Scriptures

Should Christians Be Buried Or Cremated?

Introduction

I know this may seem like a strange topic to study but nevertheless there are some Christians who have thought about it and struggle with it because rightly so, they want to please God in every way, even to the point of doing what’s right with our remains when we finally leave this world.

The Human Body

The average person weighs around 10.5 stone and is made up of the following chemicals: 92.4 lbs. Oxygen, 31.5 lbs. Carbon, 14.6 lbs. Hydrogen, 4.6 lbs. Nitrogen, 2.8 lbs. Phosphorous, 1.12 lbs. Chlorine, 1.02 lbs. Iron, 0.34 lbs potassium, 0.24 lbs. Sulphur, 0.12 lbs sodium, 0.04 lbs magnesium, 0.02 lbs. Fluorine.

Now if we accept that, that is all there is to a human being, then we’ve sadly missed the point, there’s a lot more to a human being than just a few chemicals. Just like the Godhead is made up of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, human beings are also triune beings because we have a body, soul and spirit.

The apostle Paul gives us complete description of the nature of man in Thessalonians.

‘May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Now I don’t want to get into the topics of the soul or spirit, but I want us to remind ourselves of what God said to Adam back in Genesis, where we’re reminded of where we come from and where we all will end up.

‘In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to the dust you shall return.’ Genesis 3:19

The Differences Between A Burial And A Cremation

A funeral is a ceremony that’s used to remember, honour and sanctify the dead. Depending on the culture, there are various ways that can be used to celebrate life of the deceased. Some offer prayers, while other pray for peace. Other rituals include religious readings, burning of the body, mummification, or even bone picking. These rituals are often require cleaning the body and offering it a peaceful journey.

Other cultures also include rejoicing the life of the deceased including drinking and telling stories about the loved one. Coffins are usually used here.

Cremation is a process in which the human body is burned to ashes. The process is defined as the combustion, vaporisation and oxidation of dead bodies to basic chemical compounds, such as gases, ashes and mineral fragments retaining the appearance of dry bone.

Some cultures, such as Hindus, cremate their dead after which the ashes are submerged in the sacred Ganges river. Cremation is an alternative to the burial process, in which the body is buried as opposed to being burnt.

I guess the biggest difference between a burial and a cremation is the cost and generally being buried is more expensive than cremation, especially when you have to purchase a burial plot, coffin and headstone. The average cost of a burial in the UK is £1,645 and the average cost of a cremation is £683 and since most people in the UK aren’t well off financially, we can understand why most people chose to be cremated.

In The Religious World

Judaism

In Judaism, they are usually buried and don’t practice cremation, although some liberal Jews may choose to do so. They see that the body, was taken from the ground and must therefore return to the earth. This is expressed in the words that God tells Adam, the first man, ‘For dust you are, and to dust you will return’, Genesis 3:19

They believe that they have to bury a body in its entirety, not after it has been diminished through cremation or in any other manner. They believe by cremating the body, this destroys most of the body, making burial of the flesh impossible, and thus violates God’s laws.

Hinduism

In Hinduism, they aren’t permitted to be buried but must be cremated. Generally, Hindus believe that life and death are part of the concept of samsara, or rebirth. The ultimate goal for many Hindus is to become free from desire, thereby escaping samsara and attaining moksha, the transcendent state of salvation. Once moksha is attained, the soul will be absorbed into Brahman, the divine force and ultimate reality.

This concept obviously isn’t taught in the Scriptures because the Scriptures clearly teaches that ‘man must die ONCE and after that face judgment’, Hebrews 9:27

Christianity

In Christianity, both are practiced, although there are some in the Christian faith who sincerely believe that cremation is ‘unscriptural’ because ‘fire’ in the Bible is usually, but not always, associated with evil. We read about how God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire in Genesis 19:24, we read about how if a man marries a woman and her mother, they were to be burned to death in Leviticus 20:14 and we read about how God killed Korah and his men with fire in Numbers 16:35.

We also read in the New Testament that the evil will be thrown into the lake of fire and burn for eternity, Revelation 20:1-15.

Context

What do all these texts have in common? These were all unrepentant evil sinners who chose to break God’s commands and laws.

Do we really believe that the righteous, the faithful repentant Christians will lose their salvation because they chose to be cremated?

