To Bury or Cremate? (Updated)

The question not infrequently comes to me: “What about cremation?” This is an inherently difficult question because it touches a very personal and private decision: what to do with the remains of a loved one or what should be done with one’s own remains (it does not get much more personal). It is also difficult because these are difficult decisions often made in a very emotional time.

Nevertheless, there are biblical patterns and doctrines from which we can learn and apply to this situation.

There is a consistent biblical pattern of burial of human remains. Perhaps the most outstanding OT example is Abraham’s quest to bury Sarah (Gen. 23) as a sojourner in a foreign land. Other significant examples could be cited (e.g., Jacob, Joseph and others). This is clearly the biblical pattern, carrying right through the care given to the deceased body of our Lord himself.

According to the Apostle Paul, the biblical pattern was not grounded in sentiment but in a conviction: the resurrection. In 1 Cor. 15 the Apostle Paul used an agrarian metaphor to explain the hope of the resurrection. According to Paul, our bodies are like seeds planted in hope, in the expectation of a glorious (if unusual!) harvest: the resurrection body, i.e., a glorified human body.

As my dear friend and colleague Steve Baugh graciously pointed out to me in 1985 or so, the act of cremation is at odds with the act of planting a body in the soil. For one thing, the imagery is not the same at all. Burial is done with regard to the body’s status as part of the image of God. We don’t just have a body. We are body and soul. That is who we are as image-bearers.

In modernity we have been taught to regard the body as a machine and in our disposable age we know what to do with broken down machines: we bin them. But the body isn’t just a machine. The materialists are wrong. However much we may think we know about the body, it is not just a machine. We are persons made in the divine image. Our bodies are part of our personhood. That is why it is wrong, a violation of creational law, to murder (Gen. 9:1-6). To attack the body is to attack the image of God.

Thus, burial is not just a cultural custom. It’s an act of faith. When there is a choice between burial and cremation, the latter isn’t just a convenience or an economy, it’s a message about the body and the nature of our humanity and our status as image-bearers.

To be sure, there may be times when burial is simply impossible. In those cases, we must act like sojourners and make do, but just because some are forced by circumstances to a difficult and unhappy choice doesn’t make that choice desirable or preferable.

As to expense, at least some of this difficulty can be faced by planning and wise stewardship. We’re Calvinists. We should expect to die (if the Lord doesn’t come first). Who believes in sin and death more than we? In that case, knowing that the funeral business is just that, a business in search of profits, if we investigate, we can probably discover less expensive modes of burial. Don’t expect the funeral home to tell you how to be buried inexpensively.

As we contemplate the last thing that will likely happen to our bodies, let us at least give some serious thought to the message we are sending about the body and its relation to the image and to human dignity rooted in the image of God. If cremation is unavoidable, we can at least arrange some clear testimony to the hope of the resurrection. If, however, cremation is just one option among many, then we must ask, are we, as much as lies within us, testifying to our hope of the bodily resurrection or are we unintentionally sending another message? There’s no question whether God can and shall reconstitute bodies at the resurrection, the question is what message are we sending by our acts?

UPDATE 21 August 2009

Thanks to John Bales for sharing this USA Today story regarding the growing trend of non-religious funerals.

Update: Diarmaid MacCulloch agrees (HT: Russell Moore via Aquila Report). “As hellfire receded, there advanced the literal fires of the crematorium.”

First published in 2006.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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74 comments

  1. Well done piece. I’ve said likewise to others that cremation is a gnostic assault upon the image of God.

  2. Excellent piece and 100% amen. An aside but somewhat related is that one of the most important things a new Pastor can do when he first goes to his new pastorate is to seek out the reputable and respectable Funeral Homes in the area. This can go a long way in helping people cut down the costs of burial.

    • Another side to it is addressing the excesses of burial practices in the U.S. The expensive coffins, the cosmetics, calling them merely “celebrations” of the person’s life–all give an artificial masking over of the mournful reality of death as the last enemy. Perhaps cremation for some is an easy “out”, an overreaction to some of these practices. Yes, death is defeated at the cross, and it’s spiritual sting is removed, but it is still painful, disordered, and the result of the just judgment of God.

  3. One small disagreement on 1 Cor 15. Doesn’t the “sowing” metaphor refer not to burial but to the original creation of Adam’s natural body? Thus the comparison he engages in is not so much between corpses and the glorified body, but between our present natural bodies (psyukikos) and the future glorified body (pneumatikos). The Apostle like the Lord sometimes mixes metaphors, and who are we to question it?

