To Bury or to Burn? Cremation in Christian Perspective

Lacking explicit moral guidance from Scripture, cremation has become an increasingly popular option for contemporary believers and unbelievers alike. Yet for much of history, cremation has been avoided and discouraged by nearly everyone in the Judeo-Christian tradition. So how do we develop a biblical ethic of cremation?

I’d like to suggest Christians begin to address this issue by considering three questions foundational to any ethical methodology.

1. What Moral Norm(s) Apply in This Situation?

There are three passing references to cremation in the Bible worth considering (1 Sam. 31:11-12; Amos 2:1-3; 6:8-11), but as I’ve explored elsewhere, these references are largely incidental and give no explicit moral guidance. An appeal to the moral law as embodied in the Decalogue may be helpful, however, because the eighth commandment addresses material stewardship. The embodied moral norm is stated negatively as “Do not steal” (Exod. 20:15). However, it could be stated positively as “Respect material goods” or “Properly steward material possessions.” And stewardship is not synonymous with frugality. To steward means to properly care for something, and thus the cheapest and easiest option—usually cremation—isn’t necessarily the moral one.

As mentioned earlier, the Judeo-Christian tradition has historically understood the biblical call to proper stewardship of material possessions to teach that burial is the best way to handle (or steward) the body of a decedent—regardless of a cost-benefit analysis. As the apostle John wrote, “The custom of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:40). By way of example, significant individuals in Scripture who were buried—not cremated—include: Rachel (Gen. 35:19-20), Joseph (Gen. 50:25; Exod. 13:19; Josh. 24:32), Aaron (Deut. 10:6), Moses (Deut. 34:5-8), Joshua (Josh. 24:30), Samuel (1 Sam. 25:1), David (1 Kgs. 2:10), John the Baptist (Matt. 14:12), Lazarus (John 11:17-18), Stephen (Acts 8:2), and, of course, Jesus Christ (John 19:38-42).

2. Which Method Best Demonstrates Love of God and Love of Neighbor?

Scripture teaches us that love of God and love of others (even deceased others) is a mark of Christlike character (cf. John 11:1-44). So which method of interment best demonstrates love of God and of neighbor? Assuming a holistic view of human beings, the body of the decedent itself should be respected and shown neighbor-love by those choosing the interment procedure—including the person making plans for interring his or her own body. Among doctrines that shape and inform such neighbor-love toward a corpse—including one’s own—are the dignity of the human body and the future bodily resurrection.

The dignity of the human body is supported by such biblical teachings as God’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31) creation, humanity made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), the incarnation of Christ (Heb. 2:14), and the redemption of the human body (Rom. 8:23). Likewise, the future bodily resurrection is taught in passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 and Philippians 3:20-21. Note, too, that in Scripture buried corpses are referred to as persons—often by name—not as things or former persons (cf. Mark 15:45-46; John 11:43). Moreover, the most prevalent word used in the New Testament to describe the death of a believer is “sleep,” a term employed by both Jesus (cf. Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52; John 11:11) and Paul (1 Cor. 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; 1 Thess. 4:13-16).

In view of these passages, we understand the body is more than just a temporary shell inhabited for a season. The real “me” has both material and also immaterial components. Indeed, man is a holistic being with a body, soul, and spirit. Though at death the human body no longer houses a soul/spirit, the body nonetheless needs to be shown respect and dignity. Just as the soul/spirit is renewed at conversion (2 Cor. 5:17), so the physical body will be renewed and reunited with the soul/spirit at the end of the age (1 John 3:2; Rom. 8:23). Such reasoning begins to give moral direction to the ethics of cremation.

3. Which Method Would Bring the Most Glory to God?

The main options available to most are cremation and burial. For a variety of reasons, those facing this decision may lean more toward one option or the other—yet rarely is the glory of God cited as a rationale. Rather, funerary choices are usually based on utilitarian factors such as expense, environmental concern, and ease of transportation, among other pragmatic rationales. Again, the cheapest or easiest option isn’t always (or even usually) the path that brings the most glory to God.

From biblical times until the middle of the 19th century, the church was nearly united in the view that burial brings the most glory to God. Believers have reasoned that burial best reflects proper stewardship of the body and the divine value in the material world, most visibly depicts the gospel message, most clearly communicates the hope of future bodily resurrection, and most plainly expresses the promise of an eternal physical existence. Certainly not all will agree with this position, but the church built this view on biblical and theological moorings (and not on the the Platonic dualism widespread in the biblical world). Indeed, given that cremation was common in the Greco-Roman world, we know the church’s consistent preference doesn’t reflect utilitarian ethics or cultural accommodation. Rather, burial reflects a distinctly Judeo-Christian worldview.

Despite the church’s historic preference for burial, not all deaths afford loved ones an opportunity to choose the method of interment. Factors such as the location and manner of death, nation-specific legal parameters, as well as the resources of the surviving family will bear on funerary practices and decisions. However, if given a choice, contemporary believers open to cremation would be wise to carefully consider the practice and evaluate it in light of God’s Word.

After all, within the Christian tradition funerals aren’t simply ways of disposing of dead bodies, nor are they about remembering the departed or expressing grief. Rather, for believers, funerals ought to be Christ-centered events, testifying throughout to the message and hope of the gospel.

  • Ronnie

    There is definitely more of a finality to being buried, vs. being converted to ashes and then placed in an urn on someone’s mantle…

    • John Carpenter

      I don’t understand how being cremated is anything less than “final”. In fact, most states require a waiting period before a body can be cremated, in case an autopsy is required, precisely because it is considered so “irreversible”.

      Many people’s cremated remains are placed in an urn which can be buried or is often scattered some place. One avid Alabama football fan asked that his cremated remains be scattered on the Alabama football field and his wife did just that!

  • Serj

    With this in mind, what are your thoughts on organ donation?

    I have always felt that donating my organs to others so they could live was the most good, loving thing to do. My parents, however, have held different ideas saying that the body will rise again and we should honor our bodies and not cut them up and harvest organs.

    What does TGC community think?

