“Is it alright to have my body cremated when I die?”
When I first started preaching, I didn’t get this question much, but as the years have gone by it comes up more and more as cremation is becoming more and more popular and acceptable in our society. Now, there also many other alternatives for what to do with the body after one dies including getting turned into a diamond, planted and becoming a tree, becoming an ocean reef, a glass sculpture or piece of jewelry, a vinyl record, a part of a fireworks show, launched into space, become plasticized or frozen.
So, what does the Bible say about it?
Burial was the customary and honorable practice of both Hebrews and Christians throughout the Old and the New Testament. The first explicit reference is in conjunction with the death of Sarah (Genesis 23:3-4).
There are several examples in the Old Testament of cremation being used as a means of judgment. In Genesis, Judah called for Tamar to be burned because of her harlotry (Genesis 38:24). The Law of Moses called for those who committed certain capital crimes in Israel to be executed by burning, instead of the common method of stoning (Leviticus 20:14; 21:9). Achan was stoned, then burned with fire because of his sin against God (Joshua 7:25). Daniel’s friends were cast into a burning fiery furnace because they would not worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up (Daniel 3:1-30).
Cremation was also used in sacrificial offerings. Idolaters burned their children in fire as a sacrifice to their gods (Deuteronomy 12:31; cf. Lev. 18:2, 21; Deu. 18:10; 2 Kin. 17:17; 23:10; 2 Chr. 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 32:35; Eze. 20:26, 31). The king of Moab offered his eldest son as a burnt offering (2 Kings 3:27). This may refer to the son of the king of Edom, as Amos tells us that Moab was condemned by God because he burned the bones of the king of Edom (Amos 2:1). Also, Josiah burned the bones of men upon the altars of the high places to defile them (2 Kings 23:15-20).
A unique case of cremation is mentioned in the Old Testament. Valiant men rescued and burned the remains of Saul and his sons, apparently to prevent further dishonorable treatment of their bodies, and then buried their bones (1 Samuel 31:8-13).
In Summary… None of these instances are comparable to cremation as we are discussing its acceptability today for oneself or family. God has not legislated about what to do with dead bodies. There is no law in the Bible requiring God’s people to bury their dead. Neither, is there any word of condemnation against cremation.
Some are concerned about preserving the body (by embalming or other methods) but burying a dead body will not keep it from returning to the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7; 2:21-23; 3:19; Job 34:15; Ecclesiastes 3:20; 12:7). Cremation just speeds up the process.
Others are concerned that a cremated body (or one whose parts had been farmed out) could not be raised, but all the dead will be raised, whether buried or cremated (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
What Matters… More important than how the dead body is disposed, is the memorial service associated with the person who once inhabited it. It provides not only an opportunity to honor their memory and celebrate their life, but also to speak to others about eternal life through Jesus Christ. After you die, you will not care what is done with your body, but you will care what happens to your soul (Luke 16:19-31).
What about your soul? Matthew 16:26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”