    • I agree that Paul is working with a number of threads and themes here in this rich passage, but no, I don’t think the sowing refers primarily or at least solely to Adam. The first man is in view here, of course, but we can’t let his concern with Adam overwhelm the object in this particular part of the discourse, which is the bodily resurrection. To make his point about the resurrection he invokes agricultural imagery. This imagery may be lost on an urban, modern culture divorced from the process of planting, harvesting, and food production but it would not have been so lost on the original hearers who had a much closer relation to food production and gathering than we. They had no long term food storage, at least not the way we do today.

      To refer this entirely to Adam misses the whole point of the metaphor. The way planting is done is for seeds to be put in the ground. Paul invokes the very picture of death and burial here, hence the very clear language in v. 35, “unless it dies.” He illustrates the necessity of death before life by appealing to the act and process of planting. Sowing here picks up on the verb “to die” and he makes the whole image completely plain in v. 37, when he equates the human body to a “naked seed grain.” His argument here, responding to the critic is to say that seed grains produce wheat. There’s an organic relation between what is put into the ground and what comes out. The force of the image is unmistakeable. For Paul, both grain and bodies are put into the ground and they both produce a kind of fruit. The fruit, as it were of the body put into the ground is the resurrection body.

      Yes, he’s concerned with Adam in 1 Cor 15, but we can’t let that great theme overwhelm the force of these particular verses. Remember student, your job is to preach “this” passage, in the light of the great themes, yes, but this particular passage.

  4. If there is a theological implication when it comes to mode of “returning ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” might there also be one for locale? In other words, let’s grant that burial is more in keeping than cremation. Shall we now also begin to wonder if believers should be buried on church grounds instead of off Prairie and Webster? I wonder how fair it is for Calvinists to suggest burial if we aren’t also prepared to carve out some space on our properties for it.

    • Zrim,

      Where churchyards are possible, I think this is desirable but not of the essence. Abraham didn’t need a churchyard nor did Jesus, for that matter! There’s a powerful message in being buried like the strangers and aliens that we are.

      • I quite agree it’s a strong message to be buried like the strangers and aliens that we are. Abraham was “gathered to his people” when he died, which seems to suggest he was buried with pagans, just as he lived with them.

        • Au contraire, Zrimmyboy, Abraham was not buried with the pagans; he was buried on his own plot of land–apart from the pagans. The same with Sarah. Note, too, that both Jacob and Joseph would not be buried in Egypt, but with their fathers in the land of promise.

  5. Thanks for this Dr. Clark. A few weeks back I lectured at Christ URC in Santee on Belgic 37 and was asked this very question by some members of the congregation. Not only is this a personal and emotional topic…it’s also a constantly brought up topic because death stings our congregants constantly.

    Praise God for Christ’s victory over death!

    BTW, my blog is active again if you’re interested…

  6. What about burial at sea?

    I had to do one when I was in the navy, but it wasn’t an actual “burial” because the bodies were cremated.

    But the Bible does say that the sea shall give up its dead at the day of judgment. It doesn’t quite agree with the concept of planting your body in the earth in anticipation of the harvest, though.

    • Hi Walt,

      I can’t see how burial at see is problematic. I wouldn’t try to legislate on the particulars. I only want people to think critically about what they’re doing and what it means and what message it sends.

      • I love the words in The Book of Common Prayer for the Burial of the Dead at Sea:

        We therefore commit his body to the deep, looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the mighty working where by he is able to subdue all things unto himself.

  7. RSC: Help us understand how we get from “a consistent biblical pattern of burial of human remains” to a moral obligation to practice burial only. We see a repetition of other actions in the Bible too, and we don’t argue for moral imperatives from that repetition. How do we know that a repetition establishes a duty?

  8. Hi Fowler,

    I didn’t quite put it that way did I?

    The biblical pattern is part of the argument. Paul’s language is part of the argument. The biblical doctrine of man is part of the argument.

    I haven’t tried to establish a hard and fast law but I have tried to give Christians a framework within which to think critically about contemporary burial practice.

  9. Hey, Scott. I should have said that I’m generally sympathetic with the view you offered first! That said, I’m interested in how we construct an argument for burial and not other modes. That’s what led me to observe that the first part of your argument surely read to me as if you were trying to establish obligation from pattern (repeated action). I’m still thinking through two other parts of your argument.