    • Zachary Mccoy


      I am pro-burial and pro-organ-donation…

      Burial best reflects the hope of the resurrection (and now that I think of it, cremation seems to reflect the fires of eternal judgment, though, I’d never pressure someone to be buried).

      As for organ donation, we have several Scriptural evidences for choosing to help others over what is best (or even lawful): David and his men ate the bread reserved only for the Levitical priests, Jesus healed on the Sabbath, Rahab lied to her countrymen, etc… I wouldn’t get rid of my organs simply because they were inconvenient, that would be wrong, but to donate them in hopes of saving lives is a good thing.

      Peace and grace,

      • Gerin St. Claire

        I think organ donation is great. Jesus offered up his body for us, to give us life. So organ donation sort of follows his example. Christ’s resurrection filled his body with renewed blood, and our bodies will also be renewed in our resurrection, so we can donate our organs in the meantime.

  • Gordon Loop

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the article. I will use it in the future when helping a family make the right decision. I was thinking of this the other day when I read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Our bodies do not belong to us. On another note, We have moved back to Boston and I am the pastor of Calvary Baptist in Dedham, MA. Thanks for being a great teacher.

  • Dean P

    I still think this is a gray area that scripture is not explicit enough about and should not be addressed so forcefully. Otherwise you get into extra Biblical territory that gets’ close to legalism. It is right up there with how many kids scripture tells us we should have and whether or not it is unbiblical for men to be stay at home fathers.

  • Clinton Hogrefe

    Thanks for this article David. I found it very helpful and written with care. I am thankful that our church is in an area where both options are readily available. But I always feel the tension of so many believers in third-world nations or mega-cities where burial of the body really isn’t an option. For me the story of Abraham sacrificing in order to give Sarah a proper burial is a strong statement from God on how we should care for the bodily home of our loved brother or sister (Gen. 23).

    • Mel

      Abraham was rich.

    • John Carpenter

      The story of Abraham purchasing the cave to bury Sarah in (Genesis 35) is about his faith in God’s promises, that he believed the promise that He would inherit that whole land. It’s not norm-setting for burial practices.

  • jun

    I agree with Dean on his comment that this is a gray area and it can be quite dangerous to be dogmatic about this.
    For if burial is the “only biblical” and traditional (from Biblical until the mid 19th century) way, then what about those who were burned at the stake? Just asking. :-)

    • Mel

      Or whose loved ones have been stolen and dismembered or never to be found? Or the mass graves of disease out break? Or the fact that we have had billions of people die since the time the bible was written?

      My father donated. We received a letter from a woman that was able to see her twin grandchildren because of his donation. I had always thought you had to be kept alive with machines to donate anything of value. I didn’t know that you could donate in other situations. He then was cremated in order to be buried in the Veterans Cemetery, for free. My mother will have the same thing done to be buried with him.

      • Phil

        Mel: Regarding those whose bodies have been stolen, that’s not relevant to the discussion because in those cases the family doesn’t have a choice; they have no body to bury, cremate or whatever. This is about which is the best choice. This is about stewardship, and we can only steward that over which we have some measure of control.

        Regarding mass burial, that’s still burial, not cremation. Also, those bodies are mass buried at the hands of (and by choice of) those doing the mass burial — typically a government. Again, like families who never find the bodies, these families also have no ability to carry out stewardship of the body.

        BTW, for the record, while I don’t like cremation (it reeks of paganism and doesn’t show hope of resurrection) I don’t believe a slam-dunk case can be made against it. The other side of the argument is that God will raise us to new life regardless of the condition of body. Many bodies have turned to dust (tantamount to ash) or have completely dissipated in the ocean (e.g., burial at sea, lost sailors, etc.) and God will raise those bodies anew as well.

        • Mel

          There are so many things that reek of paganism but Christians do them all the same and call them redeemed. To pull out this one thing and speak of it in legalistic terms doesn’t seem that beneficial to me.
          My point about the people who have no bodies to bury was that God raises us just the same. Obviously

          So unless there is a directive in the bible that says how we are to do it then it stands to reason that culture and physical surroundings are going to impact how someone conducts a burial. If someone is dead for a very long time, then they are dust too.

          It seems to me that what brings glory to God is that we live a life dedicated to Him so that His gospel can be shared at the celebration of that life. Not what we do with a body ravished by a fallen world.

  • Cliff

    One factor touched on but not specifically mentioned in the article is the issue of testimony. Leaving the body ‘whole’ seems to communicate something about the deceased’s faith in a bodily resurrection.

    • Tom

      I just don’t see this. To me it seems to communicate more a superstitious view of the afterlife. Like people going to a gravesite to talk to lost loved ones or Egyptians burying a bunch of wealth with the dead in order to provide for the afterlife. When I die (if the Lord tarries) my body will begin the process of decay and eventually return to dust. My hope of a resurrection isn’t tied to my current physical body. It is based on God’s promise to give me a glorified body. I don’t see any physical connection with the matter of which my earthly body was made. It seems to me that cremation conveys the idea that these physical bodies are dust, but the essence of who we are lives on awaiting a new body, not the husk that we have left behind. Still, something to think about. It certainly was the Biblical practice.

    • TC

      After a certain amount the body will not remain whole, it will again be turned into dust.

  • Alex

    I understand the sentiment behind burial. I understand that when alive we have to be good stewards of our body for the glory of God. However, I still don’t see how that applies to a dead body when we will have a new heavenly body. Also, if burial is supposedly the right, scriptural way for things to be done, then how do you explain in Luke 9:59-60 when a man told Jesus he wants to follow him, but he wanted to go and bury his father first. Jesus told him in Luke 9:60 “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” I don’t know, to me that means that we should not worry about such matters of cremation vs. burial. To me that means we must go and proclaim the glory of God. Jesus calls us to forget burying our own family in order to proclaim his glory. It seems trivial to focus on such things when God calls us to forget about the burial of even our own fathers. These are just my two cents.

  • Jake Collins

    richard and alex, you are right. where the bible is not specific we can use our best judgement. this article made me mad. it’s a prudential decision and a practical choice.

