cremation or bodily burial n.
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Cremation or Bodily Burial:

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  1. Cremation or Bodily Burial: Which Brings God More Honor? Darrell Stein

  2. Origins of Cremation • Derived from the Latin cremare (“to burn”), cremation is the process of disposing (destroying) a dead body in the flames of fire. • Historical evidence indicates that burning dead human beings apparently did not occur until sometime between 2500 and 2000 years B.C. It is quite likely that it started in India and moved east. Outside of the Roman Empire, the Nordic culture of Scandinavia performed some crematory acts on fireboats from about 1500 to 1800 B.C. • It was the pagan religious beliefs, which were an integral part of cremation, that made burning the dead repugnant to the ancient Hebrews, as well as to the early Christians.

  3. Historical Methods of Cremation • To cremate a deceased human being in ancient times required gathering wood to erect a pile or stack several feet high and longer and wider than the respective dead body. The bones of the cremated body, which for the most part did not burn, were either buried or placed in an urn. These urns were tall enough to accommodate the unburned bones together with the body’s ashes.

  4. Modern Methods of Cremation • A crematorium’s furnace, which resembles a large bread oven, is commonly called a retort in the furnace industry. After the body is laid into what is usually a brick-lined furnace, it is fired up to between 1700 and 2500 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 90 minutes to two hours.

  5. Modern Methods of Cremation

  6. Modern Methods of Cremation

  7. The Composition of Modern Cremated Remains • The mistaken common belief is that after the human corpse has been burned, only ashes are left. The bones do not burn. Consequently, they are pulverized by a grinding process. The entire contents of an urn, depending on the size of the corpse, ordinarily weigh between four and eight pounds of ash and fragments.

  8. Whose ashes? • Recipients sometimes do not know what portions of the ashes they have on hand are really those of their loved one. Sometimes family members do not know whether the ashes they received are those of their deceased relative or ashes of wood or some other product.

  9. Why Did Pagans Choose Cremation? • Some scholars think the burning of human corpses began because ancient people feared the dead; thus, theoretically, destroying them by fire coped with that fear. • Cremation enabled the survivors to carry the bones of the deceased, back to their homes or to some other desirable place. • Ancient Greeks did it in part to prevent buried bodies from being stolen by thieves or disturbed by other miscreants. • In some instances, people burned dead human bodies because they believed in the pagan notion that fire freed the soul from wandering and searching for rest after the person expired. • All pagans burned their dead because they did not believe in the physical resurrection of the body.

  10. Why Did Pagans Choose Cremation? • It is because of these pagan realities, in addition to the many biblical precedents of earth burial, including the burial of Jesus, that the early Christians opposed cremation, not simply because pagans practiced it. For Christians to accept and practice cremation would have been tantamount to identifying, at least symbolically, with the erroneous pagan beliefs associated with it.

  11. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation • Shortly after Adam’s fall into sin, God told him that not only would he die, but his body, created out of the dust of the earth, would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). These words are a clear indication that God’s plan is for the deceased human body to be laid in an earthen grave.

  12. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) • Genesis 49:29 – Jacob told Joseph “Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite”. Pharaoh granted Joseph’s request to take Jacob’s body back to his homeland, where he was buried in the same field where Abraham and Sarah had been laid to rest (Genesis 50:5-6:13). Jacob’s request indicates that he could not imagine his dead body being disposed of in any other way. • Joseph also asked to be buried in Canaan. In Exodus 13:19, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. For 40 years, the Israelites carried and protected his bones until they buried him in Shechem.

  13. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) • When Moses died, God Himself buried him. The biblical text reads, “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab…And He [God] buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deut. 34: 5-6).

  14. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) • Christians who believe cremation is an acceptable option, and that God has no objections to it, may seriously want to ask why God Himself chose to bury Moses in an earthen grave. By giving Moses an earth burial, did God perhaps intend to show His faithful people that He only approves of their placing a deceased friend or relative in the earth? Biblically minded opponents of cremation should say “yes”. In fact, the rabbinic Talmud agrees with this conclusion, for it states, “Follow the path of God…bury the dead, even as He [God] did bury Moses in the valley of Moab” (Sotah 14a).

