Dr. Roy E. Knuteson says that cremation is pagan and sinful. Your response?
Editor’s Note: I just posted a Q & A on cremation a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I would not post two in a row on the same topic, but apparently my fairly short answer raised as many questions as it answered, so I am publishing a second question and the follow-up. I suggest that the most interesting part of this article is the article at the bottom in which a gentleman defends the claim that cremation is pagan and sinful. The second question and second answer below is where I deal with what I believe are bad arguments for this position. Have fun.
I have never read in the Bible where a Christian was ever cremated because they all had earthly burials, even if they were not too rich like Joseph who gave up his nice carved out rock for Jesus. Comment?
The Bible does not give us a command about what to do with the body of a believer who has died. This is principally a cultural thing, so it is not all that surprising that the scripture do not mention a means of dealing with the bodies of the dead. We know from other sources that most in the Judah at that time were wrapped in cloths with spices for several months until the body had decomposed, at which time the bones were put in a bone-box. However, this process is not described in the Bible. I assume this is the case because God did not want to legislate how Christians should deal with those who have died.
You are right that cremation is not mentioned in the Bible. I am not sure what point you are making. There is no biblical command about what to do with the dead and I, personally, can think of no reason that a believer could not be cremated on death. Whether our body decomposes to dust over many years, or whether it is burned, it seems to make no difference. Surely, at the resurrection at the end of time, we will be given new bodies and there is reason to be concerned what happens to the physical flesh we leave behind at death. Given the facts about what happens to our bodies when we die, it seems to border on superstition to make an issue about what is done with out physical bodies.
I understand that some believers find cremation problematic. To this I say fine. If one finds cremation problematic that that believer should not be cremated. I will admit that there is a small part of me that find the idea of cremation to be a bit hard to accept, but I believe that this is principally an emotional thing and is not based on a biblical imperative or a rational reason.
I want to thank you so much for you writing me back so soon. You are so sweet for doing that. I happened to stumble upon your website which was a blessing. Would you read this article that I just read and see what you think. [editor’s note: the article is below my response]
Thanks. By the logic used in this article, we could not drive to church. The “biblical” way to get to church was on a donkey, horse or walking. There is not a single example of people driving to church in a car. Besides, as we all know, cars were invented by non-Christians and non-Christians use cars all the time. Therefore, a Christian cannot drive a car to church. Such logic is clearly bogus.
This argument sounds good, but it is based on false premises. The premise is that because it is mentioned in the Old Testament that they did such and such, this is a binding law for us in the Christian church. This is clearly faulty logic. Unless we can be shown a scripture which actually teaches that one must undergo burial, then it is NOT a Christian teaching. Besides, we know from historical sources that burial is NOT how people in the first century treated the dead. The exposed the bodies for decomposition and only placed the bones in ossuaries. Add to this the fact that we are not under the Old Covenant in any case. The fact that they sacrificed bulls and goats in the Old Testament does not mean that we must do the same. This person’s arguments fall apart completely upon inspection. Probably he is sincere, but I believe that he is sincerely mistaken.
This author’s use of passages is very poor exegesis. For example, he uses Matthew 8:22 as “proof” that Jesus commanded that we must bury our Christian friends. Here Jesus said “let the dead bury their own dead.” Seriously…. Are we proposing that Jesus is commanding that we not cremate our dead? Does the context support this? He does not even mention cremation. Besides, he is talking about the practices of non-believers. Hmmm….
The author proposes that Amos 2 proves that cremation is an unpardonable sin. Really? Here Moab is condemned for burning the bones of Edom’s king. First of all, this clearly was not cremation. Second of all, we do not know the reason this action was condemned, but we can probably conclude that it was the disrespectful, in-your-face nature of what he did to the king’s remains, not the act of burning itself which was sinful.
Next, he proposes that the use of fire is always associated with judgment, and that therefore to burn a dead body is sinful. I will admit that this argument, although I do not accept it, at least is not a blatant misuse of scripture. It is not a blatant misuse of scripture principally because it is not a USE of scripture. Like I already said, if an individual personally finds this particular way of handling the body of a believer which is no longer occupied by the soul or spirit of that person to be something that bothers them, then this person should not pursue cremation. However, the bottom line remains, which is that there is literally not a single passage that teaches against cremation, even indirectly, so to impose this opinion on all believers is a mistake.