  • KWP

    As I read this article, it felt like an ad for a funeral home…I’m just saying. I don’t think the Biblical support given makes the case for burial vs. cremation.

  • angie

    This issue is a gray area and to say that burial brings more glory to God than cremation is without solid Biblical foundation. Considering the thousands of dollars that burial can cost, I believe it glorifies God to cremate a body for much less money and use the money for a cause that brings glory to God, such as feeding the hungry or spreading the Gospel. Christian liberty in this, I believe.

    • Paul

      Take slight issue with the comment: I don’t see any Biblical commandment, reccomendation, or moral imperative for burial. And the way burial is practiced/regulated in the U.S., removing blood and replacing it with a fluid to minimize “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” seems to be fighting God’s natural law.

  • Cliff

    Richard, please don’t hold back…let us know exactly how you feel. Not everyone lives on Hong Kong or lives on a few dollars a day. Some DO have the opportunity to make this decision and want to honor God with that decision. And God does ‘give a toss’ about how we make the choices we make. This issue may seem trivial to you, and in fact, it may be compared to other pressing issues. However, the longing to honor God in all things is never trivial and he most assuredly DOES give a toss about where are hearts are.

  • Dave

    Have to agree with others that the exposition here seems stretched pretty thin. Another point to consider (for Americans, at least) is how well the typically elaborate funeral arrangements reflect a Christian’s persuasion that this world is not our (ultimate) home. The “expense” point is downplayed by the author, but can you really discount it that quickly? As anyone knows who has gone through this, funerals are **big** business, and often full of high pressure tactics at exactly the wrong time. Those resources could be used for a lot of other purposes that are (IMO) more glorifying to God and present a better testimony than a fancy box that is going to get stuck in the ground.

  • Chris

    I’m not sure how cremation shows any lack of hope in the Resurrection. To dust we shall return, does it matter if it happens in a couple hours in a furnace or years in the ground? If got made Adam from dust, then why should my hope in being ressurected in a new body be any less just because my old body became dust a little sooner rather than later?

    • TC

      I agree…if God made us from dust..He can do the same from ashes…if not, He is not God.

  • Mark

    I had trouble with this argument as my wife and I are planning to be cremated, and don’t want to burden our children with the cost/trouble. Also, I lean on Luke 24, and I don’t want viewers of my body to think “that’s where I am” I don’t care for viewings for that reason. Pictures are much better ways to “remember” friends and family. Also in Genesis 3, we are told that we will return to dust, from where we came. Also, on Christ’s return, death will be eliminated, bodies will be made whole and the earth will be restored, and there will be no talk of burial. Frankly, I told my wife that I thought the best funeral would be a viking funeral (forgive the pagan influences) but see the end of the movie Rocket Gibraltar: wouldn’t you want your friends and family to watch your flame drift out to see, on a beautiful night, enveloped in God’s creation, knowing/hoping that you will be together with Christ someday? Okay, off my soapbox. This topic is worthy of more exploration, though.

  • Leah

    I agree with those who are saying cremation vs. burial is a gray area. This article seems to be begging the question. It admits that the Bible does not give any moral aspect to burial or cremation yet tries to claim that cremation is a violation of the 8th commandment. This is based purely on preference. The whole argument hinges on burial being the only proper way to bury a corpse which is only assumed to be true and not actually proven. If it could be proven that cremation is a violation of the 8th, I’m sure Christians would repudiate it. The problem is there’s not enough information in Scripture to prove this.

    • Greg Memberto

      You made a good point, Leah. Hopefully agrement with you wont lead to my comment being deleted by the powers that be. Why anyone woul dbrin gthis up, I found as bit of humor, or kidding, or someone who enjoys setin gup shop in the gray aras of life. I have many preferences and woul dnot use a forum such as this to express them and throw a couple of verses at someone else and expect them to get on my band wagon.

  • david carlson

    funerals ought to be Christ-centered events, testifying throughout to the message and hope of the gospel.

    Agreed. But what does that have to do with cremation v. burial?

    Considering the Bible gives no instruction that can even be remotely considered as binding as to burial practices, these attempts to promote burial seem more like an attempt to stretch the regulative principal by inference.

    In addition, since the tradition was in Jesus time to lay the body out until it falls apart than put the bones in an ossuary, are you suggesting we should do that?

    It seems to me that our modern burial practices have nothing to do with historical jewish practice and instead are more like heathen practices of burying the corpse with money and trinkets (which we do by paying tens of thousands of dollars to the funeral home).

    If your going to make up rules not found in the bible, they might as well be close to what was actually practiced when the bible was written.

    • Greg

      David, I couldn’t agree more. The argument falls in line with “food and drink.” To propose that Christians SHOULD do something not outlined in scripture is extra-biblical, and should be refused as doctrine.

  • Jason

    Of course we should all make a conscientious decision in this matter. David has stated his opinion, and attempted to back it up with scripture. I can respect that even if I disagree. From what I’ve read and heard, Orthodox Church takes this very position on cremation.

    It’s funny, however, that in one breath some seem to support this strong “scriptural” case for burial as the only God-glorifying option but in another breath condone chopping up the body for organ donation because it “helps” people.

    As for John’s writing that it was the tradition of the Jews bury, I hardly see this as normative for all people everywhere – particularly for Christians. The mere fact that they had this tradition is meaningless. Jews had plenty of other traditions that we certainly don’t see as normative.

    I plan to donate my organs and have the rest of me cremated (and NOT kept in an urn). Using the logic stated elsewhere in this discussion that organ donation is authorized because it glorifies God by helping others, I think my cremation falls under another godly principle of being a good steward of my family’s finances. As a former bookkeeper for mortuary, I can personally attest to the multiple thousands of dollars people spend on funerals, including luxurious caskets, burial plots with scenic views, and other items, which (IMO) borders on idolatry.

    On a final note, even though he ultimately prevented it, God seemed fully prepared to have Abraham stab to death and then burn the body of Isaac. If burning a dead human body brought dishonor to God, this would have been an even more curious command than it already was.

    Interesting article and discussion, but can we move onto something weightier?

