Cremation or Burial: A biblical perspective

(Originally published June 30, 2006– and published in the church’s newsletter after this topic came up in discussions in Sunday school.)

Cremation vs. Burial: A Biblical Perspective

I have to admit that this is a controversial topic, but I don’t think it should be. In fact, it has been a blessing for me to speak to a number of you on this point. I love the fact that you are interested in the subject and have challenged me with some thoughts on the topic. As we look at this topic of cremation, realize that my love for you will not change if we disagree. If you hold to the cremation of your body after your death, I still love you as a brother or sister in the Lord. How your body is disposed of after death is between you and the Lord. My affections for you will not change. This came to light when one of my elders asked me the simple question: “If someone from our congregation is cremated, will you officiate the memorial?” That told me more about myself than I realized. Even though I have strong convictions about this, my convictions towards the congregation are stronger.

The answer was “Yes, I would.”

As a pastor, I feel it is my job to teach you what the Bible has to say about these things. While cremation is not a black and white issue, (in other words, there is no command: thou shalt not use cremation) I do believe the Bible does hold enough evidence to give us a clear picture on what we should do with our bodies after death.

Therefore, I would like to present to you some of the evidence for Christian burial as opposed to Christian cremation. If you do not agree with me at the end of this article, that is fine. All I ask is that you read the article, pray about it, and see where the Lord leads you.

Misconceptions

In my comments about the Apostles’ Creed in worship on June 18th, I mentioned that we believe in the burial of the body because of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. I said that cremation is not a Christian concept and Christians should not resort to this method of burial. Afterwards, it came to my attention that there was some confusion over the issue. Allow me to clarify some of my statements. First, I am not saying that by using cremation that we are not Christians. Our Christianity is based upon belief in Christ for salvation, not how we bury our bodies. Yet, how we bury our bodies does make a statement about what we truly believe. More on that in a moment.

The second misconception about cremation concerns those that are killed in events like 9/11. What about their bodies? Does that mean that they are not Christians because their bodies were incinerated? Of course, the answer is no. Those who die in war or events like 9/11 are not cremated. They may have had their bodies incinerated, but this is not cremation, even though the end result is the same. Those who die this way, have no say over their funeral. They did not set out to be incinerated, or leave it in their last will and testament for such.

Finally, another misconception is the belief that God cannot handle their ashes at the Second Coming. I’m not saying that either. God can do anything as far as His character will allow Him. The reconstitution of our bodies is nothing for Him, whether our bodies become dust through natural decomposition or they are ashes through incineration. If God can take dust and turn it into a man, as He did with Adam, He can take the dust of our bodies and do the same.

Biblical Example

We believe that the Bible is the only rule and authority for faith and practice. There is no authority outside of Scripture. So, when it comes to beliefs and practices that are not expressly stated, we must come to the Scripture for example to help us know how we should live. For example, there is no specific passage that says we should use wine over grape juice, but the text seems to indicate the use of wine. This is why we practice using wine in communion.

The same is true for burial. There is no one passage that states we should bury our dead, but the evidence seems to indicate that this is the biblical practice both in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

In Genesis 23, Abraham negotiates with the Hittites for a cave in which to bury Sarah and the rest of his dead. In Genesis 47, Israel gives specific instructions to his sons not to be buried in Egypt, but to have his body buried in the land of Canaan. Joseph also gave instructions that when the descendants of Israel came out of Egypt, they were to bury him in the land of Canaan as well. The people carry these instructions out and he is buried in Canaan (Exodus 13:19 and Joshua 24:32).

We also see Joshua buried on his own land (Joshua 24:29ff, Judges 2:9), Gideon buried in the tomb of Joash, his father (Judges 8:29ff), and others in Judges, Ruth, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, in which David was buried (1 Kings 2:10ff), and host of other examples.

Clearly burial is the practice of Old Testament saints. If cremation is acceptable, it seems that they would have used this practice, especially in these cases, for it would have been much easier on them. But they did not use cremation.

There is cremation in two instances in the Old Testament. However, these instances seem to be the exception, and not the rule. The first instance of cremation is that of King Saul by the people of Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 31:11ff). Even then, King David has the bones of Saul buried with the bones of his father. While fire was used on Saul, burial was as well. Apparently the bones were left behind, of which, David instructed that they were to be buried with Saul’s fathers. There is a second account again in 2 Chronicles 16:14 with the cremation of Asa.

