What Does the Bible Say about Cremation?
Magda sends this question:
I have a question for you. Many years ago, our pastor at that time gave his opinion on the question of being cremated. He explained that in the days of Jesus on earth, the people that were criminals were thrown in a fire to be burnt outside the city. So there is a bad connection to being burnt. Also, most people were buried. He said that to be laid in the earth is like burying a seed that comes to life when Jesus comes to fetch us. I am a widow for just over a year now and my husband requested to be cremated. Probably because it was the cheapest option. I would love to know your opinion about this.
- The Bible really doesn’t say anything specific about cremation.
- It’s true that the ancient Hebrews would have been horrified at cremation, given their thinking of how a dead body should be cared for.
- It’s also true that some early Christians – in the first few centuries of Christianity, and then beyond – thought that cremation was (a) an imitation of pagan Roman customs (b) a denial or disrespect of the Biblical principle of resurrection.
- The Bible says that God will resurrect these bodies.
1 Corinthians 15:35-38
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
- It’s true – God has a plan and a purpose for these bodies.
- Our salvation is total: soul, spirit, and body.
- In some way, our resurrection body will come from these bodies that exist right now.
- Yet, the bodies of believers are “destroyed” all the time, either through violent destruction or through the decay of time.
- Cremation does to the body in 30 minutes what 30 years in the ground does.
Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.
- We will all turn to dust anyway, and in some way God will take the molecules of our body and reassemble them into a glorious resurrection body.
- God doesn’t need a well-preserved corpse to do this!
- Since there is no specific Biblical command against cremation, I think Christians are free to choose it if it does not violate their conscience.
- Tradition – both Jesus and Christian traditions – speak against the practice of cremation, but the Bible specifically does not.
- We have freedom in Christ about this.
Remember the Resurrection!
Before he was resurrected, did Lazarus just sleep or go to Hades?
In John, why did Lazarus just sleep in his grave during the time he was dead? The other Lazarus and the rich man in Luke both went to the afterlife in Hades, before the cross.
When Jesus spoke of Lazarus sleeping, he was using a euphemism, which is a softer way of speaking. He meant that Lazarus was dead. That’s all there is to it. We use the same phrasing today. In fact, the English word “cemetery” comes from the ancient Latin, meaning sleeping place or dormitory; it’s a place where people would sleep. That’s what Christians called graveyards; they call them sleeping places. So, this is both a biblical and a traditional way of speaking of the dead.
We’re talking about the account here in John 12, when Lazarus died, and Jesus came to Bethany after three days, told Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, and he was resurrected. Lazarus was genuinely dead.
Now to answer your question, “Where was Lazarus?” Why wasn’t he in Hades, like the rich man and Lazarus were in the story Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke? Why wasn’t Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, in the same place? We don’t know; maybe he was. We don’t know where the soul or the spirit of Lazarus was when his body was put in the tomb in the time after his death. His body was in the tomb, and he was definitely dead. Jesus referred to him as “sleeping” as a common way of speaking of the dead. We find the Apostle Paul using the same terminology in 1 Corinthians 15. Sleep is just a peaceful, respectful, softer way of speaking of death, sometimes used in the biblical culture and writings.
What does “partakers of the divine nature” mean (2 Peter 1:4)?
2 Peter 1:4 NKJV – By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
This is a very wonderful verse, and we can just walk through it step by step. Maybe it would be beneficial for us to look at this verse in a different translation:
2 Peter 1:4 NLT – And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
I think that’s a good way to translate the same thought. God has given us wonderful promises in His Word. The promises in His Word are the gateway for us to receive what God has given us in Jesus Christ. By faith, we receive what God has promised. By the way, that’s the way you receive anything that anybody has promised to you: you receive it by faith. God has promised these things to those who believe in who Jesus is and what He came to do for us on the cross. He has given them the promise that, in some way, they will become partakers of the divine nature and will share in God’s nature.
