With the rising cost of funeral expenses today, many people are choosing cremation instead of burial. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this topic.
According to the Bible, the Israelites in the Old Testament and the early Christians in the New Testament practiced burial, not cremation. Jesus attacked many Jewish traditions, but not burial of the dead. In fact, an Israelite was dishonored if they didn’t receive a proper burial (1 Ki. 13:21-22; 21:23-24; Jer. 16:4, 6; 22:19). One of the sins of Moab is said to be “he burned to ashes the bones of Edom’s king” (Amos 2:1). In this instance it seems as though cremation denied the king a proper burial.
Is this Biblical practice of burial a command, a model to follow or just a report of events?
Is burial a command?
It doesn’t seem to be a command, because any commands seem to relate to specific circumstances. For example, Joseph issued a command regarding the burial of his body (Heb. 11:22) and the bodies of hanged criminals were to be buried on the same day (Dt. 21:23). Also, there are no curses or judgments in the Bible on someone who was cremated. The examples that are usually quoted for curses are instances when people are burned when they are alive, not after their death (Gen. 19:24; Lev. 10:1-2; Num. 16:35; 2 Pt. 2:6). There are two exceptions, Achan was stoned and then cremated for plundering Jericho (Josh. 7:25-26) and King Josiah executed pagan priests and cremated their bodies (2 Ki. 23:19-20).
Although there is no general command for burial, cremation is said to be a sin in Old Testament times (Amos 2:1). This is the only clear reference to cremation in the Bible and no reason or explanation is given in this brief statement.
The bodies of King Saul and his sons were “burned” by the Israelites (1 Sam. 31:11-13). However, there is no mention of cremation in the parallel account of this event and its retelling to David (2 Sam. 2:4-5; 1 Ch. 10:12). As a result of this, some think this is burning incense, not a cremation (2 Ch. 16:14; 21:19).
Today traditional Jews are prohibited under their law from practicing cremation because they believe that cremation rules out the possibility of resurrection. But it’s not more difficult for God to resurrect a body that has been cremated. All believers will one day receive a new body (1 Cor. 15:42-49; 1 Th. 4:13-18), regardless of what remains of their old body. All human bodies eventually decay and become like ashes or dust. Cremation mainly speeds up this process (Gen. 3:19).
Whether cremation was a sin in New Testament times is debatable because cremation isn’t mentioned in the New Testament.
Because burial was common, Paul used it as a metaphor for baptism and the fact that a Christian has “buried” their old sinful self and is no longer a slave to sin (Rom. 6:4-7; Col. 2:12).
Is burial a model or a report?
If burial isn’t commanded in the Bible, then it is either a model to follow or a report of events that are not necessarily right or wrong. I find it hard to decide between these alternatives.
Some say that because Christ was buried after He died, He is an example to follow (1 Cor. 15:4). But this seems like “cherry picking” to me. Christ was also crucified; is that an example to follow? Only in the sense of being a metaphor for self-denial (Lk. 9:23). Also, if it is a model to follow, what is the principle behind the practice? Is burial essential for resurrection? Surely not!
Biblical burial practices included funeral fires or burning incense (2 Ch. 16:14; 21:19; Jer. 34:5), anointing the corpse with perfumes and spices (2 Ch. 16:14; Mk. 16:1; Lk. 23:56–24:1; Jn. 19:39-40), burial in caves (Genesis 49:29-32; Jn. 11:38), and family tombs (2 Ch. 16:14). “Spices were likely used in each of the three phases of burial: corpse preparation (Mt. 26:12), funeral procession and interment” (Brink and Green Eds., “Commemorating the dead – Texts and artifacts in context”, 2008).
If you think that burial is a Biblical model to follow, then I don’t think you need to adopt the Jewish practices of funeral fires, burning incense, and anointing the corpse with perfumes and spices. For example the body doesn’t need to be anointed with about 34 kg (75 pounds) of perfumes and spices as was the case for Jesus (Jn. 19:39)!
Some believe that the symbolism of destroying a body (cremation) that God created and that God will resurrect is the wrong message to send at a funeral.
But if you don’t think that burial is a Biblical model to follow, then you can ask the following questions about cremation: Will it bring the most glory to God? Are we acting in love? Will it reflect the dignity of the human body? Will the future bodily resurrection be paramount? Are we accepting one another regardless of their views on this topic? What do other family members think? Will it help or hinder the harmony of believers and of families? Are we judging believers on matters of secondary importance? Will it hinder the spiritual progress of a weaker believer? Will it promote order or disorder in the local church? Will it help or hinder the gospel witness of the church?
