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.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. -1 Corinthians 15:3-8
The crux of the Christian faith hangs on this one issue. Previously, I stated that one of the evidences for Jesus being who He said He is was the fact of the resurrection. Here, I will discuss why we can believe in the resurrection without reservation. I will discuss some of the arguments used against the resurrection and give rebuttals to those arguments.
1. Swoon Theory– This argument against the resurrection states that Jesus did not die on the cross, but was just weak and passed out (or swooned). When His tomb was found empty and He was seen alive after His death, it wasn’t because of a postmortem resurrection. It was because He didn’t die in the first place.
Rebuttal: While it is probable that a person can seem to die and not be dead, it is unlikely that this is what happened to Jesus for the following reasons:
Jesus received the horrible 39 lashes before His crucifixion. This was not just done with a regular whip but with a Roman flagrum. The flagrum had one handle with multiple lashes on the end. It is often called the “cat of nine tails.” However, the difference in the “cat” and the flagrum is the flagrum had barbs, bones, and/or shards of glass on the end of each whip. The cat is less brutal with smooth or knotted lashes. Each blow of the flagrum would have torn at Jesus’ flesh and muscle fibers. Jesus received 39 such blows from the Roman flagrum, and this was before the crucifixion.
Such scourging would have caused profuse bleeding from Jesus’ body. When the Roman soldiers placed the robe on Jesus, it would have created a temporary bandage for the wounds on His back. However, the robe was then ripped off, peeling the scabs that were beginning to form along with more flesh from His body. And this was before the crucifixion.
Next, Jesus was made to carry His cross (most likely just the crossbeam) to Golgotha. The distance from the place of the scourging to Golgotha (the hill of the crucifixion scene) is believed to be about 650 yards, or 6.5 football fields in length. The cross beam would have been approximately 100 lbs of solid wood. Imagine Jesus being made to carry that weight for that length after the beating He’d just received. Imagine the amount of blood He’s lost and is still losing at this point…before the crucifixion.
The crucifixion. Not much needs to be said on just how horrible the crucifixion was on the body. For sake of brevity you can read this PDF from The Journal of the American Medical Association on the details of the crucifixion.
The PDF also includes the spear through Jesus’ side that, by evidence of description, went into His heart. Needless to say the Romans were expert killers and would not have easily mistaken an alive man as being dead as it would have likely meant their life for Jesus’ if they were wrong.
Jesus body was wrapped in burial clothes. When scripture tells us that Jesus called out Lazarus from the dead, He didn’t tell Lazarus to undress himself from his grave wrappings. He knew that others had to undress him. Yet people who hold to the swoon theory would have to believe that will all the trauma inflicted on Jesus’ body, and being in a tomb with no water or food for 3 days to regain His strength, He was able to unwrap Himself. This might be possible for God incarnate, but no mere human.
Jesus would have also have to have rolled the large sealed stone away by himself and sneaked past the Roman guards in His condition.
2. The Stolen Body (or Conspiracy) Theory- This argument states that the disciples stole Jesus to further their cause and give credibility to their Messiah.
Rebuttal: In Matthew 28:11-13, the guards were bribed into saying that the disciples stole the body during the night. But why would they have to be bribed to say that? Why couldn’t they just say it if it were true? Because they knew it wasn’t true. To say that the body was stolen on their watch would have also meant that 1) they were overpowered or 2) they were asleep. If they were overpowered they could have said so, but this presents a problem that I’ll bring up later. If the soldiers fell asleep, they wouldn’t have been paid with a bribe; they would have paid with their lives. This was the case in Acts 12 when the Angel helped Peter escape from jail.
Also, the disciples began to die preaching a resurrected Christ. With Stephen being the first martyr in the Book of Acts, it only makes sense that they would have produced the body to avoid their own deaths. Some people have even argued that, as afraid as they were (Peter, the boldest disciple, denied Jesus 3 times from fear and the other disciples hid in fear), then someone might have produced some other body and claimed it was Jesus to make the persecution stop. But they couldn’t. Jesus had risen, and they knew it.
3. The Hallucination Theory- This theory says that because the disciples were so eager to believe in a risen Savior, they were hallucinating when they saw Jesus.
Rebuttal: One problem with this theory is that the disciples weren’t expecting a risen Jesus. They didn’t understand what He meant when He foretold of His resurrection. Thomas even doubted that He had risen when he was told. Yet, so many people witnessed the risen Jesus on several different occasions, it’s highly unlikely that hallucinations are to blame.
Another problem with this theory is that Jesus was actually touched post resurrection (Matthew 28:9).
Also, followers like Thomas who doubted Jesus had risen, and nonbelievers like James and Paul, who ended up being converted after a post-resurrection encounter, all stand as proof of Jesus rising from the dead. Oh yeah, there’s 500 others who saw the resurrected Jesus, also. That’s why it makes no sense to argue that the soldiers guarding the tomb were overpowered by people who sought to steal the body.
It must also be noted that the first response to news of the empty tomb was not a joyful “He rose like He said He would!” Rather, Jesus’ own disciples became suspicious. They said that the women who first witnessed the empty tomb and spoke with the angel, we’re speaking nonsense (Luke 24:11). And lastly, they thought someone moved Jesus’ body (John 20:2,15).
Finally, hallucinations last for short moments, seconds to minutes at a time. If the resurrected Jesus was just a hallucination, it lasted for 40 days!
4. The Argument from Low Probability- One of the most common arguments I’ve heard is that history isn’t based on events of low probability. “People can’t rise from the dead, therefore Jesus couldn’t rise from the dead.” Lawrence Shapiro professor in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, states “…we’d say that the ‘base rate’ for rising from the dead appears to be small indeed: one in several billion, at best, I should think.”
Rebuttal: What people really mean is that they don’t believe in miracles, or, “Based on my naturalistic worldview, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead.” However, this same worldview makes the highly improbable claim that life evolved from non-life and that these elements came from nothing. Regarding the probability of life evolving from non-life, “The probability of [a self replicating peptide] forming randomly, in sequential trials, is approximately 1 in 1040” In his interview with Lee Strobel, Dr. Stephen Meyer claims that “The probabilities of forming a rather short functional protein at random would be one chance in a hundred thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. That’s a 10 with 125 zeros after it!”
As we can see the odds for the resurrection are exponentially better than what we are being taught concerning the origins of life from a naturalistic worldview. They say the resurrection is unbelievable because it’s a miracle yet they push the idea that life came from non-life which would be a far greater miracle!
After Lee Strobel examined the evidence for the Resurrection he turned from his atheism. “In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist. He never promised any such thing. Indeed, following him would inevitably bring divine demotions in the eyes of the world. Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take.”
The evidences are overwhelming for the Resurrection. It is arguably the single most significant event in all of human history. No other prophet, priest, or king that died is alive again. Only the God-man Jesus Christ had the power to conquer death and the grave. Because of this fact we can have hope that death is not the end. That our bodies in all their frailties will be glorified and we will no longer be bound by sickness and decay. Believe on the One who made this possible. The Bible calls Jesus the firstborn from the dead, meaning all who believe in Him will follow this example.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” -Jesus