M. H. sent me a link to a January 7, 2022, message by Al Mohler in which he discussed the question of cremation. M. H. said, “I was curious to hear your thoughts from a faith-alone perspective. I genuinely had no idea this was an issue within the Christian tradition.”
Just look at the burial traditions, not only the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, look at the care with which the body of Jesus was buried and look at the burial traditions of the early church and just consider what it does mean to be able to go into a cemetery or to a grave and know that a very real person who lived a very real life, and yes, lived a real death is in this grave awaiting a very real day of resurrection. And even as those patriarchs slept with their fathers, so also in a real sense, we should aspire one day to sleep with our own fathers and our own mothers in the faith until together we are raised immortal. Now I just want to be clear, there is no specific verse in scripture that says, thou shalt not cremate or thou shalt not aquamate,i but that’s not the only way Christians learn to read Scripture.
We learn to read scripture in terms of the biblical theology, the principles, the embedded convictions. We look at the practices of God’s people. We look at the practices of God’s people that God commends. We look at the practices that God condemns. We look at how we model ourselves upon the respect for the body. We find in both the Old and the New Testament and we place that in the larger context of a biblical theology of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God. Now this makes the question of cremation, aquamation or whatever, a question of wisdom, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a very clear, consistent consensus throughout the history of the Christian church that Christians…
…It is an issue of wisdom, but it’s an issue in which the Bible has a very great deal to say. And the Christian tradition has been incredibly clear. We need to respect that and learn from it.
You can listen to everything Mohler had to say about cremation (starting at 14:50), or read the transcript of what he said, here.
Both of my parents were cremated. I was not in favor of it. However, in the case of my mother, when my sister and I had to decide whether to honor her wishes, we chose to have her cremated since we felt she was entitled to choose.
My parents were Serbian Orthodox, and they were not allowed to be buried in a Serbian Orthodox cemetery because they were cremated.
GES has no official position on cremation. There is no official “faith-alone perspective” on cremation. But I will give my perspective.
First, since the Bible does not forbid cremation, even by implication, it is not sinful for someone to choose to be cremated.
Second, the Bible only gives one example of cremation. In 1 Sam 31:11-13, the closing verses of the book, we are told that Saul and his sons were cremated: “and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” We are not told if cremation was proper or not. However, that is telling. If it were wrong, we’d expect a statement to that effect.
We are also not told why their bodies were burned. One suggestion is that they were cremated because their bodies had been mutilated (Eugene Merrill, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 455). However, the text does not indicate any mutilation of the bodies of Saul’s sons. We are told that the Philistines “cut off [Saul’s] head” (1 Sam 31:9). Another suggestion is that they were cremated for “sanitary reasons” (see here).
The fact that the Bible does report a cremation and does not indicate it was wrong settles for me the question of whether it is sinful. It is not.
Third, burial, not cremation, is what we find in the rest of the OT and in the NT. (Of course, Joseph was embalmed and then not buried for 400 years since he insisted on being buried in the Promised Land.) That would suggest that burial is preferable.
Fourth, Mohler argues that burial honors the body and cremation does not. I suppose he might be right. But we are not told that directly anywhere in the Bible. As he pointed out, great care was taken to prepare the Lord Jesus for burial. That suggests great respect for His body. That probably extends to the respect that should be shown for all bodies, and it implies that burial is preferable to cremation.
The bottom line is that this is a matter of personal preference. In the case of bodies that have been terribly damaged, cremation might be preferable. In cases where people have highly contagious diseases, like the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) of the 14th century or the Ebola virus in our day, cremation might be suggested for health reasons.
I prefer to be buried. But if I die before the Rapture and I end up being cremated, I won’t be rolling over in my grave about it. If you prefer to be cremated, I have no issue with your decision.
i At the Aquamation website, I found this explanation: “Aquamation is a method of final disposition that is available for both our human and pet loved ones. The scientific name for this water-based process is alkaline hydrolysis. It is the same process that occurs as part of nature’s course when a body is laid to rest in the soil. A combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity are used to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials.”