After Death - Appendix 4

Burial or Cremation

In Scripture dead persons were normally buried where this was possible. In the case of Jezebel this proved to be impossible (2 Kings 9:30-37). So far as the scriptural record goes, burial began with Abraham, who buried Sarah, as he said: "That I may bury my dead from before me" (Genesis 23:4). The idea of burial is the putting of the bodies of dead persons out of sight. Cremation, however, is a matter of destruction (incineration).

Burial throughout the Old Testament was the normal way of dealing with dead bodies. See for instance Genesis 25:9/10; 35:19; 35:29; 50:13; Joshua 24:32; 1 Kings 2:10 etc. The same treatment was applied in the New. The rich man was buried (Luke 16:22), Lazarus was buried (John 11:38), Christ was buried (John 19:41/42) and Stephen was buried (Acts 8:2). It would appear that burial in Scripture was normally effected by putting persons in a tomb rather than in a hole in the ground, but the idea of putting dead bodies out of sight is maintained whichever method is used. The man possessed by demons dwelt in the tombs, not among grave stones as someone today might think, but in the caves where the dead bodies were placed (Mark 5:1-5). Sarah's grave was a cave (Genesis 23:19). The man that was being buried in 2 Kings 13:20/21 may have been dropped into the ground. A Christian would no doubt wish to be buried as Christ was; not cremated as is often done today.

Cremation is not mentioned as such, but we know that the bodies of Saul and his sons were burned by the men of Jabesh-Gilead, though they buried their bones (1 Samuel 31:11-13). Maybe they did this so that there would be no possibility that the Philistines could recover the bodies and abuse them further. Bones, incidentally are what usually remains after the flesh has been consumed. Joseph's bones were buried (Joshua 24:32). The dry bones still existed in Ezekiel's vision, though the flesh had long since disappeared (Ezekiel 37:1/2). As to Saul we may see in the destruction of his flesh what we get in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where Paul speaks of the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Saul had much to answer for as a man in the flesh, but the fact that Samuel said to him: "To-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me" (1 Samuel 28:19), unless it simply means in death, would mean that Saul and his sons will be numbered among the Lord's people. However, the burning of bones is roundly condemned in Amos 2:1 where God says of Moab: "For three transgressions... and for four, I will not revoke its sentence; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime".

The idea of cremation in some minds may be done to ensure that there can be no resurrection of the body. However, God cannot be thwarted by such means. Many Christians have been burned at the stake and there is no doubt that they will be raised from the dead. As we have already discussed, God is not going to resurrect the flesh. Paul says that the belly will be brought to nothing (1 Corinthians 6:13). God is not going to resurrect our bellies. Then there is the case of the incestuous man. His flesh was to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 5:5) and will clearly not be raised, though the man's spirit was to be saved. It is necessary to draw attention to the fact that there is to be no resurrection of the flesh, because some point to Job 19:26 which reads: "And [if] after my skin this shall be destroyed, yet from out of my flesh shall I see God". It is taken to mean that Job (and all of us) will be in the flesh when we see God, rather than when we are no longer in the flesh (that is, outside of the flesh). The passage is somewhat obscure and apart from the fact that Job believed that he would see God the meaning is uncertain. The alternative reading to 'out of my flesh' is 'yet with my flesh'. It may well not refer to resurrection at all, though the previous verse might suggest that it does, but to what we get in Job 42:5 "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee". Job saw God in some way whilst still in the flesh, rather than after his death, so it would be unwise to press that Job 19:26 refers to resurrection in a way which has no support elsewhere. The thought that cremation is more hygienic than burial would be difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate. One has never heard of a person getting a disease from a dead body by walking through a cemetery.

It is important to see that God does not have only one way of doing things. In nature we find that God's creatures eat the fruit and leaves of trees. They do not, though, get at them all in the same way. Birds fly and land on branches to get at the fruit. Monkeys leap from branch to branch and from tree to tree to get at what they want to eat. Giraffes use their long necks and Elephants their trunks. Squirrels run up the trunks to get nuts. Insects either fly to the trees or live in them. Pigs, however, wait for the fruit to fall on the ground and then get at it underneath the trees, and so on... . God does not have therefore to resurrect everyone in the same way. There are some starfish that will regrow their bodies and arms if only a very small piece of each is left. Their parts are in a certain sense being resurrected. What we are vitally is preserved by God so that he can restore us completely