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 preceding 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 God-led men.
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 inference…
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).
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)?
personally bury Moses in Mount Nebo? Why didn’t God just cremate or annihilate
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.
Click here to return to
Dr Eddy's Homepage