We also need to consider local associations. For example, cremation is mandated by the Hindu religion because of their belief in reincarnation. They think that the fire helps the spirit detach from the body on its way to a new body. Because of this link, Christians who converted from Hinduism may be hindered by cremation. Also in Hindu areas, some may assume that cremation signals approval of idolatrous practices. So it would be better to favor burial above cremation in areas with a large Hindu population.
By the way, cremated remains can still be buried, interred in someone else’s grave or placed in a cremation plot.
Although burial was used instead of cremation in Biblical times, the Bible seems to be written to allow some people to think it is a model to follow today and others to think it is just a report of what happened and so cremation is also acceptable today. If you are considering cremation, then it would be good to consider the matters raised above.
Finally, the Bible focuses on our life when our bodies are alive. It is less concerned about what happens to our corpses.
Written, January 2015
The Greek word paradeisos (Strongs #3857) only occurs in the following three passages of the New Testament. It is an ancient Persian word meaning “enclosure, garden, or park”.
When Jesus was being crucified one of the criminals alongside Him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” Then Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:42-43).
When Paul described a vision he had 14 years ago, he said “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
Jesus concludes His message to the church at Ephesus with, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).
As Paul says he was “caught up to the third heaven” and “caught up to paradise”, “paradise” is synonymous with “the third heaven”. This is the heaven which is God’s abode (see link). The other ways of using the Greek word for “heaven” in Scripture are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe of stars and galaxies. So Paul had a personal audience with the Lord.
The repentant thief was promised that when he died from crucifixion, his soul and spirit would go to God’s dwelling place. However, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, some Jews thought that in this context “paradise” was the part of Hades which was the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection (Lk. 16:23).
The passage in Revelation says that true believers will enjoy eternal life in heaven, just like Adam and Eve enjoyed being in the Garden of Eden before they sinned. Note that it is called “the paradise of God” because God is there.
So the word “paradise” is used in the Bible to describe where God lives. This place is commonly called “heaven”.
Written, January 2015
Also see: The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?
In the book of Mark, king Herod is condemned for marrying his brother’s wife, but it says later that Moses approved marriage to a brother’s wife (Mk. 6:18; 12:19). Aren’t these statements contradictory?
King Herod Antipas (who reigned 4 BC to AD 39) was married to Phasaelis the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the Nabateans. He was king over the states of Galilee and Perea (the east bank of the Jordan river) in Palestine, which were under the control of the Roman Empire. His half-brother Herod Philip was married to Herodias and they had a daughter Salome.
Herod Antipas divorced Phasaelis to marry his sister-in-law Herodias. So Herodias left her first husband Philip to live with her second husband Herod Antipas. Then John the Baptist told King Herod “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mt. 14:4; Mk. 6:18). He was referring to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, which forbade marriage to a brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).
When the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question they said “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother” (Mt. 22:24; Mk. 12:19; Lk. 20:28). They were quoting the levirate (brother-in-law) marriage, which was given to protect the widow and ensure continuance of the family line (Dt. 25:5-10). If an Israelite died without a son, there was the danger that his name would die out and his property pass out of the family and his widow would have no means of support. In this case, an unmarried brother of the dead man was to marry the widow.
These two cases of remarriage differ because in the case of Herodias, her first husband (Philip) was still alive, whereas levirate marriage was applied after the first husband had died and there was no male heir. As God intended marriage to last a life-time, a person is free to re-marry after their spouse has died (Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).
So because they refer to different situations, these statements about remarriage in the book of Mark aren’t contradictory.
Written, January 2015
This question was asked recently by an elderly widower who was blind. He said that religious people say it is to make a better world. Then he added “Things don’t start from nothing – there must be somebody who put it together”.
To know Christ personally
King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. His search for meaning in life is given in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. He found that apart from God, life is meaningless. His conclusion was to “remember your Creator” and “fear God” and obey Him (Eccl. 12:1, 13-14). From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.
The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, had a close relationship with God. They were told to care and rule over the created earth (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). But this relationship was destroyed when they disobeyed God. As a result, today most people don’t have a close relationship with God.
Paul tried to please God by being religious. After he entered into a close relationship with Jesus Christ, he found that this religious activity was worthless (Phil. 3:4-11). His new goal was: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil. 3:10-11NLT). He gave up his previous way of life in order to know Christ personally. Then he looked ahead to living the Christian life and being rewarded when he gets to heaven (Phil. 3:13-14). In the meantime he wanted to live as a citizen of heaven eagerly waiting for Christ to return and change his weak mortal body into an glorious eternal body like His own (Phil. 3:20-21).
