CREMATION OR BURIAL?
By Adauto Rezende
I decided to write this article to bring some clarity to people who are trying to understand the spiritual implications of burning body vs. burying. They are raising theological and formal questions about the subject. Does the Bible condemn cremation? Is it a sin to decide to incinerate my body when I die? Some Christians today struggle with a guilty conscience for having chosen cremation for family members, while others have become strong activists in favor of cremation. I pray that both sides would take time to read this article and through it understand better how the subject is portrayed in the Holy Scriptures, and “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”. John 8:32
Fifty percent of Americans chose cremation in 2016, according to a new report by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). The rate of cremation in the U.S. has risen steadily over the years, going from just five percent in the 1970s to 40 percent in 2010. The U.S. cremation rate is still much lower than countries like Japan and Switzerland, where 100 percent and 85.4 percent of those countries’ populations, respectively, are cremated. But NFDA predicts that by 2035, nearly 80 percent of Americans will be cremated after their death.
What is cremation?
Cremation is a funerary process in which intense heat is used to transform the human body back to its basic elements. Most of the body, such as tissue, is vaporized, leaving only the remains of bone. The remaining bone particles are commonly referred to as cremains or ashes.
What is the cremation procedure?
It occurs in the cremation chamber (sometimes called the retort), a masonry-lined enclosure that can produce and withstand temperatures in the range of 1800°F to 2000°F. The deceased body is placed in a casket made of wood or cardboard and placed in the chamber. Within a few hours, the body is vaporized and reduced to bone fragments. These fragments are removed from the cremation chamber and placed on a table where the crematory operator removes, by hand or with a magnet, all-metal debris such as screws, nails, surgical pins and/or titanium limbs/joints.
Why does society in our days choose cremation? Statistics have proven that the post-Christian nations are increasingly choosing cremation rather than burial to dispose of their remains. Among many reasons, let's mention two:
1) The high cost of burial by the funeral industry. Burial is the most traditional route, but it can also be one of the most expensive. With all the related expenses and fees of burial, your family could be left with more than $10,000 as a final bill in the USA and Canada. While the costs to cremate can be anywhere across the board, the average cost is going to be between $1,000 to $2,000 (Some funeral homes have their own crematorium to be more affordable).
2) The influence of eastern religion and Neo-pagan practices largely promoted by the general media pop stars. Throwing the ashes on the sea, or keeping it in someone’s living room has become a new trend among many in western civilization. It seems to me that it is a way to rebel against the Judeo-Christian values, following the left-liberal agenda which considers cremation a cool method (fashionable way) to dispose of the body, like thousands of former celebrities such as John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, George Harrison, Christopher Reeve, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, who had chosen to burn rather than burial. The advertising of their cremation rituals, with the help of worldwide computer networks by their fans, reached millions who made their minds up in favour of incineration.
Let’s consider some events in the Holy Scriptures that show both methods, analyzing the significance and spiritual implications regarding burial vs. cremation.
The Scriptures will show that for most individuals who were cremated, it was not by their will, but involuntarily, usually as a form of punishment by divine action and purpose:
The wicked citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah:
"Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. 25 So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground… And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace.” Genesis 19: 24-28
Aran’s perverted sons:
“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.” Leviticus 10:1-2
Achan, the thief:
“And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.” Joshua 7:25
Soldiers who wanted to arrest Elijah, the prophet:
“Then he sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty men. And he answered and said to him: “Man of God, thus has the king said, ‘Come down quickly!’ ” So Elijah answered and said to them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” And the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.” II Kings 1: 11-12
The rebellions in the wilderness:
“And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.” Numbers 16:35
Punishment for sexual depravity:
“The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire.” Leviticus 21:9
“If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you.” Leviticus 20:14 4 2)
While cremation was a method used by God to destroy wicked people, burial was the desired way of godly people for their remains to rest. These scriptures do not appear to require burial in death, but they seem to imply that burial was the most common means of caring for the deceased during biblical times.
