Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jeremiah on Listening to the Word of the Lord

Toward the end of Jeremiah (chapters 41-44) after the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, the Babylonians had set in place a governor over the region—Gedaliah.  Well, there were some forces that didn’t like this foreign appointed governor so they killed Gedaliah.  The folks that did this were soon brought to judgment by the people left in Jerusalem but they then faced a difficult future.  Once the Babylonians heard that Gedaliah had been murdered they could come back and even do more destruction on them.  So they thought of leaving and traveling to Egypt for protection.  The people approach Jeremiah and ask him to seek the Lord’s will.  Jeremiah tells them he will ask the Lord but they must listen to it.  The people respond:

Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send to you to us.  Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”  --Jeremiah 42.5-6

Doesn’t that sound great—“whatever God says, even if we don’t like it, we will obey!”  Jeremiah goes and asks God what to do and he says not to go to Egypt but to stay in Jerusalem.  He promises that it will be okay for them from the Babylonians.  And how do the people respond?  Do they humbly listen and submit?  Not hardly.  Here is there reply:

“You are telling a lie!  The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.”  --Jeremiah 43.2-3

So the people go down to Egypt in defiance of the Lord’s word through Jeremiah.  They even force Jeremiah to go with them.  In Egypt the Lord continues to warn his people through his prophet Jeremiah.  He rebukes their idolatry for the people were burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven.  Will the people now listen to the Lord?  Here is how they respond to Jeremiah’s message:

“As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you!  But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven…”   --Jeremiah 44.16-17

This is an amazing display of rebellion.  This was God’s people who supposed to “live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3) but now they are arrogantly stating that they will “carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths.” 

Before we are too hard on these people we should examine our own hearts and lives.  Do we do the same thing as they did?  Do we say, “I just want to hear what God wants.”  And then when we are shown the word of God and it challenges our desires do we run away in defiance?  The choice before us is this: Will we live by the word of God or will we live by our words?  These things were written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10.11).  May we heed the message and listen to the word of God.  He knows best.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wayne Grudem on the "Stupendous Affirmation" of the Bible as the Word of God

In preparation for preaching a portion of Psalm 119 I remembered these words from Wayne Grudem about the Word of God.  He gave them in a 1999 Evangelical Theological Society presidential address.

But do we ponder the implications of this stupendous affirmation? We are saying that throughout the entire history of the world, and throughout all written documents of all civilizations, the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe, the God who will one day judge every human being who has ever lived—this God who is over all has given the human race just one collection of his written words: This book. The Bible. 

The Bible alone is the Word of God written. There are no other written words of God anywhere else in the entire world. And the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written. Every single bit of this book in the original documents has a fundamentally different character from every other bit of writing in the entire world.

--Wayne Grudem, “Do We Act As If We Really Believe That ‘The Bible Alone, and the Bible in its Entirety, is the Word of God Written’?”  1999 ETS presidential address JETS 43 (2000), 5.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lamentations for Michael Brown: Properly Applying the Prophetic Word

Over at Mike Bird's blog Euangelion he has a guest post by Jill Firth-- Book Notice: Soong-Chah Rah on Prophetic Lament.

Firth gives the following description:
Prophetic Lament is a commentary on the book of Lamentations in the Resonate series that seeks to connect Biblical books with contemporary voices of hope and lament, in a practical, pastoral and culturally conscious ‘un-commentary’. In each chapter, Rah moves between the text of Lamentations and its historical setting in the fall of Jerusalem, and contemporary or historical situations in American life such as the death of Rah’s father, the establishment of the slave trade, the ignoring of women’s voices, and racial violence in America today.
In attempting to link the message of Lamentations to contemporary events, Rah brings up the shooting of Michael Brown in the following manner:
Rah connects the book of Lamentations to responses to the fatal shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown by a white police officer on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. After his death, Michael Brown was left uncovered in the August sun for four hours. Rah comments, ‘Michael Brown was deemed no better than roadkill.’
On the Amazon page for Rah's book one can "look inside" the book and find the following lamentation based on chapter of five of Lamentations:

Remember Lord, what happened to Michael Brown and Eric Garner;
look, and see the disgraceful way they treated their bodies.
Our inheritance of the image of God in every human being has been co-opted and denied by others. 

