Christian Cremation: What Does the Bible Say?
One prominent question that comes up when a Christian dies is whether cremation is appropriate. I’ve heard a few people say they fear that their loved ones will not be able to enter into eternal life if their earthly bodies have been burned or destroyed. Let’s examine what the Bible says about this.
Is it okay for Christians to be cremated? The Bible makes no comments, allusions, or implications about cremation. It’s fair to assume that cremation is not prohibited, but neither is it endorsed. Furthermore, on resurrection day, when God resurrects all believers and gives all of them new glorified bodies, cremation won’t hinder God’s ability to resurrect them. God is greater than cremation and burial. Furthermore, there’s no Biblical reason to believe that cremation will impact a person’s eternal destination. However, while cremation is not prohibited, it may not be the best choice in most cases.
In this article, we’ll consider Christian wisdom and Biblical insights that may be helpful to consider when thinking about a topic like cremation.
Deciding Factor of Eternal Destination
When we die, we will either end up in heaven or in hell. The apostle Paul implies that when the spirit of a Christian exits the earthly body they will then “be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8 NLT).
Our soul will leave the body and be thrust into eternity. Moreover, it is also important to note that our eternal destination is not affected, whatsoever, by what happens to our earthly bodies because our eternal destination is dependent on our faith in Christ.
The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:9-10 ESV). If we are found in Christ during our time of death, we will receive eternal life. However, if we are not found in Him, we will receive eternal destruction.
The Martyr Objection
Whether you are buried or cremated, neither impacts your eternal destination. This is also comforting to remember when we consider tragic things that have happened to people’s physical bodies after they have died, such as mutilation and other heinous crimes. Our eternal destinations are not impacted by these types of things.
Perhaps a crucial example of this would be the countless martrys of the faith. Consequently, many Christians were burned at the stake because of their spreading of the gospel. If cremation could affect one’s salvation, then it would be plausible to state that martrys cannot receive a new body and salvation because their earthly one was burned. This cannot be true if God, knowing what His people would suffer, would take back their salvation because of the works of man.
The apostle Paul comforted believers by saying, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37 ESV).
Based on this scripture, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Not even the body-altering effects of persecution. In addition to cremation, other types of persecution could leave a person barely recognizable or intact. If the effects of our worldly body could deter our new bodies from coming, many would be without the hope of Christ.
Another bit of information that is important to remember is the fact that we will have a new body one day. All of us who are in Christ are going to be raised from the dead and given new bodies. I’m not exactly sure how this will happen, so I am speculating if you were buried your body would burst through the grave. That’ll be a really neat sight to see. Then, your soul will be reunited with your body. I am hypothesizing, that if you were cremated, all of the ashes that were spread are going to gather themselves together and transform into a new body. Your soul will be reunited with your body.
Whether you are buried our cremated is irrelevant. Your soul is going to reunite with your body and if you are a follower of Jesus you are going to have a new body. This will be a perfect body that is similar to the body that Jesus had after He rose from the dead. He was able to walk through walls. He had a perfect body that was not inflicted by disease or sickness. We are going to have a perfect body like that. What a glorious day that will be.
Does Cremation Matter?
Ultimately, it is important to know that your eternity is not affected by whether or not you are buried or cremated. With that in mind, many people would say, “it doesn’t matter, do whatever you want!” Those people may be right, yet, whenever I am asked questions like this, I still ask myself the question, “Is this ideal?” There may be no clear right or wrong answer. It may feel like the topic has limited impact. However, there is always a better choice and a better basis to refer to.
I don’t ask myself whether it is right or wrong, I ask myself if this is the best option. There is no doubt that being cremated is not sinful. It’s not wrong. If you have loved ones and they have passed on and they were cremated, you should not be afraid for their soul. You should not feel guilty or remorseful that they did something wrong. Not one iota of this is designed to make you feel guilty or adverse whatsoever. Because of this, I want to make it very clear. Being cremated is not wrong or sinful.
Although is it not wrong or sinful, it still should be considered whether or not it is ideal. Typically, I recommend that people follow the Biblical patterns whenever there is uncertainty. In this case, this would be burial over cremation. I would recommend that people burry their dead whenever possible because that is the Biblical pattern.
Looking through the Old Testament, we see the people of God burying their dead. Contrasting this, all the pagan nations would burn their dead. This is one of the ways that the Israelites were different and stood out amongst surrounding nations. Thus, this became the Biblical shape.
