Should Christians cremate the bodies of their loved ones?
Cremation means “to reduce to ashes by burning” – (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). In some countries space is at a premium, so they are encouraging the practice of cremation, and just spreading the ashes somewhere, or keeping them in an urn in the home. In other cases, people think that cremation is cheaper, so they request in their wills for their bodies to be cremated. In doing do, they think that their families will be saved extra costs after they are gone, but by the time that cremation costs are figured in, there might not be the savings that they think.
When considering the matter, we find that God commanded burial — not cremation. God commanded that even criminals be buried. Deuteronomy 21:22,23 says, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise BURY HIM that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”
When God was the only One present at Moses’ death, God Himself buried the body. Deuteronomy 34:5,6 says, “So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. 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.”
God wants people to highly regard blood, and to bury it, because it is the life of the flesh. Leviticus 17:11-14 says, “For THE LIFE OF THE FLESH IS IN THE BLOOD: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even POUR OUT THE BLOOD THEREOF, AND COVER IT WITH DUST. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.”
So we see in the Scripture that God’s people practiced burial for their loved ones. Genesis 23:1-4, 17-20 shows us that Abraham buried Sarah: “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, THAT I MAY BURY MY DEAD out of my sight.” “And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure Unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. 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. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a buryingplace by the sons of Heth.”
Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebekah; and Jacob and Leah; were all buried. Genesis 49:28-33 says, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them. And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: BURY ME WITH MY FATHERS in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace. THERE THEY BURIED ABRAHAM AND SARAH his wife; THERE THEY BURIED ISAAC AND REBEKAH his wife; and THERE I BURIED LEAH. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.”
It was the heathen that practiced cremation. It was associated with their idolatry. II Chronicles 28:1-4 says, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father: For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and BURNT HIS CHILDREN IN THE FIRE, AFTER THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE HEATHEN whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.” II Kings 23:10 says, “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to PASS THROUGH THE FIRE TO MOLECH.”
In this matter, the heathen would even practice cremation upon those who were yet alive (living sacrifices to their false gods). II Kings 3:26,27 says, “And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the king of Edom: but they could not. Then he took HIS ELDEST SON that should have reigned in his stead, and OFFERED HIM FOR A BURNT OFFERING upon the wall. And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.” Deuteronomy 12:31 says, “Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.”
God’s people burned their dead only in contemptible situations. Like in Joshua 7:13-15, 24-26, when they burnt Achan and his family. “Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you. In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come man by man. 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.” “And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. 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. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.”
Also, to show extreme contempt and dishonor upon idolaters, their bodies/bones were burned. I Kings 13:1-3 prophesied that this would happen. “And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and UPON THEE SHALL HE OFFER THE PRIESTS OF THE HIGH PLACES that burn incense upon thee, AND MEN’S BONES SHALL BE BURNT UPON THEE. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.” That was fulfilled in II Kings 23:13-18, “And the high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had builded for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Zidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. And he brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men. Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove. And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and sent, and TOOK THE BONES OUT OF THE SEPULCHRES, AND BURNED THEM UPON THE ALTAR, and polluted it, according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. Then he said, What title is that that I see? And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulchre of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel. And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.”
In the case of the bodies of Saul and his son’s, they burnt them so that they would not be further mutilated and dishonored by the Philistines. I Samuel 31:7-13 says, “And when the men of Israel that were on the other side of the valley, and they that were on the other side Jordan, saw that the men of Israel fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities, and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them. And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan. And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and TOOK THE BODY OF SAUL AND THE BODIES OF HIS SONS from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, AND BURNT THEM THERE. And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
Cremation gives a false picture of the end of God’s people. Fire is the end of the lost, not of the saved. Luke 16:19-31 says, “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I AM TORMENTED IN THIS FLAME. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Mark 9:43-49 says, “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, INTO THE FIRE THAT NEVER SHALL BE QUENCHED: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” Revelation 20:11-15 says, “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was CAST INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE.”
Even in regard to the believers who die in sin or in dishonoring conditions in regard to their bodies, their bones are still buried, so it is technically not a complete cremation (where even the bones are burnt to ashes).
Achan’s remains were buried under stones in Joshua 7:25,26, “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. And THEY RAISED OVER HIM A GREAT HEAP OF STONES unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.”
In the case of King Saul, they buried his bones, and the bones of his sons. I Samuel 31:12,13 says, “All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. And THEY TOOK THEIR BONES, AND BURIED THEM under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
Burial is an often used picture of the Christian life. John 12:23-26 says, “And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat FALL INTO THE GROUND AND DIE, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” Romans 6:1-5 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are BURIED WITH HIM BY BAPTISM into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”
Burial is part of the gospel message. I Corinthians 15:1-4 says, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And THAT HE WAS BURIED, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Someday, you may be involved in a family situation where a loved one has requested cremation. If the person is still living, try to show that one from the Bible why that is not the right thing to do. If you find yourself in a situation where the person has already passed away, and there are other people in the decision-making position who want the cremation, then just pray and leave it in the Lord’s hands.