Cremation has become an increasingly popular practice today, not only in other nations, but in America as well. The general attitude is, ‘It doesn’t matter how you are buried or if you are buried or what happens to your body.’ Increasingly, professing evangelical Christians are supportive of the practice of cremation, saying, ‘It doesn’t really matter – I will be in heaven anyway.’
I recently heard a radio broadcast of a a leading Baptist pastor of one of the largest and most influential Baptist churches in Texas. He was speaking about the resurrection and about the hope believers have in Christ after death. Then in the midst of his message, he made a passing comment that it doesn’t matter if we are buried or cremated, and that the Bible doesn’t have any more support for one view than the other.
Such pastors make such statements because they are increasingly faced with families that want to use cremation, often just for financial reasons. Pastors are then afraid to speak up about this practice, so they compromise, saying, “The Bible really doesn’t support one view more than the other view.” Such a response is either out of biblical ignorance or cowardly dishonesty. Either way, it is wrong for pastors to be neutral on what the Bible makes clear.
Is the Bible neutral or silent on the subject? Is cremation a biblically sanctioned practice? As believers, we should simply ask the question – Is cremation Christian? Is it something a Christian should embrace?
The Bible does show that heathen nations practiced evil types of cremation in the context of demon worship and a complete departure from the worship of the true God. The Scriptures also teach theologically that the Christian’s physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and ought not to be desecrated. If the physical body of the Christian has become holy, then it ought never to be wilfully destroyed by a man-made practice that is not condoned in Scripture.
But perhaps the greatest answer the Bible provides is the example we find in Scripture of what Old Testament and New Testamentbelievers did with the bodies of the deceased. The simple answer is that they buried the physical body. For the righteous, burial was the practice, never cremation.
Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was buried – ‘After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, east of Mamre in the land of Canaan’ – Genesis 23:19.
Moses was buried – ‘Isaac and Ismael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Machpelah, east of Mamre . . . there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife’ – Genesis 25:9.
Deborah, Rebekah’s servant and nurse, was buried by Jacob – ‘And Deborah died and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he [Jacob] called its name Allon-bacuth [weeping]’ – Genesis 35:8.
Rachel was buried – ‘So Rachel died and she was buried on the way to Ephrath and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb’ – Genesis 35:19 (see also Gen. 48:7).
Isaac was buried – ‘And Isaac breathed his last and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him’- Genesis 35:29.
Jacob requested to be buried in Canaan, not in Egypt – ‘Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place’ – Genesis 47:29-30 (see also 49:29).
Moses was buried by God himself – ‘So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he [God] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Bethpeor, but no one knows the place of his burial to this day’ – Deuteronomy 34:5-7.
In the New Testament, Lazarus was buried (John 11) and Jesus was buried, as were others referred to in Scripture specifically.
After the resurrection of Christ, many of the bodies of the saints came out of their tombs and appeared in Jerusalem; they had not be cremated, but buried.
If the example of the godly saints in Scripture means anything (and it does), then cremation is simply not a valid or God-honoring practice that any Christian should condone or consider.
Cremation is neither biblical or exemplary for the Christian today. We ought not to let the standard down for economic reasons or any other reason.
– Mack Tomlinson