If you’re not sure whether to choose cremation or burial, you might be wondering what the Christian Bible has to say about it. Maybe you’re a member of the Christian faith, or maybe you’re in charge of planning a Christian funeral. Maybe you’re just curious about Christian funerary beliefs and practices.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does the Bible Say About Cremation?
- What Does the Bible Say About Keeping Ashes at Home?
- What Does the Bible Say About Burial?
- Do Some Christians Still Choose Alternative Burials or Cremation?
In this article, we’ll explore what information you can find in the Bible about cremation, whether it’s allowed, and whether burial is a better option. We’ll also let you know what the Bible says about keeping ashes at home, alternative burials, and other matters around final disposition.
What Does the Bible Say About Cremation?
The Bible doesn’t directly mention cremation as a method of final disposition. This differs from some of the world’s other religions, which directly allow or forbid cremation.
But there are indirect references to ashes, as well as references to the burning of bodies. And many Christians have their own beliefs about cremation, based on other Biblical teachings.
Resurrection and cremation
One of the key teachings in most Christian denominations is the Resurrection. According to Christian tradition, Christ will return to Earth one day and resurrect his followers, bringing the dead back to life.
Some Christians believe that only buried bodies are eligible for resurrection. They believe that cremation disqualifies you from returning to life. But many Christians disagree with that idea. They argue that even buried bodies decay over time. And if those remains are still eligible for resurrection, cremains should be considered eligible too.
They also believe that God is all-powerful. He can make anything happen, including the resurrection of a person from cremated remains.
Still others aren’t concerned with the physical body at all when it comes to the Resurrection. They believe, based on Bible passages, that the “Resurrection” is spiritual, rather than physical.
Dust to dust
Even if you’re not Christian, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It comes from this passage in the Book of Common Prayer:
“We therefore commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.”
And it refers to the Bible passage Genesis 3:19 that reads:
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Another reference to “dust” can be found in Job 34:14-15:
“If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all humanity would perish together and mankind would return to the dust."
Many people see these and other references to “dust” as a confirmation that cremation is accepted by the Bible.
Body-burning in the Bible
Other indirect references to cremation in the Bible show up in passages where body-burning takes place. Burning bodies isn’t described as a common type of final disposition in the Bible. Instead, it’s used when a person’s body has been dishonored in some way.
For example, the Book of Samuel contains the story of Saul and his sons being burned after they were attacked by the Philistines. This passage occurs at 1 Sam. 31:11:14:
“But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.”
You’ll notice that this passage only refers to partial cremation since the bones are still buried. Other instances of body-burning in the Bible involve capital punishment, requiring the body to be “burned with fire.”
What Does the Bible Say About Keeping Ashes at Home?
One of the many reasons people choose cremation over burial is the closeness it can provide. With cremation, you can keep all or a portion of the ashes with you at home.
You can even add a small amount of the ashes to cremation jewelry with Eterneva or turn them into a cremation stone (check out companies like Parting Stone). But would this be in keeping with what the Bible teaches?
Are ashes unclean?
There are no specific references to this matter in the Bible. But there are passages that refer to handling, or even being around ashes, as “unclean." And some Christians believe this applies to human cremains, too. Here is just one example, from Numbers 19:19-11:
“A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp… The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening…“Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days.”
But most modern-day Christians don’t believe passages like this one apply to keeping the ashes of a loved one in your home.
Catholicism and ashes
The Vatican has specifically declared that Catholics should not keep a loved one’s ashes at home; nor should they scatter a person’s ashes. Instead, the Vatican instructs Catholics to bury the ashes, as you would bury a body.
Although there’s no teaching to this effect in the Bible, Pope Francis set the guideline in 2016. He and his cardinals noted that the body should ideally stay intact for the resurrection; when cremation does take place, having the remains in a permanent location where the deceased can be venerated is ideal.
What Does the Bible Say About Burial?
Unlike cremation, burial is clearly described and depicted in the Bible. Most of the key figures in the Bible were buried. This indicates that burial is the customary method of final disposition in the religion of Christianity. And throughout history, burial has been a traditional component of Christianity.
The topic of burial appears in the Bible both independently and when describing the deaths of important figures.
First Corinthians 15:35-55 describes burial as the resting place for a human body. It states that those people will be raised again to live forever:
“It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.”
More Biblical references to burial
Here are a few more cases where burial is mentioned or described specifically in the Bible:
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
“Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.”
2 Chronicles 16:14
“They buried him in the tomb that he had cut for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier that had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer's art, and they made a very great fire in his honor.”
1 Samuel 25:1
“Now Samuel died. And all Israel assembled and mourned for him, and they buried him in his house at Ramah. Then David rose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.”
“And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.”
Do Some Christians Still Choose Alternative Burials or Cremation?
Even though burial is the traditional method of final disposition in Christianity, many Christians choose cremation or alternative burial. But whether they choose an alternative method of disposition, and how they go about it, often depends on their denomination.
For example, Anglicans can be cremated before or after the funeral, but Catholics are advised to wait until after the funeral.
Many Christians these days even choose green burials, like tree pod burial or an earth-friendly casket. This is allowed in most denominations of Christianity, but it isn’t preferred in Catholicism.
A Personal Choice
Most modern-day Christians consider cremation or burial a personal choice. Because there’s no specific teaching about cremation in the Bible, the faithful are left to interpret the matter for themselves. But cremation is growing more and more popular every year, and that includes cremation amongst members of the Christian faith.
If you’re deciding between cremation and burial, you might consider the Bible teachings and passages we explored above and what they mean to you. It may also be a good idea to talk with your local priest or pastor if you’re still unsure. But ultimately, the decision is up to you.
- “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Oxford Reference. www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199567454.001.0001/acref-9780199567454-e-131#:~:text=ashes%20to%20ashes%2C%20dust%20to%20dust%20%5BRel.%5D&text=A%20phrase%20from%20the%20burial,the%20Resurrection%20to%20eternal%20life.
- “What does the Bible say about cremation?” Cremation Resource. www.cremationresource.org/cremation/what-does-the-bible-say-about-cremation.html
- “What does the Bible say about cremation?” Christiany.com. www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-life/what-does-the-bible-say-about-cremation.html
- “Burial.” Open Bible References. www.openbible.info/topics/burial
- Povoledo, Elisabetta and Piangiani, Gaia. “Vatican clarifies the rules for cremation: bury, don’t scatter.” The New York Times. 25 October 2016. www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/world/europe/vatican-bans-scattering-of-human-ashes.html