Cremation No, Burial Yes
“Learn not the way of the heathen” (Jeremiah 10:2).
“Now amend your ways (cremating) and your doings (cremating), and obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Jeremiah 26:23).
Because of biblical ignorance and apathy, cremation is growing in popularity in the Christian West, just one of many signs revealing how much the church will be unrecognizable upon Jesus’ return. In general, Americans are quick to embrace the soft choices. Cremation is one of those soft choices, as it is less costly than burial and is trendy. What the world deems acceptable, the church and Christians in general feel behooved to deem acceptable, as well. This describes the current common acceptance of cremation of the dead body, as a replacement for historic and biblically directed burial. What the church should be teaching seems to move further away from biblical precepts of years gone by. Absolute biblical truth is quickly passing the stage of Christian history. The design of this Bible study is to give credible, biblical, and historical evidence sufficient to convict a Christian to reject cremation and for the church in totality to teach against it. At the end of this study, God’s displeasure with cremation and support of traditional burial should be clear to any open-minded person desiring to live by God’s Word.
Though historically widespread in the Hindu and Buddhist worlds (being mandated from their beginning), cremation has only recently entered the Christian West. These religions believe that fire helps the soul leave this world, with the body being left behind. It is my understanding that in Hinduism, the eldest son or younger brother is required to put fire first to the body of the departed. This I find gruesome. Starting in the late 1800s, the Christian West saw zero cremations; now, however, cremations occur at approximately 33% in the USA, 65% in Canada, 65% in Australia, 70% in New Zealand, and 72% in the UK according to 2008 records. In Roman Catholic countries, the rate is much less, about 10%. Cremation is another example of the church and Christians moving away from biblical truth to line up with the trends of the age. Burial remains the approved choice of disposing the body in the Old and New Testaments, as well as post-biblical times. Of interest to note is that the Eastern Orthodox Church forbids cremation, according to my research.
Burial is God’s choice, as these examples will demonstrate. The best example is the burial of the body of Moses, coming at the hands of God Himself. “And he (God) buried him (Moses) in a valley in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34:6). Cremation, on the other hand, receives God’s condemnation. When the Adamite Moab burned the bones of the king of Edom, God chided Moab: “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” (Amos 2:1).
In the ancient Adamite world, cremation had the support of the Romans and Greeks, who buried and cremated throughout their histories. Egypt did not cremate; they embalmed. When Jacob died in Egypt, Joseph commanded that his body be embalmed (Genesis 49:2). After that was done, Jacob was buried in the same cave as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah (Genesis 49:29-31; 50:13). That these family members were buried in the same location suggests that it is proper for them to be buried in the same cemetery, even though this did not always occur. When Joseph died, he was embalmed, and Moses carried his bones from Egypt to Canaan (Genesis 50:25, 26; Exodus 13:19). He was buried not with Abraham and company near Hebron, but in Shechem (Joshua 24:32), about 100 miles north of Hebron in Canaan. Tradition has him buried near Jacob’s well, according to Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Families being buried together is a very nice practice, although obviously it is not required.
During the Middle Ages, cremation was forbidden in many European places, with the death penalty invoked for participants since it was viewed as part of heathen rites. In A.D. 789, Charlemagne made cremation a capital offense. Authorities used burning at the stake as a punishment for heretics. Authorities went so far as to exhume John Wycliffe’s body to burn it, throwing the ashes in a river because of his refusal to accept the Roman Catholic position of Transubstantiation. The burning of Wycliffe’s body after his burial is a good example of fire being viewed as a judgment exceeding death itself. As a side note, cremations were performed to try to stop plagues or deemed necessary in cases of warfare or famine.
By the time of the late 1800s, cremation in the West was gaining scientific/engineering interest. Along with others, Sir Henry Thompson, Queen Victoria’s surgeon, founded the Cremation Society of Great Britain in 1884, which lead to Britain’s first cremation in 1885. The first cremation in America was in 1876. In about 125 years, the practice of cremation has increased greatly, as the previously cited percentages reveal. Churches have so caved on this issue that some of them have their own “garden of remembrance” on church grounds where one’s ashes can be spread.
Early Church Fathers’ Position on Cremation
1) Tertullian (died A. D. 220)
Cremation—“a symbol of hell”
2) Cyprian (A.D. 220-258)
Cremation—“an act equivalent to apostasy”
3) Lactantius (A.D. 240-320)
Cremation—“We will return the image and workmanship of God to the earth from where it had its origin. Cremation is a rebellious act from within the nature of the depraved man thinking he can defy God a foil the resurrection that will bring forth to stand before God in judgment. But all men will be raised from the dead and be judged. Is there some inner attitude among unbelievers that makes them think perhaps that they will avoid judgment and falling into the hands of God in that great day when all both small and great shall stand before the great white throne judgment? Is it only to underestimate the omniscience of God to think such a thing and commit the ‘Anti-christian act of cremation?”
