A question that is asked often lately is whether or not it is wrong to be cremated after death. In generations past, embalming and burial has been the practice in the United States. But now almost a third of all funerals include someone who has been cremated and it is estimated that over half of all deceased will be cremated by the year 2030. Since this is a fairly new practice in our country, many ask if it’s a religious issue or not.
While the Bible does not specifically address the disposal of a dead body, many people have found clues in Scripture that lead them one way or another. Some oppose cremation because it is the primary mode of burial of the Hindu people. For many Eastern peoples, the burning of funeral pyres is a religious exercise. For this reason there may be fear that cremation in the United States could be construed as a non-Christian act or as a reflection of a lack of respect for the human body. Others oppose the practice because of the beliefs of the early church. While Roman and Greek nobility around the time of Jesus used cremation to dispose of the dead, Christians traditionally would bury their dead. In fact, archeologists trace the spread of Christianity through Europe in the early centuries by the existence of graveyards. In later centuries, the burning of the body was considered to be a major form of punishment. When a heretic was burned to the stake and had his ashes spread in the river, the thought was that it would be very difficult for God to resurrect him on the Last Day. Therefore burning at the stake was considered to be the ultimate punishment. Punishment for Tyndale and other who translated bible into English As a matter of fact, burning the body is often seen as a punishment in the Scriptures. Sinful people such as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Achan (Joshua 7:15), and Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2) experienced death by burning. But this was a manner of killing a person, not a way of body disposal. Burning was also a punishment in the Law of Moses for incest (Leviticus 20:14) and rebellion against God (Numbers 11:1). An obscure but applicable verse in this discussion is Amos 2:1, where Moab is condemned for burning the bones of the King of Edom into lime. But it appears that the sin of the Moabites is more of sin of disrespect and aggression than a specific condemnation of how the body was destroyed.
Many people claim that burial is the Biblical Christian way of disposing of the body because of the examples found in Scripture. The common practice in Bible days was to bury the body in the ground or a cave, Genesis 23:9, 2 Chronicles 16:14, Matthew 27:60-66.
But in days past there were many ways of disposing of the dead. The Egyptians were famous for their embalming methods (Joseph was embalmed). The Greeks, Romans, and Eastern peoples often would burn their dead. Their method of burning showed little regard for the dead. The American Indians and Celts often would expose their dead to be consumed by animals and others. And in the Middle East even today, bodies are usually not embalmed and buried on the same day as their death. In the days of Jesus, the use of ossuaries was common. A body would be placed in a family tomb. Over the course of months or years, the body would decay down to the skeleton. When the body was just bones, the family would return and place them in a box with their name on it. The space in the tomb would then be left open for the next family member who passed on from life.
In the United States, embalming the dead became popular in the Civil War in the Northern States and was accelerated by the popular embalming of Abraham Lincoln.
The Bible teaches us that on the last day God will resurrect every body no matter its level of decay, Revelation 20:13. This resurrection will be a physical one, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:16. All bodies over the course of years will turn to dust or ash (Job 34:14-15), yet they will be resurrected. Concerning the burning of the body, Paul presented this condition in 1 Corinthians 13:3 and yet seemed confidant that this would not hinder his afterlife. This is not an endorsement of cremation, but it does not indicate it as sin either.
In short, the Bible does not give instruction of how to deal with a deceased body. But considering that we are made in the image of God, the body should be treated with honor. This can be done in many ways and is a matter of discretion.