November 14, 2009 Q & A



Is cremation un-Christian or unbiblical?


I should say first that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has never taken an official position on the subject of cremation, nor do our confessional documents (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) have any statement about cremation. Therefore, what I can give you is what I understand the Bible teaches, since there is no single biblical command about how the bodies of the dead are to be disposed of.

Christians, until the late 19th century, considered cremation unbiblical. There are reasons for the growing acceptance of cremation among Bible-believing Christians, but we have to look to the Bible for our instruction.

First, death is a result of sin (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:19, Rom. 5:12). Our bodies decay and die because sin entered the world and death through sin.

Second, physical death is not the end of that person, but only the separation of the body and the spirit (2 Cor. 5:1–10). The believer in Jesus Christ goes to be with the Lord at death (Phil. 1:23).

Third, God still cares about the human body and will have a day of resurrection for all of humanity (Dan. 12:1–2, 1 Cor. 15) because we are a unity of body and spirit.

Fourth, the practice of believers throughout biblical history was to bury the body, from Abraham's burial of Sarah (Gen. 23:14) to the burial of Stephen (Acts 8:2; cf. Gen. 25:8–10, 35:19–20, 29, 49:33, 50:4–13, 26, Deut. 34:6, Josh. 24:29–30, 1 Sam. 25:1, 1 Kgs. 2:10, Matt. 14:10–12). The greatest example is the burial of Jesus himself in John 19:38–42.

Fifth, the lack of a burial (1 Kgs. 21:23–24) or the burning of human bones (Amos 2:1) was considered a shameful thing.

Sixth, Christians have believed that burial is a testimony to the hope of the resurrection. We know that all bodies decay, so that God will do what only He can do on the day of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:35, 37, 42–44). Whether ashes in an urn or dust in a casket or bodies lost at sea or whatever, once a person dies, bodies begin to decompose. It will be a supernatural act of God to bring about the resurrection of the dead. The Christian believes in the bodily resurrection of both believers and non-believers because death itself will be destroyed at the return of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:26).

Seventh, Christians want to take every opportunity God gives to challenge an unbelieving world with the life to come we all will face either in heaven or hell, and the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ as the only one who can save us from both our sins and the consequences of our sins (like death). A Christian burial is a powerful time to testify of the coming resurrection when we will all be raised with incorruptible bodies.

So, I believe the teaching of the Bible is that cremation is a poor and unbiblical substitute for burial.

Here is a good summary by two Christians: In "Christian Burial: A Case for Burial," Norman Geisler and Douglas Potter had this to say:

From the Christian perspective, burial is the pattern used in Scripture and has been historically followed by the church. Of course, it should be pointed out that cremation is no hindrance to the act, or event, of the resurrection. God, in his omnipotence, is certainly able, if he so chooses, to collect every atom and molecule, no matter where it is found in the universe, and reconstruct our same bodies in a glorified state. It does not follow from this, however, that cremation is an acceptable general practice. Whereas burial is an important practice and symbol in Scripture, cremation is a poor symbol of scriptural truth. While cremation is not an intrinsic evil, it nonetheless symbolically vitiates some important biblical truths. In this sense, cremation is a hindrance to the promotion of resurrection truth and should not be a regular practice of Christians. We thus conclude that all Christians should practice Christian burial unless extraordinary circumstances do not permit it.



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