For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Does the Bible support cremation for the believer or teach burial? A careful examination of Scriptural evidence along with earnest prayer should lead us to an understanding of God’s will.
Cremation has been practiced for thousands of years and was a method that was used by the Greeks and other ancient empires. When the Romans eventually adopted Christianity as their state religion, cremation was replaced by Christian burial. Early church saints did not practice cremation because of its pagan influence. Cremation was even prohibited by the Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century. Some other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians carefully embalmed their precious dead in preparation for an afterlife. During the new millennium however, cremation has become more popular here in America. Cremation seems to be a sensible answer to the limited number of available gravesites and the rising cost of burial. Before we draw a conclusion on this important subject, let us consider what the Bible has to say.
I. The Patriarchs of the Bible were “careful.”
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
A. Dust to dust, not dust to ashes.
The Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. We are to return unto dust or to the dust. I believe this to mean that we are to be buried in the dust or dirt and not necessarily turned into dust.
And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years.  And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt:  But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place. And he said, I will do as thou hast said.  And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.
B. Burial grounds and deceased bodies were sacred.
Jacob made Joseph promise that he would bury him with his ancestors even though the Egyptians carefully preserved the corpses of their dead.
And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.  So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
C. Family grave sites were important.
Like Jacob, Joseph was careful to leave explicit instructions to carry his embalmed body back to the land of his Fathers.
Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.
D. Dead or alive, our bodies belong to the Lord.
Michael the archangel rebuked Satan in the name of the Lord over the deceased body of Moses.
II. The Cremated of the Bible were “cursed.”
And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.  And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.  And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.
A. Cremation was the judgement pronounced upon the transgressor.
Achan disobeyed God and took of the accursed thing. His punishment was death by stoning. His body was then burned as an example to deter others.
1 Kings 13:1-2
And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.  And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
B. Burning bones was considered a desecration.
Apostate priests and men who practiced false worship at a counterfeit altar would be burned by godly King Josiah as a curse.
2 Chron. 34:3-5
For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.  And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them.  And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.
2 Kings 23:15-20
Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down, and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder, and burned the grove.  And as Josiah turned himself, he spied the sepulchres that were there in the mount, and sent, and took the bones out of the sepulchres, and burned them upon the altar, and polluted it, according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words.  Then he said, What title is that that I see? And the men of the city told him, It is the sepulchre of the man of God, which came from Judah, and proclaimed these things that thou hast done against the altar of Bethel.  And he said, Let him alone; let no man move his bones. So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.  And all the houses also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the acts that he had done in Bethel.  And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.
C. The altar itself is stamped and burned in judgement.
Before the altar is destroyed, Josiah burns the bones of the false worshippers but left the graves of the true men of God alone!
Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:
D. God pronounced judgement on Moab for the burning of bones.
This is probably the clearest example in Scripture. God judges the Moabites for destroying the corpse of the king of Edom. Fire had consumed his body with such intense heat that his bones turned to lime.
And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die.  And a man’s uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that is by the sides of the house, Is there yet any with thee? and he shall say, No. Then shall he say, Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the Lord.
E. The Lord’s name is not mentioned in connection with cremation.
1 Samuel 31:8-13
And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa.  And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.  And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
 And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul;  All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.  And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
1 Chron. 10:8-12
And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen in mount Gilboa.  And when they had stripped him, they took his head, and his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to carry tidings unto their idols, and to the people.  And they put his armour in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.
 And when all Jabesh-gilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul,  They arose, all the valiant men, and took away the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
2 Samuel 21:12-14
And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, which had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:  And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.  And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land.
F. Desecrated bodies were partially burned and the bones buried.
The bodies of King Saul and his sons were decomposing and desecrated by the enemy. The men of Jabesh burned the flesh of Saul and his sons to cleanse them of the desecration and bacteria associated with decomposed bodies. The bones were rightfully buried. This is the only Biblical example of burning dead bodies. The bodies were not totally consumed however, and there were unusual circumstances surrounding this event.
III. The teaching and example of Christ.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,  There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.  But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?  For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.  When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.  For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.  For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.  Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
A. The example of Christ in burial.
Precious anointing oil was used as a foreshadowing of the burial of our Saviour.
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.  And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.  And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.  And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
B. The example of Christ’s disciples.
Lazarus, the friend of Jesus was buried. Jesus resurrected his embalmed body from the grave.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
C. The example of baptism.
Baptism is a picture of the Gospel; death, burial and resurrection.
1 Cor. 15:1-6
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:  And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:  After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
D. The example of the Gospel.
Our Lord was buried, “according to the Scriptures.”
1 Cor. 15:20-23
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
E. The example of the resurrection.
Our bodies belong to the Lord and he has promised to raise them up at his return.
1 Cor. 15:51-55
Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall 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 shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
1 Thes. 4:13-18
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
F. The Bible clearly states that the dead bodies of the Christians are in a state of Sleep. The Bible teaches that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Our soul and spirit go directly to heaven when we die and our bodies are buried in the grave. They are in a state called “sleep” until the resurrection.
Christians have always respected the sacred graves and graveyards of the departed dead. The current trend toward cremation is due in some measure to convenience and economics. We must remember that we cannot override Scripture with logic or sensibility. Some would argue that the body degenerates in burial as well. This is true to a much lesser degree as the purpose in burial is to preserve the body as much as possible in light of the promised redemption by Christ. The word cremation means to burn. Bodies are subjected to heat of @ 2000 degrees for hours until disintegrated. Others proclaim that God is able to raise up even those whose bodies were vaporized in a nuclear explosion. The question at hand is not whether God is able, but what is God’s will?
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.