What does the Bible say about cremation? Is it sin to be cremated?
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
The phrase “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” is frequently used during funerals. This saying comes from Ecclesiastes 3:20 or possibly 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.” We are made of the dust of the earth and that is what we turn back into after we die. But this is talking about the body and not the soul. The spirit or soul of man will live one beyond the grave but not so with the body. For those who have died, they will be joined back up with their bodies at the resurrection of the dead and they will either be with the Lord or in eternal torment.
Resurrection to Reward or Judgment
In 1 Thessalonians 1:7b-9 Paul writes that the body will be raised again but for those who refused to trust in Christ, there will be an enormous difference, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Paul is teaching that everyone will be resurrected after they die but the destination for those who are is radically different. They will either be in “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” or to ever be with Him. Daniel writes nearly the same thing in Daniel 12:2-3 “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel says that those who sleep in the dust of the earth, clearly meaning those who have died, will be awakened and either inherit eternal life or be condemned to everlasting contempt. For “those who are wise” they will “shine like the brightness of the sky above” meaning that they will live forever and be in glory with God.
To Dust We Return
Solomon wrote of the eventual fate of all of mankind in Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” but the difference is that “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Eccl 3:17). Since we will all return to dust we will also be raised again for judgment, but does it matter whether a believer is cremated or whether they are buried?
Cremation or Burial?
Does it really matter whether a person is cremated or has their body buried? I believe that burial is preferable because many of the pagans burned the body and the body is not shown much honor at death by incinerating it to ashes. Having said that, a person can be resurrected to eternal life or eternal judgment, whether their body is buried or they are cremated. It doesn’t matter on the day when God judges both the living and the dead (Rev 20:11-15). For those who are under financial constraints or that cannot afford a casket, there is nothing sinful about being cremated. In fact, the Bible is silent as to whether this is sin or not but it doesn’t appear to matter if a family cannot afford a traditional funeral because funerals today are very expensive costing thousands of dollars, whereas cremation is considerably less expensive. Nearly everyone that died in the Bible was buried. The only exception was those who died in a fire or by exposure. In some cases an evil ruler was even eaten by dogs. The saints in the Old Testament and in the New were customarily buried but again, this is not saying that when a Christian dies they cannot be cremated. That is strictly up to the family or the last wishes of the person that is deceased. My own mother asked to be cremated because she didn’t want to burden us with the expense of a casket funeral service, even though we insisted that is would not be a burden for us. Even so, we respected her last wishes.
Everyone has an appointment with death. Hebrews 9:27 says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Job asked the question, “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come” (Job 14:14). Hebrews 9:27 and Job 14:14 show that yes, they will live again and that being raised, then they will be judged (1 Thessalonians 1:7b-9; Dan 12:2-3). There is no doubt about it as Job said “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” This is a resurrection from the dead to flesh and then from there, either eternal joy in the presence of the Lord or eternal separation from God. Decide today which place you will be at.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon