The Bible’s Viewpoint

Should You Object to Cremation?

Some people feel that cremation—that is, the reduction of a corpse to ashes by burning—dishonors the body and the memory of the dead person. ‘It is of profane origin,’ they reason, ‘and thus should be shunned by those who profess to worship God.’ Others believe that cremation is a perfectly acceptable and dignified way of disposing of human remains. How do you feel about this matter?

IN Bible times it was customary for the dead to be buried. For example, Abraham buried his wife, Sarah, in a cave. Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb that had been carved out of rock. (Genesis 23:9; Matthew 27:60) Does the Bible stipulate that burial is the only acceptable way to dispose of human remains? Does it indicate that God’s ancient servants objected to cremation?

Indication of Divine Disapproval?

On the surface, a number of Bible passages may seem to indicate that cremation was the lot of some who died in God’s disfavor. For instance, the Mosaic Law stated that if the daughter of one of Jehovah’s priests should become a prostitute, she was to be “burned in the fire” after being executed. (Leviticus 20:10; 21:9) Likewise, when the disobedience of Achan and his family resulted in Israel’s defeat at Ai, their fellow countrymen pelted them with stones and then “burned them with fire.” (Joshua 7:25) Some scholars have suggested that this was the treatment accorded those who died in disgrace and that cremation deprived evildoers of what was considered a decent burial.

Further, when King Josiah attempted to cleanse Judah of idolatry, he broke open the burial places of the priests who had sacrificed to Baal and burned their bones upon their altars. (2 Chronicles 34:4, 5) Do such examples indicate that God’s disapproval rests upon those whose remains are cremated? No, as shown by another Bible account.

When the Philistines defeated King Saul of Israel in battle, they irreverently fastened his dead body, as well as the bodies of his three sons, to the city wall at Beth-shan. However, the Israelite inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, on hearing of this disrespectful treatment of the bodies, removed them and burned them, after which they buried the bones. (1 Samuel 31:2, 8-13) At first sight this account may seem to confirm the negative connotation of cremation. After all, Saul too was wicked; he fought against David, Jehovah’s anointed, and died in divine disfavor.

Yet, notice who died alongside Saul. One of his sons, whose body received identical treatment, was Jonathan. He was not a bad person. On the contrary, Jonathan was David’s close friend and ally. Of Jonathan, the Israelites recognized: “It was with God that he worked.” (1 Samuel 14:45) When David learned of the actions of the men of Jabesh-gilead, he praised and thanked them for what they had done: “Blessed may you be of Jehovah, because you exercised this loving-kindness toward your lord, toward Saul.” Evidently, the burning of Saul’s and Jonathan’s corpses did not disturb David.—2 Samuel 2:4-6.

No Obstacle to Resurrection

The Bible clearly teaches that Jehovah God will bring back to life many who now sleep in death. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 5:28, 29) Prophetically describing the time when the dead will return to life, the Bible book of Revelation, or Apocalypse, says: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them.” (Revelation 20:13) To accomplish this, it makes no difference to Almighty God whether a person’s body is buried, burned, lost at sea, eaten by wild animals, or even vaporized by an atomic explosion.

The Bible gives no specific direction concerning what ought to be done with the bodies of the dead. Cremation is not condemned by Jehovah. Clearly, though, funeral arrangements should be dignified and respectful.

Something that might influence a person’s decisions in making these arrangements, however, is the way that the local community views funeral customs. Those who abide by Bible principles would certainly not want to do anything that would cause unnecessary offense to their neighbors. It would also be inappropriate to engage in a practice that might seem to indicate belief in false religious teachings, such as the immortality of the soul. These concerns aside, whatever decision a person might make as to how his own body, or that of another, is to be disposed of is really a personal or family matter.

HAVE YOU WONDERED?

▪ Which faithful worshipper mentioned in the Bible was cremated?—1 Samuel 31:2, 12.

▪ How did David treat the men who disposed of Saul’s body?—2 Samuel 2:4-6.

▪ What shows that being cremated would not in itself disqualify one from being resurrected?—Revelation 20:13.

[Blurb on page 11]

The Bible gives no specific direction concerning what ought to be done with the bodies of the dead