But for both cases, we don’t want to look to Saul or Asa for our example. Neither man was something we are to follow or emulate. Saul was in constant rebellion against the Lord and eventually had his kingship removed from him for disobedience. As for Asa, he took articles from the Temple showing disrespect and made a pack with Syria, showing a lack of trust in the Lord. Both of his actions brought about strong rebuke from the Lord, who would plague him with many wars. He eventually died from diseases in his feet because he did not seek the help of the Lord, but the help of physicians. Therefore, we do not want to follow in either one of these men’s footsteps in life or death.

The New Testament shows that burial was the normative practice among those who believed is Jesus as their Savior. Jesus stops the funeral procession in Luke 7:11ff and raised the widow’s son from the dead. The point of the miracle is to show Christ’s power over even death. Yet the people were not taking the man’s body to a funeral pyre, but to a tomb, as was the practice.

We also see that Lazarus, friend of Jesus and believer, was buried in a tomb in John 11. Jesus waited until the tomb was sealed to arrive in order to raise Lazarus from the dead four days after he died. He then performs one of His greatest miracles and Lazarus comes forth out of the tomb. Had they performed cremation, would this miracle have taken place? Jesus would have had to reconstitute ashes, which would have been perfectly in His capabilities. The point that I’m trying to make is that they buried the sickly body of Lazarus. They did not cremate him.

There are two reasons why this miracle was important.One is that many want to be cremated because of the disfiguring and gruesome illnesses that they have. Yet, here is a case where Lazarus was ill and they buried him. The other way this miracle is important is that Jesus points to His future Resurrection from the grave and to our spiritual and bodily resurrection as well.

Jesus Himself died and was buried three days as well. Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb, it was not cremated. If we are to identify with Christ in other aspects of our life, then let us follow this example in our death as well. Why? Because of what we are saying to those left behind. We place our bodies in the grave because we are looking forward to the future hope of the resurrection of the body, of THIS body. The entire doctrine of the resurrection is one which shows us that Christ died on the cross, not just to redeem us spiritually, but to redeem the entirety of our being. We are not two entities, body and soul, but one entity consisting of body and soul. These two entities are not meant to be separated. They will be at our deaths, and this is why death is sad, but at the resurrection, our bodies and souls will be reunited and glorified.

By burying our bodies, we are telling those around us that this resurrection is real. It is something we look forward to. It will happen. Cremation does not convey this truth. It merely eliminates the body for us, and allows us to enter into the pagan tradition of dumping our ashes in a lake or on the beach, or in our flower garden out back, or shaken together with our spouse’s ashes.

Yet, our entire lives and death are to point to Christ and who we are in Christ. It is a point of identification. The reason that Christ was baptized was so that He could identify with us in our baptism. He didn’t need it at all. It is also a point of identification for us. We identify with Christ when we are baptized. The same is true for our funerals. I am not saying our funerals are a sacrament. Baptism is merely and example of our identification with Him. So too is our burial a means of identifying with Jesus. He was laid in the grave and resurrected, and we are to be as well.

Fire Often Means Judgment

Now, lets examine the practice of cremation. While burial was the Biblical example, let’s look at what burning the body after death also conveys, for there is meaning in everything we do.

Cremation is the burning of the body after death. It is the use of fire on the body. This is done by the Hindus in order to return the body to ashes, so that those ashes can be spread among creation, symbolizing the person’s return to creation and oneness with creation. Our oneness is not to be found in creation, but in the Creator. He is the One whom we worship. To worship anything else, even the creation, is idolatry.

However, the symbolism of fire also has another meaning in the light of Scripture. It is the meaning of judgment upon a person.

In Genesis 19 we see God’s displeasure with Sodom and Gomorrah when He rained brimstone and fire on both cities for their immorality. After it was said and done, there was nothing left of the town or the people. This was a real event in history, but also the same imagery we have of those in the after life who are wicked. God will punish them with fire that is never quenched and the worm never dies (Isaiah 66:24). Clearly fire is used to show God’s displeasure. There is also nothing left of these individuals to be mourned. They’re names are removed from memory by the fire, blotted out.

In Leviticus 11:1-3 both Nadad and Abihu are consumed by fire for their unauthorized worship of God. There was no burial for the two, because they were consumed, or devoured by God’s wrath. Aaron, the two men’s father, was even prevented from morning their death.Again, God is showing His displeasure with the two by the use of fire.

In Leviticus 20:14, God instructs the people for a man not to marry a woman and her mother. If they do, all of them are to be burned with fire, because what they have done is wickedness. Again, God’s displeasure is shown by the punishment that is to be given to the wicked. They are burned to death.

In Leviticus 21:9, the daughter of a priest who plays the harlot is also to be put to death using fire. Again, this shows God’s displeasure with the wicked.