Jewish Custom

When we read our Bibles we see that is was part of ‘Jewish custom’, to bury the bodies of the righteous. In the Old Testament we read about Abraham and his wife Sarah being buried in Genesis 25:10, we read about Rachel being buried in Genesis 35:19, we read about Isaac and his son Esau and Jacob being buried in Genesis 35:29.

We also read about Moses being buried in Deuteronomy 34:6 and even Joseph, 400 years after he died, his bones at least were buried in the Promised Land, Joshua 24:32.

When we come to the New Testament, we read about how John the baptiser was buried in Matthew 14:10-12, we read about Ananias and Sapphira, who were evil in their actions, weren’t burnt but buried, Acts 5:5-10, we also read about how Stephen was buried in Acts 8:2. And of course we have Jesus Himself who was buried, John 19:38-42.

What we see happening in the Bible is that burial was the most common way that a person’s body was dealt with and it was and still is considered as an act of kindness and respect. It was customary to the time, just like pouring anointing oil over a person’s head or practising the holy kiss.

Is Cremation Scriptural!

The reason for putting this study together was because we were studying the resurrection and a dear brother asked me, if it was Scriptural to be cremated?

Now that’s a sincere question and I know he’s not the only one whose asked this question and I’m sure others will ask it again in the future. The implication behind the question is really this, will my body being burned because of cremation, affect my resurrection?

The truth is the Bible doesn’t say anything about or against cremation but what it does teach is something far more important.

‘The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.’ Ecclesiastes 12:7

We all end up in the ground in some shape or form, whether it’s being buried or cremated we all end up as dust. We know our spirit goes back to God and our soul is the part of us which will live with Him for eternity, if we are faithful.

‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Matthew 10:28

It’s quite clear here that Jesus is telling us not to worry about what happens to our bodies because no matter what a person does to it, they can’t do anything to a person’s soul.

Common Sense

Someone once taught me, whenever you come across some strange teaching, always take the theory to the extreme and see what you end up with. Well, if we go along with the theory that if a person is cremated or burned to death, and it effects their resurrection and therefore by default they lose their salvation because of it, my question is,

What about all those thousands of Christians who have been burned to death because of their faith?

What about all those faithful service men who accidentally stepped on a land mine and their bodies are blown to bits, and scattered everywhere?

What about all those thousands of Christians who simply can’t afford a burial?

Are we saying that despite them being faithful all their life, God isn’t going to allow them into heaven, because of what they chose to do with their remains!

Are we saying that they won’t be resurrected when Christ returns because they no longer have a physical body?

Holy Living Or Holy Laying To Rest

The Bible clearly stresses, and God demands that we focus our lives on holy living and not on how we’re laid to rest. The Bible teaches that we’ve to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, Psalm 27:1-6 and we’ve to serve Him in a life of holiness, Mark 9:33-10:12. We are told to be holy as He is holy in Leviticus 1:1-3:17.

When we strive to live holy lives we honour God’s Word, Titus 2:5, when we strive to live holy lives we silent all the opposition, Titus 2:8 / 1 Peter 2:11-12 and make the good news more attractive to the unbelievers, Titus 2:10 / Philippians 2:15.

The question which is answered in the Bible, isn’t about if we’re buried or cremated but if we have been faithful all our lives!

‘Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.’ Revelation 2:10

An Example Doesn’t Make It A Command

Yes, the Bible gives us numerous examples of people being buried, but this was the Jewish Custom of the time, which still gets practiced by many today. But please note there is NOT one single text in the whole of the Scriptures which suggests they were commanded to do so. Just like fasting, feet-washing etc, any example in the Bible doesn’t make it a command!

Conclusion

Our God is big enough and powerful to create man from the dust of the ground and whether we’re buried or cremated, He’s still big enough and powerful enough to bring that dust back together to form our new bodies at the resurrection, Romans 8:28 /1 Corinthians 15:50-57 / Philippians 3:20-21 /1 John 3:2.

The righteous are promised eternal life and to believe if a Christian is cremated will by default lose their salvation is foreign to the Scriptures.

Surely if this was so important to God, He would have commanded it or even mentioned it in His Word! Being buried or cremated doesn’t matter to God and it shouldn’t matter to us because God is more concerned with how we live our lives and He is even more concerned about our souls and where we spend eternity.

The Headstone

I don’t know what kind of God some Christians believe in but imagine walking through a cemetery and you stop to read one of the headstones and it says the following:

‘Here lies, a poor faithful Christian who couldn’t afford to be buried, sadly they won’t be in heaven because they were cremated!’

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Proverbs 3:6

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