Christians and Cremation

written by Neal Thornton, Senior Pastor (February 20, 2023)

A family member of mine recently passed away. His passing was peaceful and expected, with many loved ones by his side. But as the arrangements were made and the funeral graveside services were held, thoughts began to stir within me anew about a topic on which I’ve been eager to write: the care of the body.


The reality of death will meet us all (Heb. 9:27). And when it comes, we will face a decision: what to do with our bodies—burial, donation, or cremation? It is this last option, cremation, to which I’d like to give some thought. As a pastor, I often find myself planning and officiating funerals, and I am happy to do so. I’ve come to realize the strange joys and sweet gospel opportunities that arise as I seek to minister to hurting families, point them to Christ and comfort them in their time of loss.

I have also realized a trend among many to opt for cremation services at the arrangement of their funeral. Such a choice has caused me no little consternation, as a Christian first and a pastor second, as I care for my deceased brothers and sisters and their surviving families. I desire their funeral to speak for them and the Lord they loved. This much is sure: discussions about the dead, what happened and what to do, tend to reveal much of one’s theology. Thus, I write this post in an effort to help us think more faithfully about how to care for the body at the time of death.

Allow me to present a thesis, a “main idea” if you will, derived from a Christian worldview: as much as it depends on us, our bodies are worthy of our care, not our disposal. Death is not a pragmatic mechanic, but a moment to show what we believe about the body, and who made it. Any desensitization towards cremation stems more from a secularized worldview than a biblical argument. Thus, cremation services should strongly be reconsidered.

However, as morbid as it is to consider, cremation seems to present practical incentives. I want to state up front that I understand why one would make this choice--many times because they have no other choice. However, many deliberately choose the urn over the casket. Here are a few reasons why:

Why Many Opt For Cremation

It is more cost effective.

Traditional burial services come with an assortment of accouterments and decisions that not only consume time, but also money. The selection of a casket, burial clothes, headstone, grave plot, hearse, etc. can place a burden on a grieving family. Funeral homes do well to offer low-cost services and budget options to reduce as much added stress as possible during such a time of grief. Churches, too, can help members financially. The average, budget funeral can be thousands of dollars. But in the end, cremation services do come at a considerably lower cost.

There is no occasion for a funeral service.

Many surely die without family and friends to gather, which may remove any felt need or occasion to hold a service. Further, we live in a secularizing culture and among an ever more churchless population. Many Americans are not a part of a church congregation, and therefore die apart from them as well. Sadly, in short, many die without anyone to grieve their death.

There is no land reserved or available for burial.

A proper burial typically takes years of planning. Burial plots are purchased well in advance of the assumed time of use. Some do not have the money or the foresight to acquire such a posthumous asset. Still further, many die in geographic locations where burial is not a feasible option. Travel expenses and logistic concerns may also be in view for some. History reports millions of burials without any formal funeral service.

One has a personal prioritization of environmental care and synergy.

Traditional burial services engage the environment. The casket takes materials, the burial occupies land, and, to be frank, requires preserving chemicals—of which we hope are properly disposed. (Some simply have an aversion to the embalming process itself.) In this light, cremation services could be seen as an earth-friendly, “green way to go.” Further, inanimate spiritualities (e.g., panentheism, pantheism) promote a oneness with the earth encouraging one to “scatter my ashes” over sentimental places of land or bodies of water.

Thinking Christianly

How should a Christian think about these matters?

Let’s state it clearly: Should a Christian be cremated?

At the outset, there is no biblical prescription as to what we are to do with the body upon death. Further, not everyone has the luxury of choosing what happens to their body at the time of death. We need only to consider war and natural disaster. Moreover, there may be sanitary reasons as to how a body should be handled upon the cessation of life.

One could argue that donation is akin to cremation. However, from medical research to organ transplant, there is a moral good attached to the donation of the body that is not present with cremation. Therefore, the arguments against cremation do not apply to the donation of the body (which is given to a third party), as the latter seeks to achieve a specific intended purpose that the former does not.

However, those thoughts aside, if given the opportunity, Christians should take personal responsibility for their bodies with enough foresight and planning as to arrange proper, theologically-informed care for their bodies. We must think more deeply than simply, “my body will turn to dust anyway.” Our Christian witness requires more of us.

Biblical Witness

I would like to provide four points to support the main idea that our bodies are worthy of care; one observation from the Old Testament, another from the New, and then two convictions of Christian theology. Together, these four points show that our bodies indeed are worthy of our care, not our disposal. In sum, the deliberate act of cremation is not an act of care for the body, and therefore not consistent with a Christian worldview and should be avoided, save extenuating circumstances (e.g., sanitation).

OT witness: The burning of bodies is presented in a negative light.

Nowhere in Scripture do we see that the burning of the body is a good thing. In fact, Scripture records the bodies of enemies as being exhumed from the grave and then burned as an act of desecration (e.g., 2 Kings 23:16; Amos 2:1).