In Joshua 7 we have the story of Achan’s unbelief in taking accursed things. This brought God’s fierce wrath against the nation because it showed unbelief among the people. When it was discovered that Achan had sinned against God, the people of Israel stoned Achan and his family and then burned them with fire after they had stoned them. God’s wrath turned from Israel. Again, the Israelites did not bury the bodies of Achan and his family. They burned the bodies. This too showed the displeasure of God upon Achan’s family. The memorial that was left there is a memorial of shame, not a memorial of a faithful saint that lived out his life and went to be with his fathers. The name of Achan is a name of reproach and the burning of his body symbolizes the future hope of his wickedness.

In 2 Kings 1 we see judgment come down on the military guard that confronts Elijah the Tishbite, not once but twice. Both times, the men came to get Elijah, and Elijah called fire down upon their heads. Again, this is not seen as a blessing, but a curse. There is no burial for these men because their bodies are consumed by fire.

The bulk of Biblical evidence leads us to believe that the burning of the body does not represent something good. It signifies the wrath of God upon unbelief, wickedness and rebellion against God. Therefore, why would we want to adopt a symbol that represents God’s wrath, as opposed to His grace?

By having our bodies placed in the tomb, sepulcher or grave, we are giving testimony one last time to the grace that we have been given and look forward to. This is why 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is read at the graveside service. But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

It is the future hope and shows that the grave is only temporary, not permanent. Since this is true, let us return to the biblical practice of burial, by living and dying for Christ.

If you read this article and still have questions about death, cremation, or burial, please feel free to call me or come by and talk with me. I will be glad to discuss these, or any issues with you. Let this not be a topic which divides us, but unites us in our common belief in Christ our Savior.

UPDATE: For further reading, may I recommend Nick Batzig’s article, A Biblical Theology of Burial.

UPDATE: Also Richard D. Phillips article What Should Christians Think About Cremation is helpful.

The Downslide of Christianity

(Note from Timothy: Originally published June 16, 2006)
In a poll taken by Scrips Howard/ University of Ohio, only 36 percent of Americans believe in a bodily resurrection to come. (See the story here). This stands at odds with the basic tenants of Christianity. If we do not believe in the resurrection, both of Christ and ourselves, then we can hardly call ourselves Christians.

The reason this is a problem is that it reflects what is being taught, or not being taught from our pulpits. If the pastors in our pulpits are not teaching this spiritual reality, then the people will not believe in it. This is a sad truth. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Since this truth is not believed, then we can safely assume that it is not preached and those in the pulpits do not believe it. The resurrection is only believed when it is preached.

This is a symptom of a greater problem, that of not preaching the word of God. Men have been so busy trying to build little kingdoms for themselves, a.k.a. mega churches, that they have punted spiritual truth for psychological truth… Preachers are no longer the men who proclaim the truth of God, but the truth of what our culture wants to hear. They have given themselves over to our felt needs and this has resulted in a loss of truth.

How completely sad. We have more resources in the world for knowing and proclaiming the truth, yet men decide that they would rather tickle our ears… thereby missing the most precious of messages… namely the gospel.

I also know that many say they do preach the gospel. But what they really do is give them a gospel presentation… i.e. the four spiritual laws. That is not the gospel. Christ is the gospel and the gospel can be found on every page of the Bible. It all points to Him. Yet because men don’t truly believe the word of God is infallible and sufficient for every aspect of life, they give them quick little tidbits of the Bible, along with pleasing stories to make us feel good, never preaching what is found in those blessed pages.

Paul writes to Timothy, in what are known as the pastoral epistles, to preach the word. Nothing else, but the word, which points back to Christ. Some might claim that they are preaching relevant messages when they use psycho babble, but that is not relevant. What is relevant is God’s word, because it is God’s word. It always remains relevant… even thousands of years after He gave it to us.

What can you do?
Make sure you don’t attend a church where the Bible is not held up as the only authority. Also, ask you pastor: do you believe in the resurrection of the body? Do you believe it enough to preach on it on a regular basis? Do you practice expository preaching? If the answer is no to any of these questions, then move on a find a church where these things are true. Your eternal future depends upon it.

The Reason We Are Called

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us,a]”>[a] leaving usb]”>[b] an example, that you should follow His steps:
22 “ Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;c]”>[c]
23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

The Pay-backs have started…

Joey has a new trick.
Andy takes out the toys in the toy box and climbs in, then closes the lid.
At that moment, Joey climbs on top shutting Andy in.
Andy can’t get out with Joey on top.
Joey knock-knock-knocks on the lid to Andy inside.

