There is a lot to think about during your end-of-life planning. You have to consider everything from your legal and financial matters to how you would like to be remembered. There is also the decision on whether you would like to be buried or cremated. Cremation has been around for at least 40,000 years and is now outpacing traditional burials because it is typically more affordable and offers flexibility for families that have moved far away from family plots.
There is also your religion to consider. Your faith has guided you through some of the hardest decisions during your life — and as you start to plan for your end of life, you may be wondering what the Bible says about cremation. While the Bible does not explicitly contain any directions on burials, some passages may help you decide what is best for you and your family while still honoring your religion.
Cremation in the Bible
So, what does the Bible say about cremation? It may surprise you that the Bible contains no specific direction on the practice of cremation. However, there are instances where cremation is mentioned.
Having a proper burial for your recently departed was held with great importance during Biblical times. Most of us are aware of the great lengths ancient Egyptians went through to preserve the dead for their eternal journey, but the ancient Hebrews also took great care in preparing their dead for burial, as evident in John 19:39. In most cases, Jewish families buried their dead in caves and tombs when possible.
The practice of cremation is found throughout the Bible. The first time cremation is referenced as a burial practice is Samuel 1:31:
“When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their valiant men marched through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.”
Saul and his sons were cremated because burial was not possible. While ancient Hebrews and Egyptians traditionally buried their dead in tombs of some form, cremation was also an option when necessary.
The Old Testament contains a passage where the act of cremation desecrated the altar. In 2 Kings 23:16-20, Josiah took the bones out of the tomb, burned them on the altar, and “defiled it.” However, nowhere in the Old Testament does the Bible command the deceased cannot be burned, nor are there any judgments attached to those that have been cremated.
What does the King James Version of the Bible say about cremation?
Older translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version also reference cremation. The earliest we see this is in Genesis 3:19:
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
You are probably most familiar with the paraphrasing of the passage, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
These simple words carry a lot of meaning about the cyclical nature of life. We were formed from the earth by God, and upon death, we all return to it. Many people who choose cremation find comfort knowing that their body eventually returns to “ash” and “dust” — becoming part of nature’s cycle again.
Also, in the King James Version of the Bible, two passages in Corinthians reference cremation. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, the apostle Paul writes,
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Again, nowhere in the passage is cremation frowned upon. The passage focuses not on how your body is treated after death but what good you did during your lifetime. We can see this sentiment again in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5:
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
While not specifically mentioning cremation, God’s creations continue to live in the kingdom of heaven even if their earthly forms are destroyed.
Is cremation a sin?
Burying the dead was the usual practice in Biblical times, and until recently, the preferred method for most people when they passed. Even though many Bible passages see cremation as necessary in only dire times, nowhere in the Bible is cremation directly condemned. Perhaps the biggest concern for many Christians is if their bodies can still be resurrected if cremated.
According to a statement by the Vatican in 2016, God can resurrect a body, even though it’s been cremated:
"The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased's body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life."
Even bodies buried traditionally eventually decompose. So, the question shouldn’t be if cremation is a sin, but if cremation is right for you.
Why choose cremation?
Whether you are end-of-life planning for yourself or a loved one, you might want to consider cremation. We’ve discussed how cremation doesn’t conflict with the Bible’s teaching, but you may still have some doubts about whether this is the best option for you or your family.
There are many benefits to choosing cremation over traditional burial or embalming. Some of the benefits of cremation are:
- More environmentally friendly: If your loved one is concerned about the environment’s future, cremation avoids embalming chemicals and uses fewer land resources.
- Simplicity: There is a lot that goes into planning a memorial service. It can be stressful, especially after experiencing the loss of a loved one. Unlike traditional embalming, your family and friends will have all the time needed to make decisions and travel for the funeral services.
- Affordability: It’s always difficult to bring up the cost associated with end-of-life planning, but you need to consider it. Cremation is far cheaper than embalming and an urn is more affordable than a casket.
If you are Catholic, you may wonder if cremation conflicts with Catholic teachings. However, there are ways to honor your Catholic upbringing if you choose to be cremated.
In 1963, the Catholic church changed its stance on cremation — now allowing it as long as the body is present during the funeral. The Catholic Church considers the human body to be sacred, even in death. As long as the cremated remains are treated with the same level of respect and dignity that a body would receive, cremation is still in line with Catholic teachings.
You can learn more about the Catholic Church’s stance on cremation.
Your life, your legacy
Even thousands of years old, the Bible is full of sage advice and lessons that are still applicable today. Perhaps, one of the most endearing ones is that on the circle of life in Job 34:14-15 — ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
Your faith has guided you throughout your life, and so, of course, your religion plays a guiding role in your end-of-life planning. According to the Bible, it doesn’t matter whether you are cremated, buried, or scattered in your favorite place. It’s more about the legacy you leave behind.
You can learn more about unique cremation options and how they may help you honor your faith while still leaving a lasting legacy for the planet and the people you love.