In the town where I live, funerals have become rather rare. I hear this is true throughout our country. People now have a “Celebration of Life” with lots of pictures of the deceased person and sometimes a cremation urn will be present. Cremation has become the norm for most Christians in our country. It has replaced the funeral and the burial of the body of the deceased.
This has occurred with almost no debate about the issue of cremation. It has become an accepted doctrine of most Protestant groups (It also is fully accepted by the Roman Catholic Church). Almost every Protestant statement of faith begins with something like this:
“The Bible is the inspired Word of God, free from error, and is therefore the final authoritative guide for faith and conduct.”
Putting this in simpler terms, most Protestants would simply say that they stand on the Word of God alone. With that as a foundation, here then is a defense of cremation taken only from the Bible.
First, since cremation is the burning up of the body, let us consider some of the verses dealing with the burning of bodies in the Bible. As you will see, the Bible is filled with great examples:
Genesis 19 – God burned up the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Leviticus 10 – God burned up Nadab and Abihu.
Leviticus 20:14 – A man who marries both a woman and her mother should be burned with fire.
Leviticus 21:9 – The daughter of a priest who becomes a prostitute should be burned fire.
Numbers 11 – God burned up some people for complaining against Him.
Numbers 16 – God burned up 250 men with Korah who rebelled against Moses.
Deuteronomy 12:29-31 – Nearby nations were burning their sons and daughters in the fire as a sacrifice to their gods. God forbid His people from doing this, but it does show that others were doing it. Haven’t you heard: “Everyone is doing it!”
Deuteronomy 18:10 – Even though God forbids His people, again we find that entire nations were sacrificing their sons and daughters in the fire.
Joshua 7:25 – Joshua had Achan and all his family stoned and then burned them up because of the sin Achan had committed.
Judges 9 – Abimelech burned up about 1,000 men and women in the tower of Shechem (Things didn’t go well for Abimelech right after that).
Judges 15:6 – The Philistines burned up Samson’s wife and her father.
1 Kings 16:18 – Zimri burned up himself after things went bad for him.
2 Kings 1 – The prophet Elijah called down fire and burned up the captains and their 50 soldiers (This happened two times).
2 Kings 16 – King Ahaz cremated his own son (It was an abomination to God, but it was done).
2 Kings 17 – The children of Israel were burning up their sons and daughters as offerings to other gods.
2 Kings 21 – King Manasseh cremated his own son (It was an abomination to God, but it was done).
This brings us to the Major and Minor Prophets of the Bible who did mention cremation quite a few times, but since it was all in a rather negative light, we will not cite each passage. So let’s move on to the New Testament:
Matthew 18:41-42 – Jesus actually mentions casting people into the furnace of fire (which sounds like a crematorium).
Matthew 25:41 – Jesus does speak of an everlasting fire which certain ones will be cast into.
Mark 9 – Several times, Jesus mentions a fire that never goes out that some could be thrown into.
Luke 12:49 – Jesus said that He came to send fire on the earth. This may not be an actual reference to cremation, but could be used out of context.
John 15:6 – Jesus talks about throwing those who do not abide in Him into the fire to be burned up.
1 Corinthians 3 – Our works will be tested by fire. Could this be a reference to cremation? Rats, that passage is about the Church, not individuals.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 – The Lord will take vengeance with flaming fire on the disobedient.
Hebrews 12:29 – A very strong witness for cremation: “Our God is a consuming fire.”
1 Peter 1:7 – Our faith will be tested by fire (compare with 1 Corinthians 3 above for the continuing debate regarding works vs faith).
2 Peter 3:12 – In the end, looks like everything gets cremated anyway.
Jude – More thoughts on the vengeance of eternal fire.
Revelation – Almost every chapter has something in it about fire. Suffice it to say, there will be some kind of everlasting cremation going on.
