Last time we searched the Scriptures for examples of cremation here.
We conclude the series by looking at the consistent practice of burial in every generation of the church–except today.
According to John 19:40, the Jews practiced burial. This practice was adopted by Christians, as was their common disdain for cremation.
For Christians, whole-body burial conveys the dignity of the body even after death. Burial also better anticipates a future resurrection. It says, “We’re not finished with this sacred object yet; we’re planning to use it again one day.”
Some early Christians were burned at the stake. This was meant as double punishment, since denying someone a traditional burial was itself a form of persecution.
Eusebius, an early Christian, writes about a particularly severe persecution in Lyons, France in A.D. 177. After burning Christians and throwing their ashes into the river, the persecutors are recorded saying, “Now let’s see if they’ll rise again and if their god can help them and save them from our hands.”
The first known Christian to explicitly discourage cremation for religious reasons was Tertullian (A.D. 160-220).
Other early theologians like Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine helped establish burial as the unchallenged Christian mode of interment throughout the Middle Ages. The Christian Emperor Charlemagne (d. A.D. 814) made cremation a capital crime.
The Protestant Reformers consistently taught burial over cremation. The Puritan practice of burial is evident by cemeteries adjacent to most old churches in the U.S.
The Roman Catholic Church officially banned cremation in canon law in 1886. They relaxed this law in 1963 by merely shunning cremation. And in 1994 they declared, “The Church permits cremation.”
Egyptians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have consistently practiced burial. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Polytheists (ancient Romans/Greeks) have consistently practiced cremation. Hindus in India are credited for practicing cremation first.
Historically, as Christianity penetrated another culture, burials increased and cremations decreased.
Accepting a practice in the last 50 years that worshippers of Yahweh have consistently disdained for all of recorded history should give us pause.
Throughout history, a culture’s mode of disposal of a body was based on its religion. We may live in the first generation in which a religion says about mode: “It doesn’t matter.”
What is Certain:
• Burial is the overwhelming mode of interment recorded in the Bible.
• Burial is the clear practice of Christians throughout time in every culture.
What is Probable:
• Burial may communicate the dignity of the body more clearly (whereas cremation is a form of active violence done to a body).
• Burial may better anticipate our future bodily resurrection.
We can be 100% certain that burial is a mode of interment that pleases God. We cannot say the same about cremation.
Thank you for your willingness to read about this very sensitive topic. My goal for this series is for each of us to make an informed decision about our final plans.
I blogged here about some specific steps we each need to take today that will help our families when that day comes for us. The burial/cremation decision is one of those steps.