I received the following question:
I have a question for you………….
A woman asked me if cremation is proper?
I could find no reference in the bible about the disposal of a dead body. There are several references regarding burial, but nothing of other means of disposal. A couple references of the dead being placed in a cave with the entrances covered with rocks. The only references about death and fire are in Revelations, but it concerns the second death, the lake of fire.
Gen 3:19 tells us,” In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
Common sense tells us that men have been lost at sea, eaten by predators, burned alive, etc. But none of this will hinder our future resurrection.
Is there any scripture saying what happens to our remains is irrelevant to our future resurrection?
This woman would feel better if there was something in the bible she could cling to, reassure her that being buried isn’t the only way to “return to dust.”
You are correct that God does not really prescribe anything as far as how burials should take place. Historically, most Jews were buried, either in the ground or in a tomb (cave). Yet Joseph was mummified (Genesis 50:26). This involved removing some of the internal organs. He was only buried after they returned to the promised land. I do not think this will be any problem to God when He raises Joseph from the dead. Those organs would have all turned to dust long since by now anyway.
Just because Jews were historically buried does not mean that there is any reason to think that is the “right” way to do it. We do not try to follow all their marriage customs, for instance. In some ways it might be an improvement, but some of what they did would not work very well in our society. God never insisted on these customs, or commanded them. He only commanded righteousness.
There is a body burning mentioned in I Corinthians 13:3.
3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
The implication here seems to be though that the body is given to be burned alive (during persecution), not after death for cremation. Yet Paul assumes here that this would be a good thing, to bravely and courageously face such a death for the sake of Christ. It does not seem to bother him that the body will be destroyed by the burning. This is no obstacle to rising from the dead, for that is accomplished by God’s power, which is not dependent upon the state of the body to be raised.
To the Jews, how you were buried (being buried with honor) was important. There seems to be a suggestion of this in Ecclesiastes 6:3.
3. If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he— 4. for it comes in vanity and departs in darkness, and its name is covered with darkness. 5. Though it has not seen the sun or known anything, this has more rest than that man, 6. even if he lives a thousand years twice—but has not seen goodness. Do not all go to one place?
He equates coming to a bad end to having no burial. However, it is clear from reading the entire passage that it is the not seeing goodness that Solomon considers the greater tragedy. The lack of burial seems to be more to emphasize his bad end…he dies in no position for anyone to honor him or take care of his body after his death.
I do not think that the Jews must have thought of being burned after death as being dishonorable. If they did, the courageous inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead would not have burned the bodies of Saul and his sons when they rescued them from the Philistines in I Samuel 31:11-13.
11. Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12. 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. 13. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
Their purpose in burning them seems to have been to keep them from falling back into the hands of the Philistines for further dishonor. They buried their bones, which did not burn. It is actually very difficult to burn bodies, and bones are even more difficult, so they did not bother. I do not think this will be any hindrance to these men, especially the Godly Jonathan, being raised from the dead in the future kingdom.
Another mention of bodies being burned is during the calamity the Lord promises upon Israel in the book of Amos. Bodies, probably due to starvation and plague, are being burned.
10. And when a relative of the dead, with one who will burn the bodies, picks up the bodies to take them out of the house, he will say to one inside the house, “Are there any more with you?”
Then someone will say, “None.”
And he will say, “Hold your tongue! For we dare not mention the name of the LORD.”
This was not their preferred way to bury, then, but it was not a way that they would shy away from if the circumstances called for it. Therefore, I do not think there is any reason to suppose that there is anything wrong with it.
If she wants a passage saying categorically that how your body is disposed of after death is immaterial, I am afraid I cannot provide it. However, I do believe that the clear implication of Scripture is that the resurrection power of God is neither helped nor hindered by how the bodies of the dead are disposed of after death, how long they have been dead, etc. Consider the valley of dry bones. These people had been dead long ages, with all their flesh rotted entirely away, and yet God restored them with no difficulty. I do not believe that bones being intact (unburned) is important either. God will restore all His people at His epiphaneia, even His kingdom. I do not think He will miss any out because the wrong thing happened to their bodies after death.
Thanks for the great question. Hope my answer helps her.