Death: What about cremation of the body?
It seems that both Christians and non-Christians think of it as more acceptable than ever before. However, there are some people who would not even consider it as an option they’d choose. But what do the Scriptures tell us? The fact of the matter is that the Bible provides no instructions on this at all. That means we are free to decide for ourselves. It is simply a matter of preference.
Historically bodies have usually been buried in a grave because of cultural or personal preferences. The body of our Savior was buried whole, wrapped in a linen cloth.
38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand. [Emphasis added]
Going back many centuries prior, we have the burial of Joseph, the son of Jacob. His corpse was embalmed [mummified] in Egypt, and then placed into a coffin.
26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. [Emphasis added]
King David took the bones of King Saul and his son Jonathan and buried them in the burial cave of Saul’s father, Kish.
2 Samuel 21:12-14
12 And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:
13 And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.
14 And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land. [Emphasis added]
Lazarus, the brother to Mary and Martha, died, was dressed in grave clothes, and buried in a sealed cave. After four days Jesus came and miraculously brought him back to life.
44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin [SOUDARION = towel or linen cloth]. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. [Emphasis added]
The established practices and traditions for burial in this manner continued for many centuries.
Regarding cremation, we have a case during the reign of King Josiah. When he was reforming idolatrous Judah and Jerusalem, he burned the various “aids of worship” and the bones of the evil priests.
II Chronicles 34:3-5
3 For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.
4 And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them.
5 And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. [Emphasis added]
Long before this occurred we have King Saul & his sons who were also cremated after their bodies were hung on a wall by the Philistines but recovered by the Israelites. Then their bones were buried a second time by King David.
1 Samuel 31:11-13
11 And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;
12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.
13 And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days. [Emphasis added]
These are the only cases of cremation recorded in the Bible. But I should also mention that there were times when the Jews imitated their pagan neighbors by burning their babies and other young children alive in sacrifices to the heathen gods of Baal and Molech [Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2-6; 32:35].
There are some who claim that a believer should not be cremated because his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
I Corinthians 6:19
19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? [Emphasis added]
However, the Holy Spirit no longer dwells in the body of a believer who has died. When his soul leaves his body, the Holy Spirit also leaves.
It is also argued that cremation is a show of disrespect for the person’s body. However, this raises a question. Is that any more disrespectful than putting a body in the ground where even in a coffin it will decompose and probably eventually be eaten by worms? In resurrection, restoring the person with a new body is no problem at all for our Lord. Remember, he made Adam from the dust of the Earth. Even the unbeliever is given a new body in which to suffer for all eternity.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. [Emphasis added]
In this passage, John is speaking of how in the age of Israel believers and unbelievers were required to manifest their faith by their works. Such is not the case for believers of our time [Romans 4:4-5; Ephesians 2:8-9]. However, resurrection is guaranteed to us as believers. We will have a body with all the wonderful features Christ has in His resurrection body.
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]
There are times when there’s a reason for an autopsy to be performed. There are also times when people wish to donate body parts for the living. As per the Scriptures, all these things are permissible. There’s nothing in the Bible that forbids them.
In conclusion, what happens to our physical bodies post-mortem makes no difference to God at all. We must beware that man’s rules in such matters are of no concern to Him. As I’ve noted, the day will come when God will miraculously resurrect the body of every member of the human race. This will happen no matter what has happened to a person’s body. God will re-form every person’s body. What Job said about his body applies to every one of us.
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: [Emphasis added]
Just know that no church or preacher has any right to dictate to you or your family what should be done with your body. That is strictly your decision and a matter of preference. God in His grace has given us the liberty to do what we think is best concerning our final wishes. You should enjoy that liberty and never let anyone rob you of it! There is no explicit command in all the Bible to be buried intact, and there is no explicit command not to be cremated.
[For more details about the features of the believer’s resurrection body, go to my article about it. — Resurrection: What will your resurrection body be like?]