  • Susan

    My daughter was recently cremated due to financial constraints. Generally we would have preferred burial but the cost is now driving many to choose cremation.
    When a body is buried, it decays and goes to ashes. The process involved in cremation speeds up the eventual reduction to ashes. We limit God’s power when we say that we want to keep the body in tact. In fact, the body is never kept in tack. I do not think God will have a problem in raising us from the dead no matter how our mortal remains are disposed off. For Christians, we are obligated to bury our loved ones with dignity and that is the only ethical issue for me.

  • Jeremy Lee

    Before reading this article, I was unsure of cremation as a viable alternative to burial. However, after reading this article, if these are the best anti-cremation arguments we have, I am completely convinced that there is nothing wrong with it, as the arguments against are weak at best.

    1. I don’t abide by “moral norms”, I abide by Biblical truth. To assume that everyone cremates to save a few dollars is not a great place to start an argument.

    2. The argument begins by appealing to ‘demonstrating the love of God’, and ends by contradicting itself in that the body will be renewed regardless of state. The weak reasoning here might be a slight, possible, minor *suggestion* that burial would respect the body more, but I certainly wouldn’t say that it is a solid ground to stand on.

    3. This argument employs the biggest wax nose of all: “Bring Glory to God”. And again, the weak appeal to history instead of Biblical truth is itself overturned in the next paragraph which acknowledges that many bodies do not receive a proper burial, but that has no effect on their eternity.

  • Ian

    Could the author comment on his inclusion of “environmental concerns” under the categories of utilitarian factors and pragmatic rationales? I ask because I would understand stewardship of the environment to be based on the Cultural Mandate and the biblical teaching that God created all things good and we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth. So the same rationale to care for the human body looking forward to our resurrection at the consummation should cause us to at least consider environmental factors like land use (in some areas of the world) and the issues of chemicals released into the ground and water from decomposition and the embalming process. I am not saying it is a primary factor, but I do think how we weigh “environmental concerns” should be one thing we account for when we desire to glorify God and not have them dismissed utilitarian, especially since it utilitarian underpinnings were certainly a factor in the pollution of the environment and of culture that came about during the Industrial Revolution.

    • Bill Young

      All the comments given to this point have given me reason to consider my decision to have my body Cremated. I was a Police Officer for 27 years and have been at death scenes more times than I would have liked. One of my very good friends and another Sgt. on the Dept. lived alone and his body wasn’t discovered for so long that cremation was the only sanitary to handle his corpse. I spoke at his service. The Service was largely dedicated to his love of God and his life. I have been to motor vehicle accidents where the driver virtually burned to death before my eyes. I don’t know if the driver was Christian or not. I have seen the after effects of Death many more times than I care to mention. Many were virtually cremated in the location of death. I myself,had I not been protected by my Lord Jesus Christ was nearly cremated when I hit black ice and went through a bridge railing and dropped 74′ into the edge of the Okla River. Driving a Cadillac Eldorado, everything was electric and fire was comeing up from the engine area. I tried to open the door and was prevented by the electric lock, I tried the window, also electric and wouldn’t open. I had been protected on at least 5 previous occasions from death by my Lor Jesus, however; I thought my time had come, until I noticed the right side of the vehicle must have hit a bridge abutment and had broken the windows out of the right side of the vehicle, I crawled out the window hole and scrambled up the river bank. As I arrived near the Bridge railing the fuel tank exploded and the vehicle was consumed in flames. There would not have been an opportunity for a choice of burial or cremation. I later gave thought to cremation and remembering from by studies as a young man that God promises us a new body when we arrive in Heaven. I prepaid for a cremation as a cost saving ($825.00) as opposed to thouusands for a funeral, I donated any body part to an organization thatif they use any body part for medical research damaged or not, my cost would be returned to my heir plus interest. The money was a factor as Police Officers at my Dept. don’t make a lot of money. I had already lost my wife of 24 years whose mother refused to allow me to pay a dime on the funeral as my lovely and young (49) wife was her first child 10 days short of a year of losing her my second Grandchild was relieved of her pain and suffering by the Lord and she was buried and the cost assumed by the other Grandparents. If the Bible had instructed me to use burial only, I would have done that. By my cremation, I save rapidly diminishing land, add my ashes to my sacred home ground to help hopefully to furtilize the land. I saw no objections to Cremation as I have already I can’t find in the Bible any scripture that says anything other than My Lord God will give me a new body. I currently feel as I have done the right thing. I appreciate all the comments given by others and live with the hope that since I have confessed my sins before God and Man and been baptized by imersion, just as Jesus was by John the baptist. I am not worried that my God and Lord Jesus Christ will split hairs over the disposal of my earthly carrier of my soul which job has already been accomplished.

  • Phil

    The author claims: “…the Judeo-Christian tradition has historically understood the biblical call to proper stewardship of material possessions to teach that burial is the best way to handle (or steward) the body of a decedent—regardless of a cost-benefit analysis.”

    I’ve studied my share of Christian history and I don’t see the a profligate spending as a virtue in any capacity, funerals or otherwise. While burial is the traditional method for Christians, spendthrift blow-out funderals are most certainly not.

    I do my best to honor God by not living a profilgate life… and I shudder to think of my family wasing tens of thousands of dollars on a costly funeral with burial in a luxery coffin that looks like it was built by Lexus or Mercedes-Benz, as that would most certainly not represent me or the humble witness I sought to live.

  • sarah

    Certainly it is not Scripturally disrespectful or lacking honor to God or man to choose prayerfully, wisely and as a good steward all around. It is important that we do glorify God with consideration to environmental and financial considerations as we continue to care for the living and His creation.

    I understand that Jewish burial, at least during a certain period, occurred by placing the body in a tomb until a certain state of decomposition was reached, then placing the remains within an ossuary (bone box) which might be taken elsewhere for a second burial. If so, despite the fact that we take a different approach with regard to the bones and ash, isn’t cremation essentially speeding up this same process? I would be interested in the author’s thoughts here.

  • Dan Register

    According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance,,”Embalming has no roots in Christian religion and is common only in the U.S. and Canada.”