This is heavy ground to walk upon. What does it mean that we will, in some sense, share the very nature of God? I’ll be very straightforward with you: I don’t know if we can explain all that that means, but I can explain to you some of what it means. Some of what it means is simply that Jesus Christ indwells us. If God the Son, the living Savior Jesus Christ, dwells within me, then certainly in some sense I share in the divine nature. There may be more dimensions to that understanding than that. But if the living God lives in me, then in some way I share His nature. I have a new man in me, as Ephesians says, who has been patterned according to Jesus Christ. In this way I share in the divine nature.
How do I receive and experience that? I experience it through believing the promises that God has made me, especially the promises given about who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us, especially at the cross and in His resurrection. Having received this divine nature, it is a doorway and pathway for us to escape the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. All I’m doing here is looking at these verses, comparing them with a different or easier translation, and believing what they say.
There is some sense in which we, as believers in Jesus Christ, share and partake in the divine nature. That doesn’t mean we’re gods; of course not. That would be strange and even foolish to think or to say. It doesn’t mean that we become God, but that in some way we share in His divine nature. What a beautiful and powerful thing.
Is God the Father greater than the glorified Jesus?
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He declared that the Father was greater than Him. Does Jesus still declare that the Father is greater than Him, in His glorified state in Heaven?
This is a very interesting question. When Jesus was on the earth, He was in obvious submission to God the Father. Just those titles, Father and Son, imply some kind of hierarchy. We never want to think that this means that Jesus, as God the Son, is somehow less than God the Father. A difference in hierarchy doesn’t mean a difference in nature or value or purpose – not one bit. A company might have a CEO, who runs the whole thing, and somebody else who sweeps the parking lot. In man’s eyes, one seems much greater and better than the other; this person makes a lot more money and can hire and fire the other one. But in God’s eyes, concerning what those people actually are, both are human beings of equal value and worth before God. A person’s value or status doesn’t depend on where they are in a hierarchy.
So, during Jesus’s earthly sojourn, His earthly pilgrimage, He lived His life as a Son submitted to His Father. In that sense, He could freely say that the Father was greater than Him. In His glorified state, we would still say that at least in some sense, the Son is still submitted to the Father. Now, we don’t know every dimension of this. There are lines we could travel down, which would take us too far, and imply some kind of separation in the Godhead or the Trinity.
But we do know this: Jesus in the eternal state is spoken of as being seated at the right hand of God the Father. That is a position of high standing and privilege. Yet notice that Jesus is stated in reference to His position in terms of the Father, which at least minorly implies a sense of hierarchy. We also know that the Second Person of the Trinity is spoken of as the Son in Heaven, in eternity future.
So, I think there’s still some sense of hierarchy between the Father and Son. Again, we would never imply, even in the smallest way, that they’re different in their essential nature. But God the Father is still the Father and God the Son is still the Son, even in Heaven.
There is big debate happening now about whether that was true from eternity past. This is something that people like to debate and argue about, but I’m not going to get into it. Ultimately, we must make sure that we never disrupt that teaching of the essential equality among God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In essence, in what they are, there’s not senior God and junior God; they are all equally divine, and equally God.
Why didn’t Jesus write one of the gospel accounts Himself?
You’re not the first to ask that question. People want to know, since Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each wrote a gospel, why didn’t Jesus write His own story? Why didn’t Jesus write about His life Himself? I think that’s a fair question.
But remember, Jesus spoke, in a few places, as one who did not give testimony of Himself. Instead, His works, and the Holy Spirit, and others gave testimony. Jesus did say that if He did give testimony Himself, it would be true. That is absolutely true, of course. But I think God, in His providential plan, intended that other people would give testimony of Jesus, and even quote Jesus relevant to what He said about Himself.