In my opinion, we should always be seeking to follow the pattern of God’s people whenever possible. In gray areas that are not certain and that feel like there is a limited impact, I take the side of following Biblical patterns. I especially look to the early church and its fathers, Old Testament saints, and people of God in the New Testament.
Even if I don’t understand why they did it, I try to follow their pattern because I think that its ideal. There is a reason that God’s people have followed certain trends throughout the course of scripture. In our lives, we ought to be seeking to follow Biblical patterns whenever and however we can.
Benefit of Burial
I have read various articles online that state that whenever someone sees their loved one buried, it brings closure. This can be potentially helpful in the healing process. Personally, I’ve lost people very close to me and perhaps you have as well.
Based on research, watching someone being buried has the potential to aid in the healing process as you move forward. This research is not grandly substantiated but it should be considered in the purpose and benefit of burial.
Overall, between burial and cremation, you are completely free to choose whatever you think is best. My preference would be to choose burial because I believe it falls in line with the Biblical pattern.
Benefits of Cremation
Cremation is noted for being a significant amount cheaper than traditional burial procedures. Furthermore, cremation can allow the ceremony time to be more flexible. Additionally, cremation is portable and can create more possibilities for a final resting place. Some people desire to have their bodies or ashes placed in a special or specific place after death. Cremation can make this a possibility when traditional burial creates limitations.
Another benefit is based more on personal preference. Some family members don’t want their last experience with their loved ones to be with a lifeless body. Due to this, they may choose cremation (if their loved one so desired).
However, others may benefit from a traditional burial because it brings closure and reality to the event that just took place. Denial is a common result after someone’s loved one has passed away. By seeing the body buried, it may help them come to the final conclusion sooner.
Old Testament References about Burial
The Old Testament has many verses about death and burial. As I stated earlier, we can learn from the Biblical pattern that we see. These Old Testament accounts give us reason to follow in the tradition of burial that the fathers of the faith followed.
We can see that burial was an important part of their life and duty as offspring. It was honoring and significant for the family of the deceased to bury their dead as they had wished.
|Genesis 23:4||“I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”|
|Genesis 23:6||“Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.”|
|Genesis 23:20||“So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.”|
|Genesis 47:30||“But let me lie with my fathers; you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.’ And he said, ‘I will do as you have said.”|
|Genesis 50:5||“My father made me swear, saying, ‘Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.’ Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.”|
|2 Samuel 21:14||“They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the tomb of Kish his father. So they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God heeded the prayer for the land.”|
|2 Chronicles 24:16||“And they buried him in the City of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, both toward God and His house.”|
New Testament References to Death, Eternal Life, and Burial
The New Testament continues in the tradition of burying the dead. Jesus Himself was buried after His death. The New Testament also speaks greatly of eternal life and what will happen to one’s body and spirit after they have died.
These verses express that nothing can separate us from Christ. It is not clearly stated but it can be implicitly concluded that cremation cannot separate us from Christ either.
|Mark 14:8||“She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.”|
|John 10:27-29||“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, whohas given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”|
|John 11:25-26||“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live,even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”|
|Acts 8:2||“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.”|
|Romans 8:28||“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”|
|Romans 8:38-39||“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”|
|Romans 14:8||“If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”|
|1 Corinthians 15:40||“There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.”|
|1 Corinthians 15:42-44||“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”|
|1 Corinthians 15:54||“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.'”|
|2 Corinthians 5:1-2||“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.”|
|1 Thessalonians 4:13-14||“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”|
Although cremation is not a sin and it is not technically wrong, it can be concluded that it is not the traditional model that our overarching family of faith has taken. If we are striving to follow Biblical values and the content that we see within scripture, we will take the established approach of burial.
However, based on the preference of the deceased and his or her family, cremation can also be an option. There is no known penalty for cremation that can be concluded through scripture.
Essentially, this depends on the conviction of each individual, what they believe, and what they value. The choice between cremation and burial should be discussed within the family.
There are a variety of factors that should be considered before making a final decision about cremation. There is neither a right or wrong answer, rather, there is a choice and option for each individual. Christians ought to seek to use wisdom and prudence when making this choice.
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a professor and recruiter at Bethlehem College and a pastor at Cities Church in St. Paul, MN. He has 15+ years of vocational ministry experience. He’s also a podcaster, author, and Ph.D. student. Kenneth lives in Bloomington, MN with his wife Malaina, they have one daughter.