Question:

What is God's view pertaining to cremation?

Answer:

When a person dies, his spirit leaves his body. In speaking of his death, Peter said, "knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me" (II Peter 1:14). Peter saw his body as tent in which his spirit resided for a while. When he died he looked forward to putting aside his temporary shelter. Paul used similar wording, "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him" (II Corinthians 5:1-9).

Since the spirit leaves the body, what remains is no more than an empty husk. How that husk is disposed of has more to do with local customs than a requirement of God.

Under the Old Law, dead bodies were rightly considered to be unclean. "He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him" (Numbers 19:11-13). Yet, despite its uncleanness, someone had to dispose of the body. You could not just leave it lying around. An unburied body was considered a defilement. "If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God" (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Such laws make perfect sense. Dead bodies can rapidly spread diseases, as seen with the E-Coli outbreak several years ago in Africa.

Hence, most bodies were buried. Abraham and Sarah were buried in a cave (Genesis 23:19-20; 25:9-10). And most burials were done quickly since bodies decay quickly. However, there were a few cases where a body was embalmed and the burial took place at a later time (Genesis 50:2-5). Burial was considered to be an act of kindness which showed respect to the one being buried. "Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, "The men of Jabesh Gilead were the ones who buried Saul." So David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh Gilead, and said to them, "You are blessed of the LORD, for you have shown this kindness to your lord, to Saul, and have buried him. And now may the LORD show kindness and truth to you. I also will repay you this kindness, because you have done this thing"" (II Samuel 2:4-6).

In Israel, the bodies of dishonorable people were burned or cremated. Such was done to Achor and his family when Achor was found to have stolen articles from Jericho (Joshua 7:24-26). It was also done to the priests of Baal after they killed on Mt. Carmel (II Kings 23:19-20). But sometimes circumstances called for cremation. "All the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days" (I Samuel 31:12-13). These men had risked entering enemy territory to retrieve the bodies of Saul and his sons. They could not travel fast with the bodies, so as soon as they could they stopped and cremated the remains. They then continued their journey with just the bones, which they gave a proper burial.

Eventually the practice of cremating the body became common place. "And when a relative of the dead, with one who will burn the bodies, picks up the bodies to take them out of the house, he will say to one inside the house, "Are there any more with you?" Then someone will say, "None." And he will say, "Hold your tongue! For we dare not mention the name of the LORD."" (Amos 6:10).

No matter how a body is disposed of, the remains of the body returns to the ground. "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The physical body does not remain, only the spirit lives on. When the Lord returns, we will not be in our old bodies. We will be given new bodies which can live eternally.

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?"

Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain.

But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, 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 became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.

The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory" (I Corinthians 15:35-54).