4) St. Augustine
Augustine stated that the church gave orders “against cremation” with Pope Innocent I (A.D. 401-417) being one.
5) Although he was not a church father, still valuable evidence comes from the pen of Marcus Minucious Felix (Roman lawyer). He explains how pagans charged Christians for proclaiming resurrection of the body and for criticizing their (pagan) method of burning (cremating) human bodies.
Cremation does not limit God’s resurrection power. However, refraining from cremating is a matter of doing the right thing. Christians simply should not cremate their bodies. It is a wrong choice.
To support the idea that cremation does not limit God’s resurrection power, we need to remember that some Christians have been 1) accidentally burned to death, such as in a house fire, 2) purposely burned at the stake, 3) purposely burned to stop a plague or as part of warfare, 4) eaten alive by animals, and 5) drowned at sea and eaten. Consider this verse: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it” (Revelation 20:13). Everyone will stand in judgment for the future state of the soul: hell awaits the unsaved, while the Kingdom of God awaits the saved in Israel. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Fire Is a Judgment Tool of God; Burial Is Not
Considerthe fire of Gehenna, the final place of judgment for the wicked (Matthew 25:41). The next time God destroys the world, He will use fire (2 Peter 2:10-12). As you recall, God used water the first time He destroyed the earth. Then, God employed the use of fire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and the wicked sodomites (Genesis 19:24). Also, God burned Achan with fire for taking the accursed thing (Joshua 7:15, 25). The punishment for a man taking a wife and her mother was that all three were to be “burnt with fire” (Leviticus 20:14). Nadab and Abihu received God’s judgment by fire after they offered strange fire before the LORD (Leviticus 10:2). When 250 men offered incense without authority during Korah’s rebellion, God killed them by fire (Numbers 16:35).
God Blocking a Burial Shows His Condemnation upon That Person
God’s judgment upon Jeroboam and his house for worshiping other gods (1 Kings 14:9) was that dogs and fowl of the air would eat their bodies, implying no burial of the body. Consider what the LORD said: “I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam…and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam…till it be all gone. Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat” (1 Kings 14:10-11). A similar curse fell upon upon Jezebel. “And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her” (2 Kings 9:10). This is exactly what happened. “And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands” (2 Kings 9:35). It seems obvious that when God denied someone a proper burial, He meant it as a judgment.
Biblical Evidence in Support of Burial
In addition to God burying Moses, there are a number of burials in the Bible, some of which we shall address here. First of all, remember the Bible states that man is to return to the ground upon his death. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust (Genesis 2:7) thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). When God spoke to Abram further about the Abrahamic Covenant, He told Abraham that he would be buried with his fathers “in a good old age” (Genesis 15:15). That is just what happened. And, his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Genesis 15:9). Abraham buried Sarah in the same cave that later became his own resting place (Genesis 23:19).
One passage of Scripture supports burial on the same day as one’s death. In reference to a hanging, Scripture reads thusly: “thou shalt in any wise bury him that day” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Most likely, this would be for sanitation reasons. Other notable burials in Scripture are these: Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse (Genesis 35:8); David (1 Kings 2:10, Solomon (1 Kings 11:43); Miriam (Numbers 20:1); Aaron (Deuteronomy 10:6); Abner and Saul (2 Samuel 21); kings had special burial sites (2 Chronicles 26:23); John the Baptist (Matthew 14:12); Stephan (Acts 8:2); Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10); and Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:59-60).
Ecclesiastes 6:3 is an interesting statement in support of burial: “If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.” Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians supports burial: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory’ (1 Corinthians 15:55). Grave here is Strong’s #86, meaning “Hades or the place of departed souls.” That St. Paul chose grave instead of hell (#86) tells me that burial is the only proper choice for the bodies of Christians and Israelites after death. The Bible does not read, “O fire, where is thy victory?” Use of the word grave emphasizes burial.
Returning to 1 Corinthians 15 verses 35-39 and 42-44, these passages teach that burial and resurrection are described in terms of SEED sown in the earth. Key verses are cited from this passage: “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or some other grain…So also the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption: it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:37, 42-44). Baptism is also couched in terms of burial. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through faith” (Colossians 2:12). That resurrection and baptism, two key teachings of Christianity, are couched in terms of burial demonstrates that the Old and New Testaments support burials.
In addition to God burying Moses, the Bible has many examples that support traditional burial. While there is no direct commend to do it, case examples and implications support it. Remember this: God frowned upon Moab burning the bones of the king of Edom. Further, fire is a judgment tool that Jehovah God used, and He did use it several times to kill those whom He judged by fire, which prevented burial. Christians are encouraged to be buried, touching place with the Bible and Christian history and rejecting the lower cost practice of cremation.
Watchman - Fall 2013