There was a time when people said, “Jesus didn’t write one of the Gospels, because Jesus didn’t know how to write.” Can you imagine that? People thinking that God the Word, Jesus Himself, the Logos, wouldn’t know how to read and write? What a strange idea that would be. No, no – it has nothing to do with that. God, in His providence and wisdom, understood that it was better for others to give testimony of Jesus by writing gospel accounts than for Jesus to give it Himself. Perhaps this was to keep people from accusing Jesus of self-glorying; it would be a testimony from others and not of Himself.
Where did the idea for halos in Christian art come from?
I’m holding a copy of an ancient depiction of Jesus [see video]. In this depiction, Jesus’ hands are in the traditional posture of a teacher, according to the iconography of Eastern Christianity, and behind the head of Jesus is something that would be known as a halo.
I’m no expert on ancient art or depictions of Jesus, but it’s my understanding that halos were used in art to identify either Jesus or saints. The halo was used so that everybody would know, when looking at the picture, that this is someone who was holy. A halo would indicate either Jesus or a saint. I don’t know where that idea came from, other than that the artists who were making a painting or other depiction of biblical characters wanted it properly understood who the people were.
Now, you might say, “Well, with Jesus, it’s easy, because everybody knows what Jesus looks like.” By the way, we just put a video on the YouTube channel called “White Jesus?”. It was prompted by an examination of a book, given to me by my daughter, called “Son of Man,” which includes depictions of Jesus in a few different cultures. If you’re interested in this idea of what Jesus looked like, and how He has been depicted in art, you can watch the video on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/3P1Qk9HSsMs
Anyway, in these artistic depictions of Jesus, maybe the artists thought, “Okay, if we’re showing a crowd, we want to show who the saints are, so we’ll do that with a halo. And if these human saints should have a halo, then of course Jesus should have a halo. We don’t want to make Him seem any less than them.” So, even though there was sort of a traditional way to depict Jesus in artwork, perhaps that was also done because it was done for the saints as well.
What does it mean to be chosen (elect)?
Calvinists teach that only those who are chosen will be saved. Paul the Apostle seems to have been chosen. Can you explain this? I’m not a Calvinist, but this has always been challenging to me.
This is the biblical idea of election. When we elect something, we choose it. I choose to hold this bottle of water in my hand; you could say that I have elected to hold this bottle of water in my hand. The idea of election is a biblical idea. The Bible says that God has those whom He has chosen. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you may or may not know it, but Jesus Christ chose you. And in some sense, He chose you from all eternity, to love Him, to walk with Him, to believe in Him.
Now, of course, the great debate goes, “How does God’s eternal choosing of the individual intersect with the individual’s choice to believe upon Jesus Christ or not?” The answer is that God just makes these things flow together perfectly. He does not violate our will. He does not force Himself upon us. Yet He works in us and through us to bring us to faith.
We are to gain rest and assurance from the fact that God isn’t making up His mind about us as He goes along. It’s not as if He’s on your side now, but if you mess up a little bit, He’s going to choose somebody else. No, we are to find assurance, peace, and security in the fact that, in ways beyond my comprehension, I am elect in Him from before the foundation of the world. By the way, that is really the wonderful status of our election. We are elect in Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate Chosen One, the ultimate Elect One. We are chosen. We’re chosen in Him; we’re chosen from before the foundation of the world. God has His people whom you could call the chosen, the elect. This is something that we can take great peace in. Everybody who is saved, everybody who’s going to go to heaven, is chosen, and will put their faith in Jesus Christ. How those two things interact and intersect, maybe we don’t know in fullness; we just know that they’re true.
There’s a story that pastors like to tell to illustrate this concept; you can take it for what it’s worth. But sometimes these illustrations can be helpful. Salvation is about far more than going to Heaven. Salvation has a real impact on this life right here and now, but it certainly includes the idea of going to Heaven. Let’s speak about it in those terms at this moment.