  10. I came across this one day and was a bit suprised that someone actually addressed the matter in the a confession. The 2nd Helvetic Confession:
    “CHAPTER XXVI
    Of the Burial of the Faithful,
    and of the Care to Be Shown for the Dead;
    of Purgatory, and the Appearing of Spirits
    THE BURIAL OF BODIES. As the bodies of the faithful are the temples of the Holy Spirit which we truly believe will rise again at the Last Day, Scriptures command that they be honorably and without superstition committed to the earth, and also that honorable mention be made of those saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord, and that all duties of familial piety be shown to those left behind, their widows and orphans. We do not teach that any other care be taken for the dead. Therefore, we greatly disapprove of the Cynics, who neglected the bodies of the dead or most carelessly and disdainfully cast them into the earth, never saying a good word about the deceased, or caring a bit about those whom they left behind them.

    THE CARE FOR THE DEAD. On the other hand, we do not approve of those who are overly and absurdly attentive to the deceased; who, like the heathen, bewail their dead (although we do not blame that moderate mourning which the apostle permits in I Thess. 4:13, judging it to be inhuman not to grieve at all); and who sacrifice for the dead, and mumble certain prayers for pay, in order by such ceremonies to deliver their loved ones from the torments in which they are immersed by death, and then think they are able to liberate them by such incantations.”

    http://www.ccel.org/creeds/helvetic.htm

  11. RSC: still aiming to understand your arguments … On 1 Cor 15, you say that “the act of cremation is at odds with the act of planting.” Cremated bodies can be and are frequently buried. If the remains are buried, would you say there is anything objectionable about burning the body as opposed to embalming the body? If so, what? Might it be something like this: embalming can be a Christian’s testimony to the hope of resurrection, a testimony that burning does not bear? I just want to be sure I understand what it is about the act of cremation itself that is at odds with the act of planting. The two acts are not mutually exclusive.

  12. RSC: another question … do you have a sense of any consensus among the confessional Protestant churches on this topic?

  13. Fowler,

    1. Durell’s quotation of the Second Helvetic is interesting. It was used widely in the English church and remained instructive for the Reformed churches for sometime after. I’m confident that burial is the historic Christian practice. As far as I know, cremation was regarded as a pagan practice but I’ve not researched it carefully.

    2. Yes, a cremated body can be buried but it might not be. I didn’t say that no one could ever be cremated under any circumstances but I do think that the act of burning a body and the act of burying a body are two different acts. Do you disagree with that?

  14. RSC: on the possibility that a cremated body might not be buried, we’re agreed. On whether the act of burning a body and the act of burying a body are different, we agree. Since we agree that burned bodies can be and have been buried, though they are not always buried, is the focus of thought here coming down to whether burning a body is prohibited by biblical doctrine, or biblical practice, or both?

    • Fowler,

      I’m not attempting to create legislation here. I only want people to think critically about what they’re doing and to cause some, perhaps, to reconsider their approach to and practice regarding cremation and burial. I haven’t argued or concluded or said that cremation is prohibited. Indeed I wrote, To be sure, there may be times when burial is simply impossible. In those cases, we must act like sojourners and make do, but just because some are forced by circumstances to a difficult and unhappy choice doesn’t make that choice desirable or preferable.

      Did you miss this qualification?

  15. “…burial is not just a cultural custom. It’s an act of faith.”

    -“By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the childeren of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.”Acts 11:22 NKJV

  16. drollord: helpful; thanks. Questions: is the burial of a cremated body an act of faith? Or is only the burial of an embalmed body an act of faith?

  17. Dr. Clark,

    1 Samuel 31:11-13 is interesting to consider with regard to this discussion. King Saul and his sons’ bodies were burned and then buried by the people of Jabesh Gilead.

    Were the people of Jabesh Gilead Israelites? If so, would this scenario provide us with a potential precedent for cremation…or at least provide us with an example of an Israelite exception to the normal burial practices?

    Or if the people of Jabesh Gilead were not Israelites and were pagan, maybe Saul’s cremation serves as a sign of God’s abandonment of the unfaithful king…consigning his body to a pagan end…?

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this…if you have the time.

