Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ask RC: Does the Bible say anything about cremation?

No. Cremation, however, may have something to say about the Bible. The proper handling of human bodies after death is not something the Bible expressly deals with. There are sundry ceremonial laws in the Old Covenant about touching dead bodies, but no instruction on what to do with these bodies. As such we need to be careful not to condemn what the Bible does not condemn. How though, could cremation speak to the Bible?

Cremation, strange as it may sound, is a form of liturgy. It is a form for dealing with matters of eternal consequence. As a form it in turn communicates a message. That message, it seems, does speak against the Bible’s understanding of death. Cremation, however subtly, suggests that our bodies are of no significance or import, that they are simply so much trash that must be burned. It is implicitly a Gnostic practice, a denial of the goodness of the creation in general and the human body in particular.

Burial, on the other hand, communicates something far more consistent with the Bible. It affirms not only that the human body has dignity, but also that it has a future. It affirms that death is not the end of the body. Consider for a moment why so many cemeteries have in their name some variation on the notion of “Garden.” That cemeteries are well kept and green is consistent with our dignity, but that is not what “Garden” in this context communicates. Because of the promise of the gospel, because of the promise of the resurrection, we are not so much burying the bodies of our loved ones when they pass, as planting them. We are put in the ground to wait for the return of Christ when our corruptible bodies will be made incorruptible.

The practice of burial is so closely identified with the Christian perspective on death and the human body that anthropologists track the spread of the Christian faith westward across Europe through history by looking to the spread of cemeteries. They know that Christianity came to dominate a given region at that time that cemeteries came into use.

Anytime we consider how our behavior communicates we need to be careful. On the one hand we don’t want to be Gnostic enough to suggest that our bodies, and how we treat them are meaningless and communicate nothing. On the other hand this does not mean that anyone who ever approved or requested a cremation has self-consciously denied the gospel and affirmed Gnosticism. Of course buried bodies decompose. And of course, better still, cremated bodies will in fact be resurrected. Nothing we do can undo the promises of God and the glory of the resurrection. Balance, however, suggests that we think through our behavior, that we think deliberately. Balance also suggests that we ought to honor our fathers who gave us this liturgy in the first place.

One cannot say that cremation is a sin. One might say that burial better reflects the biblical perspective on life, death and the body. One can say with certainty that Christ will come again, and our bodies will be raised again, never to die again.


J.P. said...


Sean, Philadelphia PA said...

However, wouldn't it depend on how the remains are dealt with after the cremation? After all, the sacredness of our earthly remains could be equally communicated in burying the remains (ashes) in a place of remembrance or in keeping them in a prominent place in the home. Burial is cultural. I am encouraged by the increasing number of Christian people adopting cremation. I do not know of anyone who interprets cremation as a disregard of or gnostic proclamation of the intrinsic evil of the flesh. Is it being discussed in Christendom at large in such a way?

Denise Roche said...

I intend to be cremated for one reason: it is much cheaper. My Lord will not be inconvenienced. I respect your views on the subject, but I think you are mistaken about the importance of how we dispose of human remains. It is a very minor issue, and one that really doesn't send any kind of message. We should concern ourselves with issues that the Bible does address. God put those in there for a reason.

Judith G said...

I respect your opinion of cremation, however, I think God is much bigger than how our bodies are disposed of. I'm sure that He can raise the dead whether they have been cremated or if their bodies are decayed and rotted in a grave. When bodies are exhumed after time, there isn't any flesh remaining...God can make all things new and perfect.

Life is sacred. Sudden death, sudden glory. We ought not 'guess' at what the Bible may or may not say about cremation.

R. W. Brown said...

Cremation was never envisioned in a Judeao-Christian mind-set or society. It was totally pagan in its inception, development, and practice. The very thought of purposely destroying the only part of God's creation that has a Soul and will remain Eternal and will be recognizeable in Eternity is an Abomination in the mind of God. The Sanctity of Life, Here and Eternally, was epitomized by being the final act of Creation and Sanctified by the death of God's Only Begotten Son on the Cross of Calvary. Our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. A burning of God's Temple is a desecration.

Don said...
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Don said...

First of all, I am 110% assured that my Ticket to Heaven was stamped by Christ on that cross as paid in full. He nailed by certificate of debt to that tree and because I believe He did this for my sins, my ticket is stamped paid in full.
As for cremation. It is definitley not being a good steward of the money He allows to have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a burial. I have told my family, try to donate my body to science first and then have it cremated. Then they are to take some of the ashes at least and spread them at my favorite places on earth (we have a brick in Disney World along the walk around the lagoon there, next spread some at Disneyland, then Grand Canyon, then Yellowstone, then Vail at the top of the Gondola and then in Hawaii especially in Hana and at the volcanoe. Finally, take some and spread them under the large Live Oak near the old well house inside the grounds. The can spread them all or part. That would be a much better way to spend the money than on some pc of land and fancy casket that will be dug up one day in the far off future. Of course, if Christ comes back quickly then none of us have to worry about it. I truly believe the latter is going to occur very soon!

Strings And Verses said...

There exists a Facebook group you can come and join


if you are in agreement with Burial, not cremation.

carolyn T. said...

I understand your view of death. I probably will have a "normal" burial, I don't know. However, when Saul and his sons were killed and beheaded and hung on the wall of Philistines...the Benjamites (I think) came and took them down and burned their bodies and bones. I believe we will see them again in the resurrection as Samuel told Saul that "tomorrow you and your sons will be with me" and Samuel is definitely in the resurrection.