Burial and Cremation

Go back a century or so and cremation of the human body after death was virtually unheard of within Christendom—among those who profess the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now many, even within those classed as evangelical, who claim to bow to the authority of the Bible as the word of God are stating that it is immaterial whether they are cremated or buried when they die. This is nothing more than gross unbelief— and unbelief is the birth of apostasy. In this short article the reader will be shown from the Scriptures that cremation is a denial of resurrection whereas burial demands it.

   Firstly, it may surprise the reader to know that God Himself both buries and cremates. This is of paramount importance for the genuine believer. Why? Because God is His instructor in all matters and as a child of God he gladly follows the exhortation "Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph. 5: 1).

   There are two physical events recorded in the Scriptures that are without parallel. Both events are universal, cataclysmic and come as a result of God’s judgement. In the one case God buries; in the other He cremates. These two events set out in the clearest of ways the principles identified with each. The Bible records just two occasions, since the creation of man, when God destroys the earth. In the first which is past, it is buried; in the second which is future, it is cremated. In the first, God used water; in the second, He will use fire. In the first case we have great detail as to how this took place; in the second case the Bible gives us the plain fact with few but all the essential details.

   In Gen. 6: 13 we read "And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is full of violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth". Again, God says "For I, behold, I bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy all flesh under the heavens in which is the breath of life: everything that is on the earth shall expire" (v17). The record goes on to say "And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth; and all the high mountains that are under all the heavens were covered. Fifteen cubits upward the waters prevailed; and the mountains were covered". (Gen. 7: 19). Thus the whole earth was submerged under water. Language could not be clearer: God buried the earth under water and so destroyed it. Was the earth annihilated? Was it the end? Had God finished with the earth? The answer to each question is, No! For as a divine principle, burial is never the end—it always assumes a future resurrection. Accordingly we read "And the waters retired from the earth, continually retiring; and in the course of a hundred and fifty days the waters abated" (Gen 8: 3) until finally it says "And in the second month, on the twenty–seventh day of the month, the earth was dry" (v14). Effectively, the earth was resurrected. Note the language with care! The occupants of the ark did not leave its shelter until "the earth was dry" (v14, my emphasis). Not until all vestiges of the water which God employed to bury the earth had gone did they step out on to a resurrected earth. Thus, as already stated, burial is always in view of resurrection. God was going to begin again. It was a new start. Accordingly, we now read a command from God that is only given twice in Scripture. He had said to man before the flood "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" and now again he repeats that command to Noah (Gen. 1: 28; 9: 1). Burial is therefore never the end. It is always in view of resurrection. ‘When you’re dead, you’re done with’ is the Devil’s lie.

   So what of the second time that the Bible records the destruction of the earth? This is future. God says through the prophet Isaiah "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Is. 65: 17). How different is this language to that of Noah’s time—"not be remembered, nor come into mind". In the NT we have a little more detail from Peter: "But the present heavens and the earth by his word are laid up in store, kept for fire unto a day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Pet. 3: 7). He goes on to speak of "the coming of the day of God, by reason of which [the] heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and [the] elements burning with heat, shall melt? But, according to his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness" (vs 12, 13). Now the word for new that Peter uses here is kainoς and means new, not in the sense of fresh although of the same kind, but new in the sense of a different kind or quality altogether. There are to be new heavens and a new earth entirely different to the old heavens and earth. But what will God do with the old heavens and earth? They will be dissolved entirely. How? Not by water this time, but by fire. In a word God will cremate them—"[the] elements burning with heat, shall melt" (v13) (our English word cremate comes from the Latin word cremare meaning to burn). It is complete termination. Why? Because God has finished with them for ever. This is the biblical meaning of cremation. Unlike burial, it assumes no future and thus no resurrection. It is thus effectively a denial of resurrection.

   These two cataclysmic incidents in the history of the earth show in the clearest possible way how God Himself instructs us as to the difference between burial and cremation. In the light of this, as I said at the beginning, for a Christian to stipulate cremation on death is nothing more than gross unbelief. Those who are knowingly cremated, whatever their unbelieving arguments to the contrary, deny resurrection.