    Thanks,

    Brad

    • Hi Brad,

      I’m not an OT scholar, but as far as I know, to burn a body thus was normally desecration. The note in the ESV Study Bible, by David Toshio Tsumura (PhD Brandeis Univ; teaches at Japan Biblical Seminary, Tokyo) agrees. I like his suggestion that they may have burned his body in order to prevent further desecration (since the Philistines had already decapitated him presumably in order to bring shame upon him and his family). The note in the New Geneva Study Bible says that it was considered “extremely shameful for the dead to be unburied” but doesn’t address the problem of burning. Fred Young (Central Baptist Theol Sem, KC, KS) says in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary (1962; I’m at home so my references are limited), “Perhaps they feared that the Philistines would remove the bodies and add further insult. However, creation, exception in the case of criminals (Josh 7:25), was not a Hebrew practice. It was practiced by the Philistines and may be been borrowed by the men of Jabesh-Gilead.

  18. “Or is only the burial of an embalmed body an act of faith?”
    I find that Scripture doesn’t present anything else in a “good” light. I agree with the idea that what you tell to be done with your bones does indicate your theology. But no one will escape judgement nor a resurrection.

    On the side, at first when you said embalmed, I had thoughts of theAncient Egyptians and their practices. Then my wife pointed out the replacement of body fluids before burial being embalming.

    • drollord: thanks again. On the reference to embalming, I was thinking also of the embalming of Jesus’ body.

  19. RSC: As far as I can tell, I do appreciate what you’re trying to say and do. I see my comments as just trying to respond to your desire that we think critically with you and others about this topic and the arguments associated with it. I’ve presumed that this invitation to critical thinking entailed that we engage the arguments you posted, in a dispassionate, “what about this?” mode. Brad Lenzer’s post reflects the spirit of my own, I take it. If I’m missing something, I apologize.

    • I appreciate this Fowler. I’m happy to be queried about this but I want to be clear that I’m not attempting to establish some law and I had the sense from your comments and questions that you were reading my post in way that I did not understand or intend.

      • RSC: I think too highly of even your musings not to take the discussion seriously. Be assured that I’m not engaging you as if you have put yourself out there with “all your jacks in their boxes” on this topic. I’m looking for insight wherever I can get it.

  20. “Questions: is the burial of a cremated body an act of faith? Or is only the burial of an embalmed body an act of faith?”

    -I want to think this through more, yet if one maintains that Scripture alone maintains the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith then it would be wrong to say that cremation is of faith.

    Question for Scott,
    Is the order to deal with his bones a type or shadow of things to come, or is it an abiding fruit of justification even today? This one’s a bit dizzying!

    • D,

      Can’t say. It is interesting that the text says “bones” and not ashes. I don’t know what significance to attach to the last verse except to note that Saul was finally buried.

  21. Rfwhite:
    I looked up “embalming” in the most proximate dictionary and found that what happened with Christ’s body would fit in the definition. I don’t know why I put the word good in quotation marks. Ignore that please.

    Scott:
    The question I asked “Is the order to deal with his bones a type or shadow of things to come, or is it an abiding fruit of justification even today?” was in reference to Joseph, specifically in Heb.11. I used “his” with no proper noun behind it. Sorry for the confusion, and shame on me.

  22. I believe cremation vs burial is a cultural issue more than a Christian issue. In my Province, up to 75% of bodies are cremated. In my city the percentage is even higher. Here both non Christians and Christians choose cremation. This includes Presbyterians as well a Evangelicals and RCs. Biblical burial (in a tomb) cannot really be equated with today’s burial in the ground in lead lined caskets with bodies that have been altered with makeup and desecrated by embalming. Disposition of a body should be respectful and dignified. Burial that includes desecration of the body by embalming strikes me as pagan. What is also beginning to become popular lately are “green” burials minus embalming and coffins. Such burials as well as dignified
    disposal of cremated ashes is preferable in my opinion.

    In the Netherlands my father used to be against cremation because cremation was used only by atheists. Here, he had no objections to cremation and had no qualms about attending the funeral of the minister of the Presbyterian church he attended. I have no fears or doubts that Christ will resurrect my Reformed parents as well as my wife, all of whose bodies were cremated, as will mine be.

    I know Dr. Clark did not say burial was mandatory, but I think we must be careful that this doesn’t become a QIRC issue.

  23. Strange I should be reading this today; we have just been sorting out the funeral for my grandfather, who died early today. He will be buried, but my other grandfather, who was far stronger in his faith, requested cremation. In a country with precious little land area, cremation is far more serious an issue than an equal choice. We practically have queues for burial plots in some places.

