This question is very much close to my heart: as nowadays in Hong Kong, due to a scarcity of land and very expensive burial sites, many deceased Christians have to accept cremation as the only economical mode of burial: It means that after their death, their bones would be placed inside urns for deposit into sealed lockers in cemeteries. As a result, my dear mother had opted for (before her death) a traditional burial instead of cremation, citing only the wicked were burnt in the Old Testament’s time. It showed that she could not fathom how the body after cremated could be resurrected on Christ’s second coming. Therefore, she thought that her body should be kept in a grave during the waiting period. Also, she believed in a Chinese saying that goes: ‘Burial into the soil is peaceful’. But, does it matter, whether a Christian is buried or cremated? Let’s examine what the Bible and others have to say:
What does the Bible say?
a) According to Fleming1, ‘Dead body may have been buried in a specially prepared private tomb (Matt 27:60), a family tomb (Gen 23:19; 25:9; 49:31-32; Judg 8:32, 16:31), or a public burial ground (2 Kings 23:6; Matt 27:7). The Israelites did not usually burn the bodies of the dead, except for the execution of the wicked (Gen 38:24; Lev 20:14; 21:9; Josh 7:15, 25)’. In the earliest history of mankind, there was no need for cremation, as there was an abundance of land; so in both the Old and New Testaments, there was no mention of cremation at all. The Israelites only burned animal sacrifices or offerings to the Lord;
b) There were many examples2 where the Israelites buried their dead, as it was the only method of burial, which was incomparable with whether burial or cremation. To cite a few: e.g. Jacob gave instructions to have him buried with his fathers … where Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, before he breathed his last (Gen 49:29-31); Samuel was buried at his home in Ramah (1 Sam 25:1); Jehoiada was buried with the kings in the City of David, because of the good he had done in Israel for God and his temple (2 Chron 24:16). This also indicates that only the good are worthy of a burial. Also, according to Stavrakopoulou3, ‘interment in the family tomb (among the forefathers) is presented in the Hebrews Bible as the socially ‘ideal’’.
What are the others’ opinions?
a) Goldsworthy4 pointed out that ‘the (whole) New Testament emphasis is on the resurrection to life, as it is the fulfillment of the covenant and the promises of the kingdom’. He seems to tell us that believers’ bodies will be resurrected to life as Jesus did on His second coming;
b) Nee5 also believed that ‘our bodies will not have yet been redeemed, until Christ’s coming again, when salvation can be complete’ (Romans 8:23). This also indicates that redemption of our corruptible bodies is part of God’s salvation plan, whether they are cremated or buried; and
c) Fleming6 also encourages Christians to look forward to ‘the resurrection of the body to a new and glorious life (1 Co 15:42-53; Phil 3:20-21), as the decay of their bodies in the graves is only temporary’.
Though there was no mention of cremation in the Bible, principle dictates that it is still an acceptable mode of burial in the modern times, after taking into consideration the available space and economy.
1 Fleming, D. World’s Bible Dictionary (World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1990), p. 143.
2 ibid, p.419.
3 Stavrtakopoulou, F. Gog’s grave and the Use and Abuse of Corpses in Ezekiel 39:11-20 (Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol.129, No.1, Spring 2010)
4 Goldsworthy, G. According to Plan: The unfolding revelation of God in the Bible (Inter-Varsity Press Lancer, 1991), p.419.
5 Nee, W. The Mystery of Creation (Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1981), p.132.
6 Fleming, D. World’s Bible Dictionary, (World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1990), p.417.