Cremation - What Does God Think?

David Cloud and Richard Anthony

In a book recently published on the subject of Christian funerals, a writer gives the following advice regarding cremation: "Personally the minister may or may not approve of such proceedings. Privately, he is free to hold any opinion that he will. But officially he should keep an open mind. In the Christian religion there is nothing that frowns upon cremation or requires burial."

This is wrong and evil counsel. We feel it also a very strange statement, being made as it is by a pastor who professedly studies and believes the Bible. The sad fact is that the practice of cremation is quickly on the rise in the so-called "Christian" nations of the West. Until recently burial prevailed almost universally as the common method for disposal of the dead in Western nations, and cremation was looked upon as something practiced only by atheists or those totally ignorant of the Bible. The turn back to cremation can be seen in direct connection with the rapidly increasing apostasy from the Word of God in those nations where Christianity is the dominant faith.

In my home state, Florida, in America, a popular retirement area for the elderly due to its tropical climate, ads are taken out in local newspapers inviting people to join "clubs" for quite inexpensive fees, the membership of which allows one the "benefit" of discounts on cremation expenses.

All of this is against the Bible though. Cremation is a heathen custom, meaning a practice of people who do not have the Bible, or else have rejected its authority. And it is frightening to see Americans who in recent years commonly considered cremation wrong, now accept the abominable practice even with the blessing of their church leaders.

By now many are surely thinking, "How can this man be so certain cremation is wrong? Is it really important whether or not a dead body is burned or buried?" If the Bible did not speak clearly on this issue and give such clear example, it would indeed not matter. But when God has spoken, when He has shown the way, we dare not ignore His counsel for the popular thinking of modern man or modern preachers!

As proof of our contention that cremation is unchristian and unbiblical, we offer the following eight reasons. The basic outline for the following is from James Fraser's excellent book, Cremation – Is It Christian?, published by Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, New Jersey. But let me also say that we had come to see that cremation is wrong, yea evil, long before we read Bro. Fraser's book. Our experiences as missionaries in Nepal and India and a study of God's Word had taught us this.

Cremation Has A Heathen Origin & Purpose, Whereas God's People Have Always Practiced Burial

At the outset let me answer an objection sometimes made at this point. The objection is, "Yes, God's people in the Bible practiced burial. The example is clearly there. But are we bound to follow these examples, as they are not direct commands?" The answer is given in no uncertain terms in Rom. 15:4, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning..." And again in I Cor. 10:11 we read, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." God is saying in these passages, Yes, you are to follow the Bible's examples as well as its direct instructions."

A Heathen Origin

Cremation as practiced today in the more technically advanced nations no longer has the physical ghastliness associated with cremations performed in the poorer parts of the world. The modern method incorporates the use of an exceedingly hot incinerator which reduces the body to ashes in a matter of minutes completely out of the view of loved ones and the public.

Not so in India, Nepal, and other parts of South Asia, the area of our missionary ministry. I am convinced that if Christians in America and Europe could stand with me beside the "holy" River Bagmati in Kathmandu, Nepal, and observe the burning of the body of a Hindu following the performance of the Hindu death rituals, they would cast aside in repulsion every thought of cremation being an acceptable Christian practice. Just five days ago I stood three or so feet from a burning corpse with a missionary pastor from Singapore and his wife who were visiting us. The head was already burnt beyond recognition and the skull split open due to internal expansion from the heat of the fire. The lower legs and feet were unscorched, as they were protruding from the pile of burning wood and stubble upon which the man's body lay. The professional Hindu burners were poking the body from time to time to keep the members in the fire and adding stubble and wood as needed. The bones were contracting and popping; the bodily organs were frying and the juices sizzling in the intense heat. My wife, a nurse with experience in a leprosy hospital and also in an intensive care ward, stood with another friend observing the ghastly sight from a distance, unwilling to come closer. The air for a hundred yards or more was filled with the unmistakable stench of burning flesh. When the fire had burnt most of the body, the ashes and remaining members were shoved into the river. This is cremation as has been practiced by heathen religions for untold centuries, but without the sanitized, "instant fry" method adopted in technically advanced nations and sanctified by apostate Christians as an "acceptable Christian practice."