What was Jesus here for? In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” gave Jesus a task to do.
Jesus was sent by God into the world (Jn. 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25). “God sent His Son” to rescue people from their slavery to sin (Gal. 4:4-5). He came “to give His life as a ransom” for us (Mk. 10:45). He was “an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). This is how God enabled us to have a close relationship with Him today.
Lifesavers rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves. Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Him on a rescue mission to save us from God’s eternal judgment. His big rescue plan can give us purpose and meaning – Someone and something to live for.
Have you recognised Jesus as your lifesaver and accepted His help? That’s what you are here for. It’s how Paul commenced his close relationship with Jesus Christ.
But we are here for more than this. In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” often gave people a task to do. Their goal or mission was to complete this task.
Abram was to travel to a foreign country so the people of the earth could be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). His descendants wrote most of the Bible, which communicates this blessing to humanity. Joseph went to Egypt to save lives in a famine (Gen. 45:5-8). Although he was forced to go there as a slave, he realized that he was sent there by God.
Moses was sent to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10). Even though Moses was reluctant and gave excuses why he couldn’t carry out his mission, God enabled him to do it (Ex. 3:11-13; 4:1-16).
God sent the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Haggai to warn Judah of their idolatry and sinfulness (Isa. 6:8; Ezek. 3:4-5; Hag. 1:12). In fact all the prophets were sent by God (Jer. 7:25; 25:4; Zech 7:12). John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1; Mk. 1:2).
Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the Jews (Mt. 10:5-33). Later He sent out 72 people to preach (Lk. 10:1-16). Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach to the known world (“all nations”) (Mt. 28:19-20). He promised to always be with them.
There are many commands and models for Christians to follow in the New Testament. For example, they are to do good works as a consequence of their relationship with God (Eph. 2:10).
The car manufacturer Land River has engaged Bear Grylls as an ambassador to promote their products because he embodies the spirit of adventure and survival in the wilderness. In this context his mission is to help sell cars.
Paul said that Christians are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). Our mission is to help people be reconciled to God. Are we obedient (like Paul) or disobedient (like Jonah)?
According to the Bible, we are not here to make a better world. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift? For those who have, we are here to live godly lives and help others turn towards God and be reconciled with Him.
Written, December 2014
Someone asked a question about unconfessed trespasses.
Have you seen a sign on a property saying “No trespassing” or “Trespasses will be prosecuted”? This means that unauthorized people are prohibited from being on the property without the owner’s permission. In this case trespassing is disobeying a prohibition.
The Greek word “paraptoma” (Strongs #3900, which is translated “trespass”, is used in Romans 5:15-20 with regard to “the trespass of the one man” (v.15, 17) and “one trespass” (v.18). It is also described as “the disobedience of the one man” (v.19). Obviously the “one man” was Adam who disobeyed the following command, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). So disobeying a command is trespassing.
The Bible says that “all wrongdoing is sin” (1 Jn. 5:17). “Wrongdoing” or sin means anything that we think, say or do that the Bible says is wrong.
So trespassing is disobeying a known command, law or rule. Because trespasses are a particular type, kind or subset of sins, all trespasses are sins. So whatever is true for sins as a whole is also true for all trespasses. Therefore the conclusions in my post about unconfessed sins also apply to unconfessed transgressions.
Jesus told His disciples, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). This refers to parental (conditional or practical) forgiveness that is necessary to maintain fellowship with God the Father. If Christians are unwilling to forgive someone who has wronged them, how can they expect to be in fellowship with their Father who has forgiven all their wrong-doings? Jesus expects His followers to forgive others (Mt. 6:12).
In this case their eternal salvation is not affected because that is based on the judicial (unconditional or positional) forgiveness from the penalty of sin that is obtained by trusting in Christ as their Savior. Before this time we are spiritually dead because of our sins. This means we are unresponsive to God, separated from God and His enemies (Eph. 2:1, 5; 5:10). But after this time our sins and trespasses are forgiven. So judicial forgiveness has eternal consequences.
It is important to distinguish between judicial and parental forgiveness. Because we can’t have fellowship with God as a Father until we become His child, parental forgiveness is impossible without judicial forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness must precede parental forgiveness.
