Burial vs. Cremation
Cremation, a word derived from the Latin crematus or cremare meaning “to burn up,” is the process by which the human body is reduced to fragments and ash in chambers or furnaces capable of generating temperatures as high as 1400-1800˚F. After further processing, the remains, now resembling light grey sand, are presented to the family. This unconventional method of interment has seemed to have gained general approval and even popularity as its supposed economical, environmental, and emotional advantages are touted. And so, from time to time, I am asked if I would ever suggest cremation over a traditional cemetery burial. My answer is no—I would never recommend cremation.
From a Biblical Perspective
In God’s Word, we uncover no explicit teaching about or Scriptural mandates against cremation; however, we do find conclusive evidence in the Bible that burial after death was the custom. Though this list is not exhaustive—we might have augmented our case further by including other kings, judges, and prophets—here are several key examples:
- Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:57-60)
- Abraham (Genesis 25:8-10, 49:31)
- Sarah (Genesis 23:19, 25:10, 49:31)
- Isaac (Genesis 35:29, 49:31)
- Rebekah (Genesis 49:31)
- Deborah (Rebekah’s nurse, Genesis 35:8)
- Jacob (Genesis 47:28-31, 50:13)
- Leah (Genesis 49:31)
- Rachel (Genesis 35:19, 48:7)
- Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5-6)
- Aaron (Deuteronomy 10:6)
- Miriam (Numbers 20:1)
- Joshua (Joshua 24:30)
- Jephthah (Judges 12:7)
- Samuel (I Samuel 25:1)
- David (I Kings 2:10)
- Solomon (I Kings 11:43)
- Ananias (Acts 5:5-6)
- Sapphira (Acts 5:10)
- Stephen (Acts 8:2)
Furthermore, we find an example when the burning of bones is judged: “Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime.” (Amos 2:1)
I understand, however, that not every Christian in the history of the world could have been buried. Many died as martyrs and burned at the stake, some were lost at sea or involved in fires or explosions, cremation was chosen for them, etc. Our Lord is capable of gathering all together; and He will, regardless of condition—“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” (Revelation 20:13) However, should you have a choice, as many of us do, remember that your body will have served as a “temple of the Holy Ghost” and “ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Which custom would appropriately represent your regard to that high honor—a burial or a burning?
From a Statistical Perspective
Cremation is of heathen origin, which might shed some light on why America has all but readily accepted this pagan ritual. The more she rejects Jesus Christ, the more likely she will assent to practices deliberately contrary to the Word of God; and this acceptance of cremation has only increased through the years. For example, 41 cremations occurred in the United States from 1876-1884. In 1958, a reported 3% of Americans chose cremation over traditional burials. Over fifty years later, that number has exploded to 38.15% and will swell to 51.12% by 2025. We dismiss the sanctity of human life by murdering unborn babies and sanctioning euthanasia. Must we wonder, then, when America willingly embraces yet another way to desecrate that which God has created “in his own image”?
Should we study current statistics by state, we would find that the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington each boast 65% of total deaths resulting in cremation. Interestingly enough, Oregon and Washington are the two most “un-churched” states in the nation. In the District of Columbia, more babies were aborted last year than were born. Hawaii celebrates her heathen foundation. Nevada is known the world around for casinos, gambling, and debauchery.
From a Financial Perspective
“Pastor,” you ask, “what of the poor people? How can they possibly afford a proper burial? Wouldn’t it be more prudent for their families to spend less money by choosing cremation rather than a traditional burial?” I believe the answer can be found in the Bible—“And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in… And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.” (Matthew 27:7, 10)
We find a potter’s field in the Bible, and we also find them in our local cemeteries today as burial grounds for the very poor or those who have no one to claim their bodies. Recently, I learned that there were no longer plots of land available at one of our local cemeteries—the place where I would like to be buried someday. I asked the gentleman who manages this particular cemetery why I could not be buried on an empty knoll I had seen on the property. He replied, “For this reason—it’s a potter’s field.”
From a Commemorative Perspective
I believe it is vital for family and friends to have a place where they can honor the memory of a loved one—certainly something much more than an urn decorating a mantle. Cremation offers people closure when, in fact, you want the opposite. (May I interject without apology that closure is one of the most foolish words I have ever heard in regards to the death of a loved one?) You want the memory of your loved one’s life to live on for future generations. You want a burial spot to be a place where you can remind your children and grandchildren of the legacy of the one who lies there. That cannot be done with a jar of ashes.
I trust these thoughts will help you in the future. I have not taken a stand on the matter of holding a memorial service for someone whose family has chosen cremation and would not break fellowship over this. However, I truly believe that Christians should carefully consider their philosophy and Biblical position regarding the issue of burial vs. cremation.