Abraham and his wife Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah…:
“in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.” Genesis 49: 30-32
“And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah,” Genesis 23: 19
“Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre." Genesis 25: 8-9
"And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him." Genesis 35:29
Jacob made Joseph swear to him to bury his body in Canaan:
“When the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers; you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” And he said, “I will do as you have said.” Then he said, “Swear to me.” And he swore to him. So Israel bowed himself on the head of the bed.” Genesis 47: 29-31
Joseph made the Israelites swear to take his bones and bury them in the land of Israel:
5 “And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely [e]visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” Genesis 50: 24-25
Joshua carried on:
“And Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph's descendants." Joshua 24: 32
“Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Serah, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash.” Joshua 24:29-30
“And Eleazar the son of Aaron died. They buried him in a hill belonging to Phinehas his son, which was given to him in the mountains of Ephraim." Joshua 24: 33
“Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” 1 Kings 2:10
Jesus, Our Lord:
"Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb". Mark 15: 46
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures," I Corinthians 15: 3-4
Concerning cremation or burial, another great example
is found in 2nd book of Kings 23: 15-18 6
The godly king Josiah was carrying on God’s decree cleansing Israel from idolatry, witchcraft and all forms of paganism. One of his acts was to burn the bones of false prophets who had turned Israel from the Lord and defiled the land centuries before. While he watched the fire burning the old remains of the wicked people, he found a grave of a true prophet who was contemporaneous of the dead pagans and had prophesied about Josiah’s actions concerning their bones. Read and see Josiah’s reaction and conduct towards the prophet’s bones.
“Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down; and he burned the high place and crushed it to powder, and burned the wooden image. 16As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. 17 Then he said, “What gravestone is this that I see?” So the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” And he said, “Let him alone; let no one move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria.”
It is very clear that for the righteous king, cremation of the wicked bones was an act of judgment, while burial of a godly prophet was an act of respect and honor.
How should Christians determine to choose burial or cremation?
Historically, we know that millions were cremated by compulsion
It is also important to point out that history had shown that millions of Christians were burned by Nero, by the inquisition, by the communists, and many anti-Christian maniacs throughout the centuries, however; it was not in their power to make any choice concerning their burial.
Scriptures would not directly condemn as sinful the act of cremation; however, it does not seem that it encourages it, either. I could not say or think that a Christian who was cremated has lost his salvation as some have affirmed, for such a statement has no Scriptural basis. However, I would like to point out some lessons to take into consideration by the Christian community:
1) The saints in the Bible took a special interest in respect for their body’s burial when the time would come to die, therefore we should ask a question: why did they have such zeal for their remains?
“Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite” Genesis 49: 29
2) Elisha’s bones brought to life a dead corpse:
This occurrence is registered in the Scriptures certainly not by chance, but by the Holy Spirit who inspired the writer to reveal that the anointing in the Lord’s prophet was not just in his spirit and soul, but in his entire being. “Then Elisha died, and they buried him. And the raiding bands from Moab invaded the land in the spring of the year. So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.” I Kings 13: 20-21
3) Scriptures consider the body as important as the spirit and soul:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I Thessalonians 5: 23
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! …Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? “ I Corinthians 6: 15-19
“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body ]and in your spirit, which are God’s.” I Co. 6: 20 4)
Eschatologically all human bodies will resuscitate at the end of the ages,
and everyone will appear before the throne of Christ:
Scriptures reveal that by the Lord’s power everyone will be raised — godly and ungodly people. No matter where, how, or when you will die; God will awaken every human being, from Adam to the last person who will die on this planet. He will resurrect a Christian burned at the stake, or a Christian torn to pieces by lions in a Roman coliseum, or a Christian digested by a shark off the coast of Australia or a Christian beheaded and burned 8 in an Islamic republic. He will resurrect, the Pharaohs, the Assyrian kings, Alexander the Great, Nero, Caligula, Genghis Khan, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler. He will resurrect Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Atheists. He will raise from the dead more than six million Jewish and gentiles that were cremated in the ovens of Treblinka, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and dozens of other concentration camps in Poland, Germany, Russia, North Korea, Cambodia, etc. Believers and unbelievers will comeback from the dust of the earth, from the sands of the seas, from the ashes of the ground. Let’s read the following Scriptures that clearly describe these facts.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20: 12-15
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5: 28-29
“I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Acts 24: 15-16
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Job 19: 25-27
Every human being will bow before Jesus:
“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2: 9-11
Suggestions to help you deal with your choice:
Ask yourself your motivations Concerning the two main reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this article of choice for cremation rather than burial, I trusted that I gave you some Scriptures for your considerations regarding the subject, however, I would like to reinforce the first reason and add the words of the prophet Isaiah rebuking God’s people for following pagan customs;
“You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practise divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs.” Isaiah 2: 6
And he concludes in the same chapter with the following words: “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” Isaiah 2: 22
There is a visible parallel between many Christians that seem to act like the paganized Israel of Isaiah’s time. They blindly act and trust in Hollywood’s celebrities, media brainwashed talked shows rather than imitate God’s people. As the prophet said, they are full of superstitions and practice of the east and unfortunately empty of wisdom from God’s words.
