As cremation becomes more popular, many people are asking
“What does the Bible say about cremation?”
More Cremations Happen Than Burial
More than half of all Americans select cremation over traditional burial, and the proportion of families selecting cremation keeps increasing yearly. The reason so many people choose cremation is obvious: cremation is less expensive and more convenient relative to in-ground burial.
Yet, few people know what Christian beliefs are regarding cremation or what the Bible says about cremation.
This article will delve into biblical scriptures, historical practices, and current perspectives of various Christian denominations to provide a comprehensive insight into this subject.
The Bible Does Not Provide Explicit Guidance on Cremation
The Bible does not explicitly mention or provide direct guidance on cremation. As scripture remains silent on the condemnation or endorsement of cremation, many Christians conclude that the method of handling a deceased’s body is a matter of personal preference or cultural tradition.
Old Testament Practices: A Historical Perspective
In the Old Testament, the common practice was burial, predominantly due to climate conditions.
The scriptures emphasize the burial of prominent biblical figures.
For example, Abraham and Sarah were buried in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:19, 25:9), and Joseph’s bones were carried from Egypt to be buried in Shechem (Joshua 24:32).
The act of returning the body to the earth is also echoed in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
As a result of these and other reasons, Jews generally are not cremated.
Christian Denominations’ Take on Cremation
Cremation is a topic that often generates questions among individuals who adhere to Christian beliefs. Understanding the various perspectives of different Christian denominations on cremation is essential to making the “right decision” for you or your family.
Roman Catholic Church and Cremation
Historically, the Roman Catholic Church was staunch in its preference for burial over cremation. This stance was primarily based on the reverence for the sanctity of the human body. However, in 1963, the Church altered its position through a landmark decision that permitted cremation.
The caveat is that the ashes must be stored in a sacred place, such as a columbarium or cemetery. Scattering ashes or keeping them at home is discouraged, as the Church maintains that the remains should be accorded dignified and respectful treatment. The Roman Catholic Church’s evolution on the issue of cremation reflects its adaptation to modern societal changes while retaining core values.
Protestant Denominations’ Views on Cremation
Protestantism is a diverse branch of Christianity, and it includes numerous denominations.
Here are the views of some of the major Protestant denominations on cremation:
Anglican Church: The Anglican Communion generally does not have a prescriptive stance on cremation. It supports the autonomy of individuals and families to make end-of-life decisions based on personal convictions.
Baptist Church: The Baptist denomination does not impose a doctrinal preference for burial or cremation. It emphasizes the importance of commemorating the deceased and supporting bereaved families, irrespective of the chosen method of interment.
Methodist Church: The United Methodist Church, like other Protestant denominations, remains neutral on the topic of cremation, giving families the liberty to decide based on their preferences and beliefs.
Presbyterian Church: Presbyterians also do not have a mandatory stance on cremation. They believe that the individual or their family should make the decision based on personal preference.
Lutheran Church: The Lutheran Church does not prohibit cremation, allowing families to choose either cremation or burial according to their preferences.
Pentecostal Church: In Pentecostalism, there isn’t a strict doctrine regarding cremation. However, some Pentecostals prefer burial due to traditional beliefs, while others are open to cremation.
Orthodox Christianity’s Stance on Cremation
In contrast, Orthodox Christianity typically leans towards a more conservative perspective. The Orthodox Church has historically upheld the tradition of burial, grounded in the theological significance it attaches to the human body and resurrection. Although there may be variations among different Orthodox communities, the general consensus favors burial as the more appropriate practice.
Central to the Christian faith is the belief in the resurrection.
Some argue that cremation could be seen as denying the belief in bodily resurrection. However, many Christians who opt for cremation believe that the physical state of human remains does not limit an omnipotent God.
Conclusion: Respect and Personal Choice
In conclusion, the Bible does not provide explicit instructions regarding cremation. While historical biblical practices leaned towards burial, modern interpretations within various Christian denominations have evolved to recognize cremation as a matter of personal or familial choice. The key is to treat the deceased with respect and dignity, consistent with Christian values.