Cremation and the Bible

Modern society accepts cremation as an acceptable method of disposition for a human body, but is this totally accurate and true? Some argue Biblically, using Jesus’ burial as the main reason of why it must be burial. Technically Jesus was entombed and not buried. Burial has been the most commonly practiced method until the last few hundred years, when entombment and cremation became more popular and acceptable. This shift has been largely due to the expense involved.

Cremation (kr -m sh n) is defined by dictionary .com as: “1) To incinerate (a corpse), 2) A burning; esp., the act or practice of cremating the dead, 3) n: the incineration of a dead body.” The Holy Bible never uses the word cremation but there are several instances of its use described in Scripture. In most translations, this practice is always referred to as burned or a form of the word burn when used in Scripture. Will this study solidify with certain Biblical proof that cremation is an acceptable practice to everyone? Doubtful! There are some questions that will always remain for some people. These remaining questions, in the writer’s opinion, reveal the true inner self and the fact that the person is uncomfortable with his/her own death. In addition, (the) writer’s opinion again is, he/she also possesses the absence of an absolute faith in God being able to and willing to do the miraculous. Especially being able to make the human body appear again from ashes. He did it from dirt the first time so why limit Him?

Scriptures concerning the practice of cremation are: Joshua 7:25, I Samuel 31:12, II Kings 23:20, Amos 2:1 and Amos 6:10. These five passages and the purpose for each occurrence will be examined. Scripture with the specific verse will allow you to see the verse but it will be beneficial to your understanding to read most of the verses used in context.

Joshua 7:25 And Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day." So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.

Joshua Chapter 7:10 – 25 is specifically referring to the Sin of Achan. God viewed this action of his disobedience as being sin upon the entire nation. The end result would be all of Israel would be punished but Achan repented in verse 20 and the end result of what happened to him is in 25. In Verse 15, God clearly instructs that he (the accursed) shall be burned by fire. However, you notice that in verse 25 that this did not occur until after Achan was stoned. This was a form of punishment definitely and without question but also quite possibly a quick and sanitary way to dispose of a human body. God wanted to get the attention and further commitment of the Israelites and this method of correction would be quite effective.

I Samuel 31:11.12: 11 Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there.

I Samuel Chapter 31: 1 – 13 we learn about the death and defeat of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa against the Philistines. Verse 12 specifically says the bodies of Saul and his sons were removed from the wall in Beth Shan and then returned to Jabesh where they were burned and the bones buried. Verse 9 states that Saul’s head was cut off. Scripture does not say this but the impression is given that Saul’s head was someplace not even close to his body. One could even say that the heads of his sons were also gone but that is not certain either, as Scripture is not totally clear as to the conditions of the bodies. The distance from Beth Shan to Jabesh-Gilead is approximately 10 miles from looking at a map.

Scripture does not tell us why cremation was done but I can see several logical reasons: 1) the head of Saul was missing, maggots and other disgusting life forms, namely insects, had without any doubt, set up housekeeping in the cavity for reproduction purposes 2) the stench from the bodies due to the rapid decay that would occur and 3) the unavailability of hiding the body of Saul and his sons and 4) the fear of possible further abuse to the body of Saul by the Philistines. All of these are speculations with absolutely no proof. However, having a degree in Mortuary Science and knowing the weather conditions that are prevalent in that area makes these possibilities seem plausible.

2 Kings 23:16, 20; 16 As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the Lord, which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. 20 He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men's bones on them; and he returned to Jerusalem.

In II Kings Chapter 23 Josiah burns the bones of the men upon the altar fulfilling a prophecy by “a man of God” (I Kings 13:1 And behold, a man of God went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord…) who lived during Jeroboam’s reign, These were most probably the bones of believers of the temple which Josiah was destroying as the graves were close by. This is most probable as people were historically buried close to their “house of worship” but Scripture does not specifically state such in the previous verses (vs. 16) but gives these implications. It is definite in verse 20 as Scripture says so. This particular reason for cremation was obedience, but again involved corpses. This action also fulfilled prophecy.

Amos 2:1 Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Moab and for four I will not revoke its {punishment,} because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.

Amos 2:1 gives no clear indication or reasoning of why cremation was performed on the King of Edom. There is implication that the king was dead before fire was set as Scripture says the bones were burned to lime. There is no indication that this was a sacrifice. Some of the same reasoning for cremating Saul and his sons might be plausible but cannot be said with any form of certainty.

Amos 6:10, And when a relative of the dead, with one who will burn the bodies, picks up the bodies to take them out of the house, he will say to one inside the house, "Are there any more with you?" Then someone will say, "None." And he will say, "Hold your tongue! For we dare not mention the name of the Lord."
Amos 6:10 give one the impression that cremation was an extremely acceptable form of disposition, as it states, “with one who will burn the bodies”. .
We have looked at five different passages of Scripture, each one practicing cremation. There were some very obvious reasons for it and some not so obvious.

The obvious ones were in Joshua and II Kings. The account in Joshua used the practice specifically for correction of wrongdoing after stoning the guilty party. It was also an act of obedience to God. The account in II Kings is another act of obedience but also the fulfillment of a prophecy. Two of the other passages, I Samuel 31:12 and Amos 2:1 give us no logical explanation for its use. Whereas, Amos 6:10 makes cremation sound as if it was a very customary practice. The end result being that it can be concluded that God does not find cremation evil and unacceptable as many people seem to think.

We have looked at these various passages and their reasoning but some people will still have questions. They will wonder and question about what happens to the soul when the body is cremated? It doesn’t really seem to matter, as the soul does not appear to be in the body when it is buried, entombed or cremated. When Jesus returns the saints will be with him * (I Thessalonians. 3:12, 13). 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, 13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. This can be interpreted as your soul going immediately to heaven upon death.

The next thing people wonder about is where our “glorified” body will come from. People are under the assumption that it must still be here for God to use. Our earthly body is just a shell. Does that mean He needs our earthly body? I have some serious doubts on that as there have been Christians tortured, maimed, executed, burned alive, eaten by lions and God only knows what else for centuries. In fact some people are nothing but dust. Embalming does not prevent a man from decaying but retards the decay of man. If He (God) can form man from dust why can’t He recreate the body He has promised us in the end? Mark 10:27 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." Luke 1:37 For with God nothing will be impossible.")

According to Scripture Philippians 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.) Jesus will transform our lowly body into His glorious body. Exactly what does that mean I do not know but one thing I do know God can do all things, even the impossible Matthew 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.")

I have recently heard the argument that God forbid man to send our children into the fire. It took me several days and many hours to find this Scripture that was being quoted but I believe I finally found it. Upon some very careful research and actual investigating of Scripture giving those implications, which are found in Deuteronomy 12 and Jeremiah 7, it is referring to the sacrifices of children not the act of cremation. Sacrifice is wrong especially to idols and pagan gods. It was, in fact, being misquoted!

Nothing definite can be said that cremation is right or wrong. It appears that all practices of body disposition; burial, entombment and cremation, used today have been in place since Biblical times. Therefore, all of the practices used for the disposition of a human body appear acceptable. It is really a matter of personal choice!

*All Scripture is from the New King James Version