  15. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) On through the generations following Moses, the Hebrews continued to bury their dead. • Joshua was laid to ret in a grave (Josh. 24:30) • Samuel died and was buried in Ramah (1 Sam. 25:1) • David’s survivors buried him in Jerusalem (1 Kings 2:10) • Inhumation was so important to the Hebrews that they even buried the slain bodies of their enemies (1 Kings 11:15). • The prophet Jeremiah notes with horror dead people being unburied. Not to be buried was equivalent to being garbage or refuse (Jer. 25:33).

  16. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) When they did return from Egypt, the Israelites continued to bury their dead. When they did perform cremations, it was only for certain criminals who committed the most heinous acts. • Joshua announced that the accursed criminal “shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel” (Josh. 7:15). • Moses commanded the punishment of a consuming fire for a daughter of a priest who profaned herself and her father by engaging in prostitution (Lev. 21:9). • Moses also stated, “If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you (Lev. 20:14).

  17. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) These examples indicate that some of the worst criminals were occasionally incinerated, and that the cremation served as an added mark of punishment and humiliation. For the most part, however, the Israelites generally buried rather than cremated most criminals. There is not a single biblical case where God commanded cremating any individual as an act of honor or a blessing.

  18. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) Throughout the entire OT, the act of destroying deceased humans by fire was never pleasing to God. This is especially evident with regard to the king of Moab, who took the bones from the king of Edom’s tomb and burned them to lime (Amos 2:1-2). God not only took offense, but he sent fire to destroy Moab and his fortresses. It can be argued that this biblical reference is a clear denunciation of cremation, one that applies to all people, pagans and God’s people alike.

  19. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) Although one could become unclean through physical contact with a deceased person, the Hebrews, nevertheless, treated the body of a dead person with great respect. Respect for the human body was one reason the Israelites rejected cremation. It indicated a rejection of the concept of “respect due to the deceased”; to commit the body to destruction by fire is tantamount to the deliberate burning of something that was once sacred.

  20. Ancient Israelite View of Cremation (cont.) The Talmud, the formal codification of the oral law, boldly states, “Every death which is accompanied by burning is looked upon as idolatry: (Avodah Zarah 1:3). If cremation was idolatrous to the Jews of the Talmudic era, then it was a practice contrary to the First Commandment, which proscribes all forms of idolatry. This reference is additional corroboration that cremation was unthinkable and unacceptable to faithful Jews.

  21. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation Early Christians had several noteworthy examples of individuals in the NT who were buried in graves. • Mary and Martha laid their dead brother Lazarus in a tomb (John 11:38) • Stephen, the first Christian Martyr: “Godly men buried Stephen” (Acts 8:2). • The disciples of John the Baptist, whom Herod Antipas had decapitated, buried him (Matt. 14:12). • Every person who is noted as having died in the NT received earth burial.

  22. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) • Even Ananias and Sapphira, who were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit, were interred (Acts 5:3-10). • The most significant predecessor to whom the early Christians could point was Jesus Himself who, was laid to rest in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. • The early Christians also saw precedents for earth burial in what Jesus said and did. He once said, “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). Jesus fully accepted the Jewish practice of earth burial. Note, Jesus did not say: “Let the dead cremate their dead.” Had He said so, it would have been in conflict with what He had previously said, namely that all the dead would hear His voice someday and come forth from their graves (John 5:28). Jesus attacked many early Jewish traditions, but burial of the dead was not one of them. The early Christians had no other thought than to follow their biblical predecessors.

  23. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) The Sanctity of the Human Body • It is well-known among church historians that the early Christians fervently opposed infanticide, child abandonment, abortion, and suicide because they believed in the sanctity of the human being. In their minds, the sanctity of the human body did not come to an end when a person dies. They saw the human being as the crown of God’s creation: • Man was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) • “You made him [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). • Paul told the Christians in Corinth, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives within you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

  24. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) Given this biblical view of the human body, in addition to their belief in the resurrection of the body, the early Christians were not about to dispose of a body, even though dead, by the most destructive means known to man – fire. They saw cremation as unbiblical, unthinkable, and sacrilegious.

  25. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) • This mindset continued for centuries. The fact that faithful Christians throughout the centuries believed in the sanctity of the human body, alive or dead, meant they did not see their body as their own, something they were free to treat however they selfishly wished. It was another reason why cremation of their dead was an unthinkable option. • If today’s Christians still believe in the sanctity of the human body, and that it does not belong to them alone, they will shun and reject the practice of cremation, just as their early Christian predecessors did.