“If the Bible says it, it is good enough for me!” Clearly, the Bible shows that that even God practiced cremation. Some of the Kings in the Bible racticed cremation. The nations mentioned in the Bible often practiced cremation. Furthermore, the Bible points out that there is actually some sort of eternal cremation available.
But wait, these are all rather negative references toward the practice of cremation. In fact, I honestly couldn’t find one verse in which God blessed the practice of cremation. Perhaps we should take a different approach to the Biblical concept of cremation.
WWJD – “What Would Jesus Do?” This phrase has certainly impacted the Christian world and perhaps we can use it to look at this widely accepted doctrine of cremation.
The greatest miracle in the ministry of Jesus occurred with the person of Lazarus. He had been dead for 4 days when Jesus raised him from the dead. Oops, my mistake, if Lazarus had been cremated, that wouldn’t have occurred.
Jesus Himself died. Hmmm…He wasn’t cremated either. If fact, when He rose from the dead, he did have a body, ate food, and insisted on being touched. Bummer, that won’t work either.
Instead of that, what about taking a look at what St. Paul taught. He wrote a lot of stuff in the New Testament. He talked pretty seriously about death in 1 Corinthians. Let’s take a quick look at chapter 15. In discussing the resurrection from the dead (which we are all interested in), he only talks about the body. He speaks of the body as if it were a seed planted in the ground which will eventually be raised. Earlier in chapter 6, St. Paul talks about our bodies actually being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Hmmm, there is no mention of cremation by St. Paul. But, a fair question to ask at this point is: “Doesn’t the Holy Spirit simply leave the body of a believer after death?”
There is one passage of the Bible does come to mind regarding that question. In 2 Kings 13:20, we are told that the prophet Elisha died and was buried. Well, let’s let the Bible speak for itself here:
“Then Elisha died, and they buried him. And the raiding bands from Moab invaded the land in the spring of the year. So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.”
The bones of Elisha still contained the Holy Spirit so that a dead man was brought back to life. Wow, if he had been cremated and his ashes scattered over the Jordan River, that miracle would have never taken place.
I confess to you the reader that I have failed miserably in giving a Scriptural defense for the practice of cremation. That does raise the question about why so many Christians are practicing something that is actually condemned in the Bible if they truly believe in their statement of faith: “The Bible is the inspired Word of God, free from error, and is therefore the final authoritative guide for faith and conduct.”
What is guiding this doctrine of cremation? Please don’t tell me: “Everyone is doing it!”
Blessed Father Stephen, You asked, "What is guiding this doctrine of cremation?"
The shower answer is not Biblical. But it is space (to bury our dead) and money. These days a big funeral with embalming, viewing, a casket, a Priest or Minister, of course, the flowers , pictures, memory cards…these have become exhorbitantly expensive for most families. And it seems like fewer and fewer are preparing or saving for these inevitabilities. It's a matter of $7 to $10 thousand dollars for a burial vs under $2 thousand for cremation.
Then there is the problem of space to bury one's loved ones. Cemeteries are running out of room. My understanding is that in Japan, cremation is the ONLY thing allowed (and the Orthodox church does make an exception for this).
The last problem I see with your argument is this: bones degrade to dust. Bodies in the sea picked clean and eventually disolving. Bodies on land eventually turning to sand. So I propose that if Elijas bones were so powerful, then so would have been the dust of his bones!
Genesis 2:7 says, "Hen God formed man out of dust from the ground, and breathed in his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
In the Roman Catholic tradition, on Ash Wednesday, the Minister or Priest, annoints the congregant, saying, "From ashes (dust) he have come; to ashes (dust) he shall return." For me this is the most powerful day of the year. Pride is vanquished when I am reminded that I am meerly ashes in God's Holy Hands.
These are just my thoughts.
Blessings unto you,
An unlearned Catechumen
“According to the NFDA, the median cost of a funeral with cremation is $6,078. That’s $1,103 (15.3%) cheaper than the median cost of a funeral with a burial of $7,181.”