Cremation (the burning of a dead body) is not a Christian practice, because of the following scriptural facts:
1. God commanded that the dead be buried.
Deut. 21:23, "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance."
This command was given regarding the body of a criminal, one who was hanged for "a sin worthy of death," according to the previous verse. If ever there were a good reason to burn a body, it surely would have been in this circumstance. Yet, God commanded that even a criminal should be given the decency of having his body buried. The burning of a body always had a negative connotation in Scripture, as we shall see.
2. God buried Moses.
Deut. 34:5-6, "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 Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day."
Apparently, God buried Moses apart from the aid of any man, to prevent
his grave from
becoming some kind of shrine. There is an implication of that in Jude 9, which tells us about the argument between Michael the archangel and Satan, over the body of Moses. Many commentators have suggested that Satan wanted the body to make it a shrine, or place of idolatry. If we remember that the nation of Israel was prone to idolatry and had just recently come from an environment of idolatry, in Egypt, the possibility of their worshipping the grave of Moses is real. 2 Kings 18:4 tells us that they made an idol of the brazen serpent which Moses made, so we can easily see the possibility of their doing the same to the grave of Moses.
To prevent such a thing from happening, God certainly could have burned Moses' body and scattered the ashes; that would surely have guaranteed that no one would ever worship at the grave! Rather than doing so, the Lord buried him, and since God would not do something which was useless or unnecessary, we must take note of the fact that He evidently wants people to be buried when they die.
3. God commanded Israel not to burn their children.
Lev. 18:21, "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD." Deut. 18:10, "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire..." Someone may argue that the reason for this prohibition was that it was associated with idolatry (a fact which will be discussed later). If so, that is all the more reason for obeying it! But whether it was or not, the command is clear. He said, "any of thy seed...any one." No exceptions!
4. God punished Moab because they cremated the king of Edom.
Amos 2:1, "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."
We note that the punishment was for burning the bones of the king, obviously the dead body of the king. No mention is made of their motive, and since the historical books of Scripture do not tell of this incident, it would be useless for us to speculate as to their motive. Whatever it might have been, it was for the act of burning those bones that God punished Moab, and we must not overlook the fact that He called this a transgression.
5. Cremation is associated with idolatry.
2 Chron. 28:3, "Moreover he...burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel."
The same truth is taught in 2 Kings 16:3; 17:17, 21; 21:6; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; Ezek. 16:20-21; 20:31; 23:37. With so many references, it cannot be denied that cremation was a heathen practice. This alone would be good enough reason for the Christian to renounce it. Both Old and New Testaments exhort God's people to be separate from the world of unbelievers. 2 Cor. 6:14-18 is the classic passage in the New Testament. The italicized words particularly emphasize this obligation:
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall by my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." Since cremation was a practice of idolaters, Christians should avoid it.
6. God's people burned the dead to show contempt.
Joshua 7:25, "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." Because Achan's sins of greed and disobedience of God, Israel had been defeated by their enemies and many had been killed. When God showed whose guilt had caused this, Israel responded by obeying the Lord's specific command in verse 15 of that chapter, "And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel." Obviously, the burning of the bodies was a sign of God's judgment and Israel's contempt.
Other passages which teach the same thing are 2 Sam. 23:7 and 2 Kings 23:16,20.
7. The fact that burial follows death is important spiritually.
Rom. 6:4, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death..." Col. 2:12, "Buried with him in baptism..."
When a person is born again, he becomes "dead to sin," (Rom. 6:2) and "dead with Christ" (Col. 2:20). Immediately after conversion, the new Christian is baptized. It is significant that the Lord called that a burial; evidently, in God's mind, burial follows death. That seemed to be such an obvious thing that Scripture uses the comparison without explanation. If such a thing is important spiritually, should we not also follow the same pattern physically? After dying with Christ, we are buried with Him in baptism. So, after this body dies, it should be buried.
8. Burial is a part of the gospel.
1 Cor. 15:1-4, "...I declare unto you the gospel...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." We might wonder why the phrase, "and that he was buried," is included as a part of the gospel. Various explanations have been given, but it really does not matter what one thinks about why it is there; the fact is it is there. And since "all scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim.3:16), we must realize that it is also "profitable for instruction..."
Of course, God could have raised Christ from the dead if His body had been cremated. That would have presented no problem to the Almighty! It is significant therefore, that not only does the Scripture tell us that He was buried and includes many details of that burial, but also the same inspired Bible makes His burial a part of the gospel by which we are saved. We cannot overlook or minimize this. Burial is obviously important to God; so, it should be to us, if we want to imitate Him.
Without question, if a Christian's body has been cremated, there will be no difficulty in Christ's transformation of those ashes into a glorified body, made like His. The same would be true of those who were killed by explosions or were consumed by animals. When once we recognize the power of God to raise the dead, the condition of that body at death or any time thereafter does not affect the situation in the least. The Lord will raise the bodies of all of His children, no matter what their manner of death, and fashion them "like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby HE IS ABLE even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil. 3:21). Hallelujah!
The issue is not the resurrection; it is simply whether a believer should practice the same things that heathen and idolaters do. If we obey the Scripture, we will try to separate ourselves as much as possible from their actions. That would certainly include cremation. It is this author's firm conviction, therefore, that cremation should not be practiced by Christians.
Previously published by David Cloud in "O Timothy," vol. 6, issue 1, 1989. Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061.