The author says, According to the historical records, the idea of reducing a dead body to ashes originated in heathen lands. True. So did the use of paper. So did the use of algebra. So did the growing of potatoes. The fact that a practice originated in heathen lands is not much of an argument because nearly all practices began in heathen lands, including many of the things that we all do, including many of the things we know that the early church did. This is a completely fallacious argument, based on a false premise.
This author’s willingness to take passages out of context reaches almost comical levels. For example, he uses as his strongest proof the following passage: Indeed, we are challenged to exalt Jesus Christ in our bodies, ‘whether by life or by death.’ (Phil. 2:20). Will any scholar agree that Paul is talking about burial practices here? Really?….
I believe that the article below is a classic case of a person reaching a conclusion, then reading that conclusion INTO the Bible. The technical term for this is eisigesis (as opposed to exegesis, which is reading the meaning out of the text rather than into it). As believers we need to learn to detect when things are being taken out of context and meanings are being read into rather than out of the text.
Let me end by saying that it is entirely possible that many or even most Christians might find cremation to be problematic for emotional reasons. To this I say, fine. Do not be cremated and do not cremate your loved ones. However, we need to be careful to base our teaching on biblical passages and clear reasoning, not on poor interpretation and emotional arguments.
Sorry if I got a bit carried away here, but I felt this emotional issue ought to be addressed. FYI, I probably will be buried, not cremated.
Is Cremation Christian?
by Roy E. Knuteson, Pd.D.
The Discerner vol 17 #4 Oct-Dec. 1997
Many apparently think so since it has gathered such wide acceptance in recent years even among professing Christians. The ministers of America are strangely silent on the subject and very few church attendees have ever heard a sermon on the subject, much less studied the matter themselves.
Historically. cremation was considered a pagan method of disposing of the human body. Today, however, human reasoning, cultural acceptance, and economic factors determine what is right and what is wrong when it comes to funeral procedures, rather than the Word of God.
The Revelation on Cremation
For committed Christians. the issue is: “What does the Bible say about cremation?” Our faith is grounded in the Judo Christian ethic which means that we must consider what the Old and New Testaments say on this important subject, which will eventually affect every person. (Hebrews 9:27).
The Old Testament
Is there scriptural allowance for cremation in the Old Testament? The answer is “No!’ The universal law and practice of God’s people Israel was to bury the body, not burn it.
Take Abraham, for example. As the “Father of the Faithful.’ he chose to purchase a plot of ground for 400 shekels of silver as a place for burying his wife Sarah (Genesis 23:14). Why did he do that? Because it was the scriptural way to care for the dead. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all buried, as were the more than two million Israelites who died in the desert.
The Old Testament forbade the Jews from following the customs of their pagan neighbors, and specifically ordered them to bury dead bodies (Deut. 21:23). When Moses died, God buried him in Moab (Deut. 34:6). Since that is God’s method, should it not be ours. The Jewish commentary on the Law (The Mishna) denounced cremation as “an idolatrous practice.’
The only case of a body being burned in Israel is recorded in Joshua 7:15. Aachan and his family were stoned to death, and their bodies were ordered to be burned because of their horrible sin of rebellion against a holy God. Burning a body was a demonstration of God’s ‘fierce anger’ in Bible days (Joshua 7:26). Should our remains be disgraced in this same way?
Amos 2 records the unpardonable sin of Moab, which was the burning of the bones of Edom’s king (v. 1). The result of that sin of cremation in the 8th century BC was a God-sent “fire upon Moab.” Burning has always been a demonstration of God’s wrath. It is therefore not a fitting practice at biblical funerals.
The New Testament
In New Testament times the only bodies that were burned were those of criminals. The place of cremation was the garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnon which was located just outside the walls of the Holy City. There. in ancient times, human sacrifices were offered (2 Chron. 33:6) and the continuous burning of rubbish illustrated for the Jewish people unending judgment upon the wicked.
