Cremation and the Bible

This entry is part 26 of 210 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What does the Bible say about cremation?

The Bible does not speak to the issue of cremation. In general, passages like Genesis 3:19 and Job 30:19 speak of returning to dust in the earth. The phrase, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” was part of the Christian burial ceremony. The typical manner of dealing with the dead body was through burial.

There was burial in the ground and burial above the ground in tombs or caves. Jesus was buried in a tomb above ground covered by a heavy rock. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich disciple of Jesus, gave his family tomb for Jesus to be buried in.

The Jews protested bodies remaining on crosses especially during important festivals like Passover and even over the Sabbath. Jesus’ body was taken down before sundown on Friday because the Passover and Sabbath would begin. His burial was quickened to follow these regulations.

That is why Mary and some other women show up early on Sunday, after the Passover, to properly apply spices and oils common in burial. But to their surprise, Jesus had already been raised from the dead.

Following the traditions of the Bible, many Christians had rules against cremation throughout history. Recently, for three arguments I will introduce below, Christians began to allow cremation as an alternative to burial.

The first argument for cremation is that the body decomposes when buried in the ground with mostly the same result over time. If God is able to reconstitute bodies that have decomposed over time in the resurrection, why wouldn’t he be able to do the same thing for a cremated body?

The second argument for creation is that God has the power in the resurrection to reconstitute the body from the dust in the ground. His power is unlimited and he can recompose a body no matter what its composition state.

The third argument came from wars, especially World War I and World War II. Bodies would be terribly mutilated through war and many of them were cremated because of space on the battlefield. The church deemed that these would be raised imperishable even though they were mutilated.

Some places in Scripture view the burning of bodies in a negative light. Saul and his sons were mutilated by the Philistines and their bodies were burned so that their enemies would not do even more harm to them (1 Samuel 31:11-13).

There are many denominations and Christian sects that have since lifted the ban on cremation. I have included several articles at the bottom in the Further Resources section that will show you more about these.

Body Transformation in the Rapture

One of the main passages concerning burial and resurrection occurs in the Resurrection Chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul discusses the mystery of how God will restore our bodies as new bodies for heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (ESV)

This passage references the perishable and imperishable. The perishable is the bodies we have today. These bodies get old and decayed, are prone to diseases, and have other issues. They were not meant to last forever. But we will receive imperishable bodies when we go to heaven.

Paul says that we shall not all sleep. Sleep in the New Testament is a euphemism for death. There will be Christians alive when Jesus returns. These are the believers Paul refers to here (1 Corinthians 15:51).

But he introduces what is even to him a mystery. All Christians will be changed or transformed. This change will happen at the last trumpet, perhaps a reference to rapture or the Day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:52).

The only thing we’re certain of is that Christians who have already died will meet the Lord in the air first (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Then they will be joined by Christians that are living at the time of his return (1 Corinthians 15:15:52b; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). Finally, Paul tells us that the perishable will put on immortality. This is where our bodies are changed into the heavenly bodies that will live for eternity with Christ in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

I must make a note about the second coming of Christ. The Bible describes a time when Jesus will come in the clouds and we will meet him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But there is also a part of the second coming, a second part, if you will, when Jesus will return and his feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:3-4; Matthew 28:16; Luke 24:50; Acts 1:11-12).

This reconstitution of the body from the perishable to the imperishable will occur when he is in the clouds. We will go to be with him in heaven until the time comes for him to return physically on the earth and touch down on the Mount of Olives.

So Christians have generally accepted cremation as a burial process. Some require that the cremated remains of the believer must be buried just as bodies are buried normally in the ground. But because of the three arguments for the Lord’s power in reconstituted bodies, it has become an acceptable practice. The choice remains with the loved ones of the believer which method they wish to use. The Bible does not provide clear direction one way or the other.

Further Resources

Series Navigation<< Bodily ResurrectionThorn in the Flesh >>
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