The sin of Achan in Joshua 7 resulted in the horrific consequences of a fatal stoning and then burning of his body (v. 25). Such is not a description of normal disposal of a dead body. He was burned not as an act of cremation, but as an act of judgment and to invoke fear of God upon the people. The burning of the body communicates something—as it was intended with the burning of Achan—something Christians need to consider before they register at the crematory.

Further, Scripture strongly condemns the pagan practice of offering children to Molech (Lev. 18:21). Though such burning was the murder of the living (infanticide) and not the disposal of the dead, we see yet another negative example of fire applied to human beings.

In short, one would be hard pressed to connect the act of cremation to the care of the body, even in the most neutral sense of the word. 

NT witness: Death is described as being followed with care and burial of the body.

The gospel accounts record the death of several persons. The twelve-year-old girl (Mark 5:38-43) and the son of the woman from Nain (Luke 7:11-17) are notable examples of those that are restored to life. But there are others such as Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:4) and Dorcas from Joppa (Acts 9:36-37), whose bodies were clearly treated with care and prepared for burial, with no intention to be burned.

Perhaps Jesus is the prime example, as he was buried, and with care. God planned Jesus’ funeral and resurrection. This much is sure (Acts 2:23-24). One must admit that Jesus’ resurrection was not contingent upon a proper burial. The Father is able to reverse the means of death and burial, to raise his Son from the dead. God raised him from the dead, not the ground. That is the point. He could have raised Jesus from the ash heap or the bottom of the sea.

However I am persuaded that the burial of Jesus provides us with an example to follow. Scripture records the great lengths which Nicodemus went to secure and prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Christians follow Jesus’ example in every aspect of life. It could be argued that a sign of a secularizing society is the increasing loss of the dignified and the ceremonial.

The Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Across the canon of scripture, we know that the Spirit gives life, falling upon and regenerating the dead soul. “You must be born again,” Jesus said. (John 3:3) But with the New Covenant age comes a shift in the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). Not only does he regenerate, but now he also indwells. The Spirit takes up residence in the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 5:18).

The apostle Paul makes a considerable contribution to our theology of the Holy Spirit. Not only does he explain much of what Jesus taught and the early church experienced, he goes so far as to call our bodies God’s “temple” of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 3:16-17; cf., 2 Cor. 6:16). He states the matter most clearly in 1 Corinthians 6:19,

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.”

In so doing, he applies the residence of the Spirit as grounds for us to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Just four verses prior he cites a stark example to make a point, “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1 Cor. 6:16).

This leads the reader to believe that what we do in the body and with the body matters. Christian have done well to make further applications regarding health practices, body markings, and so forth, all signaling that we honor God with our bodies as they are not ours but his. If we should be so mindful as to not desecrate the body in the actions of sexual perversity in this life, does it not follow that we should refrain from violently disposing of the body in death? In short, it is quite a jump to honor the body in life, but burn the body in death.

The Christian’s hope is the resurrection of the dead and the eschatological gift of a new body.

I know people who want to be buried with their feet facing east. When Jesus comes in the eastern sky (Matt. 24:27) to raise them from the dead, they want to meet him face to face. While such thought can surely be appreciated, on that Day it won’t be an inconvenience for Jesus to simply turn around the west-facing bodies!

At risk of exaggerating the finer details of Christ’s second coming, the preparatory sentiment does carry weight. Christians believe in the literal resurrection of the dead. Yes, God can raise his children from the ocean floor and the ash heap. He can gather our dust from the far corners of the earth. However, how we lay the body to rest speaks of how we believe it will be raised to life.

We therefore do well to apply theology of the resurrection. Christians should desire to be laid to rest in a posture of sleep (1 Cor. 15:51), only waiting to be awakened to new, eternal life. Such gives great help to those who have lost loved ones in Christ. We lay them to rest and say with great hope the words Jesus spoke over that twelve-year-old, “she’s only sleeping.” (Mark 5:39) How true that is.

A Concluding Application

As a point of application to the church, we’d do well to consider how the proper care for the body influences how we conduct funeral services and what should be present. After all, such services are done in the name of Christ and in the context of God’s people. Surely there are times when the body of the deceased is unable to be present at the service, for it may have been completely destroyed in death. However, it seems to go against the witness of Scripture and the conscience of the Christian to hold a funeral service in the presence of an urn of ashes.

Decorum communicates. We are visual people, made in God’s image. Therefore, as Christians we must be mindful of what we present, making sure it always points to Christ and signals that he will indeed raise the dead.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” - 1 Corinthians 15:55

A Short Appendix

Answers to commonly asked questions:

Is cremation a sin?

No, unless it is attached to a sinful desire or practice, or, as in some cultures, it is connected with pagan forms of worship.

Does cremation destroy both body and soul?

No, the burning of the body destroys only the body (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4). Only God can destroy the soul, and that will be eternal (2 Thess. 1:9).

Can you still go to heaven if you are cremated?

Yes, cremation does not limit the Lord to raise us from the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-14).

Should Christians avoid cremation as much as possible?

Yes, while understanding that such avoidance may not be possible for various reasons. We do live in a broken world, but our soon and coming King lives, and forever more shall we.