Would you treat your loved ones so? Is this an acceptable Christian practice indeed? No sir, cremation is a heathen practice. It is of heathen origin and serves heathen purposes. There is nothing Christian about cremation. We were standing that day, as I have at other times, observing cremation in the surroundings from which the practice arose – idolatrous, Christless heathenism.

God's People Have Always Practiced Burial

Following are just a few examples. I challenge you to read the Bible from cover to cover and find one occasion in which one of God's people was cremated or given anything other than a decent and proper burial (except in a few cases involving God's anger, as we shall shortly see).

Abraham was buried – "Then Abraham gave up the ghost, 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 Ismael buried him in the cave of Machpelah..." (Gen. 25:8-10).

Sarah was buried – "And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old...And Sarah died in Kirjatharba...And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her. And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight" (Gen. 23:1-4).

Rachel was buried – "And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath...And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day" (Gen. 35:19-20).

Isaac was buried – "And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him" (Gen. 35:29).

Jacob was buried – "And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people...And when the days of his mourning were past...his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah..." (Gen. 49:33; 50:4-13).

Joseph was buried – "So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt" (Gen. 50:26).

Joshua was buried – "And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him..." (Josh. 24:29-30).

Eleazar was buried – "And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill that pertained to Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim." (Josh. 24:33).

Samuel was buried – "And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah." (I Sam. 25:1).

David was buried – "So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David." (I Kings 2:10).

John the Baptist was buried – "And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison...and his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus." (Matt. 14:10-12).

Ananias and Sapphira were buried – "And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him...then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband." (Acts 5:5-10).

Stephen was buried – "And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him." (Acts 8:2).

Even When Burial Was Difficult

Even in difficult circumstances God's people in olden days practiced burial. For example, Joseph's body was kept for over 400 years in Egypt and then carried through the 40 years of wilderness wanderings before being buried in Palestine, the promised land.

"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." (Gen. 50:24-25).

"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." (Ex. 13:19).

"And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver..." (Josh. 24:32).

How much simpler it would have been for the Israelites to have cremated Joseph, then carried his ashes with them in a tiny container! But this they refused to do. Joseph, a follower of the one true God, a man who looked forward to the bodily resurrection, was given an honorable burial, as was every man of God in the Bible. <

God Practices Burial

"So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day" (Deut. 34:5-6).

Cremation Is A Sign Of God's Curse

Throughout the Bible the destruction of a human body or of an object by fire is used as a sign of divine wrath. Consider with me some examples:

The example of Sodom and Gomorrah – "Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven" (Gen. 19:24). "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly" (II Pet. 2:6).

The example of Nadab and Abihu – "And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1-2).

The example of the men who rebelled with Korah – "And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense" (Num. 16:35).

The example of idols – "And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it" (Ex. 32:20). "The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God" (Deut. 7:25). "And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them" (II Kings 10:26). "And when they had left their gods there, David gave a commandment, and they were burned with fire" (I Cron. 14:12).

The example of magic books – "And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver" (Acts 19:18-19).

The example of the unsaved cast into the lake of fire for eternal punishment – "And whatsoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15).

For A Person Not To Have A Proper Burial Was Considered Dishonor

Example of Jezebel – "And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat" (I Kings 21:23-24).

Example of the Midianites – "Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth" (Ps. 83:9-10).

The Christian's Body Belongs To God: It Is Not Ours To Destroy By Fire or Any Other Means

"What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Cor. 6:19-20). "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:8).

God Has Plainly Called Cremation Wickedness

"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" (Amos 2:1).

The Lord Jesus Was Buried, And He Is Our Great Example In All Things

"And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand" (John 19:38-42).

