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Does the Bible prohibit cremation?

Pam from North Carolina asked: “Is there anything in the Bible dealing with cremation?

Hi Pam,

One of the early example we have in the Bible regarding a dead body is in Genesis 23. Abraham purchased a cave in which to bury his wife, Sarah. So right away, we get a sense that the way we bury people now is different what happened in the Bible. He didn’t dig a six foot deep hole and put Sarah’s body in the ground. He laid her in a cave, and likely put a stone slab over the entrance. 

In the time of Jesus, the tradition of dealing with dead bodies was different. There was a recent discovery of a box that was inscribed with the name of James, the half-brother of Jesus. It was an ossuary or a bone box. What they did back then was lay a body on the ledge of a cave, similar to how Jesus was buried. When the body decomposed, they collected the bones, and placed them in a box. 

The first example of cremation I can find in the Bible is the burning of the body of King Saul in 1 Samuel. However, Saul was unpopular, and this was not the act of a loving, caring family. 

I believe there is nothing in the Bible that prohibits cremation. However, Christians should have a high view of the physical body. Our bodies were created by God. Jesus took on a body when he came to earth. Our physical bodies deserve to be treated with respect. 

That said, my personal opinion is that the best way to treat the dead is though burial when possible. Burial best represents the biblical imagery of the resurrection of our bodies in the future. I think there is something highly significant about having a grave site that the family can visit, and having a headstone that testifies to the life and faith of the deceased. 

Whatever someone decides, the process needs to be thoughtful, careful, and respectful. Cremation is not a sin, but what we do with the bodies of our dead loved ones must involve great care and respect.

I hope that helps, and I thank you for your question,

Stephen 

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