Should a Christian decide for cremation as a place of burial? What does the bible say about burial vs cremation? How should a Christian be prepared for a funeral? Although the Bible does not specifically mention cremation, we do learn from the Bible that only heathen tribes cremated people (burned their bodies with fire after death), whereas Jews always buried their dead in-ground graves or entombed their dead in caves or sepulchers, similar to modern-day mausoleums. It was essentially a stone room with a stone coffin in which a body was entombed. The word “sepulcrum” derives from the Latin sepulcrum, which literally means “burial place.”
Although the Bible does not prohibit or condone cremation, it does not encourage it. Before I proceed any further, let me say with certainty that having a loved one cremated or knowing a Christian who has been cremated has no consequence on their eternal fate. Our eternal destiny is determined by our relationship with Christ or lack thereof.
What Is Cremation and How Does It Work?
Cremation is a method of reducing the human body to its most basic constituents, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” as the phrase goes. The majority of the body is made up of tissue, which is vaporized throughout the process, leaving bone behind. This is done in a cremation chamber, which is a masonry-lined container with temperatures ranging from 1800 to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
When someone wants to be cremated, they usually put their body in a wooden or cardboard casket and deposit it in the chamber. The corpse gets reduced to bone fragments in a few hours. All metal debris, including pins, screws, and titanium limbs, is then manually removed from the bone fragments on a table. After that, the bone fragments are crushed into a fine powder using a special processor. The “cremains” are then placed in a plastic bag into an urn and returned to the relatives of the deceased.
This is becoming the standard. The National Funeral Directors Association predicts that the trend toward cremation will continue over the next 20 years, with cremation accounting for 78.8 percent of all deaths by 2035. For the first time in American history, the majority of people choose cremation than burial, with 50.2 percent preferring cremation.
What does the bible say about burial vs cremation?
The first instance of cremation can be found in 1 Samuel 31, where Saul and his sons are burned and subsequently buried.
When the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, they arose and proceeded all night to take Saul’s body and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, bringing them to Jabesh and burning them there. They buried their bones under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted for seven days (1 Sam. 31:11-13).
Only two further instances may be found in Amos 2:1 and Amos 6:8-10. Because they include capital punishment that requires the criminal to be “burned with fire,” Leviticus 20:14 indirectly references cremation. However, the Old Testament has over 200 instances of burial, indicating that this was the culture’s habit at the time. Burial in a tomb, cave, or the ground was the most popular method of disposing of a human dead in biblical Times, (Genesis 23:19; 35:19; 2 Chronicles 16:14; Matthew 27:60-66).
“Actually, the Scriptures do not contain anything regarding compulsory modalities of burial for believers,” says John MacArthur. Burial was a common practice in both the Old and New Testaments. The Israelites cremated Saul and Jonathan after their deaths, but this was not standard procedure in Israel. Because the Philistines mutilated their bodies, it was decided to cremate them and then bury their ashes (1 Samuel 31:8-13). When Achan and his family were executed for sinning against Israel, they were burned, which appears to be an exception to Israelite burial customs.
Why are so many people choosing cremation?
One of the main reasons why more people are choosing cremation is to save the costs of funeral services and burial. A traditional funeral can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000, whereas cremation costs between $1,500 and $2,500 on average. There’s also the cost of burying a loved one and acquiring burial grounds. Both cost roughly $1,000.
The Capsula Mundi initiative is a new rising trend in Italy. These biodegradable urns cost roughly $500 each. Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel have created an organic, biodegradable burial capsule that converts the deceased’s body into nutrients for a tree to sprout from their ashes. The deceased is buried after being encapsulated in the fetal position and a tree or tree seed is put over their capsule. Currently, the proposal is awaiting the approval of burial laws. The idea, if passed, is to establish memorial parks with trees instead of tombstones.
Across many civilizations, trees have a lot of significance and importance. The life cycle of a tree is similar to that of humans in many aspects. We are created by God from a seed in the womb. We grow from being small and frail to becoming strong, tall, and securely anchored in God’s Word. We all grow old and move from this world to the next.
Heathen Practices or Christian Tradition?
However, there are Christian traditions and heathen practices, and some in the church have adopted heathen practices in a variety of areas, including cremation, due to a lack of information. The Bible plainly shows that the Israelites, God’s chosen people, had a custom of always burying their dead and never burning them, as the heathens around them did. The Old Testament and the New Testament both reveal this. Jesus was laid to rest in a tomb. In both the Old and New Testaments, there are texts that describe how people were buried.