  • Lee

    Are you for real to assert that burial is more glorifying to God than cremation? This is absurd!

    • Phil

      Lee, I’ve received about three email notifications that you’ve posted replies, yet I only see one (maybe the mods removed the other two). However, I would suggset that you tone down the attitude and take things down a notch. If you disagree with the article, then post a rational and respectfully stated case as to why. But hit-n-run comments (“…absurd!”) don’t contribute to the fellowship.

      • Lee

        Phil, my best friend’s name is Phil so I will be polite with you. I normally don’t response to articles, but this one just upset me in so many levels. But I appreciate your admonishment.

  • Jeff Johnson

    I wonder why burial is more respectful to the human body or why it is better stewardship of the body than cremation. Burning is not necessarily a sign of disrespect. For example, many people who choose cremation keep the remains in an urn or box in their home so they can keep that memory of their loved one close to them, or they may deposit the ashes in a place that was important to them or their loved one. Why is this inferior stewardship to draining the blood out of the body and injecting it with chemicals? Personally, I think that our effort to make the deceased person look handsome and alive places too much emphasis on our earthly bodies and betrays the reality of decay that we all know will take place. Also, cremation can point to our faith that it is the unfathomable power of God that will raise us up at the resurrection and not our efforts to preserve a body in a box. I’m not trying to criticize anyone’s decision to have a burial, but I just wonder why burial would be more respectful or God-honoring. I find it interesting that will all the emphasis on the resurrection in the New Testament, God never gave us explicit instructions on how to dispose of bodies.

  • carl peterson

    I have seen two unrelated posts on different blogs recently about creamation vs. byurial. Both seemed more pro-burial and both had arguments that were unconvincing.

    1. Moral and social norms- Scripture often goes against the moral and social norms of our various cultures even though it has also often been used to support certain social and moral norms. For instance scripture has been used to support arguments for and against slavery and racism. Also the whole eating of Jesus’ flesh was really weird and went against many social and moral norms of the Roman culture. So I do not see how these types of arguments really tell us much. Maybe we should follow the norm of the culture if we do not have any other arguments for or against but that is a pretty weak argument.

    2. Which best demonstrates love of God and neighbor?- I really do not understand why burying a body respects a body that much more than cremation. If we really wanted to respect the body then maybe mummification or a method of preserving the body would be best.

    Besides that argument is there really any other argument as to why burial is more loving than cremation? Once I am in the ground then does it really matter if I am in a coffin or not? Surely I want to do what is the most loving to God and neighbor but I do not see much of an argument here as to why burial is more loving.

    3. What brings the most glory to God?

    Again this should be part of every decision we make like #2. But I think a case could be made that in this society that cremation could better demonstrate the power of God to restore our human body no matter if cremated or not. Thus I think that cremation could be argued to bring more glory to God.

    I think whether to cremate or bury is a personal decision and until someone can really show me good evidence as to why one should be dogmatic either way then I will be dogmatic about wither way.



    • J.R. Morales

      The mummification thing? Awesome.

  • J.R. Morales

    I agree with most of the “gray area” comments – and I even think that it’s a non-issue in terms of salvation and unity in Christ, things that are much more central and important in terms of theological discussion.

    Being buried or creamated speaks as much about my beliefs as the house I live in. People won’t talk about whether or not I was cremated – but about how fiercely I lived for Christ. I’d be very disappointed if these conversations took place at my funeral or wherever!

    Lastly, I don’t want to undermine God’s power to make a new body – no matter what happens to mine. I’m sure that a Christian that got devoured by wolves won’t be denied a new body – nor will those who have been/will be cremated.

  • Sean

    Both burial and cremation have pagan roots. Our current burial practices involve embalming the body to preserve it from decay – how is this respectful to the body and to God’s creation? If we are concerned with this issue maybe we should use the Amish practice of burial in a pine box with no embalming. The body would have to be buried within 24 hours.

    I think both cremation and burial can be honoring to God. What is more important is making sure the message of the Gospel is presented through a funeral, memorial service, or other public remembrance.

    The issue of resurrection is immaterial because in both cases the body returns to dust (with embalming it may take much longer).

    Both burial and cremation have environmental impact. Burial is done in a concrete vault to prevent contamination. Those who are cremated usually have to pay an “environmental” fee of some sort.

    Ultimately, it depends on what is the wisest and most God honoring decision for your circumstance.

  • joey d

    Before this article, I hadn’t given any real thought as to why I should care if I’m buried or cremated. The thought that one over the other is more glorifying to God seems a bit of a stretch. The article has provoked me to ponder this further, but I don’t think that it has persuaded me from wanting to be cremated (for many of the reasons stated above). I would be very interested in hearing the Author respond to some of the comments.

    What about Bio-Cremation? The organs are liquefied and the bones ground to dust.

  • theoldadam

    Thoughtful article.

    I want my wife to stand me up outside on trash day. Maybe put a hat on me in case it rains.

    Save a few bucks.


    I like a burial with open casket viewing. Brings the reality of death that much closer.


  • jeremiah

    What about-‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’- this would leave open cremation right?

  • James Kok

    The only acceptable reason for cremation is cost.

    I will gladly prove that but reluctant to waste the words now

    • angie

      I’d be interested to hear you “prove” this. Since there is no clear Biblical mandate, I don’t believe you can “prove” your side. You can try to persuade others to your side by presenting convincing evidence but I do not believe that you can “prove” it. Proof implies an absolute that just doesn’t exist here.

  • Caleb W

    As far as I can see, this is a non-issue. Your body will rot and decay and return to the earth or your ashes will return to the earth (not everyone who is cremated is placed on someone’s mantle).

    Why are we even talking about this?

  • Melody

    I’m guessing that donating for medical research or to the body farm would be really out of the question then.

  • Les Clemens

    While it is always helpful to have a discussion on this subject and appreciate a number of opinions on the matter of cremation versus burial, I found David Jones insights to be troubling. Troubling on the basis of weak argumentation from Scripture. One may have an opinion on the subject but when you desire to put biblical weight to it you need to do a better job than this.

