Having extensively researched the history of cremation and then published my book Ashes to Ashes or Dust to Dust: A Biblical and Christian Examination of Cremation (Regina Orthodox Press, 2005), I was deeply saddened to read Dr. William Knippa’s April “Family Counselor” response to a question about cremation. His counsel simply reflects our secular culture’s influence by suggesting it is biblically acceptable for Christians to have themselves cremated. To use an old expression, informed Christians would likely turn over in their graves upon hearing such unbiblical advice.
In my research, I could not find a single Christian denomination (liberal or conservative) that ever conducted a single theological study on cremation. Instead, they all, with the exception of the Greek Orthodox Church, capitulated to a very pagan practice. The early Christians resisted cremation so consistently that by the end of the fourth century, even the pagan Romans ended it. Then for almost 1,900 years, cremation was a Christian taboo in the West until atheists, universalists, and agnostics started to bring it back in the late 1800s. And now more and more Christians in ignorance are imitating these non-Christians.
In the Old Testament, whenever cremation is mentioned, it never has God’s blessings. Often it reflects God’s curse. See for instance Joshua 7:15, 25–26. Then there is Amos 2:1–2 that shows God punished the pagan king of Moab for having burned the bones of Edom’s king. God punished him by cremating him. He did not even tolerate cremation for pagans.
There were several reasons why the early Christians rejected cremation. They wanted to be buried because Christ had been buried; they did not want to give credibility to the pagan argument that cremation makes it impossible to resurrect the body; the knew cremation had no biblical approval in the Old Testament, and they remembered St. Paul said the Christian body was the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19). They could not envision their Christian bodies being cremated.
Yes, God can raise a cremated body. But that is not the question. For what God can do, and we may do are two different things. When the devil tempted Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and God would give him a soft landing, Jesus responded, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). Jesus did not doubt God’s power, but it was not for Him to test Him. It is similar with cremation.
Also, let’s not forget the many comforting Lutheran hymns that promise departed Christians a peaceful sleep in their graves. Cremation contradicts these hymns. Will we soon cremate these hymns, too?
Finally, research shows that today more and more Christians only believe in the resurrection of the soul, but no longer the body. The growing practice of cremation reinforces that unbiblical belief. Thus, for Christians to be counseled and to practice cremation is indeed very sad.
Alvin J. Schmidt, Ph.D.
Send letters to “Letters,”
c/o The Lutheran Witness,
1333 S. Kirkwood Road,
St. Louis, MO 63122-7295;
or send them via e-mail to Lutheran.Witness@LCMS.org.