Cremation

Question
Is there any place in the Bible that tells whether cremation is alright in God's eyes or not? What about Numbers 16:35 and 1Kings 16:15-19?
Answer
The Bible does not directly address the subject of cremation, and theologians have varying views on the subject. It does appear that burial is frequently an attempt to honor the deceased (e.g. Gen. 15:15; 23:19; 25:9-10; 50:24-25; Deut. 34:6; Josh. 24:29-33; 1 Sam. 25:1; 31:11-13; Jer. 8:2; 16:4,6; Matt. 14:12; Acts 2:29; Luke 23:52-53) and that burning is not uncommonly associated with dishonor (Lev. 20:14; Josh. 7:15).

However, in a few cases burial is also associated with those who die dishonorably (e.g. Num. 11:33-34; Jer. 20:6; Acts 5:1-10), and cremation with those who die honorably (1 Sam. 31:12). We should also remember that burning was an honorable way to treat sacrifices to the Lord (e.g. the burnt offerings). Paul even compared Christ's death to a burnt offering (see "aroma" in Eph. 5:2; cf. Exod. 29:18,25; 29:41)

The passages you mention, as well as many others, speak of fire as a means of death rather than as a way of disposing of the bodies of the dead, so I would not rely on them too strongly as evidence for or against cremation. Nevertheless, it does seem that in Scripture death by burning precludes subsequent burial, and that burial is the normal means of honorable burial.

I would suggest that in the cultures and periods in which the Bible was written, burial was generally perceived as honorable and cremation was generally seen as a way to prevent the dead from being honored. However, it does not appear to me that the Bible states that these are absolute or perpetual means of honoring and dishonoring the dead. In a society that perceives cremation as an honorable way to treat the dead, cremation ought to carry no stigma. Accepting different ways of treating the dead is, in my mind, part of being all things to all people (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

I would also point out that the Bible never suggests that those whose bodies are burned will not participate in the resurrection of all believers. Although it is sometimes taught that those whose bodies are destroyed thereby forfeit the ability to be resurrected unto glory, the Bible offers no support whatsoever for this idea. On the contrary, the resurrection is promised to all who are in Christ (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15), without regard to their manner of death or to the treatment of their bodies.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.