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Cremation: A Biblical Perspective

Does the Bible have anything to say about cremation? My spouse and I have been discussing our final will and testament, including our personal preferences regarding funeral arrangements. I feel strongly that cremation is the best way to go, but my husband says that it's a "pagan" practice. He claims that the Bible condemns it. In particular, he says it's sacrilegious to destroy the body by fire since as Christians we look forward to the hope of resurrection at the end of the age. What's your perspective?

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We don’t like to take sides in disputes between husbands and wives. But we can give you our opinion from a purely objective point of view. And the first thing we want you to know is that you’re not alone. More and more Americans have been opting for cremation over the past several decades. In fact, records show that the number of cremations doubled in the United States between 1980 and 1990, and this seems to be a continuing trend.

One reason for the growing popularity of cremation is financial. The cost is only about one-eighth that of a traditional burial. Cremation also offers more flexibility in planning memorial services. The funeral home can help with the cremation and death certificates, but the family can plan the service according to the schedule that works best for all concerned.

Not everyone is happy about this, of course. Many people are hesitant to cremate a loved one’s body. Some feel that it’s disrespectful or that it deprives the family of the sense of closure that comes from viewing the body in the casket. Some, like your husband, oppose cremation on biblical grounds. To a certain extent, they can make a strong case for their contention. Historically speaking, the practice of cremation does have pagan roots. What’s more, ground burial has been the established custom among Jews and Christians since time immemorial.

As for biblical support for the anti-cremation position, it’s often pointed out that Abraham purchased a burial site for himself and his wife Sarah (Genesis 23:9). Joseph commanded that his bones be carried out of Egypt (Genesis 50:25). The Lord Himself provided for the burial of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). The same practice continued in the New Testament with the burial of John the Baptist (Mark 6:29), the Rich Man (Luke 16:22), Lazarus (John 11:17-19 Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:6-10), and Jesus Himself (Mark 15:46). There are no recorded cremations in the New Testament. Some believers argue that it is inconsistent for Christians, who have been saved by faith from the coming judgment of fire, to burn the remains of their dead.

For our part, we don’t believe that cremation needs to be viewed as a spiritual issue. One could just as easily argue that the custom of burial in ancient Israel was nothing more than a reflection of the Bible’s cultural context. It’s true, of course, as your husband suggests, that the Resurrection of the Body is one of the most important aspects of salvation in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-57). Nevertheless, the fact remains that all physical bodies suffer disintegration, whether through decay or through fire (Genesis 3:19). The idea that God cannot resurrect them in the one case as well as in the other doesn’t hold water. He does not need our specific ashes and chemical components to bring about resurrection. Why not? Because the resurrected body is a new spiritual creation (1 Corinthians 15:44).

If you and your spouse need additional help working through these concepts together, please call our staff of pastoral counselors.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

What Every Christian Ought to Know Day by Day: Essential Truths for Growing Your Faith

The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

Mere Christianity

Basic Christianity

What the Bible Teaches: The Truths of the Bible Made Plain, Simple, and Understandable

Referrals
Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living

LeeStrobel.com

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2002, 2011 Focus on the Family.

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