  26. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) • Early Church Fathers Oppose Cremation: • The first church father who defended earth burial vis-à-vis cremation was Minucius Felix. Around A.D. 190, he stated, “we adopt the ancient and better custom of burying in the earth. See, therefore, how for our consolation all nature suggests a future resurrection: (Octavius 34). • Tertullian attacked the practice because of its cruelty and violence (On the Resurrection of the Flesh 1). • St. Irenaeus underscored the Christian practice of earth burial when he wrote, “But although it [the dead body] is dissolved at the appointed time, because of our primeval disobedience, it is placed, as it were in the crucible of the earth…” (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus XII).

  27. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) Early church councils and synods did not issue any canons against cremation. Why not? There was no need to do so, because disposing of the dead by cremation was one cultural practice Christians did not imitate. There is not a single recorded instance of Christians having ever cremated their dead. There was no legalized prohibition against cremation in Christian Antiquity. None was needed, for the Christians by reason of their belief abhorred it.

  28. Early Christian Rejection of Cremation (cont.) Early Christians also knew and believed what Jesus said: “Don’t be amazed…for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out” (John 5:28). They herd Him say “Graves,” not “urns.” Moreover, burning the dead was not consistent with what was done with Christ’s dead body before He rose from the dead; nor was it consistent with what He said concerning the future resurrection of the dead.

  29. Cremation Over the Centuries Early Christian opposition resulted in the practice of cremation being largely discontinued in much of the Roman Empire by the latter part of the fourth century. During the next several centuries, as Christianity advanced, the disappearance of cremation spread to the more remote parts of Europe. Earth burial became the norm and remained inviolable until the late 1800’s, when advocates of cremation in the West broke with Christianity’s historic opposition and revived this custom from the pagan era of Rome.

  30. Why a Revival? As the spirit of the Age of Reason, with its accompanying values of secularism increasingly became a part of the culture in Western societies in the 20th century, many, including Christians, began conforming to the values of this ideological movement. Soon an increasing number of church members, including Christian clergy, began accepting and even defending the practice of cremating the dead.

  31. U.S. Cremation Statistics In 1900 there were only 2,414 (0.003%) deceased persons cremated in the United States. In 1920, only 1% of all Americans were cremated. Cremation remained a rare occurrence until the 1960’s. In 1960, the American rate was relatively low when 60, 987 (3.56%) were incinerated. It then steadily grew over the next four decades. In 2001, 26.25% of all deceased Americans were incinerated.

  32. Biblical Arguments Against Cremation The burial of Jesus: It is indeed true that the early Christians rejected cremation by burying their dead in large measure because they had the burial of Jesus Christ as a precedent. Christ was not merely buried because it was a Hebrew custom, but because it was also God’s will, reminiscent of His will in regard to the burial of Moses. Thus, given that God willed Moses and Jesus Christ to be buried, it is reasonable to conclude that He wills that all people, past and present, be given earth burial.

  33. Biblical Arguments Against Cremation (cont.) The custom of memorializing persons in graves with monuments is a centuries-old custom. The OT reports that Jacob set up a pillar on the tomb of Rachel, his wife (Gen. 30:20). This act by Jacob, and others in the OT, was not just to honor and remember family members, but it was also intended to convey a theological message. They were perpetual reminders that they might be testimonies of the future resurrection, which they believed and expected. If cremation continues to increase, along with the scattering of cremains, the biblical precedent of erecting grave monuments will undoubtedly continue to decline, with an accompanying decline in the Christian testimony to the physical resurrection of the body.

  34. Biblical Arguments Against Cremation (cont.) “Ashes to Ashes” • Even though an omnipotent God can resurrect bodies from their cremated ashes – and Orthodox Christianity has never denied this- these words do not have a biblical source or precedent. The Bible never speaks about dead bodies turning to ashes. According to the Bible, the deceased body turns only to dust. • It appears that these words became a part of the funeral liturgy in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer (1549) not because its formulators believed the body would eventually turn to ashes, but because these words provided a rhythmic, poetic alliteration.

