Cremation Or Burial: What Does The Bible Say? (1)

SIH STSTA ICONFor the Christian, the responsibility to do ALL THINGS in a way that honors and glorifies our Lord is no small issue.  As a matter of fact, this one, basic, responsibility given to us by our Lord should be the central motivating force behind all that we do…

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved.    (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

This responsibility touches every aspect of our life upon earth, even the final event of this earthly life, our physical death.    (The only exception to this is for the remnant of saved individuals who will be alive at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.)

Many times, it is during a funeral that we can reach others for Christ that we could not reach in any other way.  Because of this, I ALWAYS share the gospel message when I am doing a funeral service.  Everything done at a funeral, to the best of our ability should be done with the intent to honor the Lord and share Him with others.  There could easily be lost loved ones present who will never “darken a church door”, but they will show up for a funeral.  So, in my way of thinking, our testimony during the funeral and disposition of the body is important as well.

The necessity of the death of our body, and its use to honor and glorify the Lord, is an issue for which we all should be prepared.  This would include the testimony that we display during the events leading up to our passing, as well as the funeral service and disposal of our body   After all, our physical bodies are a wonderful gift from the Lord of which we are to use for His glory in every way possible…

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

I have said all of this to simply explain the importance of the issue we will be studying today.  It is the issue of the burial of our body versus the cremation of our body.  Do either of these dishonor our Lord or harm our testimony before Him?

THE STUDY:

In my way of thinking, one reason why there is so many questions about cremation versus burial of the body is because there is no “thus saith the Lord”.  To my knowledge, the Bible does not clearly state a position on this issue.  It is an issue that will have to be decided based upon a variety of Biblical principles instead of a clear Biblical declaration.

Keeping that in mind, I would like us to look at some Biblical principles that we can prayerfully consider…

1. The Stewardship Principle (this lesson)

2. The Example Of Bible Characters (see lesson 2)

3.  The Symbolism Of Fire And Burial (see lesson 2)

 

The Stewardship Principle

To begin, let’s look at a text we have already mentioned in our introduction:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Here, we find that the Apostle Paul clearly explains that the physical body that we possess was created, redeemed, and then set apart for the use of God as the habitation of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  When we consider the importance of our body to the workings of the Lord in our lives, we can easily see the need to ALWAYS treat it with appreciation, respect and honor.

The need to care for the body properly is one of the major reasons for the creation of the marital union.  Without marriage, based upon our desire for physical intimacy, we would commit the sin of sexual fornication which is a sin involving the misuse of our bodies …  “ Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body”  (1 Corinthians 6:18)

Paul then teaches us that the proper way to fulfill our desires for physical intimacy is found in the marital union…

“Nevertheless, [to avoid] fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”  (1 Corinthians 7:2)

So how important is it that we care for our physical bodies and use them in a proper way?  It must be very important because the marriage union was created by God, in part, to give us a way to escape sinning against our bodies through their misuse.

(By the way, misusing our bodies is not limited to sexual misuse.  In actuality, any action that brings harm to our bodies, or takes honor from the Lord through its use is a sin.  This would also include taking anything in our body that harms it, using our bodies in any way that breaks the laws of God or puts forth a bad testimony, and using it to harm others through our speech or actions etc etc.)

If we understand this principle, we can understand why, throughout the ages, the proper care of the body of the deceased was considered a sign of respect for the deceased.  Note how the bodies of the deceased were given great care prior to their burial…

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound [weight].  Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.(John 19:39-41)

Although Christ’s body was the one being prepared, His body was being treated in the same way as the body of other deceased Jews.    Keep in mind, a greatest of disrespect was shown through the delay or lack of a burial.  This was because of the great abuse the body would then endure at the hands of nature and the elements…

A Psalm of Asaph. O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.  The dead bodies of thy servants have they given [to be] meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.  Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and [there was] none to bury [them].  We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.”   (Psalms 79:1-4)

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. (Ecclesiastes 6:3)

Although, we are not specifically told in the Bible, we need to consider if the burning a body akin to other abuses that can be brought upon a body.  Perhaps this is the case.  It is a matter open for each believer’s consideration.

 

Also, the Bible, relates the burning of the body with disrespect for the lawless…

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 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.”  (Joshua 7:15, 25-26)

The children of Israel, under the direction of the Lord cremated Achan following his stoning to illustrate God’s displeasure with Achan and His wrath being poured out upon him.

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.  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.  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.  (2 Kings 23:16-20)

In this case, Josiah, cremates what is left of the bodies of the buried idolatrous worshippers as a public display of God’s enmity against them and the pollution of their idolatrous altars upon which they worshipped.

Based on the principle of stewardship, we should desire to treat the body of our deceased with respect and honor, recognizing the Lord is its Creator, Redeemer and Indweller.  The best way to accomplish this task would seem to be through burial of the body as opposed to cremation.

