Q: #43. Is cremation a bad thing?
A: Cremation is not really a Biblical concept. Burial was the method used when someone died in the Bible except in rare instances. Cremation was mainly a pagan way of disposing of a body after death, and it has its roots in eastern religions and reincarnation. Burial, on the other hand, points to resurrection, and how our bodies will one day be taken from the grave and resurrected (1 Cor 15:35-58)(1 Th 4:16)(Jn 5:28-29).
In addition, when a body was not buried in the Bible, it was a sign of disrespect for that person. For instance, King Jehoiakim’s body was left in the open (Jer 22:18-19)(Jer 36:30), and Jezebel’s body was left in the open to be eaten by dogs (2 Kin 9:36-37). (Also see: Ps 79:2-3) Some were trodden underfoot or dragged through the streets (Isa 14:19). (Sometimes we still see this today when a U.S. soldier is captured and killed in another country.) King Saul’s body was left to hang on a wall (1 Sam 31:10).
Burning a person’s body was also a sign of disrespect. For example, Joshua and the Israelites stoned Achan and his family, and then burned their bodies for disobedience to God (Josh 7:25). Josiah dug up and burned the bones of the idolatrous priests on their altar (2 Kin 23:16), but left the bones of the prophet of God still buried as a sign of respect (2 Kin 23: 17-18). He then had all of the living priests killed on the altars and burned human bones upon them (2 Kin 23:20).
Levitical law also called for burning if a man married a woman and her mother (all 3 were to be burned) (Lev 20:14), or if the daughter of a priest committed harlotry (Lev 21:9).
God also used, and will still use fire as a sign of judgment. He burned people and their bodies in the Old Testament (Num 11:1)(Num 16:35), and He will one day destroy this world by fire (1 Pet 3:10). Even Hell is a place of fire (Mt 3:12)(Mt 13:40,42)(Mt 18:8-9)(Mt 25:41).
Burial, on the other hand, maintains dignity and respect for the body. I don’t see that cremation is necessarily a “bad thing,” but it clearly seems that burial was the preferred Biblical method.
However, God can most certainly resurrect to new life the ashes of the dead just as easily as He can raise the actual body. I think it is also safe to assume that the bodies of those buried thousands of years ago have returned to “dust” (Gen 3:19) by now, yet they will also be resurrected.