In some countries like Brazil, the cost to cremate can be much higher than burial and yet some Christians there would rather choose burn than bury. Their motivation is not for lack of money, but apparently to follow the practices of the East: “It is cool”, they say! That is a bad choice.
Everything you do must be done for God’s glory
“For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14: 7-9“ "…or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I Corinthians 10: 31
Jesus, a few days after his resurrection made known to Peter, that the apostle’s form of death would bring glory to God.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” John 21: 18-19
“By the above words Christ not only intimated that Peter should die, not a natural, but a violent death, or that he should die a martyr in his cause, and that Peter was crucified at Rome” (Euseb. Eccl. Hist. l. 2. c 25) 10
The apostle Paul spoke of his death as bringing glory to Christ
“According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1: 20
“The exact details of St. Paul's death are unknown, but tradition holds that he was beheaded in Rome and thus died as a martyr for his faith. His death was perhaps part of the executions of Christians ordered by the Roman emperor Nero following the great fire in the city in 64 CE.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Paul-the-Apostle)
The author of the Hebrews provided a list of martyrs who had their bodies destroyed in the most barbaric forms because of their faith and through death, they would glorify God.
“Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still, others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” Hebrews 11: 36-38
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they were worshippers of the true God and refuse idolatry.
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Daniel 3: 14-15, but God spared them from the fire.
Search for alternatives for costless funeral
There are many options to make burial as low as cremation. Below I placed a few of them.
Consider Direct Burial
If you’ve made up your mind on burial rather than cremation, this option is very affordable. It avoids the costs associated with a formal funeral or memorial service.
Without a visitation or a viewing, you also avoid the cost of embalming.
You do have the option of a brief graveside service, but be sure to talk to your funeral home about this. In some cases, holding such a service may put you into a different price bracket than a simple direct burial.
You can opt for a more formal memorial service, either immediately after the loss or at some time in the future.
Have a natural Burial
Without embalming fluid or a concrete vault, the body decomposes much more quickly, without leaving harmful chemicals and materials in the earth. The body is placed in a shroud or in a biodegradable casket.
Not every cemetery allows natural burials, so call around to find one that does. Although you still have to pay for a shroud and a burial plot, a natural, burial can save you lots of money, and is better for the earth, too.
In the United States, the Funeral Rule, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), makes it possible for a person to choose only those goods and services they want or need and to pay only for those they select, whether they are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. Included in the options that all funeral homes must offer are direct burial and natural burial.
A direct burial service includes a modest wood (or cardboard) container, no embalming, and immediate burial in a cemetery within 24 hours. No state law requires either embalming or the use of a casket for burial, so a body can be directly interred in the earth, in a shroud, or in a vault without a casket.
Almost every state also allows for a natural burial, which allows the body to be interred without having to pay the cost of a vault.
The cost could be reduced even further, though, if more churches would reinstitute the practice of using a portion of their land to be used for a church cemetery. If more grave spots were located on church properties, they could be provided for free to Christians unable to afford a burial plot.”
Have you accepted Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord?
The Bible declares that Jesus died on the cross to forgive past, present and future sins of a repentant sinner until his/her last breath. Salvation is a free gift of God, which is received through faith, and not by any work we could do. It is not because someone was buried in Jerusalem, or you were cremated in the USA. Christ shed his blood and died on the cross to buy our pardon, to pay our debts, to forgive our sins, to bring us back to God. He was God’s gift for humanity that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. As it is written: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3: 36
If you have not yet received Him as your personal Saviour and Lord you could do so right now. You have to acknowledge that you are a sinner; sincerely repent and accept Jesus’s sacrifice as payment that satisfied God’s wrath against sinners. If you are willing to do that, you can say this prayer: “God, I am sorry that I have been a proud and rebellious sinner. At this moment I humbly ask Jesus Christ, your Son to become the Saviour and Lord of my entire being. I believe, and I am grateful that His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead gave me eternal life. Amen.”
As we are God’s property let's delight in His words and
glorify him with our spirit, soul and body:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” I Corinthians 15: 51-55
The crematorium for body and soul that you must avoid:
It is worthwhile to mention that it will be an eternal crematorium for everyone who has rejected Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for their sins. That is a place that you should not even think to go, “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Rev. 20: 15
In order for the Lord to make himself understood about how terrible the eternal fire is, said this to his disciples:
“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” Mark 9: 43-48
To God be the glory!