    I was at an academic presentation a while ago which purported to argue that cremation rates were a proxy for a nation’s “secularism”. Aside from failing to control for available land area, the presenter blew a hole in his own boat when he pointed out that cremation in the nineteenth century UK was equally popular among Protestant Christians and secular humanists, for different reasons. If I’m remembering his argument correctly, cremation was a statement, for them, of faith in the general resurrection, because we are “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” but God is able to raise from both.

      • Thanks, Scott and drollord (don’ worry about it!). We bless the Lord for his grace, that we’re bearing up as well as could be expected: Grampa was a believer and the whole family are, so we all cling to Christ and the comfort of his resurrection.

  24. The Book of Common Prayer uses this phrase “ashes to ashes.”

    “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” -NKJV

    I don’t get it. I’m not ashes, I’m dust (my name’s not Bernie!).

    What’s that all about?

  25. Philip,
    I apologize for what I so obliviously said following your post. My condolences to you and your family for your loss.

  26. Maybe you can help me in my thought about this. The thought of the body just rotting just doesn’t seem to me to be very “Glorifying” to God. I thought that creamation seemed to be more in the lines of “Purifying”, getting all the rot and stench of disease and illness burned away. Does that make sense at all???? I really think I want to be creamated, maybe it’s just selfish, I don’t know…..

    • Hi Rob,

      We should be clear that there is no question whether God can resurrect the dead from the sea, from ashes, or from a tomb. Left in the ground long enough we all turn to ashes. Hence, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” We were made by God from dust and to dust we will return.

      If I understand your question, I doubt that we can decide this question on the basis of what one perceives as being more pleasant or more antiseptic or the like. The intent of the post is to get Christians to think through the implications of their choices about burial. What message are you sending by burial v cremation? Biblically and historically we’ve buried our dead as a sign of hope in the resurrection. We’ve never had any illusions about what happens to the body after burial.

      Our only standing before God is on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed. Thus I don’t think putting a body through fire has anything to do with purification. We will all suffer the effects of the fall whether in a crematorium or in a grave.

      There is a long-standing biblical and Christian conviction about the sanctity of the body. That’s worth considering when we think about this question. Modern media wants us to think of our bodies as machines but we should resist that impulse. We should continue to see in the body a reflection of the image of God, however corrupted by sin and the consequences of sin. If the body does reflect the image then how should it be treated? This is not an argument against science or medicine but it is a caution about making dead bodies into entertainment which seems more pagan than a biblical way of thinking about the body and the human self.

      • Thanks for your reply, I understand what your saying. I think why I struggle with this most is that I have worked as a paramedic/firefighter and now a deputy sheriff over the last 25 years and I have seen bodies in the most grotesque stages of decomposition. I mean stuff that when you close your eyes you can see it as clear as the day it was first seen, 25 years ago. I know I’ll be dead and with Christ, so it really shouldn’t matter, but I still just get grossed out. I guess the real question that still remains for me is, is does God really have a preference…….

        • Hi Rob,

          I can’t say that “I understand” as if I’ve seen what you’ve seen, but I’m a pastor and I’ve dealt with death.

          As to God’s preferences, well we have to read the Scriptures carefully, in the light of our confession and with the Christian tradition(s) and do the best we can to understand them.

          There is certainly a biblical pattern of burial and we do have Paul’s metaphor in 1 Cor 15. These are instructive.

  27. On the side,
    Has anyone here seen the movie “The Matrix”? There that one scene in the movie where a human body gets flushed from the system and the flushed body’s nutrients are used to bathe the newly arrived human. Creepy.

  28. This is a question I’ve often wondered about since both of our parents have decided to be cremated to save money.

    Two comments: First, you don’t have to buy a casket from the funeral home. There are on-line casket vendors that will ship it to the funeral home for a fraction of the price.

    Second, in Taragona, Spain, we saw both sarcophaguses (burial) and urns (cremation) with Christian symbols on them in a Roman cemetery (3rd-6th century), seeming to indicate that both practices were used there.

  29. I have got to pipe in on this one. My family has been involved in the funeral industry since 1892 (my great uncle started mixing embalming fluid with a doctor friend in Wisconsin back then and later invented the casket lowering device- around about 1912 I believe; with the popularity of the lowering device they moved to Chicago in the 20’s). My father managed the company from 1950 to 1993. Since then my two brothers and I have tried to keep the business in the black without killing each other in the process (www.frigidfluidco.com). Both my brother and I now have a few of our kids involved in the business too.

