The necessity of the death of our body, and its use to honor and glorify the Lord, is an issue for which we all should be prepared. This would include the testimony that we display during our actual passing, as well as the funeral service and disposal of our body After all, our physical bodies are a wonderful gift from the Lord of which we are to use for His glory in every way possible…
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
I have said this to simply explain the importance of the issue we will be studying today. It is the issue of the burial of our body versus the cremation of our body. Do either of these dishonor our Lord or harm our testimony before Him?
In my way of thinking, one reason why there is so many questions about cremation versus burial of the body is because there is no “thus saith the Lord”. To my knowledge the Bible does not clearly address the issue. It is an issue that will have to be decided based upon a variety of Biblical principles instead of a clear Biblical declaration.
Keeping that in mind, I would like us to look at some Biblical principles that we can prayerfully consider…
1. The Stewardship Principle (see lesson #1)
2. The Example Of Honored Bible Characters
3. The Symbolism Of Fire And Burial
The Example Of Honored Bible Characters
The most common way the deceased body was cared for throughout the Scriptures is through the act of a burial. Normally, this “burial” was not underground in today’s time but in tombs, or sepulchers, made from caves covered by a huge rock: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah (Gen 49:29-31); Lazarus (Mark 15:45-46); Christ Himself (Mark 15:45-47) to name a few.
However, there is, at least, one cremation of an honored character that took place, and it was for the Lords glory…
“And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. And they took their bones, and buried [them] under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” (1 Samuel 31:11-13)
In this case, the bodies of Saul and his sons were burned to make certain the Philistines would not be able to reclaim the bodies and, once again, put them on public display, bringing shame to the land of Israel. This was not done to dishonor Saul and his sons, who were revered by Israel, it was done to retain the honor of Israel and her God, Jehovah. In this case, the burning of the bodies was done to preserve respect for the Lord, not take away from it.
Another example of a Godly use of cremation is found in Amos…
“Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed. The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die. And a man’s uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that [is] by the sides of the house, [Is there] yet [any] with thee? and he shall say, No. Then shall he say, Hold thy tongue: for we may not make mention of the name of the LORD. For, behold, the LORD commandeth, and he will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts.” (Amos 6:7-11)
In this case, we have cremations taking place to stop a communicable plague from spreading throughout the land.
Also, we have to think about all the other honorable servants of the Lord whose body did not receive a proper burial. In Hebrews 11: we find listed, in general terms, the types of death, and lack of burial many experienced…
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and [of] Barak, and [of] Samson, and [of] Jephthae; [of] David also, and Samuel, and [of] the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of [cruel] mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and [in] mountains, and [in] dens and caves of the earth.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40)
Throughout the ages, the bodies of the people of God have suffered greatly at the hands of their enemies. Some of the types of death relevant to our study include…. burning at the stake, being sawn asunder, eaten by wild animals, cast into the sea, torn apart on the rack etc etc etc. All of these examples help us to understand that, in some instances, the lack of a burial actually glorifies God in great ways depending on the situation in which they occur. Paul understood this principle when he actually offered for his body to be abused for the resultant glory of the Lord….
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Of course, Paul is not referring to a cremation here, but a death by fire (aka being burned to death) which has a secondary result of destruction of the body.
Based upon the examples of the honored Bible characters, it seems as if the norm was definitely a proper burial of a prepared body, but it certain instances, cremation or the lack of a proper burial was used by the Lord for His honor and glory. This must be determined based upon the motive behind the action and the circumstances surrounding it.
The Symbolism Involved
The final area that we need to look at is the area of symbolism… what does burial symbolize, if anything; and what does cremation of the deceased body symbolize, if anything? To help us understand this we need to see what these two acts are related to in the Bible….
First let’s look at the symbolism of application of fire ….
Many times, the application of fire is symbolic of the falling of God’s judgment.
How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire? (Psalms 89:46)
And [when] the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard [it]; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed [them that were] in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the LORD, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them. (Numbers 11:1-3)
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime: But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, [and] with the sound of the trumpet: And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith the LORD. (Amos 2:1-3)
In all the above three texts, which is only a sample of the many times fire is used by God to judge those who were rebellious, we can see that the application of fire was related to God’s anger and wrath being poured out upon the sinful.
