The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Does the Bible Forbid Cremation

Reva asks, “What is the Biblical take on being cremated after one dies?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“There is no ‘Biblical take’ on cremation, because the known universal practice of the people of God under both Testaments was to bury the dead. Burial of the dead is a witness to the claim God our Maker has over both body and soul, that they are both His gift to us, and should be honored as such, both in life and in death. 

“Furthermore, Christians bury their dead as an affirmation of ‘the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Book of Common Worship, 1946). Faith in the resurrection of the body is both ancient (Job 19:25-27) and universal among Christians (Apostles’ Creed, Art. XI). When Christians die, ‘their souls are made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens,’ while ‘their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, rest in their graves as in their beds, until at the last day they be again united to their souls’ (Larger Catechism, Q. 86).

“Past generations associated cremation with the faith of pagans, who had no use for the body after death. When pagan tribes were converted to Christianity, they ceased to cremate, and began to bury their dead. Today this association carries less weight, and the high cost of modern funeral and burial practices incline many to opt for cremation. Shorn of its pagan overtones, cremation is a ‘thing indifferent,’ something neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, and therefore left to the informed and conscientious judgment of the individual.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“I cannot find any references to cremation in the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church allows cremation, but ‘clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites since the presence of the human body better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those rites’ (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 413).

“The Roman Catholic Church is pastorally sensitive to the growing practice of cremation because it is more economical than a traditional burial. What is important is to never overlook the Church’s teaching for the respect for the human body as a temple of the Lord. As such, human remains are to be treated with the utmost respect and properly interred or inurned.”

The Rev. Steven Manskar, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, responds:

“The Bible has very little to say about cremation of human remains. It certainly does not prohibit cremation. 

“The scriptural norm for caring for the body after death is burial. The body is treated with respect and dignity. It is cleansed and wrapped in linen cloth in preparation for burial either in a tomb or in the earth. The body is to be treated with utmost respect because Scripture teaches human beings are embodied spirits. God cares about our bodies and our souls. This is why God commands humans to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus, at his last supper with his disciples gave them a ‘new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ I’m pretty sure Jesus meant his followers to love the whole person, body and soul, and not only their spiritual disposition.

“Bodies are treated with loving care and dignity as they are prepared for cremation just as much as they are prior to burial. The reality is, and Scripture attests to this, the end result is the same: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ ”

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“The Bible does not directly address this, although some find the thought distasteful or unfamiliar, but my religious beliefs tell me that If, on the last day, God can raise those whose bodies have become decomposed following death and burial, God can raise from ashes those who have been cremated. After all, we say ‘Ashes to Ashes, Dust to dust. Blessed are those who die in the Lord.’ ”

“Cremation has become more and more popular, in some cases because of a belief that it is more ecologically friendly while in reality it burns tremendous amounts of fossil fuels and increases carbon emissions into the environment. I know of some people who have chosen cremation because the cremains do not require land use. Others because they eschew embalming. Even with a grave liner, these toxic chemicals seep into the ground.

“What would have been most familiar to our Biblical ancestors is what today we call natural burial: no embalming, no burial vault, no metal or chemically finished wood caskets. Utilizing a simple shroud, a plain wood or wicket casket respects the physical body while also respecting the God’s creation. Cemeteries, including one in Grand Rapids, (Ridgeview) permit this type of burial.”

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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