“And after that, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, just as Hebron in Canaan did.” Genesis: 23:19
“There was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife, on the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth.” (NASB 25:10)
“They buried Abraham and Sarah his wife there, Isaac and Rebekah his wife there, and I buried Leah there.” 1 Chronicle 49:31
“I beseech thee, turn back thy servant, so I may die in my home city, and be buried by the graves of my father and mother.” But look at thy servant Chimham; send him over to my lord the king, and treat with him as you see fit.” (2 Samuel 19:37)
“Men and comrades, let me freely tell you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is still with us today.” (NASB 2:29)
“But Mary mourned outside the sepulchre, and as she sobbed, she knelt down and peered into the sepulchre, 12and saw two angels in white seated, one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lay.” (NIV 20:11:12).
Five Reasons to Have a Christian Burial
As Christians, we must approach this sensitive topic with a different mentality, as the cheapest and most convenient solution is not necessarily the best. “How will this bring honor to God?” should be our approach to everything as Christians. Applying this to the question of “burial vs. cremation,” we think that the Biblical custom of burial will not only bring glory to God but also peace to those who witness or attend a burial or funeral.
- A Christian funeral or memorial service should emphasize the gospel and encourage visitors to consider their eternal destiny. It may even include an altar call to the unsaved, encouraging them to dedicate their lives to the Lord while they are still living, as they will face death one day.
- A Christian funeral also allows the bereaved family and those who mourn to express their grief, and many times it is when they are allowed to view the body of a deceased person that they are moved by God to dedicate their lives to Christ.
- A Christian funeral, as opposed to cremation, gives bereaved families closure by allowing them to see and touch the body. (I recall the terrible sorrow of so many lives being lost on 9/11), and how all the families waited for some trace of their loved ones to be recovered in the debris, and how they fought to find closure because there was none.
- A Christian burial also allows the family to return to the location of the burial for a time of meditation and recollection of their loved one.
- A Christian burial also supports the importance of having a prompt burial since a body must be buried as soon as possible, usually within days, rather than having Cremation Memorial Services afterwards, when people have recovered from their grief or when the body is no longer viable.
What about those who perish in fires or have their bodies obliterated?
One thing the Bible makes plain is that regardless of how a man dies, his body will inevitably return to dust. Their spirits, on the other hand, will journey to either paradise or hell, where they will wait for their resurrected bodies.
“Everything comes together in one spot; everything is made of dust, and everything returns to dust.” 3:20 Ecclesiastes
“And many of those who slumber in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and others to disgrace and everlasting contempt,” says the Bible. 12:2 Daniel”
There are no instructions or rules in the Bible that prohibit cremation. However, the Bible does contain biblical accounts of how Christians were buried. Traditionally, many of the heathen nations surrounding the Israelites burned their dead. The Israelites always buried or enshrined their dead. The Jews of Jesus’ day followed the same tradition as the Christians of the New Testament.
All physical remains decompose into dust.
Whether we are buried or cremated, we shall all eventually return to dust. However, we should pray about how our lives can bring God glory both at the end of our lives and during our lives. We can plan and save for a Christian funeral and leave a final will and testament expressing our beliefs so that when we have completed our course on this earth, we will have a witness.
This will allow others to commemorate our lives in Christ with Christian service and burial, rather than accepting the practices of pagan religions, which do not recognize that Christians receive a new body at the resurrection, while our old one is laid to rest in the ground.
This essay is not intended to be a criticism of anyone who has had a loved one cremated, as we recognize that a lack of education on the matter, as well as the stress of the situation and a lack of financial resources for a burial, may have driven you and your family to that decision. It is published in the hope that anyone who has questions regarding cremation in the future may seek the Lord and pray for guidance on how to bury their dead or leave instructions on how they wish to be buried.
Leave it to God to gather the ashes of any person’s body and recreate it into a new body, no matter how spread they are throughout the face of the earth; if your loved ones knew the Lord as their personal savior, they are now in heaven, awaiting their new bodies at the Lord’s second coming.
The Button Line?
It makes no difference if a loved one is cremated, buried, or placed in a pod to grow into a tree. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” “If it were his intention, and he removed his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish simultaneously, and man would return to the dust,” Job 34:14-15, referring to the final moments of the body.”
At the second coming, God will raise his people from the dead. Funerals are meant for the living to commemorate the lives of those who have passed away. It’s an opportunity to honor, remember, and reflect on their lives. It’s also a reminder that we’re in God’s hands at the end of the day. He gave us life, breath in our lungs, and bodies to dwell on our spirits. One day, we will see him face to face in a fresh body that will never wear out for the rest of our lives.
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- 60 Signs Of The End Times Scripture KJV