What does the Bible say about burying vs. cremation?
Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” ESV[i]
The Scriptures do not address directly how the body of a deceased individual is to be treated. The Scriptures do report history, and historically, the Jewish people practiced burial and the Egyptians practiced embalming. These practices are reflected in both the historical accounts and the culture as it appears in Scripture.
When God created man, He formed him from the dust of the ground. Therefore, when man sinned and God pronounced judgment on him, God said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19, ESV)
We know that the body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Hebrews 9:27 adds to this the idea of judgment when it says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment . . .” ESV
As for the treatment of the dead, the Law was clear that Jews were not to mutilate themselves in mourning. (Deuteronomy 14:1) And, the Nazarite was not to break a vow to the Lord even for the sake of the dead. (Numbers 6:7, Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. ESV) These passages are indications of the principle that ceremonies for and the treatment of the dead need to honor God above the deceased. While respect for and honor of the deceased is appropriate, they are people like us and it is inappropriate to pray to or seek their advice or to assume they are somehow deified for having passed on.
The Bible does tell us the dead will be raised. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 says:
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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. ESV
We all look forward to this resurrection, and a resurrection body. It is not dependent on the disposition of the earthly body. The earthly body has presumably returned to the dust from where God took it.
The treatment of the body after death varies with culture, and is not regulated by Scripture. The spirit returns to God who gave it and faces judgment for the things done while in the body. The believer in Jesus Christ looks forward to a resurrection body that will live forever. Our concern should be to honor God in our ceremonies and respect the deceased.
[i]Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.