Jesus used the word “Gehenna” as a picture of Hell. where ‘the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:48). Burning was the symbol of shame and disgrace, hardly the proper imagery for a Christian funeral. Jesus said that the dead should be buried, not burned (Matt. 8:22).
Our Lord’s own body was carefully placed in a tomb. He was “buried” the Scripture says. Our identification with Christ in His death is said to be a “burial’ (Romans 6:4). Believer’ baptism graphically pictures that spiritual relationship. Cremation therefore, is a violation and a distortion of that scriptural object lesson. It must not be done.
Every funeral in the New Testament included a burial, even for such persons as Annanias and Sapphira, and Judas! (Matt. 27:710). It is therefore a statement of gross ignorance for any Christian to say: “There is nothing in the Bible that forbids cremation.”
The Origins of Cremation
According to the historical records, the idea of reducing a dead body to ashes originated in heathen lands. The Romans, who also invented a crucifixion kind of death, were among the first to practice this abhorrent custom. The Hindus in India have always burned their dead and then sprinkled the ashes on the Ganges River Since they believe in reincarnation they want to dispose of the body quickly so that the next incarnation can take place. Should Christians emulate the Hindus? Interestingly, Christians in India believe that cremation is as pagan as idol worship, and therefore always bury their dead.
Cremation came to America via the uncivilized and non Christian peoples of the Middle Ages. These same pagans bored out the eyes of Christians, tore out their tongues, burned them at the stake, and fed them to the lions.
The first crematorium in America was built in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1876 by some very ungodly and atheistic men. The Roman Catholic Church responded very quickly to the spreading of this evil practice by banning it in 1886. Long before that date however, Christian pastors spoke out against this practice and condemned this pagan way of disposing of a Christians body.
It is therefore a rather recent development in our country, and sadly, it has now been adopted by many Christians as just another way to get rid of a dead body. Some Christians respond to this revelation by saying: “We know that cremation doesn’t cause anyone to by-pass the judgment as some believe, and therefore it doesn’t matter how we dispose of a loved one’s body.’ Oh, yes it does!
For a person to request cremation for themselves or another person is to go against the Bible and all of sacred history. Burial is the only biblical method as we await the resurrection, and no amount of reasoning about burial space, the sanitation of this method, and the high costs of funerals can change that. The question of cremation is not debatable, for God has spoken the final word.
The Word of God is very clear on this subject, both by direct statements and spiritual examples. As Christians we are not permitted to do with our bodies as we please. Indeed, we are challenged to exalt Jesus Christ in our bodies, ‘whether by life or by death.’ (Phil. 2:20).
1. Cremation is of heathen origin and therefore is unscriptural and non-Christian. Any practice, regardless of its nature, that is contrary to God’s Holy Word is to be shunned by all conscientious believers.
2. Cremation removes the healing process that takes place naturally through a Christian burial. Usually, the four pounds of charred remains are sprinkled, in Hindu fashion, on some streams of water, or scattered by airplane to the four winds. Some people divide the ashes among the relatives so that each may have a part of their loved one’s remains. Others just leave the ashes with the mortician who will probably thrown them in the city dump. When this happens, there is no committal of the body to the ground, no sacred place where the body is buried, and no place of remembrance in future years.
There is something absolutely horrifying about the cremation process itself. The body is placed in a gas oven heated to 3,000 degrees where it is burned to a crisp, and reduced to ashes. Can you imagine yourself being responsible for the cremation of the body of your mother or father, or a mate or your child?
Understand, there is no loving concern as an unknown mortuary worker pushes the body into the flames and afterward crushes the remaining bones with a mallet before placing them in an urn. How different from a Christian burial. which is so beautifully illustrated by the burial of Jesus and others in the Bible.
Cremation dishonors the redeemed body of a Christian and is the cheapest, legal way to avoid a sacred responsibility. It is a barbaric act that is unscriptural and therefore unwarranted.
Based on the foregoing conclusions, I refuse to officiate at a funeral where the body is cremated. Believing this method to be non Christian, I have resolved to officiate only at Christian burials and you ought to insist upon the same, both for yourself and your loved ones.
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.’ Ephesians 5:11.