Religious beliefs play a significant impact in the choice of the final disposition when a loved one passes. However, one method, cremation, is gaining momentum across the globe. Projections estimate by 2025, 63 percent of Americans will opt for cremation services when they pass. This trend of favoring cremation over a burial is influenced by many factors, including environmental impact, cost, etc.
But what does the Bible say about cremation?
Cremation & The Bible
If you've ever tried to find the source of where people get the idea that cremation is wrong, you didn't find it in the Bible. That's because the Bible never talks explicitly about cremation as good or bad.
Burial was the way to go back in the Old and New Testament days, but it was a social and cultural practice, not a religious one. 1 Samuel 31:11-13 is the only reference made to burning a body. In this instance, Saul and his sons were cremated after their bodies had been terribly damaged.
That's it—the only specific reference to cremation in the entire Bible.
A few scriptures reference burning bones, but again, none of them give any guidance on cremation. Any Christian ideas that claim that cremation is bad are simply that: ideas not found in the Bible. These ideas derive from a variety of historical factors and interpretations of scripture that don't specifically deal with cremation.
Ashes to Ashes
On the other side of the coin, Christians may refer to Genesis 3:19, "ashes to ashes; dust to dust," as a way to say that cremation is a good thing. However, this is simply an interpretation because scripture doesn't specifically reference cremation.
The scripture references the fact that God made humans from the earth, and the human body will return to the earth. Whether the human body returns to earth over many years after being buried or whether the body is cremated and returns to dust quickly after death is an individual choice.
Whether choosing how to be disposed of after death is a spiritual matter is also an individual matter.
The Spiritual Body
The method of body disposal after death does have a set of historical beliefs that go along with a particular type of Christianity: Catholicism. The belief turns on the idea that if you're cremated, your spiritual body will somehow be burned too.
Now recognized as an outdated belief, the Catholic ban on cremation was lifted in 1963. Then, in 1997, Catholicism allowed the remains of a cremated body to be part of the funeral mass as long as it was treated with reverence. Later, in 2016, the Vatican gave precise instructions on what to do with cremation ashes, including that Catholics are not allowed to scatter them. Catholic belief specifies, however, that the choice of cremation can't be for reasons that are purposely against Christian doctrine.
However, there seems to be a continuity among Catholics and other Christians who believe that the spiritual body will rise regardless of how the physical body was disposed of upon death. This idea is supported by Bible verses such as Mark 13:27, in which God is recognized as being able to bring together anything that has been scattered on the earth. But, of course, this only makes sense; otherwise, anyone buried hundreds of years ago and returned to dust couldn't be resurrected.
The New Testament supports the idea of resurrection, regardless of how the body is treated after death. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:44 states: "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." From verse forty until the end of the chapter, the concept of a resurrected spiritual body is explained.
Cremation & History
Historically, Catholicism borrowed from pagan traditions to help integrate Christianity with society, and it shunned other pagan practices in order to separate the cultures. So why did Catholics shun the pagan custom of burning a body while embracing traditions such as Easter and Yule?
The answer seems to lie in several factors, including the fact that the Romans didn't believe in an afterlife and practiced burning the dead. Since belief in the afterlife is crucial to Christian beliefs, it makes sense that Catholics would choose to distance themselves from this particular practice.
The second factor appears to be related to the fact that bodies were burned during times of widespread contagious diseases because of how fast people were dying. Burning bodies was the most viable option to slow the spread of disease, curb the stench of dead bodies, and avoid the sheer labor it would've taken to bury all of the bodies separately.
Thirdly, when Catholics identified people as heretics, they burned them at the stake as a form of ultimate punishment. Perhaps the best way to sustain the practice of burning them was to demonize the practice of burning bodies itself.
Today, cremation and cremation services are widespread practices that increase every year among Americans, including Christians, people of other faiths, and people who don't identify with a particular religion.
Cremation services and the treatment of a loved one's ashes seem to be at the center of spiritual preferences and concerns rather than the practice of cremation itself. Yet, regardless of religious preferences, periods of grieving and prayer are a commonality among Christians and other faiths.
Due to the affordability and convenience of cremation, often, cremation is the most viable option for a family when deciding how to dispose of a loved one's body. However, ultimately, the decision is a very personal one, and your circumstances, beliefs, and preferences should be the driving factors in your decision.