    Funeral trends have been shifting towards cremation quite rapidly since the 60’s. I believe the cremation rate in the early 60’s was somewhere close to 8-12 %. They are now in the 30% range nation wide. In California the cremation rate is over 50%. I have found it interesting that web sites such as Issues etc and now the Heidelblog have had interviews and discussions on topics related to funeral practices.

    We have been trying to get our embalming fluid in Latin American countries and South Africa for many years as the interest in these countries has been increasing lately. South Africans love our lowering device and it is very popular there. They love the traditional burial services with family members watching the casket go in the ground and then each member shoveling some dirt onto the casket.

    There is something to the traditional burial service which helps those who were close to the deceased complete the greiving process in a dignified way. I know funeral directors have been in the news the last 20 years or so and some questionable practices occur- the government has been increasingly involved in the industry quite watchfully in the recent past and are continually monitoring some of the questionable practices.

  30. Dr. Clark,

    I scanned through the comments and didn’t see this addressed and was wondering what you thought about organ donation. My dad died about 2.5 years ago from complications of Emphysema and heart disease and, according to his wishes, had his remains sent to the University of Michigan Medical Center for study by students. Afterwards his remains were cremated. Having read your piece and the following comments I might have to reconsider this procedure for my mother and myself. Before reading your post I was under the impression that cremation and burial ended ultimately in the generation of ashes, but now I see things differently.

    • Hi R. J.

      I’m not saying that there’s never any reason to cremate, but I do want people to think through what they’re doing and what message they’re sending by cremating the body. I’m glad that you’re thinking about it.

      • Scott, when you say, “What message they’re sending by cremating the body”, is it that we should be concerned what our immediate family thinks, freinds, or the Christian community in general? I know my family and freinds don’t have a problem with it, but we sometimes need to think about more than just those close to us. The way we live our lives leaves a legacy and likewise the way we handle our deaths can be a legacy also, so I think I understand what your trying to get people to think about. Thought provoking, made me stop and think……….

        • Rob,

          My concern is not whether folks at a memorial or graveside have a problem with cremation (they may not have a problem with lots of things by which they should be troubled!) but rather I want to preach the gospel, as it were, of the resurrection by making use of the visible speech-act of planting a body in the ground like a seed. I want that act explained by a Christian minister so that it’s not a bare sign testimony but a rich Word-sign testimony. I want the minister to explain to everyone present that, “We’re doing this deliberately, as an act of faith in the historical resurrection of Jesus and in the coming resurrection of the dead…”

          • Dr. Clark, I am stoked that you wrote this little paragraph. What a great, succinct, summary of what I want to communicate…you wrote it better than I could express it for myself. Thank you.

          • What you just said put it in perspective for me. Now I got it. Beautifully put, thanks.
            Also, If you can, can you steer me in the right direction for an answer to another question about whether a Christian can step out of the will of God. I’m a fairly new Calvinist………..

  31. My sister donated many of my nephew’s organs (including eyes or parts of his eyes) and still had an open casket with a viewing, so I don’t think organ donation rules out burial. However, med school student study may be more destructive.

  32. Thanks for the article Dr. Clark. I preached a sermon on this subject a few years back and came to the same conclusion.

    One more aspect might be helpful to bring up.

    There is a lot of symbolism in laying the body in the grave. In many places, Scripture speaks of those who have died as being asleep (1 Cor. 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess. 4:14-15; Matt. 27:52, etc.). This reference to sleep is only a reference to the body because we know that the souls of believers at their death are not asleep, but rather are in heaven with the Lord.

    The idea of our dead bodies being asleep is an appropriate one. Especially in light of the fact that sleep is a temporary condition. Just as we go to sleep and wake up each morning, so will it be on the day of the resurrection. One day, all the dead bodies on the earth will hear the wake up call and will be united to their souls to live forever. Some will live an eternal life in heaven; others will live eternally in Hell. But either way, the symbol of the body sleeping in the grave is an accurate one because it points us to the fact that every body will one day be woken up to live again. On the other hand, if cremation symbolizes anything, it symbolizes annihilation or Hellfire judgment, both symbols that ought not to be related to the body of a believer. Cremation does not fit at all with the Biblical image of the body sleeping.

    WSC helps paint the picture beautifully for us.

    Question 37, asks: “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death.”

    The answer: “The souls of believers are at death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.”