We are to confess to those we have sinned against and to forgive those who confess to us (Lk. 17:3-4; Jas. 5:16). What about those who have not yet confessed to us? In all cases we are to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This means having a forgiving attitude even if they have not confessed.
How do murder victims’ families ever forgive the murderer? After her husband and two sons were killed in India in 1999, Gladys Stains said, “God enabled me to forgive the killers. Forgiveness allowed the healing to start flowing in my life. Being unwilling to forgive the person who has wronged us in any way, allows bitterness to come into our relationships and we are the ones affected. Forgiveness does not mean that we are free of the consequences of what has happened. Forgiving the murderers of my family has not brought them back, but has given me peace in the midst of sorrow. God gave me the strength to forgive. It was His strength, not mine” (Know your Bible – Celebrate God! Bible Soc. of Australia, 2007).
If forgiving another person takes years, then one’s fellowship with God is broken for those years. This could be caused by bitterness, hate, a victim mentality or vengeance instead of obeying the Biblical command to imitate Christ’s forgiveness. God can give us the power to bear our trials and can provide a way out of them (1 Cor. 10:13).
If a Christian dies with an unresolved trespass this is no longer important because they are forever with the Lord. None of our sins are taken to heaven because “the old (sinful) order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We are not rejected from heaven for not forgiving someone else.
So unforgiven trespasses are not a barrier to heaven, but they do destroy our relationship with God. It’s our attitude that is important because that is what we are responsible for.
Written, July 2014
Many places in France are named after saints. Recently I visited the city of Saint-Étienne, which is named after Stephen the first Christian martyr (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).
According to the dictionary, today a saint is:
- A person who after death is officially recognized because of holy deeds or behavior, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding to God for people on earth, or
- A person of exceptional kindness, goodness or holiness.
The word “saint” comes from the Latin word “sānctus” that means holy and was used in the Vulgate version of the Bible (which was used in western Europe, AD 400–1530). In the middle ages saints were often depicted with halos, a symbol of holiness. “Saint” is also the French word for holy.
The English word “saint” dates from the 13th century and was first used in a Scripture translation in the Geneva Bible version of 1587. It was carried over into the King James Version in 1611 and continues today in the New King James Version and other versions as a translation of the Greek word “hagios” (Strongs #40) in the New Testament. The Greek word means set apart by (or for) God, holy, and sacred. It is an adjective used to describe God, things connected with God, or people connected with God. The Hebrew word “qaddish” (Strongs #6922) has a similar meaning in the Old Testament (Dan. 7:18-21, 25, 27).
Six of Paul’s letters to churches are addressed to these people (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians). Paul also said that before he became a Christian, “I put many of the Lord’s people in prison” (Acts 26:10NIV). These people were Christ’s disciples and followers (Acts 9:1-2; 13-14). They were Christians who were living at that time. So the in the Bible, the word “hagios” means a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian.
The Biblical meaning of “hagios” differs from the most common meanings of “saint”, because:
- A Christian is not “a person of exceptional kindness, goodness or holiness or goodness”. They can disagree with one another (Acts 15:39) and they can sin (Gal. 2:11-14). But they are holy in God’s sight as they received Christ’s righteousness when He took their sin – a marvellous exchange.
- A Christian is not “a person who after death is officially recognized because of holy deeds or behaviour, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth”. The Christian’s in the New Testament were on earth, not in heaven – they were alive, not dead. They were saved by Christ’s death and resurrection, not by good works. They weren’t venerated – in the Bible, Peter is not called Saint Peter, Paul is not called Saint Paul and Stephen was not called Saint Stephen after he was martyred (Acts 11:19; 22:20). God alone was to be venerated. Although they could pray when alive, there is no mention in the Bible of them praying after they died.
Because the Biblical meaning of the Greek word “hagios” differs from the common meaning of the English word “saint”, Bibles translated into everyday spoken English don’t use the word “saint”. Consequently, the NIV Bible mainly uses “the Lord’s (holy) people” or “God’s (holy) people” instead of “the saints”
The frequency of occurrence of the English word “saint(s)” in various translations of the Bible is given below:
- 98 times – NKJV
- 82 times – ESV
- 63 times – HCSB
- 62 times – NET
- 0 times – NIV
- 0 times – NLT
As indicated above, in the versions that include the word “saint”, this word has a meaning that differs from common usage. A reader should be told this technical (jargon) meaning in order to correctly understand these Bibles.
This is one of the reasons why I prefer the NIV translation of the Bible.