He also loves to turn the lights on and off, on and off, on and off, while standing on top of the toy box.

“Weeve me a-wone. Tank you.” Is the response when Joey comes off the top to play peek-a-boo with Andy in the box.

Today, Andy has started to keep his hand on the lid of the box so he can at least attempt to open if should Joey climb back on top.
I see squished fingers in Andy’s future.

Response for Holly

Hi Holly,
I think I need your email :).
I’m going to respond to you in the paragraph you sent so that I can address all the questions, then make it a post since it’s so long. I love helping!

Those are all great ideas! 🙂 Thanks!

I will have mostly students who are struggling with math, so it will be important to make it interesting. I’m teaching pre-algebra and transitional math. They should be in algebra by 8th grade.
It’s highly important to make it interesting. These are the kids who are not mathmatical/logical thinkers and are right-brained thinkers. If they struggle in an area, they have a tendency to be discipline problems, too. You also have to deal with developmental issues with algebra. These guys are beginning to be more abstract thinkers, but sometimes can’t get but only concrete thoughts to gel. Algebra is more abstract. It is very important that they have the foundation for algebra laid in the 7th grade. They’ve got to know the process of balancing the equation and memorize basic formulas.
“Do unto one side as you do unto the other.”

Oh, and to the tune of Are You Sleeping-
“Opposite of B.
Opposite of B.
Plus or minus square root.
Plus or minus square root.
B squared minus 4AC. B squared minus 4AC.
Over 2A. Over 2A.“

I’m planning on having at least one big project for each grading period, so I need about 6 big ones to keep them busy. They will usually present their projects to the class after they have completed it. Some will be group projects, class projects, and some individual.
For grading, use a rubric. There are some rubric makers online. It helps the kids (and parents) see what you are expecting. Do most of the work in class.

1. Value of an Education (They calculate their salary as a high school drop out, salary as high school grad, salary as college grad..maybe find the salary of their dream job)Problem: This should only take one class?
The research will take a day or two. Then, you’ll have to show them how to calculate the salary on an example. Then, you need to have them practice the calculation with an example. Then, you need them to work on their project and make the final product. Probably 3-4 days. On this one, you’re going to have to go through the teaching cycle.

2. Degree (I’ll pick a few local universities for them to research different degrees. After they pick a degree, they have to find the course requirements including general education from the universities I selected. That way they can see how many math classes they have to take in college to get the degree they’d like.)
You can write to the colleges and get a couple of their catalogs. You might have the counselor come in and help them “register.” It would be good to do this at semester when they have to pick the new electives they’ll have to take. Make sure to get Texas A&M!!!

3. I have a ton of graphing ideas. One is where I measure their height on the first day of class and then near the end of the school year… we put that on a graph together as a class at the beginning of the year and then re create the graph at the end of the year. Another idea is just get them to collect data on fellow classmates.
Take a look at the schedule on the first two days. You may have an early release, plus, seventh grades have an awful time reading their schedules. Focus on things like “This is where you sit.” “The bathroom is ______.” “My name is Mrs. Seufert.” “This is your math book.” “This is how you work a lock.” “Here’s the syllabus.” “Here’s the rules.” Seventh graders are scared to death the first few days and will be lost. Be firm and set boundaries from the first. Take care of basic needs those first two days. Do some activities that get them to meet others.

4. Planning A dream vacation (from your idea)
Map Quest. com is awesome.

5. Decorating a room with furniture. This will help them understand area. I could get them to calculate the cost involved in decorating their house as well.
Have them also figure out how much paint and wall paper is needed and how much they cost. Set a budget like they do on trading spaces. They could also make a diaramma of the new room. You might be able to get old wall paper books and paint chips from some place for them to use. Call around and get quotes from home improvement stores, or have the student check online for them.

6. Maybe a probability activity… I just need to think of a project to do on this? I could get them to come up with a probability game in groups and then show the class their game?
Have them create a board game. On their game, have them write up the probability of spinning something or rolling a die. You could also have them conduct a poll of drinks, favorite sports teams, favorite musician, tv show, etc. Have them put the results in a spreadsheet with a graph.

