Cremation? Doubtful!

WHAT ABOUT CREMATION?

Given O. Blakely

INTRODUCTION

Cremation, as a valid alternative to burial, is growing in popularity. A few decades ago, few believers in Christ considered it to be proper. Because of the pressure of the times, some professed believers are now uncertain about this procedure, while others are convinced it is proper.

Scriptural Examples

There are examples of the burning of "corpses" (II Kgs. 19:35; Isa. 37:36; Nab. 3:3; Mk. 6:29) in Scripture. It is written of Aachan, who coveted the forbidden treasures of Jericho, and his family. "And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones" (Josh. 7:25). This action was the culmination of a curse, and is by no means considered a precedent.

The bodies of King Saul and his sons were taken "from the wall of Bethshan," and removed to Jabesh. It is said that the valiant men "burnt them there." They were not totally consumed, however, because "they took their bones and buried them under a tree at Jabesh" (I Sam. 31:12-13). Again, this was not a Divinely recommended procedure. Examination of the text suggests that this action was taken to insure that the bodies of Saul and his sons would not be subjected to further Philistine maltreatment.

Josiah, reforming king of Israel, "slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them" (II Kgs. 23:20). Again, the burning of the bones was associated with a curse, and was not a revealed procedure.

On the other hand, God punished Moab because "he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime" (Amos 2:1).

Other references to consumption by fire generally refer to the heathen custom of sacrificing their children to false gods (i.e. Jer. 7:31).

THE HISTORY OF CREMATION

Throughout history, cremation has been identified with heathen nations. Historians tell us that "with the rise and spread of Christianity, which taught belief in the resurrection of the human body, cremation was discontinued in those countries which embraced the new religion" (The Universal Standard Encyclopedia). We find this to be a consistent response to the Gospel throughout the world. Cremation reflects a spirit of hopelessness, contradicting the "hope of the resurrection.'' It is basically out of harmony with the revealed view of death.

It is further observed that alter the Jewish exile, interment was the sole method of disposing of the dead among the Jews. In the Talmud, cremation is condemned as a heathen practice.

WHY IS BURIAL PREFERRED?

Cremation is not categorically condemned in Scripture. Believers in Christ, however, have traditionally preferred burial. Of itself, of course, tradition is not a valid basis for custom. If, however, it has been based upon godly reasoning, we owe it to ourselves to consider it. We are not speaking of a view to be bound upon people, and that is not the purpose of this article. It is necessary, however, that our actions be performed "unto the Lord" and that includes the disposition of our bodies.

The practice of the godly

Among individuals and peoples having a covenantal association with God, burial has been consistently practiced. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, Miriam, Aaron, Joseph, and David were "buried" (Gen. 25:10; Num. 20:1; Deut. 10:6; Josh. 24:32; Acts 2:29). When leading Israelites died, it was often said they were "buried with their fathers"(I Kgs. 14:31; 15:24; 22:50; II Kgs. 8:24; 12:21; 14:20; 15:7, 38; 16:20).

God buries Moses

When Moses died, God Himself "buried him in a valley in the land of Moab ..." (Deut. 34:5-6). It is difficult to conceive of a stronger recommendation for burial.  

The case of Stephen

When Stephen, the first martyr for Christ, died, his body was "carried to his burial" (Acts 8:2). Although there was a scriptural record of the burning of bodies, such a thought, in this instance, did not occur to early believers. We owe it to ourselves to consider why this circumstance occurred.

Jesus was buried

The Lord Jesus Himself was "buried," according to the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1-4). During His earthly ministry, his "burial" was the focus of a timely deed performed by a woman of discernment a deed for which she was commended (Matt. 26:12). It is difficult to conceive of a similar action that could be associated with cremation.

Referring to His death and burial, Jesus said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground..." (John 12:24). When a key part of Christ's doctrine is based upon burial, why would anyone try and contend for cremation?

If there were no other considerations, these alone would be sufficient to convince me of the preference of burial. But there is more.

"UNTO DUST THOU SHALT RETURN"

When sin entered into the world, death also entered (Rom. 5:12). A description of the post-death activity of the body is vividly described by God Himself. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, til thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Gen. 3:19).

It is not my objective to create a law in favor of burial. It is, however, difficult to consider any other procedure in view of this Divine pronouncement. I understand that finespun "scientific" arguments can be concocted to justify cremation, but such arguments cannot be justified by this text! I personally consider cremation to have been originated by Satan. He doubtless intended to turn the hearts of men away from the Divine pronouncement. Both the origin and destiny of man's body is denied by the act of cremation whether intentional or not.

CONSIDERING THE RESURRECTION

In areas permeated by the Gospel, the "hope of the resurrection" has become preeminent (Acts 23:6). Although his present tabernacle of clay is appropriately called a "vile body", we live in expectation of its change. It shall "be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:20).

In Paul's argument for the resurrection, he refers to the interment of our bodies as a sowing (I Cor. 15:36, 37, 42, 43, 44). It is "sown" or placed into the earth from whence it came, knowing that "the earth shall cast out her dead" (Isa. 26:19).

Even before the risen and enthroned Christ began mediating the New Covenant, Martha knew of the hope of the resurrection. In response to our Lord's statement that "Thy brother shall rise again,' she said, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at fine last day" (John 11:23-24). Without imposing any law on our readers, it ought to be obvious that burial is more in harmony with the concept of resurrection than is cremation.

In burial - particularly that of believers - we sow the body in hope of the resurrection. We submit to the Divine pronouncement, letting earth claim its own once again. But, bless God, we also look for the removal of the curse! "There shall be a resurrection!"

I find it difficult to harmonize these observations with the act of cremation. The fact that such a custom is more prevalent among the heathen ought to tell us something. I personally could not approve of the act because it appears to me to conflict with God, Christ, and the Gospel.

CONCLUSION

Early saints buried their dead. God Himself buried Moses. Jesus was buried. Paul argues for the resurrection in view of a burial. These considerations have convinced me of the preference of burial over cremation.

Notwithstanding these remarks, there is no law on the matter in the Kingdom, and we refuse to make one. We do, however, recommend to all believers the contemplation of what God has done and said in regards to this subject, fully persuaded that you will arrive at the same conclusion.