Questions From Readers
● Is cremation proper for Christians?
Among the ancient Hebrews it seems that it was the common practice to bury the dead in the ground or in tombs. (Gen. 50:13; Judg. 8:32; 1 Ki. 11:43) But on occasion bodies were burned or cremated for various reasons. The men of Jabesh-gilead took the corpses of Saul and his sons, faithful Jonathan included, to “Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them.” (1 Sam. 31:12 13) For this they were praised by David. (2 Sam. 2:4-7) So, while cremation is not the general custom of Jews today, for ethical or personal reasons, “it is generally agreed that there is no express law to be found in the Bible demanding the burial of the human body.”—Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, p. 343.
It appears that the early Christians, many of whom were natural Jews, generally followed the Jewish practice of burial in the earth. But since the Bible does not require burial, they were not overly concerned about some special custom. In time, though, pagan practices and fears began to creep into Christian beliefs. The Catholic Encyclopedia, under the heading “Cremation,” points out that the “Greeks and Romans varied in their practice according to their views of the after life.” Pagan persecutors misunderstood the Christian belief and felt that the Christian resurrection depended upon a preserved body. The same publication continues: “The pagans, to destroy faith in the resurrection of the body, often cast the corpses of martyred Christians into the flames, fondly believing thus to render impossible the resurrection of the body.”—Vol. IV, p. 481.
Of course, the true Christian has no misconception about the dead body in connection with the resurrection. In reference to those who are to rule with Christ in heaven, the Bible plainly states, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 15:50) Accordingly, God will provide suitable bodies for those to be raised from death to earthly life. So whether a body returns to the elements by decaying in the ground or is burned to ashes does not in any way affect God’s ability to resurrect the person, if that is His desire.
Christians can, therefore, consider local legal requirements as well as the sentiments of those in the community in deciding on this matter. (Phil. 1:10) Since Jehovah does not express disapproval of cremation in the Bible, it remains a matter for personal decision.