For many people, personal belief and faith play an important role in deciding how you carry out certain end-of-life practices. If you’re preparing for a Christian funeral, attending someone’s scattering ceremony, or want more information in order to plan your own end-of-life arrangements, you may want the answer to the question, “What does the Bible say about scattering ashes?”
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Does the Bible Say About Scattering a Loved One’s Ashes?
- What Can You Do Instead of Scattering Ashes?
Some religions outright ban cremation while others encourage it. Where does Christianity fall in the cremation vs burial question and can you distinguish clear guidelines to help with decision making? This guide will provide helpful pointers and tips so you can make an informed decision one way or the other.
What Does the Bible Say About Scattering a Loved One’s Ashes?
If you’re wondering what religions cremate the dead, you might be surprised to learn that the Bible neither explicitly prohibits nor encourages the practice either way. However, Christian funerals are most often guided by the direction of scripture so it’s important to understand what the Bible does say about the practice.
Though not plentiful, you can find several examples in the Bible where individuals cremate the dead.
Saul and his sons
At one point in Israel’s history, King Saul and his sons went to battle and captured and killed by the opposing forces. When loyal citizens found out, they broke through enemy lines, took back the bodies of Saul and his sons, and cremated them. They then buried the ashes.
Several examples in the Bible cite cremation as part of the process of carrying out capital punishment. Though not solely related to capital punishment, cremation was often used when someone was judged as deserving death according to their crime. You can find specific mentions in the books of Amos and Leviticus, among others.
Ancient Israelites buried their dead most of the time. However, the Bible mentions that the surrounding nations practiced cremation. Both the mention of burial and cremation in the Bible shares facts of life and society at the time. No mention specifically opposes or promotes one practice over the other.
Concepts about life after death
Since you can’t find specific mentions of scattering ashes in the Bible, it becomes necessary to look at Biblical concepts for life after death. Looking at scriptures that pertain to the eternality and immortality of the soul, resurrection, and life after death will help piece together Biblical concepts regarding cremation and scattering of the ashes.
Bodies return to dust
God created man out of dust in the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Just two chapters later, the first man and women are told, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” In a separate book, the book of Job, the writer says in chapter one verse twenty-one, “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Later in the same book, the writer again affirms that “Man would return to dust.”
Given the fact that, eventually, our bodies completely decompose and return to the earth, becoming dust, it can be said that cremation simply quickens the process.
Eternality of the soul
According to the Bible, people are not just their bodies. Instead, a person’s essence is their soul and their soul continues to live even after their body dies. This reality can be found in several key passages of the Bible.
One place where the concept of a person’s spirit or soul going to heaven can be found is in Ecclesiastes 12:7 which states, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
A second passage occurs when Jesus is on the cross and a thief crucified with him speaks out. The passage in Luke 23:42-43 reads, “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom... Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
A third passage in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:35-55, reads, “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ 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.”
Because of the concept of the soul’s eternal state, it is understood that what happens to the body doesn’t matter since it is the soul that lives on after death.
The coming resurrection
Some people question whether bodies should be cremated and have their ashes scattered because of passages that speak of a coming resurrection of the dead.
However, there are other passages that address this very concern, including I Thessalonians 4:16-17 which reads, “and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.” It is understood that all the dead, regardless of how they perished, where they were buried, or how their remains were disposed of, will be resurrected. In Revelation 20:13, the Bible mentions deceased people from numerous locations rising from the dead, including “The sea [that] gave up the dead who were in it.”
Christians can draw the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how or what manner a person is buried, as much as it matters where they place their faith. According to the Bible, God will take care of every deceased person, regardless of their burial circumstances.
There is no Biblical precedent for cremation. Ultimately, it depends on the personal wishes of the deceased or, if no wishes were left, the feelings and preferences of those making decisions for their final arrangements. If you decide to cremate and scatter ashes, nothing in the Bible prohibits you from doing so. It’s a matter of personal preference.
What Can You Do Instead of Scattering Ashes?
If you decide you’d prefer not to scatter or even do something besides cremation altogether, you can choose several options. None of these options are prohibited for any reason according to the Bible.
If you want to have your loved one cremated but do not want to scatter ashes, consider burying ashes instead. It’s important to understand which areas allow the burial of cremated remains. Many state parks allow the scattering of ashes, but you’ll want to check with park employees to be certain before committing your loved one’s remains to the ground.
If no state park is available, consider burying the ashes in your backyard as part of a memorial to your loved one.
Make a memorial
If you’re so inclined, it is perfectly acceptable to keep cremated remains at home. You can set up an in-home memorial to your loved one, a few mementos, and a favorite picture you have of them.
For a unique memorial option, you could create a one-of-a-kind, 3D-printed urn for your loved one's ashes. With Foreverence, you send in your own design, and they turn your idea into the perfect ceramic urn.
Alternatively, you could turn your loved one's ashes into a real diamond with a service like Eterneva.
A memorial like this is a fitting tribute for someone you want to keep close and be reminded of each day.
If the idea of scattering ashes, burying ashes, and cremation doesn’t appeal to you, then you might want to opt for a regular funeral in which you bury your loved one in a casket.
This is a common and traditional method of burial and is accepted by most religions around the world including Christianity. It was the common practice for those living in Israel during the time of both Old and New Testaments.
For a unique burial that isn’t quite traditional but also isn’t cremation, consider having an eco burial. Eco burials, or green burials, require only minimal housing for your loved one and the focus is a faster return to earth.
You may choose to bury them in a biodegradable casket or choose to simply wrap them in a shroud. For much of history, and certainly during Biblical times, people buried their loved ones in a shroud in spices in the ground, a tomb, or a cave.
A relatively new option is transforming your loved one's ashes into a durable diamond or cremation stones. With Eterneva, you can turn cremated ashes into a real, wearable or display-worthy diamond. And Parting Stone can solidify ashes to create beautiful, natural-looking stones.
Scattering is a Personal Choice
According to the Bible, cremating and scattering the ashes of a loved one is neither right nor wrong. Choosing to cremate and scatter ultimately comes down to the wishes of the deceased or the personal preference of those burying a relative. Whether you choose to cremate or not, do your best to uphold your loved one’s wishes or make decisions that uphold his or her preferences while living.