Should a believer’s body be cremated?
In the light of the Scriptures, it is very difficult to accept that any one claiming to be a believer should even think of being cremated. Whatever plausible reasons men may give for cremation, the Christian, by the very fact that he is a believer, rests alone on what God has revealed in His word. To all who claim to be believers the question comes, ‘Who do you believe?’ This is because who you believe determines what you believe. Cremation of the body is really the denial of resurrection, one of the cardinal truths of Scripture. God will raise all men, whether believer or unbeliever, and whether buried or cremated—He will not be thwarted in the matter, for He is God. The resurrection of the unbeliever is described in the following words: “And the sea gave up the dead which [were] in it, and death and hades gave up the dead which [were] in them” (Rev. 20: 13). The essence of cremation is that death is the end and hence there is no thought of resurrection. For a Christian to acquiesce in this view is gross unbelief. The first time that burial is spoken of in the Bible is in Gen. 15: 15 and it is God that speaks. He says to Abraham “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age”. The first recorded burial is that of Sarah by Abraham in Gen. 23 in which a whole chapter is given over to the matter, indicating its importance in the eyes of God. Throughout the Scriptures, both in the OT and in the NT, the dead are buried. Those who desire cremation are effectively among those in 1 Cor. 15: 12 “how say some among you that there is not a resurrection of [those that are] dead?” Even in a figurative sense, believers are buried: “We have been buried therefore with him by baptism unto death, in order that, even as Christ has been raised up from among [the] dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6: 4).
While persons are raised, resurrection itself applies particularly to the body so we read “and many bodies of the saints fallen asleep arose” (Matt. 27: 52). Man is a tripartite being having “spirit, and soul, and body” (1 Thess. 5: 23), but we never read of spirits or souls being raised. Just as death applies particularly to the body “For as the body without a spirit is dead” (James 2: 26), so also does resurrection: “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15: 44).
I read in Eph. 5: 1 “Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children”. We can get the truth of the matter at issue by simply seeing how God acts in relation to burial and cremation and imitating Him in this and in all other things—for God has buried in the past and in the future He will cremate. There is one striking occasion in Scripture, and only one, where God Himself acted as undertaker. We read in Deut. 34: 5, 6 “And Moses the servant of Jehovah died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Jehovah. And he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth–Peor; and no man knows his sepulchre to this day”. While there has been much speculation about this event, the simple fact given to us is that Jehovah buried Moses. God buried him—He did not cremate him. This was the occasion that gave birth to the great spiritual dispute related to us in Jude 9: “But Michael the archangel, when disputing with the devil he reasoned about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a railing judgment against [him], but said, [The] Lord rebuke thee”. However, whatever the reason for the dispute, it was God that undertook for Moses by burial, and in the light of Eph. 5:1 that is the path the believer takes. Burial clearly teaches that death is not the end—resurrection is to follow. Cremation assumes that death is the end and there is nothing to come afterwards. However, there are circumstances in which God does cremate. There is to be a new heaven and a new earth. John says “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea exists no more” (Rev. 21: 1). John does not tell us how they pass away—it is to Peter we must turn for that: “But the day of [the] Lord will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise, and [the] elements, burning with heat, shall be dissolved, and [the] earth and the works in it shall be burnt up” (2 Pet. 3: 10). God will then have finished for ever with the old creation and accordingly it will be dissolved in fire, that is, it will be cremated. The thought of unbelieving man is that ‘When you are dead you are done with’ and hence he cremates. His understanding of cremation is correct, that it signifies an ending, but the body is not ‘done with’—it has yet to be raised. For the believer it will be that glorious moment when “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15: 54).