    The Scripture proof used for the part of the answer that refers to resting in the graves is:

    Isaiah 57:1-2 The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, 2 He enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way. (NAS)

    You see, the bodies of the righteous are said to rest in their beds. The beds, of course, referring to the death beds/graves and again another picture of the body being asleep.

  33. Dr. Clark:
    I have a question:
    Does the image of God partain to anything more than knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and (for Turretin) dominion? I see the inherent prohibition to killing a man in Genesis 9 specifically in reference to man being made in the image of God. I don’t want to make more of the image of God than Scripture does, and I don’t want to make “parts” set against each other (di vs. trichotomist debaters please try to control yourselves). I wonder about this that I’ve so spiritualized the image of God to make it have no relevance to man’s body. Clearly the inherent prohibition and execution orders have direct ties to the image of God.

    • Yes, I think so. Gen 9 connects blood/tissue with the image. Our body is a part of the image. No, we don’t lose the image when we lose an arm but the body is a part of what we are. Thus the resurrection is essential. A disembodied state is impossible (says Paul in 1 and 2 Cor) but not desirable or optimal (2 Cor 4-5; 1 Cor 15)

  34. I agree with the premise that cremation may be sending mixed messages about our hope in a physical bodily resurrection.

    But physiologically, the current state of the physical body does indeed “return to dust” in the natural process of decay and decomposition, so perhaps the locus does not rest primarily on what state the body eventually turns into but on the act that expresses hope in the reality of the resurrection.

  35. We are persons made in the divine image. Our bodies are part of our personhood. That is why it is wrong, a violation of creational law, to murder (Gen 9:1-6). To attack the body is to attack the image of God.

    This doesn’t follow. God is a “most pure spirit” without body or parts. Therefore our bodies cannot be God’s imagine.

    • Sean,

      You’ve responded to an attempt to explain Scripture with an a priori. We’re not Platonists (or we shouldn’t be). We believe in the resurrection. The body is not accidental to our identity. God is a most pure spirit, but it doesn’t follow that the image, which is an analogy, always posses discontinuities. On your reasoning we couldn’t be finite but we are. The body is not the entirety of the image but neither is the soul–which is really just a conventional way of talking about the human faculties. We are properly body and soul. Those two can be separated but it seems clear from Paul, as I cited above, that he was not enthusiastic about being separated from his body.

      If we don’t associate the human body with the image then we run the risk of downplaying or denying Jesus true humanity or even of Nestorianism, i.e., of separating the two natures. He had a true human body and a true human nature and rational soul. That’s catholic Christianity. His humanity and status as the image of God isn’t merely in his invisible soul, but is integrally related to his body. We only know the image in the body. We have way of knowing or seeing the image except through and in the body.

      • It seems, Dr Clark, that you are making the error of assuming that everything human pertains to the imago Dei. But many beasts have arms and legs and if these are part of the imago Dei in humans, how can they not be in beasts? If arms and legs are part of the image of God then any animal with arms and legs is made in the image of God in at least that one respect. But I agree with Sean: having a body may be essential to humanity, but it is not part of the imago Dei in humans. The image of God in man is precisely that which distinguishes him from the beasts. Language is not the imago Dei, but it is an indicator of it. No beasts come remotely close to having human linguistic capabilities and God communicates to man through language.

  36. Providential post here….My dad was Christian and went to be the Lord on April 1st, a week ago yesterday….He didn’t really specify which one, so he was cremated as my family almost all non-believers have a family tradition of cremating and then scattering the ashes in Gull Lake, Ca….Several families already there. I myself want an open casket at my funeral.

    I have been pouring over scripture as I am given three minutes to Eulogize my dad. I have changed it so many times and really am just having the most difficult time. Do you have any input. I know It’s pretty vague.

  37. I’m somewhat surprised to see no reference to Loraine’s Boettner’s contribution to this discussion. I think it was in his book titled Immorality.

    • I think it was his book “Immortality,” not Immorality 😉

      BTW, Dr. Clark, CJPM was excellent. I loved this quote from Luther: “the rich, noble, pious bridegroom Christ takes this poor, despised, wicked little whore in marriage, redeems her of all evil, and adorns her with all His goods.” Praise God for the “joyous exchange!”

      jim

  38. Dr. Kline taught us that the image of God reflected in the body referred to dominion -man being the only creature that was created to walk upright, thus reflecting his dominion over the animals.

  39. Jim:

    Ah, my poor typing skills!!! My apologies to all, and especially to the good Dr. Boettner!

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