 

THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION:

In this section of our study we have seen the importance of glorifying God even after our death.  This  involves the proper treatment of our body as an act of stewardship over the temple of the Holy Spirit.  One way in which a body can be mistreated (and disrespect shown to the deceased) is by leaving the body open to corruption by the forces of nature.

At the least this emphasizes the need to treat the body properly following death… at the most, it is possible we can include fire as a type of force of nature that can bring the body to ruin.  So far in our study, we can see that, without doubt, burial is a proper way to dispose of a body, as it shows great respect for the deceased as well as proper stewardship of the body.

However, the use of fire is certainly a questionable way of disposing of the body because, perhaps, it can be looked upon as abuse of the body.

First things first….

The greatest consideration for us all is not the condition of our bodies following our death, but the condition of our souls now.  Keep in mind, one of the supreme goals of a Christian’s service to the Lord is to see the salvation of those who are lost.  For the Christian, are we certain our hearts are right with the Lord?  Likewise, are we living a life that glorifies and honors Christ?   Furthermore, are we using the opportunities the Lord has given to us to witness to and pray for the lost around us?  All of these things are of utmost importance.

For those who are lost, have you ever experienced the Lord’s saving grace in your life?  Have you ever seen that you have sinned against the Lord and, apart from His gracious intervention in your life, you can do nothing to gain forgiveness from Him?  Have you come before Him humbly, turning form those sins and trusting in Him to save you from those sins?  Have you ever experienced a change within you that results in recognizing Christ as your Lord and seeking to live your life for Him?

These are the marks of genuine salvation and the most important consideration that lies before us…

 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved.   (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

 May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek His truth.

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May the Lord bless your study of His Word.  Like God’s Word… may your soul’s salvation and your life’s faithfulness be “Settled in Heaven.”

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About Rob Barkman

A retired pastor, Bible teacher and author of 20 years, he is currently ministering through Settled In Heaven Ministries. SIH Ministries is an on-line Bible teaching ministry that was founded by Bro Barkman in 2010. Settled In Heaven’s mission is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by fulfilling two different roles... rendering encouragement and Biblical knowledge to the saints in an effort to enhance their service to Christ; and proclaiming the gospel message to those who are in need of salvation, explaining to them their urgent need to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
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5 Responses to Cremation Or Burial: What Does The Bible Say? (1)

  1. Thanks for tackling this subject Rob. We have chosen burial for ourselves, should we die before the Lord’s return, but cremation is fast becoming the most accepted here (maybe because it is much cheaper)
    From our studies we concluded that burial is Scriptural and that burning was more often used in judgement, but that is just our opinion. Many fine Christians are accepting cremation and we respect their right to do so.
    I’m looking forward to the rest of the study.

    • Rob Barkman says:

      Hi Angela,

      Thanks for sharing the decision that you and Myles have made. You’ll see, by the end of this series, that I agree with you … when all else is equal, burial of the body glorifies the Lord in greater ways than does cremation.

      However, at times, based on other circumstances involved (financial, cause of death etc.) cremation may be the better mode of disposal for the glory of God. That is what we will be looking at in the next study.

      Lord bless you!

      • Rob, along the same lines, only very different, what do you think about old flags and Bibles? Should they be burned or buried? We favour burial but a pastor-friend insists they should be burned. Surely, only rioters would burn a flag?

  2. Rob Barkman says:

    Hi Evelyn,

    There is no doubt that much has to be considered in making this decision. I’ll touch on more of the areas that need to be considered in the second part of this series. Lord bless you. Thanks for sharing this account.

  3. ptl2010 says:

    I attended a wake service of a 92 year old mother of one of our deacons on Sunday night. Her testimony was shown in a video compiled – of how she ministered joyfully to the body of Christ in the Chinese congregation through the years while she was in good health and how she received love and ministry during her sickness and end days till she passed on peacefully. Her one last wish was for her 4 out of 7 unsaved children to be saved and she made it plain. She died peacefully and was a great testimony for the Lord. Pastor said that her life exemplified that she knew the Good Shepherd intimately and it made a difference in her life’s testimony. Her body was cremated yesterday as that is the preferred mode for burial these days in land scarce Singapore (and having overcome the thought that the corruptible body was being put through the cremation fire before it awaits the resurrection and donning of the incorruptible body ) with her ashes placed in a columbarium niche. In Singapore it is becoming the practice that those buried in the ground will be exhumed in about 10 years and remains placed in the columbariums awaiting the day of resurrection when new incorruptible bodies will become theirs..

    A small number of Christians and Muslims still choose burial in the ground. However the thought that their families will have to arrange for their bodies to be exhumed later and remains placed somewhere else at a columbarium after ten years is distasteful to many.

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