By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
My husband and I would like to be cremated after our deaths. Our families do not approve. Is there scripture that will back us in our decision? What does the Bible say about cremation?
It may not give you the confirmation you need, but here is your answer about what the Bible tells us about cremation - as best as I can tell, there is no Bible passage that attempts to give guidelines regarding acceptable burial procedures. No matter which burial practices one follows, the results are always the same: “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Job reiterated the final disposition of the body in Job 34:14-15: “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust."
The ancient Egyptians embalmed bodies to delay decay and to prepare for the afterlife.
In first-century Israel, bodies were buried on the day of death! A 60-foot length of one-foot-wide cloth was wrapped around and around the deceased while all sorts of spices were sprinkled in the wrappings in order to reduce the stench of decay. The bodies were then placed in caves or stone sepulchers.
In more recent times, it's customary to embalm a body before burial in order to delay decay long enough for the family to mourn the deceased and to give time for out-of-town friends and relatives to arrive before the funeral.
Burial procedures are rapidly changing in today’s culture. Many people are turning to cremation as the body disposition of choice. One of the primary drivers in this change is the astronomical cost of having a "traditional funeral." The costs for embalming, buying a casket and purchasing a piece of ground to put the casket in is cost prohibitive for too many families.
The only long-term difference between embalming and cremation is time. Cremation just speeds up the process.
Biblical Perspective on Cremation
You may do well to investigate why your family doesn't approve of your cremation choice. Perhaps they consider cremation as not Biblical. However, as we have seen, cremation is never a Biblical issue. Here are some other concerns of Christians about cremation.
1. Perhaps they are worried that when Jesus returns at the Rapture and the bodies of long-dead Christians are resurrected and transformed into spiritual bodies — that you won’t have a body to resurrect. Frankly, since the first century, most (if not all) bodies are now dust anyway. Since God is big enough to produce a world-wide resurrection, He certainly can make a spiritual body from only a speck of dust -- or less.
2. Perhaps your family wants you in a casket-filled grave so they can have a place for remembering you and your lives together. This desire is natural and normal.
Recently, I've observed families foregoing the expensive caskets and burial plots by choosing cremation. They then purchase a small cemetery plot in which to bury the ashes. Others scatter the ashes over a prearranged place meaningful to the deceased. Some save a few ashes in a small locket as a token reminder of their loved one. Some ashes reside in burial urns over fireplace mantles.
With all that being said, remember that your body is still your body. Discuss openly with your family that you want to dispose of your body in the way most comfortable to you. In your case, that is cremation.
My mother just traded in her outdoor burial plot for an indoor mausoleum space. She decided that she was uncomfortable with the idea that she would be down in the ground with the “worms and maggots!” Then, she got to worrying that above ground a tornado could hit the mausoleum! She wanted to change back; but, she finally decided that worms were worse than tornadoes.
If you are more comfortable with cremation then I recommend that you do so.
Personally, I want my body cremated. I've picked out four golf courses where I want my family to spread my ashes. I think.
Recently, our church erected a columbarium with small niches for burial urns of ashes. It's on an outdoor wall of the new chapel. Recently, Julie and I exhumed our first daughter's ashes from Evergreen Cemetery and placed them in an urn in the niche in the far-left top row of the columbarium. I'm thinking about changing my mind. I just might have my ashes placed in the niche with Jessie.
After all, the chapel wall sounds like a great final resting place while we wait for the sounds of the resurrection trumpet. Jessie and I could even hold hands together on the way up!
Psalm 103:15-17 is a Bible passage that gives us a great perspective on cremation -- or on any other burial practice:
As for man, his days are like grass,
He flourishes like a flower of the field;
The wind blows over it and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
The LORD's love is with those who fear him,
And his righteousness with their children's children…
Well, B, I hope this helps. Have a great talk with your family.
Watch: Should Christian Families Bury or Creamate?
Theologians Apply Scripture to Cremation
"Actually, the Scriptures do not say anything about required modes of burial for believers. Standard practice among Old Testament and in the New Testament was burial. Saul and Jonathan were cremated by the Israelites after their deaths, but this was not normal practice in Israel. Their bodies were mutilated by the Philistines, thus the decision was made to cremate, then bury the ashes (1 Samuel 31:8-13). Achan, and his family, were cremated upon their execution for sinning against Israel, which again appears to be an exception to normal burial practices among the Israelites." - John MacArthur, Grace to You
"Although there is biblical evidence for burial instead of cremation, it is still a preference, and Christians should not condemn other Christians who have chosen cremation...Burial is thus equated to “sowing the seed of the body,” and “is the biblical picture of belief in the resurrection of the body.” Piper also says that cremation can be viewed as anti-biblical due to the Bible’s many references to hell and evil being associated with fire. "The use of fire to consume the human body on earth was seen as a sign of contempt. It was not a glorious treatment of the body but a contemptuous one," Piper writes…Pastor John Piper: Christians Should Choose Burial Over Cremation
This article is part of our larger Spiritual Life resource meant to answer your questions about the Bible, God and the Christian faith. Visit our most popular questions on “What does the Bible say about…” questions answered by well known Christians and theologians to find more inspiration. Remember that as you read these articles, the Holy Spirit will give you understanding and discernment to make the right decision for your walk with Jesus Christ! If you know others struggling with these faith questions, please share and help others discover the truth on these controversial topics.
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Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.