Cremation or Burial?
Karen Pansler-Lam, J.D.
Some Christians choose to cremate their loved ones because it’s cheaper. For a Christian, does it really matter what happens to our body after death?
Burial is the act of placing a dead body in a tomb or in the earth or in the sea, generally with appropriate ceremonies: as opposed to exposure to beasts, or abandonment or cremation. Cremation is the burning of a corpse.
As always, we must look to God’s Word for guidance…
And we are quickly guided to the first book of the Bible.
the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,
till thou return unto the ground;
out of it wast thou taken:
dust thou art,
unto dust shalt thou return.
Death is the sentence for sin. We were formed from the dust of the earth, and we shall return to the dust of the earth. This is a natural process.
But our eternal home is not the grave. We have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because He lives, we will also live after death. Matthew records the glorious resurrection of saints after Jesus’ resurrection:
he cried again with a loud voice,
up the ghost.
behold, the veil of the temple was
in twain from the top to the bottom;
the earth did quake,
the rocks rent;
the graves were opened;
many bodies of the saints
came out of the graves
went into the holy city,
appeared unto many.
The saints’ graves were opened and saints arose to show that death was overcome! Jesus’ death brought us life after death!
Death is natural, but cremation is unnatural. And God does not wish His creation – man – to be unnaturally destroyed. This is a desecration of His handiwork.
Old Testament days, pagans sacrificed infants to the idol Molech.
The victims were slowly burnt to death in the arms of the idol.
Admittedly, these sacrifices were burned alive, unlike modern cremation,
which burns the dead. But
burning a body was a pagan practice that the Israelites did not use.
Granted, 1 Samuel 31:7-13 records that the bodies of King Saul and his three sons were burned after their dead bodies were cruelly abused by the Philistines: the Philistines cut off Saul's head and fastened it in the temple of Dagon (1 Chronicles 10:10); and fastened the bodies of Saul and his sons to the wall of Bethshan. Matthew Henry explains: "Hither the dead bodies were dragged and here hung up in chains to be devoured by the birds of prey." However, when the valiant men of Jabesh-Gilead heard of this defilement, they traveled to Bethshan and took down the bodies from the wall, and burned them. They did this because they had not forgotten how bravely Saul had saved them. So, they now showed gratitude by rescuing his corpse from disgrace. Matthew Henry comments: "This they did, 1. Out of a common concern for the honour of Israel, or the land of Israel, which ought not to be defiled by the exposing of any dead bodies, and especially of the crown of Israel, which was thus profaned by the uncircumcised."
Samuel informs us that the men of Jabesh-Gilead burned the bodies of Saul and his sons. However, he does not record how long the bodies were hanging before they were taken down. But they were probably putrefying, therefore, it was impossible to embalm them in the normal manner. So, for sanitary reasons, their bodies were burned. But notice that their bodies were not entirely burned to ashes, and their ashes were not scattered over the earth, or enshrined in a container. The bones were buried under a tree at Jabesh.
Reverend R. Payne Smith, D.D. gives another explanation for the burning of the bodies:
Cremation, though highly honourable among classical nations, is here mentioned for the first time in Holy Scripture, and was probably resorted to on this occasion to insure the bodies of Saul and his sons against further maltreatment, as, if buried, the Philistines might have made the attempt to get them again into their power.
The Pulpit Commentary (London and New York: Funk & Wagnalls), “1 Samuel,” v. 9, 562-563.
This is reasonable. Now continue reading...
Some suppose that the burning of the dead afterwards practised by the Jews, and quote in its favour 2 Chron. 16:14; Isa. 33:12; Jer. 31:40; 34:5; Amos 6:10, but these passages bear a different interpretation. After the exile, interment was the sole method of disposing of the dead among the Jews, and in the Talmud cremation is condemned as a heathen practice. The burial of the bones of Saul and his sons prove that their bodies here were really burnt.
Cremation was condemned as a heathen practice.
the Bible does not authorize cremation. Burning
a body is a desecration of God’s creation that no Christian should