Bible Questions and Answers

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A visitor writes,

"When we die should we be buried or cremated or does it matter?"

Thank you for your question. This is a question that has concerned Christians for many yeras, and clearly still does.

Burial, Cremation or What?

Is there any indication in Scripture as to how faithful servants of God behaved? Is it valid to reason that because the bodies of criminals were burned or that the nations around Israel offered their children to God in the fire that we should not use cremation?

The danger is that we may use emotional thinking rather than Scriptural reasoning to support our views. Granted, the loss of a loved one is a very emotional issue. However this should not blind us to the need to be Scriptural in our approach.

Jacob and Joseph
The example of Jacob and Joseph are most instructive on this matter. Genesis records the details of the death of both Jacob and Joseph and gives details of how their bodies were dealt with. On both occasions they were embalmed after the manner of the Egyptians. We read, with respect to Jacob, ‘… and the physicians embalmed Israel.’ (Genesis 50:2) a and with respect to Joseph ‘…and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.’ (Genesis 50:26).

Embalming And Egyptian Beliefs
The Egyptians had a detailed - but erroneous – belief about the afterlife. They believed in the immortality of the soul. Embalming and storing the bodies in Egypt, along with various personal belongings, and in some cases the bodies of servants, was part of this erroneous system of belief. The Egyptians believed that in the afterlife the possessions and even the servants would be needed and used by the recently dead who had been embalmed.

Immortal Soulism And Burial.

An aspect of the erroneous belief in the immortality of the soul is that burial of an incomplete body will prevent the soul and body being reunited at the resurrection. A criminal who was hung, drawn and quartered was dismembered in such a way as to prevent all his body parts being buried together to prevent the body and soul being reunited at the resurrection. Maybe some of the emotion raised about the removal of body parts during post mortems recently in the UK stems from a dimly recognised dependence on this erroneous belief. This is not intended to dismiss the trauma of those who have learnt that body parts of their loved ones have been removed. Rather it is to highlight where some of our ideas and beliefs originate. Clearly those, and doubtless there are brethren and sisters amongst them, who have learnt that body parts of their loved ones have been removed before burial are distressed. However it is important that the reason for the distress is clear. The distress will come from an awareness that dishonesty, in a very personal matter, has been manifest. As brethren and sisters we will not go on to be distressed also about the future of the body at the resurrection.

Joseph Commanded …

We may reason that matters were taken out of Joseph’s hands when his father died. We may think that things had to be done according to the custom in Egypt. However the Scripture records is quite specific ‘And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father:’ (Genesis 50:2) so we must conclude that Joseph was comfortable with the idea that his father be embalmed. He actually instigated the action.

Even if we were to conclude that events overtook Joseph and he had to fall in with arrangements that were usually made for dignitaries in Egypt, even though the records indicates otherwise, we have to deal with the fact that Joseph was also embalmed. If Joseph were unhappy with embalming his father but just went along with it because it was the custom and he had not thought through how to react the same cannot be said of his own death. If he had reservations about embalming his father he could have left instructions about his own death. However there is no indication that he did. Hence he was embalmed and stored ready for the return to Canaan.

So we must conclude, if we deem Jacob and in particular Joseph to be faithful, that erroneous views about the afterlife in the country where we live do not compromise us if we choose to bury our dead according to their manner. Of course, just as Joseph and his brethren would not have shared the Egyptian erroneous beliefs about the after life neither do we commit ourselves to the erroneous beliefs of those around us no matter which way we deal with the bodies of our loved ones who have fallen asleep. Our Biblical understanding of the resurrection  will affect the way that the service of committal is conducted, as it rightly is anyway.


The manner of Jacobs’ and Joseph’s death and the way that their bodies were dealt with indicates that we need not be concerned whether we, or our loved ones, are buried or cremated.
I hope thishelps.
God bless