However in our last text, Amos 2:1-3, it is interesting for us to notice WHY Moab was being punished by God. It is described as “because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime”. Was the Lord calling the act of cremation a sin? If so, this would make our study much simpler. There are those who say that is exactly what is being said, and therefore, we can know with certainty that the cremation of a body is an act of sinfulness.
However, from my perspective, I do believe this verse is better understood to be describing the horrible cruelty of Moab that was shown by his burning up the bodies of his enemies until the bones turned to small pieces with which he then plastered his palace. He was a nice guy huh? (Because this information is based on human historians who were not inspired by God, this information cannot be relied upon with absolute certainty. Therefore I am just sharing this alternate view with you.)
The reason why I do not think it is speaking of all types of cremation is because, we just saw in a previous examples where the act of cremation was not sinful but done as an act to glorify and honor the Lord. I do not believe the act of cremation is not sinful in and of itself, but the purpose behind the cremation, and the circumstances surrounding it, must be taken into account as well.
From this standpoint, a usage of fire to cremate a body would be a symbolic picture of the body being used to dishonor the Lord, and as a result the body receiving judgment at the hand of the Lord.
Not only is the application of fire is symbolic of the falling of God’s judgment, but at other times, the application of fire was used by the Lord to accept an offering made to Him…
And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: [which] when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24)
And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought [it] out unto him under the oak, and presented [it]. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay [them] upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that [was] in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight. And when Gideon perceived that he [was] an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. And the LORD said unto him, Peace [be] unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it [is] yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.” (Judges 6:19-24)
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD [be] God, follow him: but if Baal, [then] follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, [even] I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets [are] four hundred and fifty men.
Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay [it] on wood, and put no fire [under]: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay [it] on wood, and put no fire [under]: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress [it] first; for ye [are] many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire [under]. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed [it], and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But [there was] no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he [is] a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, [or] peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the [time] of the offering of the [evening] sacrifice, that [there was] neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD [that was] broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid [him] on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour [it] on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do [it] the second time. And they did [it] the second time. And he said, Do [it] the third time. And they did [it] the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at [the time of] the offering of the [evening] sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou [art] God in Israel, and [that] I [am] thy servant, and [that] I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou [art] the LORD God, and [that] thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that [was] in the trench. And when all the people saw [it], they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he [is] the God; the LORD, he [is] the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:21-40)
In the above texts, and in several others, we can see that many times the Lord declared His acceptance of an offering through the use of fire coming down upon the offerings and consuming them.
Under this basic usage, the cremation of a body could be seen as a body being offered for the Lord’s use (during its lifetime on earth) and that offering being found pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.
Now, let’s begin looking at the symbolism involved with the act of burial of a body…
The act of burial pictures the state of the saints dead body as it awaits the final resurrection.
But some [man] will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? [Thou] fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other [grain]: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh [is] not the same flesh: but [there is] one [kind of] flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, [and] another of birds. [There are] also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial [is] one, and the [glory] of the terrestrial [is] another. [There is] one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for [one] star differeth from [another] star in glory. So also [is] the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit. Howbeit that [was] not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man [is] of the earth, earthy: the second man [is] the Lord from heaven. As [is] the earthy, such [are] they also that are earthy: and as [is] the heavenly, such [are] they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)
In the above text, we can see that the body of those who are passed away is pictured by a seed that is sown. The resurrection of that body is pictured by the seed then sprouting and growing with a new type of life. Therefore it only makes sense that this seed that is “buried” and the sprout that arises with new life is the perfect illustration of dead body that is buried in the ground and the coming resurrection to a new type of life when the body comes forth from the grave.
The act of burial pictures Christ’s burial
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14)
But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man [came] death, by man [came] also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)
Christ went before His people setting the perfect example for us to follow in all aspects of His life. The example He has set for us even extends to the burial and resurrection of His body. Christ’s body was buried in a tomb and then three days later at His resurrection, He exited that tomb proving to all that He was the true God and Redeemer of His people. The burial of the believer’s body is one way, among many, that we can follow His great example that was set for us.
THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION:
To summarize our completed study…
In the first study…
1. We have come to recognize the importance of using our physical bodies for the glory and honor of God as stewards of these wonderful dwelling places for the Holy Ghost. This principle even applies to our bodies following our death.
2. We saw that the burial of the body was following the example set for us by our Lord, and in and of itself, was an act that brought glory and honor of Him.
3. In our previous study, we also saw that the Bible gives us a clear recognition that the burial of a body is a very acceptable way to dispose of the body following death. It is through the use of burials that a body is protected for the destructive forces found in nature and shows great respect for the deceased.
4. In our first study we also saw that the use of cremation to dispose of the dead body, may be considered using a force of nature to destroy it. If that is the case, then this would be an act of dishonor for the deceased and abuse of the dead body.
5. Also, in several cases, cremation was used to destroy those who are enemies of the Lord and foreigners from the nation of Israel. Again, this would seem to teach us the need to refrain from the use of fire to dispose of the dead body.
In this, our final study…
6. We saw that most of the honored servants of God had their bodies placed in a tomb for their burial.
7. There were only two types of exceptions to the burial of God’s people… The martyred servants of the Lord, who then had their dead bodies treated abusively by the enemies of the Lord; and, a few other cases, where cremation was used motivated out of desires to honor the Lord and protect His people from harm and shame.
8. In this lesson, we also saw that cremation could be looked at as symbolic of the Lord’s rejection and punishment of the body of the deceased. However, we also saw that this same cremation could picture the Lord’s acceptance of the service that was once performed in the body. To my way of thinking the symbolism of fire is a wash, since it could be looked at either way.
9. Based upon the spiritual lesson learned from a burial, we saw that a burial was symbolized by a sown seed waiting to receive new life and sprout. This being a picture of a saint’s body sleeping awaiting a future resurrection.
10. We also saw that a burial was also a public declaration of what our Lord has done for us by dying on the cross and experiencing a resurrection with a glorified body.
I believe the overwhelming evidence of the Scriptures is for the burial of the body of the saint who has passed before us. It is clearly and acceptable way to dispose of the dead body picturing what Christ has done for us (as well as following His example and the example of saints who have gone before us). It is a proper way of protecting the body from abuse by nature, as well as a picture of the saint’s sleeping body.
When it comes to cremation, this is a much more questionable method of disposal of the body. It could be abusing a body using a force of nature, and is associated with the death of those who are enemies of the Lord and it also is missing an opportunity to picture the Lord’s burial, following the example He has set for us. Finally, it lacks in it declaring that the saint’s body is “asleep” and awaiting a future resurrection. When we look at all these issues we can see that the weight of evidence makes cremation a questionable practice. However, we should never forget that the Bible does give examples of cremation being used in God glorifying ways. Therefore we cannot say that in every case cremation is a sinful act or displeasing to God.
My thoughts are that … Biblically, confidence can be found in the burial of the saint’s body. It is clearly an acceptable, God honoring way to dispose of the believer’s body. However, cremation is a much more questionable method of disposal of the body. Therefore, it must be selected with great care, prayer and consideration of the motives behind that decision.
The greatest consideration for us all is not the condition of our bodies following our death, but the condition of our souls now. Keep in mind, one of the supreme goals of a Christian’s service to the Lord is to see the salvation of those who are lost. For the Christian, are we certain our hearts are right with the Lord? Likewise, are we living a life that glorifies and honors Christ? Furthermore, are we using the opportunities the Lord has given to us to witness to and pray for the lost around us? All of these things are of utmost importance.
For those who are lost, have you ever experienced the Lord’s saving grace in your life? Have you ever seen that you have sinned against the Lord and, apart from His gracious intervention in your life, you can do nothing to gain forgiveness from Him? Have you come before Him humbly, turning form those sins and trusting in Him to save you from those sins? Have you ever experienced a change within you that results in recognizing Christ as your Lord and seeking to live your life for Him?
These are the marks of genuine salvation and the most important consideration that lies before us…
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)
May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek His truth.
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May the Lord bless your study of His Word. Like God’s Word… may your soul’s salvation and your life’s faithfulness be “Settled in Heaven.”