There seems to be a lot of confusion about what the Bible says about cremation. But the simplest answer is that there are no explicit references to cremation in the Bible. As such, the Bible is silent on the specific practice of cremation.
But some passages do describe the burning of dead bodies as a form of punishment, such as the account of King Saul’s body being burned by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 31:12:
“All their valiant men marched through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them.”
What else does the Bible say about preferred burial types?
There are also many references to burying the dead, such as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:22-23, which some interpret as a preference for burial over cremation:
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
Nevertheless, the Bible does not specifically prohibit or endorse cremation, and the practice was not widely practiced in the biblical world.
It’s worth noting that the preference for burial over cremation in many cultures and religions is often influenced by cultural and historical factors, rather than any explicit scriptural teachings.
Was cremation common during the Biblical age?
Some interpretations of scriptural passages suggest that early Christians preferred burial, as they believed in the resurrection of the body.
Nevertheless, contemporary Christians hold diverse views on cremation, with some considering it a permissible form of disposition and others viewing it as contrary to biblical teachings.
Ultimately, the decision on cremation is a personal one and can depend on an individual’s religious beliefs and cultural practices.
Conclusion: connecting the dots
In his 2010 paper titled “To Bury Or Burn? Toward An Ethic Of Cremation,” professor David W. Jones of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary suggests that three key conclusions can be drawn:
- Firstly, church history reflects significant resistance to cremation, with burial being the standard practice of the church.
- Secondly, while the Bible does not explicitly prescribe a method for disposing of the deceased, biblical figures serve as positive examples of burial, and relevant passages suggest a pro-burial stance.
- Lastly, the body holds theological significance, making it crucial to consider both the act and symbolism of the treatment of the dead with utmost care.
“If given a choice,” he writes, “those left behind ought to consider carefully what is being communicated in their handling of the body of a decedent.”
In the Christian tradition, he points out, funerals serve a broader purpose beyond merely disposing of remains or offering a space for mourning.
“Rather, for believers, funerals ought to be Christ-centered events, testifying to the message and hope of the gospel.”
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