  • Dean P

    I think Les Clemens above makes an excellent final statement in showing how the writer of this article has presented a poorly executed argument from scripture with poor exegesis in support of that argument. And I think this fact is can be seen regardless of what one’s position on this particular issue is. Thank you Les I think you should have the last word here.

  • Joshua Amaezechi

    I think that the scale seems to tip towards burial rather than cremation. Jude 1: 9 tells us that Satan wanted to take charge of the body of Moses but was rebuked by the Arch Angel Michael. We read in Deut.34 that the Lord buried Moses (using fire to burn him down would have been easier but God chose to bury his body) We also read that a dead man was thrown into the tomb of Elisha and that when the dead man’s body touched Elisha’s bones, he came back to life.(2 King 13: 21) Though in life, Moses and Elisha are great prophets, in death,I believe that their bodies have the same status as those of all the elect. These instances point to the sanctity of the body of the saints, making burial a more acceptable option.

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  • Phil

    The witness of 1900+ years of Christians vs. the individualistic opinions of modern Americans and Europeans (deeply influenced by the secularists and heretics who have gone to such great effort reintroducing cremation in an effort to distort orthodox Christianity [see I think I’ll trust the former, thanks.

    And a proper burial doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) the ridiculously lavish and expensive affair that the funeral industry has warped it into in the name of profit. Start up a burial society at your church and the cost drops by about two-thirds and the service to your reposed friend and his/her family becomes so much more human. Here’s how:

  • John S

    Wow lots of passion here. I guess that’s the way of everything on the internet though.

    I can see both sides. I don’t want to dismiss church history as meaningless. I can see burial in the Bible for God’s people but no cremation. I can see a symbolic significance to burial, but that significance will vary by individual.

    It’s more important what is said about death at service imo. And can’t you have the same funeral and burial services with a cremated body that you would have with a regular burial?
    What if I want to save $2000 on funeral and give it toward mission work, would that be poor stewardship? Whenever Scripture gives no clear command I would probably be hesitant to come down as strongly as the author, but he makes a decent case (though ‘do not steal’ as a reason to bury seems kind of a stretch)

  • Melody

    I think that any time a we gets a superior attitude about a point of view that we take on a gray area that is a clue that we are on the wrong track. This is not a salvation issue. We are called to humility and love toward each other. That is how people will know that we are a disciple of Christ. Not the way that we are buried.

  • Dr Thaddeus Irvine

    The Bible doesn’t give instructions on how a body should be handled after death. In the cultures of Bible times, burial in a tomb, cave, or in the ground was the common way to dispose of a human body (Genesis 23:19; 35:4; 2 Chronicles 16:14; Matthew 27:60-66). The most common type ofburial in the Bible was the dead being placed in above-ground tombs, for those who could afford it. For those who could not afford it, bodies were buried in the ground. As we see in Joshua 7:25, the only time the dead were burned in the Bible was as a punishment of the wicked for offenses they committed against God’s commands (Leviticus 20:14). In the New Testament, tombs were still the burial places of the wealthy, which is why Jesus, who had no earthly wealth at all, had to be buried in a tomb borrowed from a wealthy member of the Jewish hierarchy named Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60).

    Today, obeying the laws of the land regarding corpses is always a significant consideration. Laws vary from country to country and, in the U.S., from state to state. Because Christians are to obey the government authorities over us, laws regarding disposing of a body must be followed. Then there is the question of burial vs. cremation. Neither is commanded in the Bible, but neither is prohibited. In the end, it is best to leave that decision to the family of the deceased.

    Whatever method is used to dispose of a body is not nearly as important as the truth that the body is no longer housing the person who has died. Paul describes our bodies as “tents” that are temporary abodes. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1). When Jesus returns, Christians will be raised to life and our bodies will be transformed to glorified, eternal bodies. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43).
    The teaching of the Bible and the early church relative to cremation is a bit vague. Ultimately, burial customs reflected the worship of God in the context of cultural norms.

    It is true that the Jewish custom was burial—specifically, to bury the body in a cave until insects and the elements had stripped the flesh, then to bury the bones in a more permanent location. Cremation is not mentioned in the Bible, although immolation was sometimes the penalty for law-breakers (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Numbers 16:35; Joshua 7:15-25). The only biblical instance of dead bodies being burned is in 1 Samuel 31:11-13. The bodies of Saul and his sons were burned out of respect (the Philistines had mutilated the bodies). The bones were then buried in honor. To be refused burial, in particular to have one’s body eaten by wild animals, was a great dishonor (1 Kings 13:22; Jeremiah 16:6).

    Burial is exemplified, but not demanded, in the Old Testament, and cremation is not expressly forbidden in Scripture. Instead, it is the Talmud—an extra-scriptural commentary—that prohibits cremation as the mutilation of a corpse.

    The early church rejected cremation, mirroring their rejection of pagan philosophy. A popular false doctrine of the day was Gnosticism, which taught that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good. This belief made cremation desirable, since it completely destroyed the physical body and freed the spirit from its earthly bond. The early church rejected Gnosticism and its view of the body. The Scriptures teach that God made the body and it was good (Genesis 1:31). In addition, the Bible speaks of the body as the home of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) and promises the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The early Christians honored the bodies of the dead, showing them respect as “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). This doesn’t mean they believed the physical body must remain intact for resurrection to occur; just that cremation was a metaphorical rejection of God’s blessing on the physical part of us.

    Some modern views reflect similar thinking. Many religious people still favor “Christian burial” over cremation. In Judaism, cremation is more abhorrent than ever, as it is reminiscent of how bodies were disposed of in the Holocaust. Among the general populace, however, cremation has grown in popularity in recent years. Factors such as expense and land usage favor cremation.

    The early church saw burial as an expression of faith in Jesus’ redemption of the physical body. However, burial is not scripturally mandated. First Corinthians 15:35-55 explains that our physical body is a mere seed, and God will raise for us an imperishable, glorious, spiritual body. As long as the intent is glorifying to God, it doesn’t matter if a body is buried or cremated.
    The Bible does not give any specific teaching about cremation. There are occurrences in the Old Testament of people being burned to death (1 Kings 16:18; 2 Kings 21:6) and of human bones being burned (2 Kings 23:16-20), but these are not examples of cremation. It is interesting to note that in 2 Kings 23:16-20, burning human bones on an altar desecrated the altar. At the same time, the Old Testament law nowhere commands that a deceased human body not be burned, nor does it attach any curse or judgment on someone who is cremated.