In light of the above Bible teaching, the statement, "In the Christian religion there is nothing that frowns upon cremation or requires burial," proves to be untrue. Of course we cannot force people either to bury or not to bury. But the pastor or missionary must patiently share these truths with his people and with those who seek his assistance in the burial of loved ones. In these days of widespread apostasy and doctrinal confusion among professing Christian leaders, a clear voice in this matter is urgently needed.

Bury does not mean Under Ground

When scripture says a man was "buried," it does not mean, as it does today, that his body was placed underground in a casket. When a man was buried in scripture, he was always buried above ground. God's people were either buried in a cave, in a house, or in a sepulchre. A comparable thing today is to be buried in a Musolium, crypt, or pyre.

Your Questions Answered

  1. "But how do you explain the passages in scripture which seem to suggest that dead bodies were cremated and only bones were left? Such as:

    1 Samuel 31:12, "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 Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there."

    Amos 6:10, "And a man's uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house..."

    Answer: When scripture speaks of burning someone, it means burning odours and divers kinds of spices for them. For example:

    Jeremiah 34:5, "But thou shalt die in peace: and with the burnings of thy fathers, the former kings which were before thee, so shall they burn odours for thee; and they will lament thee, saying, Ah lord! for I have pronounced the word, saith the LORD."

    Notice the above passage mentions the "burnings of thy fathers," (referring to the former kings, such as Saul) which is similar to when Amos 6:10 says "he that burneth him," or when 1 Samuel 31:12 says "burnt them." However, the above passage clarifies what this means by saying that they will "burn odours" for them when they die.

    Here are two other passages which clarify what this burning is:

    2 Chronicles 16:14, "And they buried him in his own sepulchres, which he had made for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries' art: and they made a very great burning for him."

    Notice in the above passage, they "buried" this man, and they made a "burning for him". This is what it means when they "burn" someone who died. It was considered an honour fit for a king. But sometimes, when a king was evil, the people would make no burning for that evil king:

    2 Chronicles 21:19, "And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers."

    As for the "bones" that were taken after this burning (Amos 6:10), it does not mean that all the flesh was burned off and only the bones remained. This word "bones" was a common expression to denote a dead body (with the flesh still on it).

    Genesis 50:25-26, "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."

    Notice the "bones" are in reference to a dead body. And this body was "emblamed." One cannot embalm just bones alone, in order to embalm someone, they must have flesh. In addition, even if Amos 6:10 does describe a body being burned (which it does not), and there were only literal bones left after this burning, this directly contradicts the concept of cremation today! Because today, cremation turns all parts of the body into ashes, including the bones and coffin. Whereas in scripture, the bones were never consumed, but were buried in a coffin.

    Therefore, when scripture speaks of "burning" the dead, it is speaking about burning "sweet odours and divers kinds of spices" for them" (2 Chronicles 16:14). And this explains why Mary was bringing sweet spices to the body of Jesus at his tomb:

    Mark 16:1, "And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him."
    Mary was going to burn sweet spices to annoint the dead body of Jesus.

  2. "What about embalming and autopsies?

    Answer: For centuries mummification was a wonderful and great privilege enjoyed by the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. From about 2500 B.C. many more humans were able to hope for immortality by having themselves embalmed. Mummification remained an expensive business, well beyond most Egyptians.

    Embalming was an operation and a pagan religious rite. It was presided by a priest that wore a jackal mask, representing Anubis, which was the god of embalming, and every superior step in the proceedings was assisted by chanting of prayers and spells.

    An excellent embalming took 70 days. The first 40 days were dedicated to removing every single drop of moisture from the body to leave no breeding ground for the bacteria to cause decay. First the brain was removed, Then the internal organs were removed. Then the body was covered in natron, a kind of natural salt made of baking soda and salt that was put on the embalming table to dry out. After the forty days the body was blackened and shrivelled, but potentially immortal.

    There is nothing in scripture about the people of God having their insides removed and their blood removed. God already tells us what to do to receive eternal life.

arrow Return to Death

Translation arrow

  Home     Greetings     Who We Are     Helpful Info     Rest Room     Search     Contact Us