The traditional method of the Christian Church is to bury the dead. However, in recent years, cremation is becoming increasingly popular among Christians in Singapore. It is considered to be a “cost effective”, “hygienic” and “land-saving” method of conducting a funeral. Cremation is now so widely accepted that some consider burial to be a strange and deviant teaching of certain churches!

But what does the Bible say? In Genesis 23, the Bible records the extent to which Abraham went to purchase a piece of land from the sons of Heth to bury Sarah. Abraham initially wanted to purchase only the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:9), but Ephron insisted that Abraham should purchase the whole land (field and cave included) for the burial (Genesis 23:11). Abraham could have easily solved the problem by adopting the practice of cremation just like the surrounding cities and nations. But Abraham willingly fulfilled the legal obligations of buying both the field and the cave so that Sarah could be buried. The burial not only expresses Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith in the land promises of God’s covenant to Abraham, but also their faith that they will one day be resurrected and be found in the heavenly land above (c.f. Hebrews 11:16).

Besides the example of Sarah, it is worth noting that all the Old Testament patriarchs were buried (Genesis 25:8-10; 35:19-20, 29; 49:31-33; 50:1-13). Deuteronomy 21:3 also teaches that “His body shall not remain all night upon a tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day”. The New Testament saints also practiced buried (Matthew 14:10-12; John 11:17; Acts 8:2). In addition, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was buried in the tomb of Joseph and not cremated.

The act of burial is a wonderful testimony of the future bodily resurrection of Christians in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-50, Paul likens burial to the imagery of a seed being planted in the ground. After some time, the seed will spring forth from the ground as a plant. Similarly at the appointed season, God will raise the bodies of believers from the earth. Just as Christ rose up bodily from the dead, so Christians will also be resurrected bodily from the grave. What appears as “dead” to the eyes of the world is but “sleep” for the believers!

Burial upholds the doctrine of the body. The Bible tells us that the body of the Christian is not unimportant. It is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). When Christians are resurrected, they will be given a glorified body suited for eternity. God not only saves our souls, but also our bodies.

On the other hand, the various instances of cremation in the Bible are that of condemnation and judgement. Joshua 7 records how Achan was punished for taking the accursed thing from Jericho. Achan and his family was stoned with stones and burnt with fire (Joshua 7:25) A further example is the burning of Saul’s bones in 1 Samuel 31:12. It was an expression of judgement for Saul’s sins including the visit to the witch of Endor (c.f. 1 Samuel 28; compare also with Deuteronomy 21:3). Consider also how the unbelievers will be punished eternally the lake of fire. Surely the act of cremation evokes the picture of judgement and punishment more than the picture of hope and peace!

However, there are some who accuse “burial-only” proponents of teaching that Christians who are cremated cannot be saved. Such accusers confuse the issue altogether. All true believers, regardless of whether they are buried or cremated, will certainly be resurrected bodily. These includes the valiant saints in the period of the Reformation who were burned at the stake for their faith. The issue affects not the resurrection itself but the witness of the resurrection.

Tow and Khoo expresses the corrupted testimony of cremation well in their Theology for every Christian:

Cremation . . . with all that fire and burning would only evoke thoughts of punishment and judgement. Would not the message on the Christian’s blessed hope of a future resurrection be contradicted by rolling a casket into the furnace? The fire gives a picture of hell, not heaven. Clearly, cremation illustrates the eternal destiny of unbelievers, and not of believers. The hideous sight of a body stoking up the furnace will only bring more sorrow and grief to the bereaved, not hope and comfort.

The testimony of burial is that of hope, comfort and peace. This testimony is lost when cremation is practised. Let all Christians bury and not cremate.

Preacher Clement Chew