Please explain what the Bible says about cremation. Can a Christian choose to be cremated?
The Bible does not state a case where a person intentionally chose cremation over burial. The Israelites practiced burial either in the ground or in caves during the Old Testament times. There are a few passages in the Bible where a form of cremation or something similar to cremation is used.
In I Kings, we have the case of Zimri, who plotted against the king and carried out his acts of conspiracy. The people turned against Zimri. The sought him out, being led by Omri.
17 Then Omri and all Israel with him went up from Gibbethon and besieged Tirzah. 18 When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house over him with fire, and died, 19 because of his sins which he sinned, doing evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin which he did, making Israel sin. (I Kings 16)
This is also a case of suicide in the Bible, because Zimri chose to burn himself up instead of face the people. This is not a case of cremation performed by others after death. Another case in the Bible is . . .
Manasseh was one of the most evil kings to lead the people of Israel and we learn this about him . . .
6 He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD provoking Him to anger. (II Kings 21)
It seems that Manasseh put his son to death by fire, which was a pagan practice of the day, something that he turned to in his wickedness and apostasy. This is not evidence of cremation performed after his son’s death, because in this ritual, the children were burned alive on the pagan altar.
Josiah was one of the kings of Judah who returned to God with all of his heart, leading his people to repentance. Part of the reform that he brought about was the complete removal of all of the idolatry in the entire country. Part of the reformation process is the following:
15 Furthermore, the altar that was at Bethel and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, had made, even that altar and the high place he broke down. Then he demolished its stones, ground them to dust, and burned the Asherah. 16 Now when Josiah turned, he saw the graves that were there on the mountain, and he sent and took the bones from the graves and burned them on the altar and defiled it according to the word of the LORD which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these things. 17 Then he said, “What is this monument that I see ?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” 18 He said, “Let him alone ; let no one disturb his bones.” So they left his bones undisturbed with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria. 19 Josiah also removed all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made provoking the LORD ; and he did to them just as he had done in Bethel. 20 All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them; then he returned to Jerusalem. (II Kings 23)
Josiah burned the bones of all who worshiped idols on the pagan altars in order to pollute the pagan altars and remove any sign of their existence as well as the memory of the people who practiced these terrible things. Again, we cannot conclude that this is a form of cremation for the dead as an alternative burial practice.
Cremation as grave punishment for sin
In the book of Leviticus we find the following law:
9 ‘Also the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by harlotry, she profanes her father ; she shall be burned with fire. (Leviticus 21)
Cremation is not forbidden in the Bible
Even though burial is mentioned in the Bible as a Biblical practice, there is no law neither in the Old nor the New Testament which says that cremation is not allowed. Some Christians are against cremation stating the verses from I Corinthians 15:35-58 as well as I Thessalonians 4:16 as proof because God will one day resurrect our bodies and they will be united with our spirits. Even though a body is burned, it will not be difficult for God to resurrect that body and reunite it with the spirit.
The Church’s Attitude toward cremation
Throughout the ages, the church has practiced burial and recommends it, yet there is no law categorically against cremation. There are cases of denomination that have spoken out against cremation. Those who do speak out against it justify it with the Bible saying that, “God told Adam that he was taken from the ground and that he would return to the ground upon his death”. Another argument is, “Jesus Christ was buried upon His death and His followers should be buried too”.
While on a mission trip to Nepal, I had the opportunity to witness, two different times, a Hindu funeral ceremony where cremation was used. This ceremony is usually held on the banks of a river and the ashes are spread in the water. Once this takes place, there is no longer a memorial to be seen of the person’s life, unlike burial.