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                         "CREMATION OR BURIAL?"


INTRODUCTION

1. A practice increasing in popularity is that of cremation as opposed
   to burial...
   a. Cremation is certainly much cheaper
   b. Popularized in modern culture (e.g., the cremation scene at the
      end of Star Wars I)

2. But concerned Christians often ask...
   a. Is cremation scriptural?
   b. Is cremation sinful?
   c. What about loved ones who have been cremated?

[For answers to such questions, it may help to do a Biblical and
historical survey concerning the practices of cremation and burial.  So
let's begin with..]

I. THE PRACTICE OF CREMATION

   A. IN THE BIBLE...
      1. The bodies of Saul and his sons were burned, but the bones were
         buried (twice!) - 1Sa 31:12-13; cf. 2Sa 21:12-14
      2. Bodies were sometimes burned during times of pestilence - Amo
         6:10
      3. Bodies were burned as a form of condemnation - Josh 7:15,25;
         2Ki 23:19-20
      4. Moab was judged for burning the bones of the king of Edom - Amo
         2:1
      5. Paul writes of giving his body to be burned, but he was
         speaking of martyrdom - 1Co 13:3
      -- Nowhere in the Scriptures is cremation spoken of with approval

   B. IN HISTORY...
      1. "Cremation was the normal practice of Greeks and Romans. Many
         of them believed in the immortality of the soul and saw no
         reason to give special attention to the body." - Timothy
         George, Cremation Confusion
      2. "Hindus, with their doctrine of reincarnation, still practice
         cremation." - ibid.
      3. "Among the early Hebrews cremation was the exception." - ISBE
         (revised)
      4. "Some rabbis considered the burning of the corpse consistent
         only with idolatry (Abodah Zarah i.3)." - ibid.
      5. "The first cremation in America took place in 1876, accompanied
         by readings from Charles Darwin and the Hindu scriptures."
         - George, ibid.
      6. "For many years, relatively few persons (mostly liberals and
         freethinkers) chose cremation. But that has changed
         dramatically. Only 5 percent of Americans were cremated in
         1962; by 2000 it was 25.5 percent." - George, ibid.
      -- The practice of cremation is clearly of heathen origin

[Now let's consider...]

II. THE CUSTOM OF BURIAL

   A. IN THE BIBLE...
      1. Burial was clearly the custom among the patriarchs
         a. Sarah was buried by Abraham - Gen 23:3-4,17-20
         b. Abraham was buried by his sons, Isaac and Ishmael - Gen 25:
            8-9
         c. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, was buried near Bethel - Gen 35:8
         d. Rachel was buried near Bethlehem by Jacob - Gen 35:19-20
         e. Isaac was buried by his sons, Jacob and Esau - Gen 35:29
         g. Jacob buried Leah in the family tomb - Gen 49:31
         g. Jacob made Joseph swear to bury him in the same place - Gen
            47:29-31; 50:2,13
         h. Joseph was embalmed in Egypt, later buried at Shechem - Gen
            50:26; Josh 24:32
      2. Burial was the custom during the Mosaic dispensation
         a. Miriam, sister of Moses, was buried in Kadesh - Num 20:1
         b. Moses was buried by God Himself in the land of Moab - Deu
            34:5-6
         c. Joshua was buried in his inheritance at Timnath-Serah - Josh
            24:30
         d. Samuel was honored with a national burial - 1Sa 25:1
         e. David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and many other kings were buried
            in the City of David - 1Ki 2:10; 11:43; 15:8; 2Ki 15:38;
            2Ch 32:33
      3. Burial continued to be the custom for Jesus and His followers
         a. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea - Mt 27:
            57-60
         b. Stephen was buried after his martyrdom - Ac 8:2
      -- The overwhelming evidence in the Bible reveals burial as the
         preferred custom

   B. IN HISTORY...
      1. "The main reasons for the Jewish preference for burial appear
         to be their belief that God intended for the soul and body to
         be compatible and their belief (especially in later Judaism)
         in the resurrection of the body." - ISBE (revised)
      2. "... clearly the early Christians followed the Jewish practice
         of burying the dead (see Tert., Apol., xlii; Minuc. Felix,
         Octav., xxxix; Aug., Deut civ. Dei, i.12, 13)." - ISBE (old)
      3. "As the catacombs in Rome attest, the early Christians insisted
         on burying their dead. Christian grave sites were called
         coemeteria (cemeteries), which literally means 'sleeping
         places,' reflecting belief in a future resurrection. - Timothy
         George, ibid.
      4. "Of course, many martyrs were burned to death, but Christians
         believed God would bring them forth unimpaired at the
         resurrection. 'We do not fear any loss from any mode of
         sepulture,' declared Minucius Felix, 'but we adhere to the old
         and better custom of burial.' - ibid.
      -- Not until recent times did Christians even consider cremation
         as an alternative

[Having surveyed the Biblical and historical evidence, here are some...]

III. REASONS TO PREFER BURIAL OVER CREMATION

   A. CREMATION IS OF HEATHEN ORIGIN...
      1. There is no Biblical support for cremation
      2. History reveals that cremation is of heathen origin
      -- Why choose a practice with such pagan origins?

   B. GOD'S PEOPLE ALWAYS PRACTICED BURIAL...
      1. That is, as revealed in the pages of the Bible
      2. Throughout Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, and into the
         Christian age
      -- Why not rather emulate the practice of faithful saints in the
         Bible?

   C. BURIAL REFLECTS RESPECT FOR THE BODY...
      1. "Unlike the Greeks, who regarded the body as a prison of the
         soul, both Hebrews and Christians saw it as the integration of
         human personality." - ISBE (revised)
      2. "Furthermore, the Christian emphasis upon the body of the
         temple of the Holy Spirit increased their disinclination toward
         cremation" - ibid.
         a. Our bodies have served as a temple of the Spirit - 1Co 6:19
         b. We honor places where George Washington slept; why not more
            those bodies where the Holy Spirit dwelt?
      3. Indeed, our bodies do not belong to us, but to the Lord!
         a. The body is for the Lord - 1Co 6:13
         b. The body is not our own, but bought at a price - 1Co 6:19
         c. With which we are to glorify God - 1Co 6:20
      -- Which practice, burial or cremation, shows a higher value for
         the body?

   D. BURIAL REFLECTS OUR HOPE IN THE RESURRECTION...
      1. We believe in the resurrection of the dead - Jn 5:28-29; Ac
         24:15
      2. We therefore eagerly await the redemption of our bodies - Ro 8:
         23-25
      3. We believe that what is sown in corruption will be raised in
         incorruption - 1Co 15:42-54
      -- Which practice better pictures the hope that we have of the
         resurrection?

CONCLUSION

1. We return to our original question:  Is cremation unscriptural...?
   a. It certainly is without scriptural support
   b. Burial is certainly a scriptural practice

2. But is cremation sinful...?
   a. If one has any doubt as to its approval by God, then it is! - cf.
      Ro 14:23
   b. How much better to have a clear conscience supported by the
      revelation of God's Word

3. What of those who have been cremated...?
   a. I am content to let the Lord be the Judge
   b. We know that the Lord has the power to raise all the dead, no
      matter what has happened to their bodies - Re 20:13

Yet the Biblical support is clearly on the side of burial as opposed to
cremation.  Burial certainly reflects a higher regard for the body,
which is also reflected in this prayer of Paul...

   "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and
   may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at
   the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 1Th 5:23
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