The children of Eric Garner have become fatherless, widowed mothers grieve their dead children. 

We must scrap for basic human rights; our freedom and our liberty has great price. 

Corrupt officers and officials pursue us and are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest. 

We submitted to uncaring government agencies and to big business to get enough bread. 

Our ancestors sinned the great sin of instituting slavery; they are no more--but we bear their shame. 

The system of slavery and institutionalized racism ruled over us, and there is no one free from their hands. 

We got our bread at the risk of our lives because of the guns on the streets. 

Michael Brown's skin is hot as an oven as his body lay out in the blazing sun. 

Women have been violated throughout our nation's history; black women raped by while slave owners on the plantations. 

Noble black men have been hung, lynched and gunned down; elders and spokesmen are shown no respect. 

Young men can't find work because of unjustly applied laws; boys stagger under the expectation that their lives are destined for jail. 

The elder statesman and civil rights leaders are gone from the city gate; young people who speak out in protest through music are silenced. 

Trust in our ultimate triumph has diminished; our triumphant dance has turned to a funeral dirge. 

Our sense of exceptionalism has been exposed. Woe to us, for we have sinned! 

Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim 

for our cities lie desolate with predatory lenders and real estate speculators prowling over them. 

You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. 

We do you always forgets us? Why do you forsake us so long? 

Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old 

unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.
I put in bold-face the two lines which refer to the treatment of Michael Brown's body.  In the epilogue to Rah's book he has the following statements:
The deceased body of Michael Brown was left uncovered out in the heat of an August afternoon for four and a half hours, with friends and family denied access to the body.  Michael Brown was deemed no better than roadkill.
And a few paragraphs later, Rah writes:
The dead body of Michael Brown was not accorded proper respect.  The literal dead body lying on the streets of a quiet apartment complex in a Midwestern suburban town demanded a proper funeral dirge in the community.
I appreciate Rah's desire to find contemporary significance and application of the prophetic word.  Having recently preached through the prophets of Jonah and Nahum I have been thinking of these issues.  I read Julie Woods' essay The West as Nineveh: How Does Nahum's Message of Judgement Apply to Today? Themelios 31/1 (October 2005), 7-37.  Woods quotes the work of Grant Osborne on how to properly interpret and apply the ancient text.
* Determine  the surface message
* Determine the deep structure principle behind the message
* Note the original situation
* Discover the parallel situation in the modern context
* Decide whether to contextualize at the general or specific level 
In order to properly apply the text to the modern context one must accurately understand the contemporary situation.  The problem with Rah's applications of Lamentations to the death of Michael Brown is that he has failed to understand all the available facts regarding Michael Brown.  Rah argues that Brown's body was not accorded a proper respect due to its being left on the hot pavement for four hours.  Rah, however, has left out some crucial facts that provide the context for the treatment of Brown's body.

