THE CASE FOR BURIAL
From the very onset, we wish to state explicitly that the Bible has no
direct command pertaining to the ‘fate’ of the physical body of the
righteous dead. So, has our ‘Case for Burial’ become a non-issue even
before we started?
The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. The Apostle Paul clearly states in 1
Corinthians 10 verses 5 and 6 (when referring to the Israelites in
their wilderness wandering) that the examples in the Old Testament are
there to provide guidelines for us in our Christian walk (to keep us
from going astray as the Israelites did)…
1 Cor 10:5-6
5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased
with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
6 Now these things occurred as
examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
Extrapolating Paul’s argument further, we can safely say that the
examples in the New Testament are also there for our learning,
correction and training in righteous living, so as to thoroughly equip
us for the work ordained of God…
2 Tim 3:16
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and
is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in
righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for
every good work.
WHAT THEN HAS THE SCRIPTURES TO SAY WITH REGARDS TO BURIAL OF THE DEAD?
THE OLD TESTAMENT EXAMPLES
Let the examples below speak for themselves…
Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the
cave of Machpelah (Gen 23:19); Abraham himself was also buried in the
cave of Machpelah (Genesis 25:9); Rachel was buried in a tomb on
the way to Ephrath (Gen 35:19,20); Isaac was buried by his sons Jacob
and Esau (Gen 35:29); Jacob was buried in the cave of Machpelah even
though he died in Egypt (Gen 50:1-13); Joseph died in Egypt where he
was embalmed and buried in Egypt (Gen 50:26); Moses died at the age of
120 years and was personally buried by God in Mount Nebo (Deut
34:5-7); Joshua was buried in Timnath Serah (Joshua
24:29,30); Eleazar son of Aaron was buried in Gibeah (Joshua 24:33);
Samuel the prophet was buried in Ramah (1 Samuel 25:1); King David was
buried in Jerusalem (1 Kings 2 :10).
Need we say more? The proceeding paragraph contains a list (though not
exhaustive) of Men and women of God most of whom made it to the Heroes
of Faith Chapter in the Book of Hebrews. If burial is not the accepted
mode of practice for God’s People then why were all of them buried (and
not cremated or disposed of in other ways)? Are these examples for us
to follow or to shun?
THE NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES
Though not many, the New Testament does contain specific examples of
Men of God being buried after their deaths….
John the Baptist was buried after he
was executed by King Herod (Matt 14:12); Jesus was buried in the Garden
Tomb after His Crucifixion (Matt 27:59,60); Stephen (a Christian) was
buried after being stoned for his faith (Acts 8:2).
2 Godly men buried Stephen and
mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going
from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in
prison. NIV Notice that
‘Godly’ men buried Stephen. It follows that Godly men must also be
Here are more examples of righteous Men of God being buried after their
death and who could be more righteous than the Son of God Himself. Are
not these examples there for us to emulate? Or should we do otherwise?
WHAT ABOUT THE ARGUMENT THAT THE BODY IS NO MORE IMPORTANT AFTER DEATH
AS WE WILL ALL BE RESURRECTED?
We need to be reminded that MAN was created in the image of God (Gen
1:27) and that MAN is a tripartite being made up of Body, Soul and
Spirit (1 Thess 5:23). Though MAN has fallen (into sin),a truly
repented and regenerated Child of God should bear the reflection of
God’s Image once again. Man’s body is not just clay or a combination of
chemical elements but a handiwork of God’s hands molded [together with
his (man’s) soul and spirit] so as to be able to conform to His Image
(1 Cor 11:7). There is a certain sanctity and sacredness of the human
body even though it may be destined to perish physically. After Jesus’
crucifixion, His body was wrapped with a clean linen cloth and
‘embalmed’ with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, (Matt 27:59; John
19:38-40) before burial in the garden tomb. Tabitha (one of the New
Testament disciples) became sick and died and her body was washed and
placed in an upstairs room (Acts 9:36,37). Isn’t there a profound
respect for the dead in the New Testament? What about the Old
Testament? Didn’t Jacob command his sons to bury his body in Canaan
even though he actually died in Egypt?
29 Then he gave them these
instructions: "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my
fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in
the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a
burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field.
What about Joseph? Did he not command the Israelites to carry his bones
to Canaan (even though he did die physically in the land of Egypt)?
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers,
"I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you
up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob." 25 And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and
said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my
bones up from this place." NIV
Moses many years later honored the oath that the Israelites took
(regarding the bones of Joseph)…
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with
him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had
said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my
bones up with you from this place."
If the body is not important are not Jacob and Joseph being
meticulously irrelevant (so to speak)?
THEN, IS IT WRONG TO CREMATE?
Here again, let us look at the Biblical examples before making an
Judah commanded that his daughter in
law, Tamar be put to death by fire for the sin of prostitution (Gen
38:24); Leviticus Chapter 20:14 states that "'If a man marries both a
woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in
the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you; Leviticus 21:9
commands that a daughter of a priest who becomes a prostitute should be
burned by fire; God exterminated the rebellious 250 Israelite men who
sided with Korah with fire (Num 16:35); After stoning Achan and his
family (for disobeying God), the Israelites burnt their bodies (Joshua
7:24, 25); King Saul committed suicide and when the Philistines found
his body, they cut off his head. The people of Jabesh Gilead burnt his
body and buried his bones (1 Sam 31:4-13).
The preceding paragraph gives a list of those who have been burnt by
fire and the common ‘denominator’ of this list are the words
“disobedience and rebellion”. Fire is symbolic of refining in the Bible
but it is also symbolic of judgment.
Need we be reminded that the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah were
destroyed by burning sulfur from heaven (Gen 19:24). Or have we
forgotten the story of the rebellious sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu
who were consumed by fire from the Lord (Lev 10:1,2)? Didn’t God
personally bury Moses in Mount Nebo? Why didn’t God just cremate or
annihilate Moses’ body?
Cremation was a practice introduced by the Greeks as early as 1000 BC.4
It, therefore, has pagan roots. Likewise, cremation with the scattering
of ashes has religious connotations and a Christian who subscribes to
this practice inevitably endorses the spiritual belief(s) behind it.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO DIE IN AN ATOMIC BLAST?
After reading all the examples and arguments in this article, do you
still sincerely believe that it is God’s Will for a Christian walking
in His perfect will to be annihilated in an atomic blast? If you
do, then I have failed in my presentation of Biblical truth. In my
previous book “Man’s Life Span according to God’s Word”5, I studied the
life spans of Bible characters and the reasons why some of them had
their lives shortened. We must understand the purpose of life on this
earth from the point of God’s perspective, viz, that it is to do His
Will. The end of the life span of a righteous Man of God is the
fulfillment of the calling that God has given to him and not the result
of an atomic blast.
4. “Cremation.” Encyclopædia
Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium
Service. 27 Aug. 2004 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=28282>.
5. Dr. Eddy Cheong. Man’s Life Span According to
God’s Word. Sanctuary Productions, PO Box 441, 75760 Melaka, West
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