  35. Biblical Arguments Against Cremation (cont.) Cremation undermines the doctrine of the resurrection • The resurrection of the body assumes burial and graves, whereas cremation does not. To be Christian is to believe in the physical resurrection of the body of which Christ’s bodily resurrection is the “firstfruits”. • The doctrine of the resurrection body, based on Christ’s own resurrection, is the lynch pin of Christianity. If cremation fosters a vague belief in only the survival of the soul, and the soul is never seen as becoming reunited with its body on resurrection day, then it shatters Christianity’s cardinal doctrine. [see 1 Cor. 15:16-18].

  36. Psychological Factors • There is not a gravesite reminder of the departed family member. Consequently, relatives commonly forget cremated people.

  37. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce Doctrinal conflicts and divisions plagued the church soon after Christ ascended into heaven. There were the Gnostics, Docetists, Arians, Donatists, Nestorians, and others who departed from the orthodox biblical teachings of the church. Among these different heretical groups, however, none of their followers accepted or advocated the burning of their dead, not even the Gnostics who ridiculed the human body and denied the physical resurrection of the flesh. Similarly, the Docetists, who taught that Christ did not have a material body but only appeared to have one, also did not engage in burning their dead. Moreover, none of the other heretical groups within the church ever questioned the Christian opposition to it.

  38. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce (cont.) • In terms of a Christian response to the modern cremation movement, the Roman Catholic Church was the only Christian denomination that formally opposed the practice when it was introduced in the West. • In 1963, however, the Roman Catholic Church made an about face in 1963 to permit Catholics to be cremated. This decision was not made on the basis of any biblically based theological study of the problem. Influenced by the secular culture, it merely issued a statement allowing it. No other Christian denominations have produced any formal theological studies dealing with cremation. They have merely acquiesced.

  39. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce (cont.) • Acquiescence has occurred not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but in virtually all American Protestant churches, including conservative denominations. For the most part, they all voice similar responses when they say the Bible does not prohibit cremation.

  40. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce (cont.) • Why have so many Christian clergy and their churches assented to cremation, especially since Christianity had rejected it for most of 2,000 years? Answer: The powerful influence of today’s secularized culture. Apparently, unbeknownst to many clergy, churches, and theologians, the secular culture has been so subtly and powerfully persuasive that many clergy and churches apparently have not recognized how it is undermining the historic biblical/Christian position on the significance of earth burial and how it is related to the decline in belief in the doctrine of the physical resurrection of the body. As faith in the resurrection all but disappeared in mainline churches, the practice of cremation swelled.

  41. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce (cont.) Supposed biblical silence: Members of conservative churches tend to say that if a given behavior is prohibited in the Bible, it must not be practiced by them. However, when the question arises of whether cremation is biblically permissible, their churches’ leaders commonly say that the Bible is either silent on the matter or that it does not prohibit it. Members are told that cremation is a practice that is neither biblically commanded nor forbidden. For the most part, both liberal and conservative churches have acquiesced to the ancient pagan practice of burning the dead.

  42. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce (cont.) • In 2003, the SBC’s website stated, “The act of cremation is not a sin.” The website made this conclusion by contending that it would only be a sin if it violated one of God’s laws, and since God has no such law, it is therefore not a sin. Thus, the website further stated that, “The disposal of the body is left to our desires and wishes in accordance with the law of the land.” • As we saw earlier, however, the Bible is not silent on this issue.

  43. Clergy and Churches Acquiesce (cont.) • Moreover, a search of denominational literature reveals that no denomination has ever produced a formal biblical-exegetical study document on cremation.

  44. Be Not Conformed to This World • The early Christians were mindful of Paul’s command in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world”. Interestingly, this command from God is ignored today when Christians are either told, or led to believe, that cremation is an acceptable option. Why is it that so many Christian clergy and churches fail to see the applicability of this verse to the practice of cremation? This is especially puzzling since cremation is pagan in its origins and used in the OT as an extended form of punishment. Certainly, the early Christians fully understood that by imitating the Romans by practicing cremation, they would have been conforming to the world of their day. So they did not.

  45. Be Not Conformed to This World (cont.) • It would be appropriate for Christian clergy to teach their members that when God says “be not conformed to this world,” it means that Christians do not have the option of choosing the secular, worldly practice of cremation.