What are Christians to think of cremation? Based on biblical precedences, history and the practices of anti-Christ and the heathen world, the following is why Christians should not practice cremation:
Let’s start with a premise. A man’s actions come from his heart (Prov 4:23 – “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”), and by nature a man’s heart is not only desperately wicked deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”). Given this, men cannot be left to decide what truth is and how they run their lives. Therefore, in order to have any truth or guide for how a man lives, there must be a source that is not the man. For the Christian, this is the Bible. It is imperative that the Christian live his life according to the Bible and its precedences.
Thus, letting the Bible be our guide for what we do and don’t do in our lives, there is no precedent for cremation in the Bible in a positive way; and in fact, burning of the dead is done typically in negative circumstances. The Bible describes the burning of bodies as the results of condemnation (Josh 7:15, 25 – “15 And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel. 25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.”; 2 Kings 23:19-20 – “19 And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel. 20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.”). Also, for burning the bones of the king of Edom, the Lord declared punishment for them (Amos 2:1 – “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:”).
Cremation is typically heathen, a practice of the Romans of history, Hindus and Buddhists. For America (considering from when the Puritans were here), cremation has been adopted only fairly recently, as the first cremation in America took place in 1876; and not surprisingly as it gets farther and farther away from its Christian roots, cremation has since become even more popular over the last 40 years.
The biblical precedent is burial, which is clear throughout the Bible:
- Sarah – Gen 23:19 – “And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan.”
- Abraham – Gen 25:8-9 – “8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre;”
- Deborah (Rebekah’s nurse) – Gen 35:8 – “But Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.”
- Rachel – Gen 35:19 – “And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.”
- Isaac – Gen 35:29 – “And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
- Leah – Gen 49:31 – “There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.”
- Jacob – Gen 50:5-7, 12-13 – “5 My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again. 6 And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear. 7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 12 And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them: 13 For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.”
- Joseph – Gen 50:26 – “So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”; Josh 24:32 – “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.”
- Miriam – Num 20:1 – “Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.”
- Moses (by God Himself) – Deut 34:5-6 – “5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. 6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.”
- Joshua – Josh 24:29-30 – “29 And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.”
- Samuel – 1 Sam 25:1 – “And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah. And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran.”
- David – 1 Kings 2:10 – “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.”
- Solomon – 1 Kings 11:43 – “And Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father: and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead.”
- Hezekiah – 2 Chron 32:33 – “And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the chiefest of the sepulchres of the sons of David: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honour at his death. And Manasseh his son reigned in his stead.”
- The Lord Jesus Christ Himself – Matt 27:57-60 – “57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: 58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. 59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”
- Lazarus – John 11:44 – “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”
- Stephen – Acts 8:2 – “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.”
Christ also mentions it to one of His “disciples” when telling Him to follow Him: Matt 8:22 – “But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.”
How about indirect evidence from the Bible? The Bible is full of types and shadows: persons/things in the carnal realm that represent persons/things in the spiritual realm or persons/things historically future. For example, most Christians know that the commanded ordinance of baptism symbolizes Christ work here on earth. Note that baptism represents Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It would seem contradictory of God to require an ordinance that shadow’s His Son’s work here on earth, and for us as followers of Him to do otherwise with our own carnal existence (ie. with Christ being buried, and with burial being a part of baptism, we as followers of Christ should be buried when we die). Christ’s resurrection from the dead also represents the hope of Christians of their resurrection to be with the Saviour forever. Furthermore and contrarily, it is said that part of the reason the anti-Christ Roman Catholic Church would burn the Protestant martyrs of the faith was in the (false) hopes they would be kept from being able to be resurrected.
And so, as is evident, God’s word declares that burial is overwhelmingly the prescribed method of handling the dead, including the examples of God burying one of His (Moses) and the Lord Jesus being buried as well.
Further evidence comes historically from the catacombs in Rome, where the early Christians were buried.
In conclusion, from history and the Bible’s explicit evidence, it would seem clear the Christians should not cremate, but should bury their dead.