    Cremation was practiced in biblical times, but it was not commonly practiced by the Israelites or by New Testament believers. In the cultures of Bible times, burial in a tomb, cave, or in the ground was the common way to dispose of a human body (Genesis 23:19; 35:4; 2 Chronicles 16:14; Matthew 27:60-66). While burial was the common practice, the Bible nowhere commands burial as the only allowed method of disposing of a body.

    Is cremation something a Christian can consider? Again, there is no explicit scriptural command against cremation. Some believers object to the practice of cremation on the basis it does not recognize that one day God will resurrect our bodies and re-unite them with our soul/spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). However, the fact that a body has been cremated does not make it any more difficult for God to resurrect that body. The bodies of Christians who died a thousand years ago have, by now, completely turned into dust. This will in no way prevent God from being able to resurrect their bodies. He created them in the first place; He will have no difficulty re-creating them. Cremation does nothing but “expedite” the process of turning a body into dust. God is equally able to raise a person’s remains that have been cremated as He is the remains of a person who was not cremated. The question of burial or cremation is within the realm of Christian freedom. A person or a family considering this issue should pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and follow the conviction that results.

    • Jason Calk

      Thanks for the rational and well reasoned response. I find it troubling that Dr Jones takes such a humanistic and definitive stance in his article.

      The arguments for burial as a metaphor (premise 3) are fine and dandy but strikingly similar metaphors can be made from cremation as well. And as many have pointed out already the body will decay and turn to dust over time anyway so unless you plan on some type of scifi suspended animation frozen burial then the “resurrected body” argument loses all meaning. And if you do then I’d argue that pride is playing a greater role than a metaphorical gospel message about resurrection.

      I will admit that on its surface premise 2 has some validity but it presupposes an inherent evil in cremation that doesn’t exist. Proper respect and love can be demonstrated via cremation just as easily as disrespect can be demonstrated from rolling a dead body into a hole in the ground.

      On the whole, I am not sure what’s worse: the publication of this divisive essay while there are real issues and truths to be discussed and proclaimed or that many see this poorly reasoned argument as Biblically sufficient.

  • Tyler Freeman

    I agree that Platonic dualism is prevalent throughout the church and is unbiblical. I also agree that according to the scriptures we will be raised in new material bodies. Yet I have one speculation and query: would not God be able to give a cremated person a wholly new kind of material body “from heaven”?

    I refer the reader to ch. 15 in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Verse 40 mentions distinguishes between the “natural” and the “spiritual” flesh. What this means is not clear, except that natural flesh is what we currently have, and that there is a distinction between the two. In addition, verse 47 mentions that one flesh was formed from the dust and the other comes from heaven, as another distinction.

    Of course, I would love to hear what you might think of the seed/sowing analogies. They imply that yes, the seed must die first to grow something different from it (verses 36-38, et al), which would imply that the new body comes from the dead old one. It also implies that the disintegration of the kernel would prevent the plant growing from it.

    Lastly, if it were true that by burning bodies we prevent proper resurrection, what does that mean for the faithful martyrs who were burned at the stake? And for the sinners? They are to be raised, too, to judgement.

    Thank you,


  • Brian

    I’m glad somebody above mentioned the wonderful book A Christian Ending (a reference, if you don’t know, from the litany in the Divine Liturgy … “For a Christian ending to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord”)

    Cremation has never been an acceptable Christian practice. I realize arguments from outside “sola Scriptura” won’t fly here, leaving almost everything up to private interpretation and practice, so I won’t enter into them, but anyone with an interest in this subject would do well to check out this book.

    • Jon

      Please refer to Dr Thaddeus Irvine who refutes your less well thought out assertions that cremation has never been been acceptable.

      • Brian


        I’ll just repeat my earlier comment that I realize arguments from outside “sola Scriptura” won’t fly here, leaving almost everything up to private interpretation and practice, so I won’t enter into them. The fact is that cremation was never urged on the faithful and was never part of Christian funeral rites in the West nor the East. This is certainly the case today in the Orthodox Church where cremation is still not permitted, save for in Japan where it proscribed by law, but this is the exception.

        The fact that cremation has never been a Christian practice is not a “less well thought out assertion” but a simple matter of history.

        • John Carpenter

          The question is what God has said. Since God has not commanded anything regarding exactly how to dispose of the dead body, then, according to principles God has said (e.g. Romans 14), we have freedom. We’re not constrained by the traditions of men — Jesus said that too, when teaching “sola Scriptura” in Matthew 15:6.

          As for the Eastern “Orthodox” Church, they have embraced exactly what God said not to do, making images and bowing before them (thus breaking the 2nd commandment, Ex. 20:4ff.) Furthermore, the “orthodox” broke away from the tradition of the early church which strictly opposed icons:
          The Council of Elvira (c. 305) “Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.”
          Eusebius (c. 327), in a letter to Constantia: To depict Christ is to break the commandment of God and to fall into pagan error.
          Epiphanius (c. 394), Letter 51, tore down a decorated curtain and told the other bishop that such images are contrary to our religion.

          • Brian

            John, there is no doubt that we could go round and round on this. I don’t hold to “sola Scriptura”, which would further perpetuate the round-and-round nature of a discussion. So I’ll drop it.

            As a final note, I did notice this posting on the Orthodox Church in America’s website the other day: Concerning Burning

            As a final-final aside, I’m not sure what Protestant/evangelical iconoclasm has to do with this discussion. The Elvira Synod was a local council in Spain, certainly not a Ecumenical Council. (and as a side note, what made/makes a council binding is not its pronouncement, but its reception by the church). Even Protestant historians are uncertain of the nature of what you assert. Most agree that it didn’t mean a bare iconoclasm of the type you’re advocating.

