For many years, the traditional funeral service and burial of a loved one involved several important items, including:
- embalming of the body,
- a casket and vault,
- facilities for a visitation or viewing,
- a burial plot or crypt,
- a headstone and grave liner, if needed.
But as far back as the turn of the 20th century, the other option for disposal of human remains, known as cremation, became known as a legitimate and less-costly option. Embalming and other burial items are not needed for cremains and the simplicity of the cremation attracted interest.
Today, cremation is fast becoming the preferred practice for sending off a loved one after death.
But, the legitimacy of this method confuses many people of faith, who often look to the Bible to find what Scripture says about cremation.
What does the bible say about cremation? Let’s look at a few key things to understand.
What Does the Bible Say About Cremation?
There is next-to-nothing mentioned about cremation in the Bible.
Both Old and New Testament passages refer to burial as the standard practice for the Israelites and the early Christians. Rather than seen as a standard for most people of biblical times, cremation was often a form of punishment.
In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we find the words “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” which many people interpret as a biblical license to burn a dead body as an alternative to burial. But many scholars believe that this passage is only saying that our bodies will eventually become dust after we die, regardless of our burial method.
The first actual mention of cremation in the Bible is 1 Samuel 31: 11-13 where Saul and his sons are burned and then their bones buried after terrible ravages were inflicted on their bodies. But this was probably done for sanitary reasons rather than religious ones.
There are no cremation bible verses in the New Testament either, although certain verses describe how the resurrection will change our mortal bodies at the end of time and reunite them with our spirit.
Since the Bible does not ban nor promote cremation, most Christian denominations do not consider cremation to be sinful. The Catholic church, however, held an opposing view for many years.
So, what does the Bible say about cremation? Not much.
Cremation and the Catholic Church
What does the Catholic Church say about cremation?
For much of its history, the Catholic Church banned cremation for Catholics. Catholics were to believe that man, created in the likeness of God, could not experience resurrection at the end of time unless their bodies were “intact.” Cremation was also banned to counter Roman pagan beliefs, which involved burning deceased bodies.
In today’s Catholic practice, the body is a “holy temple,” and a person’s soul can not rise at the end of time if the body becomes cremains.
But, along with other major changes in the Catholic Church, cremation was approved for use in 1963, and in 1997, allowed for cremated remains to be a part of the funeral mass, if these remains are treated with the same reverence as a body.
The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.TITLE III. ECCLESIASTICAL FUNERALS (Cann. 1176.3)
Code of Canon Law – Book IV – Function of the Church – Liber – IV. De Ecclesiae munere sanctificandi (Cann. 1166-1190)
The acceptance of cremation within the Catholic Church has given Catholics the option of a more affordable, yet still dignified and holy, alternative to burial.
Cremation Options to Help the Living
Although not a biblical issue, many faiths prefer a traditional burial in order to comfort those left behind by the deceased. The opportunity to say a physical farewell to a loved one in a casket is important to many families and provides a certain sense of closure.
The dignity of the human body is also important for many people of faith, and the idea of burning someone immediately after death can be frightening to some.
Cremation providers are addressing these needs with options that allow for funeral services before or after cremation. If a viewing or visitation is the preferred choice, one can rent a casket for that purpose, and the body cremated afterward.
A newer trend in cremation services is “green” or eco-friendly cremations, which take a cleaner approach to the production of ashes.
Even more recent are “water cremations” which involve no flame at all. Instead, an alkali water solution is used as a natural decomposing agent for the body. For those concerned with the environmental impact of traditional burials, green cremation is an ideal plan.
Benefits of Cremation Today
Cremation has been a burial alternative throughout history and is more of a philosophical and cultural issue, rather than a biblical one. While a few religions, such as Islam and Orthodox Judaism reject cremation, others have loosened their restrictions, and regard cremation as a spiritually sound process.
Today’s cremation services take into account the desires of both the deceased and the living and offer enough flexibility to provide for appropriate closure, grieving, and prayer.
Cremation costs less and uses fewer materials than a burial. It’s an ecologically sound method of dealing with remains that respect the importance of the human body, as well as the care of the earth.
Because we live in a transient society, more people are dying away from home, and the cost to transport a body can be prohibitive. For this reason, many families choose to have a direct cremation conducted at the place of death and then arrange to ship or carry the cremains back home–an even more affordable option.
More on the Bible and Cremation Options
You can read more about the Bible and cremation history here in this article.
What Does the Bible Say about Cremation?
Funerals are meant for the living as a chance to celebrate the life of their loved ones who have passed. It is a chance to remember, respect, and reminisce their lives. It is also a reminder that we are ultimately in God’s hands.
The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About Cremation
For the first time in history, a majority of Americans have chosen cremation rather than burial.
Can You Still Go to Heaven If You’re Cremated?
“Does the Bible forbid cremation? This has been a controversial topic in our family recently, because an aunt of mine died not long ago and directed that her body be cremated. One of our cousins, however, claims the Bible says you can’t go to heaven if you’re cremated. Is he right?”
Cremation: A Biblical Perspective – Focus on the Family”
Does the Bible have anything to say about cremation? My spouse and I have been discussing our final will and testament, including our personal preferences regarding funeral arrangements. I feel strongly that cremation is the best way to go, but my husband says that it’s a “pagan” practice. He claims that the Bible condemns it. In particular, he says it’s sacrilegious to destroy the body by fire since as Christians we look forward to the hope of resurrection at the end of the age. What’s your perspective?
If the question, “What does the Bible say about cremation?” has been answered for you, it is wise to begin making an end-of-life plan for yourself or a loved one now.
Advance planning helps clear minds to consider all the possibilities, especially when considering whatever faith is practiced by those involved.
If the benefits of working with a professional cremation service to plan your end-of-life services appeal to you, contact us to find out the latest options available in respectful and eco-friendly cremation options.