I agree with you about homework, but the principal doesn’t like homework at all. I figured I could give them homework from the book, but use class time to get it done? Put them in groups, get a dry erase board for each group, assign a team leader, and have them go through each problem step by step? I would walk around and make sure they are solving them correctly.. This is the way they work through problems in the AVID program. I was an AVID tutor for about 2 years. The team leader (I would pick a different one each week) doesn’t have to write out the problems because they are writing them on the board, but the rest of the group has to write them all out step by step to get full credit.
Yes. You’ll have to use class time for independent practice from the looks of it. It is one way to insure that you get their assignments. If they do not finish, give them until 8am to get it in to you. Make sure you have them show their work. It is good for them to use their heads, however when you’re trying to find out where they messed up, you need to see their work so you can see their thinking process. I like your cooperative activity. Assign jobs. I copied these rules and gave them a grade for participation. I counted off the participation grade when they failed at one of the expectations. 1. Everyone works. 2. Everyone works quietly. 3. Everyone cooperates. We learn best when we teach someone else. Having the team leader is a good idea. If they don’t know how to show the team, have them call in the relief pitcher- you! Only after they tried first. Trying is what’s going to have to count here. Remember that you will have special ed kids in your classes. Check with their IEP’s as well for modifications they will need.

I really like bouncing ideas off people who have taught before. 🙂 I’m sure you were a very good teacher! 🙂 Uhm… I have some stories to tell on this one…

Is it true that 8th graders still enjoying drawing? I have some ideas where they make key concept sheets which they can decorate. For example, I was thinking about getting them to decorate the first key concepts for solving math problems (explore, plan, solve, and examine). Does that sound ok?
YES!! Absolutely. Concept mapping is pretty cool, too. Art is an awesome way to pull in math objectives. Scale. Proportion. Rotate. Flip. Slide. Sequencing. Tessellations and MC Escher (btw I have a lesson plan for that one with art work. You can even teach a multimedia lesson with it too.)

Also, I heard you should never ever play a game on the first day. Would it be okay to have a competition between rows of students on multiplication tables?
Do games that day for sure. But make sure they understand that you’re class isn’t “fun and games.” It is a great time to practice you’re classroom procedures, expectations and cooperative rules. That’s a social-emotional strategy. Brain teasers are great, too. A math race would be a great idea. Be able to modify on the spot for physical impairments. I have a game called swat the fly that might work, too. Let me know if you’d like that.
Wong says have even a pass-in procedure. Also, have a way of getting their attention without yelling. I raised my hand. The first one who saw me raise theirs, and so on. Counting backwards from 5 works, too.

My old expectations: (No more than five, keep them positive.)
Everyone is on time and in their seat when the bell rings.
Everyone respects the feelings, rights, property, and education of others.
Everyone works and cooperates with others.
(i can’t remember the others right now. 😦

BTW- Doing the “three strikes you’re out” means that the kids get to act up 3 more times before you deal with their discipline issue. Warn the first time. Act the second.

Pull up your students test data and find out which skill(s) each one needs to be addressed. Make a card for them. Have them practice those skills throughout the year. Give practice tests so you can see how they are improving.

I’m done bombarding you with questions! 🙂 I just have a lot of thoughts going through my head…
You’re not bombarding. I love being asked. Yes. Even more will be going on as day one gets closer. Find a mentor teacher to have come along side you.

Thanks for all your suggestions! I really appreciate them. No problem. You’re going to do a great job.

Happy 4th of July

Happy Fourth. Don’t get too much sun. Don’t eat too much. Don’t sleep too much. Don’t drink too much. Don’t complain too much. Don’t drool too much. Don’t spend too much. Don’t celebrate too much. Don’t think too much. Don’t not think too much. Don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do. Don’t have fun!!!

OK, OK, I’m beginning to sound like a Democrat that wants to control our lives. Therefore, have a wonderful 4th!

Hyper Individualist

One areas that the church struggles with is the idea of communion of the saints. Philip Ryken writes the following:

Christianity has never been a private religion. It is personal of course, because it involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ… But in coming to Christ… every single Christian gets connected to every other Christian. Our union with Christ brings us into communion with His church as members of a local congregation.”

Ryken and others are writing against the over emphasized idea of individualistic Christianity. What is meant by this is that many people feel that sense Christianity is about a personal relationship with Christ, then this is as far as it goes. It’s personal. No need to share. No need to live in community. No need to be challenged or taught in the world.

Unfortunately, one of the verses used to support this idea is verse 11 from our section today.

Hebrews 8:11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.

The hyper-individualist will take such a verse and say: “why do I need to sit under the teaching of another? Why do I need anyone else for that matter, for I can sit with my Bible open, and God will teach me.”

On the surface, this seems correct. But it could not be further from the truth. For in the giving of the New Covenant, God is not opening the door for us to be individual churches in and of ourselves. He is opening the door for the congregations to be in fellowship with Him. God’s purpose is never to save someone and leave them to themselves, but to raise up a body of believers, who live together, work together, and grow together in Christ.