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Is It Ok for Christians to Be Cremated?

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 50

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back everyone. We are here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, is it okay for Christians to be cremated? That’s a really good question. It’s an interesting one, and I think it’s one that a lot of Christians are curious about. They want to know, do Christians have to be buried or is it acceptable for Christians to be cremated at the end of their life? Cremation, of course, is the act of burning a body after death to the point where all that remains are the bones. Then the bones are crushed up to a fine powder. This is called the cremains. And this powder is then typically placed in a plastic bag inside an urn. So the question is, is this a viable option for Christians? Or might this perhaps be an act that is sinful, according to the Bible? What does the Bible say about cremation? Well, let’s dive in and see what it does have to say about cremation.

Surprisingly, the Bible does actually mention cremation in a few places. So the main reference is found in 1 Samuel chapter 31, and this recounts the story of Saul and his sons being burned up, and then after they’re burned up, their bones are buried. Another couple of references you can find in Amos chapter 2 verse 1, as well as Amos chapter 6 verses 8 through 10. And then probably one other passage is going to be Leviticus chapter 20 verse 14. This passage is about capital punishment, and the punishment requires the offender to be burned with fire. These are really the only references to cremation or something of the sort in the Bible. Now, when you look at these, it’s just saying that these things happened, but it doesn’t say whether or not this is required for Christians or prohibited from Christians who were going to be disposing of a body after death. So in other words, that is to say, the Bible isn’t saying we are advocating for cremation as opposed to burial, or it’s not saying we are opposing cremation as opposed to burial. It’s just saying in these instances, cremation took place.

Now, to contrast cremation in the Bible, burial is much more common. There are over 200 references in the Old Testament alone to burials, and this shows that burial was the accepted custom and practice within Judaism, and this practice would also continue to be the norm in Christianity. And so what’s the holdup then with burial versus cremation? Why are people wondering this question in the first place? What’s the big deal? Why is it even a cause for concern? And I think one of the biggest holdups for people is the issue of the resurrection, right? The Bible teaches that all Christians will be physically raised from the dead. Those who oppose cremation see the burning of the body as either preventing or in some way affecting the bodily resurrection. So that’s one of the biggest holdups, is people say, hey, I know we’re supposed to raise back up physically, like Jesus is going to raise us up physically from the dead, but if we burn up our bodies, is that in some way prohibiting or preventing that future resurrection, or is it affecting it in any way at all? And this concern is really unwarranted. I get where they’re coming from, but it really is just unwarranted because the Bible says that God is all-powerful and He is not limited in any way. So the same God who created Adam from the dust of the earth and Eve from the bone of Adam can easily provide a resurrection body to those who have been cremated.

We also, as we’re considering this issue, we need to consider what this reasoning, you know, the reasoning about it’s going to prevent or affect the future resurrection, we need to consider what this reasoning would mean for those who were unwillingly burned or suffered bodily harm in their lives. For instance, what about all the Christian martyrs throughout church history who were burned at the stake for their commitment to Christ? Are we to believe that those faithful believers will not experience the bodily resurrection because of something that was beyond their control? Well, of course not. The same thing applies for Christians who unfortunately die in house fires or fires of other kinds just because their physical body here on earth is burned up in no way prevents the future resurrection that Christ has promised His followers. I mean, think also about those who suffer a traumatic bodily injury. What about a Christian who gets lost at sea, for instance, and is ultimately eaten by a shark? Will he not be raised up on the last day just because we can’t find his body or because he was eaten by a shark? What about those who lose limbs in a traumatic accident? Will their bodies for all of eternity lack wholeness? Well, the answer is no. God will certainly physically raise all who have faith in Christ, and they will receive a perfect, glorified, imperishable resurrection body.

