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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

04 May 2007

Are Cremations Allowed?

Q: Is cremation anti-Christian? Where in the Bible does it state you must be buried? I have found cremation mentioned in 1 Samuel 31:12, Amos 2:1, and 2 Kings 23:20. These sounded like statements rather than requirements.

Q: What are your thoughts on cremation? I would certainly not want to be cremated. No one was cremated in Bible times. Who started cremation, anyway?

Viking FuneralA: Cremation is ancient. It appeared in Hinduism, was practiced among the Greeks and Romans, and appeared in Asia, Northern Europe, and elsewhere. The corpses of Viking leaders were often laid in their longboats. The mourners pushed the boats out to sea and set them afire. While early Christianity did not expressly forbid it in most instances, burial of some sort was encouraged, in keeping with Jewish customs. It was formally forbidden in Western Europe by Emperor Charlemagne in AD 784.

During Old Testament times, only a criminal or crass sinner normally would have had his remains cremated (see Joshua 7:25; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9). Through Amos, the Lord pronounced judgment on Moab for several sins. The first He cites is that Moab “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. (2:1)” This indicates that Moab’s cremation of Edom’s king was the result of disrespect for the dead.

The Levitical commands closely follow a reference to the false god Molech (20:1-5). This association is easy to make when we remember that worship of Molech included fiery sacrifice of children. On this topic, you might be interested in reading Parshat Achrei-Kedoshim: Molech Worship from a contemporary Jewish commentary at Sedra Shorts.

UrnDuring the past few centuries, some atheists encouraged cremation to rebut the Bible’s teaching of a resurrection. This idea has faded in recent years. At the same time, more Christians have been reconsidering the option of cremation because of rising burial costs and the scarcity of cemetery plots in many urban areas.

Why we accept or reject a course of action is often more important than the action itself. Christians are neither commanded nor forbidden any particular funerary practices. Conscience, judgment, community standards, offense to others, and the witness our actions give must all be considered. I have conducted funerals involving both coffins and urns. I have seen remains placed in the ground, in underground and aboveground vaults, and on a bookshelf in a person’s home.

Of burial, the Christian Cyclopedia says, “Burial practices are usually associated with conceptions of life, nature of soul, death, and hereafter. But customs are often preserved when beliefs and practices change. Fear, love, and awe are attitudes of the living toward the dead and determine burial practices.”

The ResurrectionRemember, too, that ours is a God of the living, and that all the dead in Christ are alive forever through Him. It doesn’t matter whether buried, cremated, lost at sea, or alone in a barren desert. God will raise up all the dead and will give eternal life to all believers in Christ.

Related information may be found in the previous post.

Burial quote from the Christian Cyclopedia, © 1954, 1975, 2000 by Concordia Publishing House.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Dimlamp said...

I appreciated your comments on cremations. Blessings in your ministry--both in cyberspace and congregation.

05 May, 2007 10:27  
Blogger Xrysostom said...

Thank you for your kind wishes and encouragement. God bless your work in Canada and, through your blog, world-wide.

05 May, 2007 21:34  
Anonymous stringman said...

At my mother's request, my father was cremated and during the time leading up to and following the memorial service, I was struck by several things: 1) The powerful illustration of the literal return to dust of our earthly remains 2) how this avoids what I see in our culture as the 'idolatry of the remains' and phrases like "laying him to rest" ... No, he entered rest when he breathed his final breath. 3) Logistically, physically, and financially, cremation was much simpler.
I had no strong opinions about the issue before this, but now I find more spiritual resonance with cremation as compared to elaborate burial methods and rituals.

30 April, 2011 22:05  
Blogger Tim Little said...

The nice thing about a direct cremation is that you can avoid the cost of coffins
which could add an additional $2000-$5000 to the funeral cost

28 November, 2011 18:44  
Blogger pamela jordan said...

Burial should not be so expensive! It has to be a spiritual warfare going on when we.cannot just be buried, simply and inexpensively! Our enemy despises us...body, soul and spirit! Cremation shows his contempt for God's ultimate.creation!

20 April, 2015 20:02  
Blogger pamela jordan said...

May God richly bless you soldier! Hospice work is a precious calling!

20 April, 2015 20:15  

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