Is it wrong to cremate a person’s body according to the Bible? Historically, cremation has not been part of the Christian tradition. Early Christians agreed with their Jewish ancestors that cremation was not an option they would consider, even though the Bible includes no specific mandate prohibiting it. However, this view has transformed over the years. Today, many of us have friends or family members who were cremated and cremation is sounding more and more like something we might consider for ourselves. But is cremation an acceptable option for Christians?
Many factors influence a person’s choice on what to do with the body after death. Some of these factors include wealth of the family, the status of the individual, the climate of the country, health, sanitation and religious beliefs, among other things. Among these variables comes the debate of burial vs. cremation. The previously named factors contribute to the choices that each individual and family will make with respect to the question. When it comes to whether it’s ok for a Christian to be cremated, the best place to turn is the Bible.
The Bible nowhere answers the questions as to the method of disposal. Moral and religious questions are raised as to the right to “destroy” the body through cremation of the remains. The Bible has remained silent as to the correct technique. From this, we know that one can’t say that cremation is a sin. One might say that burial better reflects the biblical perspective on life, death and the body. But one can say with certainty that Christ will come again, and our bodies will be raised again, never to die again.
Cremation was practiced in biblical times, but it was not commonly practiced by the Israelites or by New Testament believers. In the cultures of the Bible times, burial in a tomb, cave or in the ground was the common way to dispose of a human body. You can find references of this in Genesis 23:19; 35-19; 2 Chronicles 16:14 and Matthew 27:60-66. While burial was the common practice, the Bible nowhere commands burial as the only allowed method of disposing of a body.
There are some that believe that cremation interferes with resurrection and that just isn’t true. Cremation in no way interferes with God’s ability to resurrect the dead – to give us life after death. People have died in countless ways throughout history, from accidents to warfare to being lost at sea, and yet, God will still resurrect them in the future. This doesn’t have to be done with a body. Consider how God will resurrect any of the dead. He will not simply put life back into bodies, for that would be possible only in He returned someone to life immediately after dying. The reality is that even if the body remains intact upon death, it will eventually decompose. The bodies of most people who have lived since creation will no longer exist by the time of the resurrection.
The believer’s hope, whether we will submit our remains to burial or cremation is that the body that is buried or incinerated is not that the body that will ultimately dwell with the Lord. The Bible says “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’…When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else…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 15:25,27,42-44).
At the resurrection, it will not make any difference whether a person’s body has been cremated or buried. God knows how to raise the body, either in the resurrection of life or the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29). The new body of a Christian will be a radically changed and glorified like the body of the exalted Christ. It will be an eternal, spiritual body never again to experience weakness, disease, suffering or death. There is also no need to worry that the body will be destroyed and thus unable to participate in that great catching away. The body that is interred will either slowly decay or burn rapidly, but God will give all His children a new body, glorious and incorruptible to dwell with Him forever. Once and for all, the negativity of death and separation from God will be nullified.
Ultimately, cremation is an acceptable means of dealing with the dead. Cremation doesn’t conflict with the Bible nor does it interfere with God’s ability to resurrect the dead. The question of cremation is within the realm of Christian freedom. The Bible tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). A person or a family considering this issue should pray for wisdom and follow the conviction that results. Grief is a difficult process. We each deal with it in different ways. Whether burial or cremation is the better option for a loved one or for ourselves should be left to personal decision. Trust how God is moving you.