As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. – Psalm 17:15
While listening to Philip de Courcy on his radio program yesterday, I listened to him talk about the resurrection of man. He briefly mentioned cremation and it reminded me of something that I’ve thought of many times throughout my life. Can a Christian get cremated? And by “can” I mean does Christian doctrine teach against it? And since I don’t want to commit the argumentum ex silentio fallacy, I don’t seek to argue that if scripture is silent on it then it is permissible.
So let’s start by asking if scripture does in fact explicitly permit or condemn cremation. The answer to that is no. Nowhere in the Bible is cremation prohibited or permitted. The only instance where cremation seems to be mentioned is in 1 Samuel 31: All the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.(verses 12-13) However, in modern forms of cremation the body is burned and the bones are ground into powder. This powder is what we call the “ashes”. So King Saul and his sons weren’t really cremated, per se.
Growing up, I always thought cremation was a bit of a taboo or just flat out wrong in Christianity. I’m not sure if it actually was taboo or if it was just my own perception. Especially as a child, the idea seemed a bit “hellish”. But, with the many articles on Christianity and cremation circling around the internet, I don’t suppose I was the only one thinking this.
One reason I thought it was wrong is because of the resurrection of the saints during the end times. I thought that good Christians should be buried as long as it is feasible to do so. But as I grew and learned in knowledge a few things came to mind.
1. If God can create man from dust then He can resurrect man from dust. He did say in Genesis that we would return to dust.
2. Many Christians haven’t had the opportunity to be buried. Some have been persecuted and torn apart by lions. Some have been lost at sea decaying in water and the marine life eating their remains. Some have been burned at the stake for their beliefs. John Huss, a Czech theologian, was burned at the stake and his ashes scattered in the Rhine river to prevent his followers from burying him. John Wycliffe (whose early English translation of the New Testament paved way for William Tyndale’s first full English Bible) had his remains exhumed from his grave, his bones burned to ashes and thrown into the river all because his writings were considered heretical. What about these people at the resurrection? The particles that made up their bodies are now so far separated that it would seem impossible that they could get pulled back together. But we must remember what Jesus said in Matthew 19:26,”…with God nothing is impossible.”
3. There’s also the fact that the Bible doesn’t just say that the saved will be resurrected. Acts 24:15, “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” And even that the seas themselves will give up their dead (Revelation 20:13).
Therefore, my reasoning was false as to why I thought Christians shouldn’t be cremated. A God that spoke the world into existence can easily form new resurrected bodies. No matter what state the remains of the believer (and nonbeliever) are in, God will assemble.
Does this mean that cremation is a viable option for believers? Well, where scripture is silent, we let the Holy Spirit guide our conscience. Sometimes it would be a better financial choice since the average cremation can be around 90% cheaper than the average funeral. It’s something that should be discussed with loved ones and prayed about earnestly.