Here’s the illustration: Think about salvation as going through a gateway into Heaven. Walking up to the entrance of Heaven, written on the top of the gateway, it says something like, “All those who believe on Me will be saved” and “Whosoever will come to Jesus Christ.” It’s an open invitation that brings us in. When we walk through that gateway into Heaven, and turn around and look back at that gateway, and over the back of it is written, “Elect from the foundation of the world.” Well, you could see where both things could be written over either side of the gateway. This is just a story to illustrate the point, but things like this can be helpful. Both things can be written on God’s gateway for us into salvation in Jesus Christ.
How do I continue trusting God amidst tragedy?
With so much tragedy in the world and in my family’s life, I’m starting to question God’s promise to be our Shepherd. How do I stop this apostasy in my heart?
God bless you, and I’m sorry to hear about the pain and tragedy that you are experiencing in your own life, in the lives of those whom you know and love, and which you see in the world today. But let me just tell you that God never promised to insulate us from all the tragedy and sorrow in this world. That’s never in the promises of God for us. Christians, those who really love God, can and do suffer greatly at times. This is just the truth of what life is like in a fallen world.
Sometimes, that suffering is directly tied to our testimony for Jesus Christ: for example, if someone is persecuted or has all their goods taken or is fired from their job because they are a believer. There are other times when it’s not so easy to draw a line: someone might develop a terrible illness and suffer greatly from that, or suffer a great accident, or has something terrible happen in the life of one of their children.
Jesus did not come as our Shepherd to protect us or insulate us from all suffering and pain, but so that the suffering and pain we endure has meaning and is ultimately redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ. You know that great verse from Romans 8:28: “For we know that God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
Romans 8:28 does not say that all things are good, but that God works things together for all good. In other words, any tragedy or crisis can be seen as a terrible event in and of itself, in isolation. But God didn’t say, “All things in isolation are good.” He said He will work all things together for good.
I want to assure you that in Jesus’ name, as someone who’s part of God’s family, when it’s all said and done, and you look back on all things from the heavenly perspective, you will say, “Yes, Lord, You had a way that You worked it all together for good, in ways that I couldn’t see or understand.”
I would recommend that you read or listen to my teachings on the Book of Job, available on my website, enduringword.com. I don’t want to tell you to ignore the middle chapters, of it, but the most important parts of the book of Job are the first three or four chapters and the last three or four chapters. Listen to that teaching, to gain a perspective on what God can and will do through tragedy. Now, we don’t have that teaching up on the YouTube channel; for now, it’s only audio and only available on enduringword.com. Maybe in the future, we’ll put that audio teaching up on the YouTube channel, so it’s more accessible to people. But I think you may benefit from that teaching. Again, God bless you. You’re struggling with things that many believers struggle with, and that’s okay. You can bring that pain, and grief, and confusion to God, who is a Shepherd who loves you.
What’s the best way to understand the Trinity?
There’s no perfect illustration or explanation of the Trinity, but I’ll give you the ones that work best for me. Maybe this will be helpful to you in some way.
There is one God. The Bible clearly presents this God to us. That God is known in the Hebrew Scriptures as Elohim, or Adonai, or specifically by His covenant name, Yahweh, the one God. Now, this one God is revealed to us in three Persons. These Persons are not sequential, but they are standing. We know from both the Greek Scriptures, known as the New Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures, known as the Old Testament, that God the Father claims to be Yahweh, God the Son claims to be Yahweh, and God the Holy Spirit claims to be Yahweh. And we know that Yahweh is One. So, in some way, that kind of goes beyond our conception. We have one God in three Persons.
Let me explain for you. We are not tri-theists. We don’t believe in three gods; we believe in one God, in three Persons. There’s a big difference between being a tri-theist and a Trinitarian. A tri-theist believes in three different gods; a Trinitarian believes in one God in three Persons.
That’s probably the best way that I can explain it. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, and especially in the Greek Scriptures, the New Testament, we learn that God the Father is Yahweh, God the Son is Yahweh, and God the Holy Spirit is Yahweh. I think this is the best way for us to understand the whole dynamic of the Trinity.
