Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bible And Cremation

Biblegems #42
Does the Bible teach whether it is proper or improper, right or wrong, to use cremation instead of burial?

The Bible contains very few references to cremation, and gives no specific teaching on it whatsoever as a matter of right or wrong, or even proper or improper. That being so, why is cremation an issue for many Bible believing Christians? The reasons are more of a cultural and traditional nature than biblical.

Traditionally, Christians and Jews have buried their dead, while several eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have practiced cremation. Culturally, most Evangelical Christians have associated burial as consistent with biblical teaching, from the practice of the Old Testament patriarchs to the burial of Jesus. Perhaps the most poignant biblical reference in support of burial comes from Genesis 3:19:

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food
until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

However, the fact that the people of the Bible were typically buried rather than cremated does not represent a Bible doctrine. Not only so, but cremation actually reduces the physical body to the “dust” of Genesis 3:19 much faster than burial does. The Bible realistically reflects the ultimate decay of a person’s deceased body to a state of dehydrated chemical “dust.”

Christians who take the Bible seriously also take the doctrine of the resurrection seriously. Resurrection presupposes that the same body of the person who perished will be raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42).

Resurrection does not require a recognizable body—only the fundamental elements that once formed that body. It does not matter how long the person has been deceased, or how scattered those remains may have become over time. If a person died at sea and was subsequently eaten by sharks, the chemical remains of that body would be no more difficult for God to reorganize and resurrect than the remains of someone who had been buried three thousand years ago on a hill long-since eroded by the winds and rain.

The Christian martyr Polycarp, discipled by the apostle John and the Bishop of the church of Smyrna, was burned at the stake in 155 AD. When he refused the offer of release if he would only declare Caesar as Lord, Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Polycarp did not lose his place in the resurrection because his body was burned at the stake.

The truth is, neither burial nor cremation makes any difference to God. It is not how we dispose of the body that is most important, but how we use the body while we inhabit its earthly form. As God’s Word says: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing (1Cor. 13:3).

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