
ROMAN CATHOLICISM AND CREMATION
In ancient Rome, where there was no belief in the afterlife or resurrection, cremation of corpses was a common practice (particularly among the wealthy or political elite). According to the Roman Catholic Church, it has always preferred the burial of a whole body. The Roman Church says that while Pope Paul VI abrogated its ban on cremation in 1963, it originally opposed the practice on the grounds that it was “pagan.” (Friends, imagine that. The Roman Catholic Church, well known for adopting pagan beliefs and practices to attract the masses, refused cremation because of its “anti-Christian” history!) (Just think of all the Protestant martyrs throughout history whom the Roman Church “cremated” while they were still alive!!!!)
It is said that the Christian’s body should not be cremated because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is said that that body should be treated with care. While we agree that the Holy Spirit certainly indwells Christians (1 Corinthians 6:19), we must point out that He does not live in dead bodies! Once the Christian’s soul leaves the physical body, so does the Holy Spirit. Human remains are to be treated with care (out of respect for whose remains they are), but burning a corpse to fulfill that person’s wishes is, in my opinion, no more disrespecting it than putting it in a box where it can slowly rot and smell for years to come underground!
The rationale in Roman Catholicism is that cremation can be understood as a denial of the doctrine of bodily resurrection (as in ancient Rome). As The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraphs 2300-2301: “ The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.  Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious. The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”
Interestingly, decades after English Bible translator John Wycliffe died, decades after him giving the English Bible to the common man (thus weakening priests’ grips on them), the pope (as per the 1415 Council of Constance) had Wycliffe’s body exhumed and cremated (along with his “forbidden” books!). Those ashes were then scattered in the Severn River! Was the pope denying Jesus’ words when He said that He would one day resurrect all people, Christian and non-Christian (John 5:28-29)? Did the pope actually believe that by burning Wycliffe’s corpse he would prevent Wycliffe from being resurrected? (Food for thought!)
The Roman Church also forbids the keeping of ashes of loved ones in family homes, and it prohibits the scattering of those ashes. Those ashes must be buried, it is said. Rules, rules, and more rules!
WHAT SHOULD I DO AS A BIBLE BELIEVER?
Dear friends, all the church rules and ecclesiastical regulations aside, all the hypocrisy and foolishness aside, what happens to our physical bodies post-mortem makes no difference to God. If it were so important of a matter, surely God would have said something in His Word one way or the other. There is nothing in the Bible that expressly forbids the practice of cremation. Those who oppose cremation today seem to be doing so on the grounds of denominational teaching (particularly in Roman Catholicism, and by Protestants who have been influenced by such thinking).
God can one day resurrect any body. He will one day resurrect every body. Every last physical body that perished in the Great Flood thousands of years ago, and every last human remain that is in the sea or in the ground, all the way back to Adam, they will all be resurrected. This applies to the tiniest ash speck and the teeniest bone fragment, regardless of where it is. To reassemble such a body is nothing for God to do. He created the first human from dust, and He can certainly take even the smallest remains and re-form those bodies just as they were originally. Even after the maggots ate away his physical body in the grave, Job said he knew that God would still resurrect him (Job 19:25-27).
Personally, I know some Christians who were cremated. I have Christian friends and family who have planned to be cremated or are considering cremation. Even I have wondered about cremation for myself (I am still undecided). If the word “cremation” appears in your “final wishes,” that is fine. (Just as long as your soul is not burning!) Since cremation is generally less expensive and simpler than inhumation (burying a complete corpse in a coffin), cremation is a popular form of disposal. If you are attempting to defer costs and simplify your funeral by being cremated, that is your business and your business alone. The Bible is silent about the matter. No church or preacher has any right to dictate to you or your family what should be done with your body, ashes, et cetera. If you want to be buried intact, you may do so. If you want to be cremated and have your ashes scattered, or have your ashes given to family members to keep, that is your prerogative. No one is to “have dominion over your faith” (1 Corinthians 1:24). God in His grace has given us the liberty to do what we think is best concerning our final wishes. Enjoy that liberty, friend, and do not let religion rob you of it!