Is Cremation Reconciled in Scripture?

by Aaron Charles
Jewish and Christian Scriptures don't condemn cremation.

Jewish and Christian Scriptures don't condemn cremation.

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

At first glance it may seem that cremation, at least from a Christian or Jewish perspective, is a shameful alternative to the traditional burial of a body. The Catholic Encyclopedia even refers to cremating bodies as something that oftentimes is associated with a "public profession of irreligion and materialism." But the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures that comprise the Bible neither condone nor condemn cremation.

Cultural Precedent

Christians, while separate from the Jewish faith, still have carried over some of the Jewish customs into the Christian religion. After all, Jesus Christ and many of his early followers were of the Jewish faith before becoming Christians. First-century Christians, like many Jews, believed in a future resurrection of dead persons, so they treated dead bodies with great respect. Christians continued the Jewish custom of burying bodies, including Jesus' body and the body of his friend Lazarus, which were buried in tombs. Cremation, while practiced by the surrounding Greek and Roman cultures, was largely foreign to the Jews and early Christians. But Hindus and Buddhists, because of their scriptural teachings about reincarnation, readily embrace cremation.

Scriptural Context

Although cremation is mostly unprecedented for Christians and Jews, this does not necessarily mean that cremating a body cannot be reconciled with Jewish or Christian Scripture. One scriptural example to support that is found in the person of Jonathan, the son of Israel's King Saul. In the biblical books of first and second Samuel, we learn that Jonathan was killed and eventually cremated, along with his brothers and father. Those who did the cremating were Jews. David, the successive king, did not object to the cremation of those bodies when he spoke with those who carried out the cremation.

Respecting Dignity

If a person is cremated, it's important that the process or ceremony be dignified and respectful. Such dignity includes ensuring that performing a cremation would not give the impression to the local community that the cremation is a part of a pagan ritual or ceremony, for that would be unscriptural. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, believe that the teaching of the immortality of the soul is a pagan doctrine. In their case, then, they would not choose cremation if doing so, for whatever reason, would give the impression that they accept that teaching.

Reconciliation

Given that there's no clear condemnation of cremation in Scripture, and that on at least one occasion, a biblical cremation occurred without objection, cremation can seemingly be reconciled with Scripture. Furthermore, when considering that God, in the book of Revelation, made it clear that even those who've lost their lives at sea have the hope of being resurrected, it's clear that being "properly buried" isn't, according to Scripture, a requirement for future resurrection.

About the Author

Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."

Photo Credits

  • Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images