Why doesn’t the Gospel of John include the miracle where Jesus met Simon and Andrew?
Do you know why the fishing miracle, where Jesus meets Simon and Andrew, is not included in the Gospel of John, as it is in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke?
I don’t exactly know. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why. I can suppose why: Most people believe that the Gospel of John was the last of the four Gospels written. If that’s the case, it may very well be that John had access to the other four Gospels, and he was careful to not repeat some things that the other Gospels mentioned. Now, of course, some things are included all four Gospels, like the Transfiguration, and the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
But I think that there were many things about which John said, “Hey, Matthew, Mark, and Luke did a good, God-inspired, and anointed job of telling us the story of Jesus. I’m here to fill in some of the things they didn’t speak about.” There’s a great line at the very end of the Gospel of John, where he says that if we were to write a book of everything that Jesus said and did, the world could not contain the number of books. That’s really a wonderful thing to think about. There is even more that Jesus did and said, which we will have eternity to find out about in Heaven.
So, I would just make that suggestion. It’s not something I can say with certainty, because the Scriptures themselves don’t tell us. But it’s likely, since the Gospel of John was written last, that John didn’t want to include some of the things that were already included in the other Gospels.
Will Christians who die while sinning go to Heaven?
Will Christians who die while sinning go to Heaven or Hell, if they die a sudden death before they have time to repent of that particular sin?
The quick answer that question is: Yes, they will go to Heaven. Let me explain it by the way that you ask the question. First of all, you define these people as Christians; they are in Jesus Christ and born again by God’s Spirit. They are saved because they put their faith in Jesus Christ: in who He is, and especially what He has done for them at the cross and in His resurrection. They are believers. Yes, they will go to heaven.
Now you say, “Well, what about these people? They died while they were in the practice of sin. Maybe they died while speeding; speeding is breaking the law. Let’s say the speed limit was 100 kilometers an hour, but they were going 130 kilometers an hour and they got in a traffic accident and died. Surely, they must be going to hell.”
No, they won’t go to Hell. Because every Christian is a combination of sinner and saint. We aren’t saved by our holy lives. We are saved so that we can live holy lives. The way of thinking comes from Roman Catholic tradition, as I understand it. It’s the idea that there are mortal sins and venial sins. If someone dies with an unconfessed mortal sin, then they’re going to Hell. Again, that’s Roman Catholic tradition; it’s not what the Bible says. We are not saved by our performance, and we can’t become unsaved by our performance. Now, it’s true that a sinful life, especially a habitually sinful life with no repentance and no conscience, may indicate that someone was never saved to begin with. Their life has never been transformed by Jesus Christ. But if we’re not saved by our performance, we can’t become unsaved by our performance.
A true believer, who dies in the commission of sin, will not go to hell. That’s simply not a biblical look. We don’t have the ability or the time to specifically repent of every sin that we commit. Think about it for a moment: The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If you define sin as some way that you fall short of the glory of God, then friends, there’s probably 1000 ways that you’ve already fallen short of the glory of God today. Do you have either the ability or the time to call every one of those ways out and specifically repent of those before God? You don’t.
Now, I don’t say that to diminish the importance of repentance. We must repent of known sin when we come to God initially to place our faith in Jesus Christ, and as believers we must repent as an ongoing practice, as the Holy Spirit convicts us. But repentance is not a way that we earn salvation; no, not at all. Repentance is a demonstration of genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
There’s a lot to that question, but we don’t need to belabor it. In the way that the question was presented, it’s a firm no: Genuine Christians who die while sinning, before they have time to repent for that sin, will go to heaven. That’s all there is to it. Now, it is possible for a genuine Christian to be in sin, at least for a season. But this is something we can understand and have some peace in biblically. We must realize that we are not saved by our sinless performance. We cannot lose our salvation by the commission of a specific sin.