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Should a Christian Get Cremated?

We recently did a 16 week series on Biblical Anthropology in which we talked a lot about what it means to be a human being, what it means to have a body and what it means to be resurrected. The material covered in the series gave rise to a number of questions about cremation.

Prior to 1980 very few Canadians were cremated, but according to recent data, about 75% of Canadians are cremated today. Most choose cremation because it is slightly less expensive than burial. Some prefer it because they want their ashes scattered in a location that has been meaningful to them and to their family. With religion on the decline in Canada, many are choosing cremation because they do not wish to have a traditional funeral.

How should a Christian think about such things?

Cremation was the most common way of dealing with the bodies of the dead in most pagan and pre-Christian cultures. Greeks and Romans, for example, did not have a high view of the body. They saw the body as a sort of cage for the soul. Burning the body was thus a way of releasing the soul so that it could enter into a higher plane of existence. Jews and Christians, however, had a view of the human person informed by Genesis 1-2. Reflecting on this foundational text, Catholic theologian Abigail Favale writes:

“God forms the human (the adam) from the humus of the soil and breathes into his body, animating him with the divine breath of life. This imagery reveals an important truth about our nature: we are both earth and breath, matter and spirit. We are physical creatures; our bodies are integral to who we are. Yet we are not merely matter, because God’s breath enlivens each of us with an immaterial soul. This is one of the foundational principles of a Christian anthropology: every human being is a unity of body and soul.”[1]

A bible reading believer understands that he or she does not merely have a body, he or she is a body, and therefore that body matters, both in the immediate and eternal sense. As such, it was common in both the Jewish and Christian tradition to carefully wash the bodies of the diseased and to lay those bodies respectfully in either a tomb or a grave in hopes of resurrection.

Theologians debate as to how developed the doctrine of resurrection was within Judaism, but there is less debate as to how the doctrine developed as a result of the resurrection of Jesus and the teaching of the Paul. The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a first order doctrine for the Apostle:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV)

According to Paul, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead had massive implications for the individual believer:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17 ESV)

As to the nature of the resurrection, Paul went on to say that:

… what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 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. (1 Corinthians 15:37-44 ESV)

The physical human body was thus analogous to a seed that is planted in the ground. There is both continuity and discontinuity between the seed and the fully mature tree or plant. The apple tree has an organic relationship to the apple seed, but is visibly and significantly different from it as well – so will it be with our resurrection bodies.

To communicate these core truths, Christians have traditionally favoured the ritual of burial over the act of cremation. Burial communicates hope for the body in a way that cremation does not. Burial accords a dignity to the human body that cremation does not. The rituals around burial have been developed specifically to reflect what we believe about life, death, resurrection and the dignity of the human person. The funeral service itself has been designed to preach the central truths and affirmations of the Christian faith.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Is cremation a sin?


Does cremation impact our experience of the eternal kingdom?

Of course not!

Many Christians have been buried at sea over the years; their bodies dissolved in the water and were eaten by fish. The God who made the universe can easily keep track of all our molecules.

Getting cremated is not a sin; it doesn’t keep us out of heaven – but it can and often does obscure our Christian witness.

A Christian burial service offers you a chance to preach the gospel to your loved ones from beyond the grave. It will press eternal truths directly upon tender hearts. It will preach gospel hope directly into open ears. Why would any believer pass on such an opportunity? Scattering your ashes off the dock at the cottage says a lot about how precious your family is to you, and a fair bit about your appreciation for nature, but it says nothing about who you are, what you believe and where you are going. Those are things that your loved ones need to know.

If you want your last act of witness on this earth to be presented through the medium of Christian burial, be sure to make your intentions known by creating a legal will. As a pastor, I have too often witnessed the weaker faith and commitment of children and grandchildren obscure or even contradict the desires of a departed saint. Put your intentions on paper. Visit the funeral home now to file your instructions.

And may God alone be glorified.

Pastor Paul Carter

If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.

[1] Abigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2022), 38.