The Department of Justice Report on Michael Brown's death provides this important information which explains what happened and why:
Wilson shot Brown at about 12:02 p.m. on August 9, 2014. Within minutes, FPD officers responded to the scene, as they were already en route from Wilson’s initial radio call for assistance. Also within minutes, residents began pouring onto the street. At 12:08 p.m., FPD officers requested assistance from nearby SLCPD precincts. By 12:14 p.m., some members of the growing crowd became increasingly hostile in response to chants of “[We] need to kill these motherfuckers,” referring to the police officers on scene. At around the same time, about 12:15 p.m., Witness 147, an FPD sergeant, informed the FPD Chief that there had been a fatal officer- involved shooting. At about 12:23 p.m., after speaking with one of his captains, the FPD Chief contacted the SLCPD Chief and turned over the homicide investigation to the SLCPD. Within twenty minutes of Brown’s death, paramedics covered Brown’s body with several white sheets. 
The SLCPD Division of Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Crimes Against Persons (“CAP”) was notified at 12:43 p.m. to report to the crime scene to begin a homicide investigation. When they received notification, SLCPD CAP detectives were investigating an armed, masked hostage situation in the hospice wing at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in the south part of St. Louis County, nearly 37 minutes from Canfield Drive. They arrived at Canfield Drive at approximately 1:30 p.m. During that time frame, between about 12:45 p.m. and 1:17 p.m., SLCPD reported gunfire in the area, putting both civilians and officers in danger. As a result, canine officers and additional patrol officers responded to assist with crowd control. SLCPD expanded the perimeter of the crime scene to move the crowd away from Brown’s body in an effort to preserve the crime scene for processing. 
Upon their arrival, SLCPD detectives from the Bureau of Criminal Identification Crime Scene Unit erected orange privacy screens around Brown’s body, and CAP detectives alerted the St. Louis County Medical Examiner (“SCLME”) to respond to the scene. To further protect the integrity of the crime scene, and in accordance with common police practice, SLCPD personnel did not permit family members and concerned neighbors into the crime scene (with one brief exception). Also in accordance with common police practice, crime scene detectives processed the crime scene with Brown’s body present. According to SLCPD CAP detectives, they have one opportunity to thoroughly investigate a crime scene before it is forever changed upon the removal of the decedent’s body. Processing a homicide scene with the decedent’s body present allows detectives, for example, to accurately measure distances, precisely document body position, and note injury and other markings relative to other aspects of the crime scene that photographs may not capture. 
In this case, crime scene detectives had to stop processing the scene as a result of two more reports of what sounded like automatic weapons gunfire in the area at 1:55 p.m. and 2:11 p.m., as well as some individuals in the crowd encroaching on the crime scene and chanting, “Kill the Police,” as documented by cell phone video. At each of those times, having exhausted their existing resources, SLCPD personnel called emergency codes for additional patrol officers from throughout St. Louis County in increments of twenty-five. Livery drivers sent to transport Brown’s body upon completion of processing arrived at 2:20 p.m. Their customary practice is to wait on scene until the body is ready for transport. However, an SLCPD sergeant briefly stopped them from getting out of their vehicle until the gunfire abated and it was safe for them to do so. The SLCME medicolegal investigator arrived at 2:30 p.m. and began conducting his investigation when it was reasonably safe to do so. Detectives were at the crime scene for approximately five and a half hours, and throughout that time, SLCPD personnel continued to seek additional assistance, calling in the Highway Safety Unit at 2:38 p.m. and the Tactical Operations Unit at 2:44 p.m. Witnesses and detectives described the scene as volatile, causing concern for both their personal safety and the integrity of the crime scene. Crime scene detectives and the SLCME medicolegal investigator completed the processing of Brown’s body at approximately 4:00 p.m, at which time Brown’s body was transported to the Office of the SLCME. [pp. 8-9]
This listing of the details and the volatile and dangerous situation that was ongoing for hours helps to explain why Michael Brown's body was not moved sooner.  It had nothing to do with failing to honor his body.  Rather, there was a concern to keep the scene free from contamination so an accurate examination could be conducted.  Rah mentions nothing about the gun-fire and the potential violence involved at the scene.

Rah may have some important truths to teach the church from his understanding and applications from Lamentations but his understanding of the Michael Brown incident is woefully inadequate.  Rah has not spoken the truth in this matter.  Yes, lamentation is needed in the contemporary church but let's be sure we are lamenting real crises (there are many!) and not foolish distortions. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Life, Death & Growing Old (part five): Burial or Cremation?

