Is It Better To Bury Or To Burn? A Biblical Perspective On Cremation And Christianity In Western Culture Part 2 -- By: Rodney J. Decker
Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 11:2 (Fall 2007)
Article: Is It Better To Bury Or To Burn? A Biblical Perspective On Cremation And Christianity In Western Culture Part 2
Author: Rodney J. Decker
JMAT 11:2 (Fall 2007) p. 38
Is It Better To Bury Or To Burn? A Biblical Perspective On Cremation And Christianity In Western Culture Part 2
Professor of Greek and New Testament
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania
The Bible uniformly presents burial as the normal means of disposal of the dead body in Bible times. Likewise cremation, in the few recorded instances or mentions, is generally presented negatively. Those observations were discussed in part one of this article.1 Before these narrative descriptions can be considered normative, however, we must consider two additional areas: theology and culture. Although culture is not in any way normative or authoritative, cultural connotations of burial practices must be considered. Theological considerations based on biblical data are authoritative. This article accordingly addresses those issues first, then turns to cultural questions before offering a synthesis of the data and suggesting an appropriate Christian position regarding the practice of cremation in Western culture.
Are there any significant theological implications of the various modes of burial? For that matter, what is a person? Are we only a body? Or is our real person only immaterial?
Karen Flood comments on the difficulty of distinguishing what is “me” from what is “mine.” That is, are our bodies us, or simply ours? “Are our bodies separate from ourselves, something we have but are not part of who we are, or are they integral to our identities?” Or again she asks, “What vestige of a person still remains in
JMAT 11:2 (Fall 2007) p. 39
the corpse? Is there anything about the body that needs to continue in the life beyond … in order for the self to be complete? Or is the true self outside of or separate from the body?”2 There are several theological considerations necessary to respond to such queries including the doctrines of both the body and the resurrection.
Christian View of the Body
Christians view the body differently from non-Christians. Since our authority in such matters is Scripture, we begin by noting that it was God himself who created the physical body of the first human (Gen 2:7). Though formed from humble materials—dust from the earth (עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה)—Adam’s body was dignified and animated by the breath of life (
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