A listener asked Hank Hanegraaff, Bible Answer Man, if it was un-biblical to cremate. Mr. Hanegraaff only found one objection to cremation: the bodily resurrection of Jesus, because it is crucial to the gospel.
For Mr. Hanegraaff Jesus’ body was in tact when he was raised. The assumptions of Mr. Hanegraaff’s objection are too many to mention.
I wonder if Paul told his executioners to somehow stitch back on his head to his body after being beheaded?
Frankly speaking, I see no objection to cremation. When did the condition and abode of a corpse become a doctrinal issue?
If God can create humans from dust why can’t he resurrect them from ash?
My thought as well.
I totally agree with you. But there are many that do not. Matthew Lee Anderson had a section in his very good book about the body on cremation and Diarmaid MacCulloch in his Christianity: The first 3000 years had a much longer section than what it would seem it warrants about cremation as well.
Anderson’s objections seems to be mostly about respect for the dead and honoring of the body. (Cremation does not seem to be dishonoring to the body to me.) MacCullouch seems to be more concerned about the change of tradition.
But if you read Mary Roach’s book Stiff, it will certainly dissuade you of thinking that traditional burial practices are more honoring or better for the body than cremation.
@Adam, you know how it goes with certain traditions? For me, it’s a subjective matter at best, but I can see the place of certain traditions, out of respect.
@TC: I’m with Nick, it seems a bit odd to worry about God resurrecting cremated humans since we all return to dust! On a side note, why are you listening to Hanegraaf! 😉
I used to listen to Hanegraaff; he has been answering this question this way for years! I haven’t listened to Hank for at least 10 years though. I think his predecessor and original Bible Answer Man was much better, Dr. Walter Martin.
I am opposed to cremation, but not in a doctrinal sense. I am opposed in the sense that I don’t like the idea of treating the dead in such a manner. It seems the body is important in the NT (certainly in terms of sexual purity and such), though its importance I don’t confine to merely sexual matters. But this is not something I would be critical about towards others.
From the second temple literature (I need to find a source) we know that the purpose of ossuaries was for preservation of the bones of humans for the final resurrection day. Does this mean Sadducees didn’t use ossuaries? I’m not sure. But also, from my research I’ve seen that they believed that the bones of the martyrs if scattered or destroyed would also be able to be recreated.
Our family cremates and has for several generations starting with my grandparents. Quick ash is IMHO far more honoring than the alternative.
Tom Wright alludes to this question in Suprised by Hope – he notes a modern shift towards cremation and away from the traditional Christian practice of burial. I think he is suggesting that burial is making a personal statement consistent with an expectation of future physical resurrection whereas cremation is more consistent with a belief in a (slightly Gnostic) immortality of the soul only. I though this was a good argument.
Tim: I remember reading that and found myself pretty much agreeing with it.
In the past I didn’t care one way or the other, but I have since come to be slightly anti-cremation. I don’t think the issue has much of anything to do with how God will reconstitute the cremated, but about how we should treat the body. As David Jones wrote in JETS: “Therefore, while the resurrection is not contingent upon a particular form of interment, in light of the manner in which death and the deceased are described in Scripture, some forms of disposing of a corpse may be preferable to others.” The body is important, and thus how we treat it is important. It is part of the image of God in man, which is why God declared capital punishment on all who killed the body. It is also the object of the future resurrection. I’m not convinced that burning the body as though it is useless garbage is honoring to God, although I do not think it is a sin per se.
Biblically, burning the dead is typically associated with pagan practices or divine judgment. As far back as Tertullian Christians have frowned on the practice, as did the Jews. Most people in the Bible were buried. Importantly, when God had to decide what to do with Moses’ body, He buried it rather than consuming it with fire. If God’s primary motivation was to keep later generations of Israelites from worshiping Moses’ body, the best means of doing so would have been to consume it with fire so that it no longer existed. Instead, God buried it. Perhaps that it instructive for us.
Amos 2:1-3 also seems to condemn the practice of cremation. That passage must be reckoned with if one wants to adopt a pro-cremation stance.
@Bobby, I’ve read HH. I used Dr. Walter’s text in undergrad studies. I believe Ravi Zacharias did a revision of some sort.
@Jason, while saying you do not oppose for doctrinal reasons, for some reason you brought the Bible back into the discussion. 😉
@Daniel , interesting stuff. But you now how certain beliefs and traditions go – they are just that – beliefs and traditions.
@ Tim, I object to the idea of “Christian tradition” in burial. There is absolute no biblical category that we can allude to to sustain an argument for holding exclusively to burial.
@Jasondulle, thanks for your insights, but I have a few questions: (1) which part of a corpse is in the image of God? (2) perhaps we need to get into matters of theology to hermeneutics back to theology/doctrine.
There is simply nothing presciptive to burial of a corpose as opposed cremating such. While notions of future resurrection are noble, we need to be careful not to create a doctrine when Scripture doesn’t call for such. My thoughts.
I agree that “there is no biblical category that we can allude to to sustain an argument for holding exclusively to burial”. I think Tom Wright’s point was an historical one – over the centuries Christians have tended to opt for burial, and cremation amongst Christians appears to be a recent phenomenon; he suggests this relates to a loss in our conviction about the hope of resurrection. So my use of tradition here is really just as a synonym for “usual”.
I’m just in the middle of reading Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible” who makes some very relevant comments here – the Bible is not trying to be a handbook about anything (certainly not about Christian burial) and we shouldn’t try to use it for what it’s really not setting out to be. So there’s no best practice guidance here, no doctrine; we can do what we like. Personally, I am pursuaded that a burial choice is more consistent with my belief in physical body resurrection and I would prefer to be buried. But I don’t think it matters that much – it is at the level of a preference (I’m sure I would still be resurrected even if was cremated).
Tim, fair enough. I understand your argument from “usual.” But Wright’s point about Christians loss of conviction about the hope of resurrection needs to be seriously challenged.
I know a number of Christians who go for cremation because it is more economically feasible, actually cut the cost in two. Nothing about loss of conviction.
so you are back – but as a Christian not re-incarnated!
My own family have adopted cremation for at least since the 1940s. And my wife and I have made that our wish. But my Mother in Law was adamant about burial. I got the impression that it was an Anlgo Catholic thing. But my wife’s sister and her husband (both lost to cancer early and not Catholic in leaning) continued the practice.
Of course there is then the issue of what to do with the ashes.
I cannot see it as other than a personal preference issue. But the Tom Wright observation has made me reflect a bit about the need to live in the power of the resurrection.
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