            And as for Eusebius, he was hardly a model for the Church in his support for Arius. He’s not St. Eusebius for a reason.

            Are you referring to St. Epiphanius of Cyprus? If so, and your date lines up, you might be interested to know that the 7th Ecumenical Council (787) – which upheld the Christian teaching and practice concerning holy images – honored St. Epiphanius as a faithful teacher of the traditions of the Church, over and against iconoclasm and Arianism.

  • greg m

    This truly is the post that will never die. My gosh, the guy will have his phd before the comments end. Lets either bury this post and the comments…or burn it

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  • John Carpenter

    The seems to assume that feeding our body to worms is somehow more dignified than burning it. That, after all, was what burial meant prior to the embalming. Only in relatively recent times did “burial” imply the embalming and sealed casket of today which supposedly make burial more dignified.

    Also, there is the economic issues of the expense modern funerals. Thousands of dollars are spent on preparing the body and a vault and casket.

    Instead, register as an organ donor, give your body to science when you die (agencies like Science Care [[will take your body upon death, it will be used for science or medical training, then cremated within 90 days and the remains returned to the family), and instead of an expensive funeral, have a memorial serve at a church, with the gospel presented, telling people in words and by example, that the needs of others were more important than the sentimental fetish of fawning over a body, and that we believe in the resurrection.

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  • Dan James Jones
  • Mike

    This article doesn’t address the option of donating one’s body to medical research, but if we are to follow the author’s logic, it would seem to more closely align with cremation than burial. If we are to accept the author’s premise, the exercise of donating and the act of post-mortem exploration of the body would not be seen as bringing glory to God. This idea would create a huge ethical dilemma for Christians who wish to donate their bodies to science as well as any medical student seeking to gain a greater understanding of God’s creation through the dismemberment of corpses. Should Christian students refuse to gain greater insight in operating on the dead before operating on the living in order to ensure proper stewardship of the body? Should Christians refuse to offer their bodies as an opportunity for others to learn the wonders of God creation once they have completed the work that God has given them to do in order to present a testimony in the graveyards across our country to tell of the hope that we have in the coming resurrection? However we end our existence on this earth will be judged not on our acts alone, but according to the condition of our heart in the things we chose to accomplish for the glory of our Savior.

  • Mike

    So having your corpse pumped with chemicals, turned into plastic, and sealed in a silk-lined mahogany box is a much better form of stewardship than cremation? If we’re talking about God-honoring stewardship, the form of burial which would best reflect the historical Judeo-Christian practice would be a “green” burial, but it’s likely illegal in a lot of places…

    • Brian

      Mike … neither one of them is God honoring. And you’re correct, “green burial” would be something more God honoring and is very much in concert with traditional Christian burial, the former actually taking many cues from the later.

      “Green burial” is actually not illegal in many places. It may be against local cemetery guidelines and rules, but certainly not illegal in the majority of places.

  • Pablo

    If it should be important for a believer to make a choice between cremation, burial or other, then why don’t we find explicit Scripture of content and space? Perhaps it’s not an important matter in Scripture and shouldn’t be an important matter in the life of a believer. – Pablo

  • Robert

    I’m a Funeral Director and I have waited on thousands of Families in the 43 years I have been doing this. I personaly do not believe in cremation for the simple reason that Jesus was taken down from the cross and clothed in his best clothing and entombed. This is what I prefere to do with any of my love ones. I believe those who do not respect the dead there is no country. Look what is happening to our nation with this going on.

    Thank You
    Bob C.

    • Gary

      The entombment of Jesus was not because of devine preference, it was strategic. I am going to change Bibical history to show my point. Let’s start at where Jesus is now dead and taken off the cross. Caiaphis goes to Pontius Pilot and pleads him to put guards at his tomb due to the fear that Jesus’s body could be stolen, while someone else in hiding could come out and state he is Jesus ressurected. Pilot irratated informs Caiaphus and sarcastically states that he has a better idea. Jesus’s body will be ordered to be cremated and his ashes scattered all around. Therefore, no body to steal. Caiaphis strongly objects and protests to no avail. As ordered, the Roman soldiers scatter Jesus all around. No more intact physical body of Jesus. Three days pass and Mary and Mary Magaline are walking about and run into, you guessed it! Jesus! Keep in mind, back in those days, there were no ways of identifying fingerprints, DNA etc. So Jesus would have been smitefully rejected as being the ressurected Savior, even to this day because it would have been impossible to have proven that the ressurected Jesus and Jesus before Crucifixion were physically the same being during that time.

  • Steffan F. Cress

    One wonders about how the bodies of believers who die in fires in which their entire body is consumed or in the event of a war-time death where an explosion is so severe that nary a scrap was recovered to bury. If these deceased persons were believers already, do these events prevent them from ascending with Christ when He comes? Whether the “cremation” was the cause of death or it was a post-mortem act, I can’t see Christ keeping a believer out of heaven. The Lord I serve is too compassionate to split hairs that way. I find no de facto prohibition of cremation in my King James Bible.

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  • TC

    For any body that has been buried “long enough” it becomes dust regardless. So what is the difference? Will these individuals not be resurrected? God made man out of dust, cannot He do the same from ashes?

  • http://TheGospelCoalitionBlog David Funderburg

    I realize my comments may be viewed as too simplistic amidst other “heady” arguments but it is the way I have dealt with other “gray” areas in my life of 61 years. The very clear. We have been bought with a price (the very life of Jesus) and as believers we have surrendered or yielded our lives to Him. Therefore, we are not our own. We belong to Him and since we are admonished in Colossians 3:17 that in all we do or say should be done in the name of The Lord should we not just individually ask Him, “Lord, what would have me do? What will bring you the most glory?” We cannot speak for each other before God but only for ourselves. So in the end (literally) that is what matters. The hard part for we Christians is that we have to trust each other. More specifically, the Holy Spirit that is in us/you that we earnestly asked and He has answered. It is risky, I know! However, for the spiritually new born or “children” it is a subject matter like others that should be presented for discussion with the scripture as our guide and Holy Spirit as our teacher. Be blessed!

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