Others reject cremation as a viable option because of the symbolism of burial. Not only is burial well established in Jewish and Christian tradition, but also Jesus, our Savior, was buried. And there’s something to be said for the symbolism of burial and corresponding to the burial of Christ, but there’s something else we should be focusing on instead. We should be focusing on the death of Christ and how we are symbolically put to death with Him. So meaning more important than our bodies being buried like Christ is making sure that we have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. The symbolic death and burial of our old selves is much more important than the literal death and burial of our physical bodies. Others are opposed to cremation because it destroys the body. However, it’s important to remember that the body is going to be destroyed anyways, whether by fire or just by time in the ground. Eventually, all of us, those who were buried and those who were cremated, will be nothing but bones. And so when you’re looking at the issue of burial versus cremation, you find that this ultimately is a wisdom issue.

In other words, since the Bible issues no mandate for what Christians must do with a body after death, we are called to consider the issue carefully and thoughtfully before making a decision. When something is not explicitly condemned in Scripture, or when something does not violate a command or principle of God established in Scripture, Christians need wisdom from God to consider the right thing to do. And let me just tell you, wisdom issues are extremely difficult because well-meaning Christians can come to different conclusions on the matter. However, since neither burial nor cremation is mandated by Scripture, we have to make sure that we do not impose our conviction on the matter upon other Christians. In other words, if you become convicted that burial is appropriate, that’s fine, but do not impose your conviction upon others as if your conviction is a biblical mandate. Right? I’m very passionate about this because Christians have a tendency to do this with a lot of different issues where it’s a wisdom issue, it’s not something that’s mandated in Scripture, and so Christians will come to their own conviction about it, but they impose their convictions upon other Christians in such a way that if those other Christians do not agree with them, they act as though they’re sinning. And we need to be very careful with that.

I mean, there’s a great example of this found in 1 Corinthians chapter 8. And the issue there, the wisdom issue there, was on whether or not Christians should eat food sacrificed to idols. You see, in pagan temples, the temple workers would offer up food to false gods and idols, and then that food was available to buy and eat. And many Christians at the time were adamant that Christians should not eat food sacrificed to idols. They considered it a sin to do so. And so they imposed this conviction on other Christians and made them feel that if they did eat food sacrificed to idols, then they were sinning. But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 8, and he says, “therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence and that there is no God but one.” In other words, what Paul is saying there is, hey, hey, the food isn’t really offered to another god because there are no other gods. There is only one God. And so you don’t need to worry about the food that’s offered to idols because those aren’t really gods in the first place. I know that the people think that they are gods, but there is only one God, and so this food hasn’t actually been offered up to another god. And so Paul says, hey, it’s really not a big deal. But very importantly, Paul goes on to say that not all Christians possess this level of wisdom and discernment. And so therefore, he advises people not to cause another to stumble with regard to their conviction. Meaning, if a person is deeply convicted that it would be wrong for him to eat the food sacrificed to idols, don’t cause other people to stumble and believe that they are sinning for choosing to eat the food. Paul’s saying have your conviction, but don’t impose it upon another. Similarly, if a person is deeply convicted that it would not be sinful for him to eat food sacrificed to idols, don’t make another stumble by making them believe that they aren’t true Christians because they don’t have that level of discernment and wisdom on the issue.

The point is, when there is a wisdom issue, Christians will come to differing conclusions and feel deeply convicted about the conclusion they come to. And in those cases, since there isn’t a clear mandate for or against the thing in Scripture, do not impose your convictions upon another person in such a way that you make them feel as though they are sinning for coming to a different conclusion than you have. And that’s the exact type of issue we have here with burial versus cremation. There is no biblical mandate. There is a biblical pattern, but there is no mandate and no condemnation of something that goes against the biblical pattern. So therefore, what we need to do is we need to consider the issue carefully. We need to ask ourselves, have I even thought about this at all? Have I even given this issue the time that it needs to consider all that goes into burial and cremation, or am I just doing the first thing that comes to my mind? Have I even given this issue any thought? Why am I choosing this form of burial over the other? Which one is going to bring the most glory to God? Come to your convictions biblically. Be able to support your convictions biblically. Consider by your convictions, but please remember, do not enforce or impose your personal convictions upon another who disagrees with you.

So that’s the long-winded Alex answer. The quick answer is no, cremation is not a sin and it is a very viable option for Christians. So thanks for the question. I really appreciate it and I look forward to answering more in the future.