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November 08, 2022

Bible Q & A: What Does the Bible Say About Cremation?

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Question: Could you please give Biblical advice concerning cremation?

There are, generally speaking, two kinds of moral questions for Christians:

First, questions in which God has given us a specific command (or commands) that we should follow, and second, questions in which God has not spoken directly about what we should do.

In cases where God has spoken, of course, it is important for us to affirm it, and as Christians, we want to obey positive commands because this is pleasing to God (love your neighbor as yourself), and we want to refrain from doing negative commands (do not murder) because this also is pleasing to Him.

But in cases where God has not spoken (there is no command), then sometimes we can infer from other passages that God may judge a course of action either to be pleasing to God or to be displeasing to God. But where we cannot make a clear inference, then it is best to consider it a “gray area” or what the Bible sometimes calls a “disputable matter.”

We can most often “agree to disagree” on differing viewpoints regarding a disputable matter. This is sometimes called “Christian freedom.” Where God has not spoken about a matter, we have freedom, in Christ, to decide.

A good question to ask when someone says, “You must do this!” about a disputable matter is: “Can you show me where the Bible says that?” Often times, what you are dealing with is a Christian tradition, rather than a command of God.

In the case of cremation, there is no specific command that indicates we are to either avoid cremation, or that burial is preferred. However, here are some considerations:

  1. Burial was considered the norm during the time and place of the writing of both the Old and New Testaments and it has been the practice of the majority of Christians throughout history.
  2. We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which means that we were created to reflect something of the goodness and glory of God. But God is spirit (John 4:24). That means He is invisible and doesn’t have a physical body.
  3. However, when the Son of God came to earth, He took on human flesh (John 1:1, 14). Why is this important? When God wanted to reveal Himself to us, He didn’t come as a dog, or a grasshopper, or a Martian, He came as a person.
  4. There is some indication in Scripture of continuity between our physical bodies and our resurrection bodies. For example, when Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples, they had to be kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16), presumably because the physical characteristics of His resurrection body were similar to His physical body.
  5. There is no indication in the Bible that God won’t be able to resurrect bodies unless they are buried.  For example, Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

On that day, many of these bodies will have been lying in tombs for centuries, and the bodies will be completely decayed. And other bodies will be recovered from places other than tombs. Some will have died at sea. Others will have been in terrible accidents in which their bodies were dismembered or burned and were unrecoverable. But all of them will be resurrected.

So, if you were to ask various Christians their views on this, you would probably get at least 3 responses:

  • It’s ok to be cremated.
  • It’s wrong to be cremated.
  • It doesn’t really matter if you get cremated.

In this case, I believe there is Christian freedom. In other words, God has not spoken about the matter. You are free to choose.

Romans 14 lays out this principle in detail, using the example of a person who eats meat, and another who is a vegetarian. In this example, one person feels that eating meat is wrong (even though there is no command from God against doing this), while the other person feels the freedom to eat meat.

So, what should the Christian who feels the freedom to eat meat do? Well, he or she could cave in and not eat meat, because the other Christian feels that it is wrong. That would be going against his own conscience. Or he or she could defiantly eat meat in front of the vegetarian in order to prove his point. That would be unloving. Or the meat eater and the vegetarian could agree to disagree, and perhaps freely choose to not eat meat in front of the other.

In matters where God has not spoken, what matters is that we do what we do to the glory of God, and for the good of others. In other words, we are to choose what to do out of a love for God and others.

I hope and pray that this will be helpful to you as you decide,

Pastor Tim

 

PS: You may enjoy this related article: What Happens When a Christian Dies.


Tim Augustyn

Pastor of Ministry Resources

Tim serves as the resident pastor, writer, and editor of Open the Bible. He was born and raised in northern Wisconsin, came to faith in his 20s while working in the business world, and received a Master’s in Divinity from Trinity International University. He is author of the children’s book Man on the Run, and co-author of The One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional with Colin Smith. Tim and his wife, Janna, and their four kids live in Arlington Heights, Ill. Contact Tim at taugustyn@openthebible.org.
Tim serves as the resident pastor, writer, and editor of Open the Bible. He was born and raised in northern Wisconsin, came to faith in his 20s while working in the business world, and received a Master’s in Divinity from Trinity International University. He is author of the children’s book Man on the Run, and co-author of The One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional with Colin Smith. Tim and his wife, Janna, and their four kids live in Arlington Heights, Ill. Contact Tim at taugustyn@openthebible.org.