What does the Bible say about cremation? There are many topics about the Christian faith that Christians are unsure of, and one of them is the issue of cremation. While some claim that the burning of a dead body is disrespectful to the human body that was created in the image and likeness of God, others argue that there is no specific verse in the Bible prohibiting cremation. Is cremation bad for the soul? Read on to get an answer.
Cremation can be defined as a method of the final disposition of a dead body through burning. Lauded for its cheapness as compared to burials, the process is one that has elicited numerous debates in Christian circles. Here is what we know about cremation in the Bible.
Is cremation Biblical?
There is no specific Bible verse that either supports or prohibits cremation. This is why many are continually asking, ‘Is cremation a sin?’
However, the Bible does mention instances of cremation, as seen below.
First person cremated in the Bible - King Saul
The Bible’s first mention of this method of the final disposition of a dead body comes in the book of 1st Samuel chapter 31. In this passage, which is titled ‘Saul takes his life’, Christians read about King Saul and his death while at battle with the Philistines.
The passage talks about the Israelites and the Philistines who were in battle. As it turned out, the Israelites were subdued, and many of them died at Mount Gilboa. The Philistines were in hot pursuit of King Saul and his sons - Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.
The Philistine archers critically wounded King Saul, and upon noticing this, Saul asked his armor-bearer to kill him before the Philistines could do so and subsequently, disgrace him.
His armor-bearer could not gather the guts to do this, and Saul had to take matters into his own hands - he fell on his sword and died.
Upon seeing this, the armor-bearer did the same, taking his life as well. On that day, Saul, his armor-bearer, his sons, and all his men died.
The next day, the Philistines went to strip the dead and found Saul and his sons dead at Mount Gilboa. They proceeded to cut off Saul’s head, and they then stripped him off his armor.
The people of Jabesh Gilead, upon hearing what the Philistines had done to King Saul, sent all their valiant men to retrieve their bodies. The men then burned the bodies at Jabesh.
Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days. (I Samuel 31: 1-13)
In 2 Samuel 4-6, this incident is talked about yet again. The scripture tells about David when he was being anointed as the king over the tribe of Judah:
When David was informed that it was the men from Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The Lord bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favour because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the people of Judah have anointed me king over them.”
Achan and his family
Another section of the scripture that has been used in ‘cremation and the Bible’ debates comes from the book of Joshua chapter 7, a passage titled ‘Achan’s Sin’. Achan (who was the son of Kamri) and his family were stoned to death and cremated. This was because Achan had sinned by taking the spoil of the battle of Jericho.
Many argue that this is a Biblical reference against cremation, but there is no proof of this.
What do Catholics have to say about cremation?
According to The Code of Canon Law, 1985, the Roman Catholic church does not prohibit cremation unless it is for reasons that go against Christian teaching.
However, the Code strongly recommends burial as was done for Jesus Christ.
The Code further insists that the cremated remains be treated with the same respect as corporal remains. This means that the final disposition of the cremated remains should include interment or entombment in a columbarium or a burial plot in a cemetery or mausoleum.
As such, scattering the ashes in the air, floating them on the sea, or keeping the ashes at home is taken to be disrespectful and should not be done by Catholics.
The Code further states that it would be preferred if funeral rites are performed in the presence of the body of the deceased before it is cremated.
Cremation Bible verses
- Amos 6: 8-10
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.” If ten people are left in one house, they too will die. 10 And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them[a] asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?” and he says, “No,” then he will go on to say, “Hush! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 34:5
you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your predecessors, the kings who ruled before you, so they will make a fire in your honor and lament, "Alas, master!" I myself make this promise, declares the LORD.'"
- 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.”
- 2 Kings 23:15-20
Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin—even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things. The king asked, “What is that tombstone I see?” The people of the city said, “It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it.” “Leave it alone,” he said. “Don’t let anyone disturb his bones.” So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria.Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger. Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem.
- Leviticus 20:14
"'If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
- Leviticus 21:9
"'If a priest's daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire."
- 2 Chronicles 16:14
They buried him in the tomb that he had cut out for himself in the City of David. They laid him on a bier covered with spices and various blended perfumes, and they made a huge fire in his honor.
- Amos 2:1
This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Moab, even for four, I will not relent. Because he burned to ashes the bones of Edom's king
In conclusion, to answer the question, ‘What does the Bible say about cremation?’, it is clear to see that the Bible does not prohibit nor does it favor it. The decision to use this method solely depends on one’s cultural views and opinions.