In our last post, we saw that cremation is on the rise in our culture.
We also learned that the Bible establishes a clear pattern of burial as the preferred mode of interment. We concluded that we can be certain that burial pleases the Lord.
Can we say the same thing about cremation?
The Bible does not provide a complete perspective on cremation. Passages that describe the deliberate burning of bodies are comparatively rare. But nowhere does the Bible speak of cremation with approval.
One almost gets the impression that burning bodies only occurs after something has gone wrong. Consider the following brief examples:
1) In Joshua 7, Achan and his family were stoned to death because Achan had sinned in a way that cost Israel dozens of lives. After they were stoned, their bodies were burned with fire.
2) Burning people as an extreme measure of punishment for sin can also be found in Leviticus 20:14 and 21:9.
3) King Saul was Israel’s first king. When he was defeated by his enemies, his body was hung on a city wall after being beheaded and mutilated. Valiant allies of Saul then risked their lives to retrieve his body. They burned it, and then buried his bones (1 Samuel 31). Most scholars believe that they burned his body only to conceal its mutilation. In 2 Samuel 2, King David commended these men for burying the bones of Saul, which is referred to as a “kindness” shown to Saul.
4) In Amos 2, God curses one of Israel’s enemies for choosing to burn the king of another of Israel’s enemies: “Thus says the LORD, ‘For three transgressions of Moab and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.'”
5) Finally, it seems refusing someone a proper burial may form a type of punishment in itself. This is true for the wicked Jezebel in 2 Kings 9: “The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” Likewise, the king may have known how important a proper burial was to Daniel’s three friends. Perhaps that’s why he tried to burn them in the fiery furnace instead of choosing another form of execution.
Again, the Bible does not expressly forbid cremation. But burning a corpse is never painted in a positive light. This brings me back to my guiding principle:
We can be absolutely certain that burial pleases the Lord.
We cannot be certain that cremation does the same.
Next time we’ll finish the series with an historical consideration of burial modes and draw a few more conclusions.