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Life, Death & Growing Old—Burial vs. Cremation

1.     Does the Bible and the Christian theological tradition have anything to say about our handling of the body of a dead person?

a.     Are the responses of burial of the body and the cremation of the body equally valid?

b.     What does the Bible say about this issue?

c.      What does Church history tell us?

d.     What theological messages are we communicating by burial? By cremation?

2.     I would like to state my theses up front so you know where I’m going and what I’ll be arguing for:

1.  Burial of the dead body is more consistent with the biblical and theological reasoning found within Christianity.

2.  Although cremation is not necessarily sinful, it ought to be discouraged as a Christian response to death.

3.     Important statement regarding differences of viewpoints!

a.     I know that some of you have already reached convictions on these matters… will you test your convictions by the Word of God?

b.     I know that some of you have already participated in fulfilling loved one’s desires to be cremated.  The goal is not make you feel guilty or bad.

c.      We need to recognize there may be differences of view on this issue.  We should strive for a biblical-theological approach in all of our thinking no matter where we end up in our decision-making.

4.     Definitions and descriptions

a.     Burial: “to deposit (a corpse) in the ground, in a tomb; to inter.”[1]

                                               i.     Technical term is “inhumation”: “the action or practice of burying in the ground.”

                                              ii.     “There is a tendency in discussions of cremation, especially by advocates of that practice, to use bury in the sense, ‘to dispose of a corpse’—and assume that cremation is one way to bury.  This is a sloppy use of language—though it is often helpful to cremation advocates by making the process appear to be just a variation of more common (in our day and culture) burial practices.”[2]

b.     Cremation: the disposal of a corpse by means of fire.

                                               i.     “The Encyclopedia of Cremation defines cremation as the practice of intentionally heating a deceased human body to ‘between 1,400 and 2,1000 F to consume … the body’s soft tissue and reduce the skeleton to fragments and particles.’”[3]

                                              ii.     “The process now takes only a few hours (depending on the size of the body) and produces 5-7 pounds of bone fragments (sometimes referred to by the neologism, cremains).  These fragments are run through a mechanical grinder, shredder, or tumbler to reduce the bone fragments to a small size.  Although popularly referred to as “ashes,” these remains are not like the soft flakes characteristic of wood ash; they are more like sand with some larger bone fragments the size of rice, though this depends on the equipment used (newer systems produce a very fine powder).”[4]

c.      “Promession”—the corpse is frozen and dried using liquid nitrogen.  A mechanical vibration then causes the body to fall apart into powder.[5]

5.     Statistics[6]

a.     First American cremation: Colonel Henry Laurens 1792

·      He was afraid of being buried alive

b.     Next recorded cremation: 1876—Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palma

·      First use of commercial crematory furnace

c.      After 1876 for the next three years there were only four recorded cremations

d.     Not until 1880’s and 1890’s is there an increased momentum for cremation

16 instances
1,996 instances

e.     At the end of the 19th century:

                                               i.     24 crematories in 15 states

                                              ii.     10,000 cremations performed—less than 1% of deaths in U.S.

f.      Cremation percentages grow over time

                                               i.     1% crossed in early 1920’s

                                              ii.     2% in 1930’s

                                            iii.     3% in 1940’s

                                            iv.     1963: 4%

                                              v.     1999: 25%

                                            vi.     2004: 29%

g.     Recent figures and trends[7]

                                               i.     2005: 32.3%

                                              ii.     2010: 40.4%

                                            iii.     2015: 48.5% vs. Burial rates at 45.4%

·      First time cremation rates were greater than burial rates nationally

                                            iv.     Projections


h.     “A funeral practice that was practically unknown 100 years ago has become mainstream and appears to be growing quite rapidly.”[8]

Biblical Considerations

6.     Cremation in the Bible: Three potential references

a.     1 Samuel 31.8-13—Saul and his sons

b.     Amos 2.1-3—Judgment on Moab

c.      Amos 6.8-10—translation issue

                                               i.     “a relative who is to burn the bodies” (NIV; cf. KJV, RSV, NRSV)

                                              ii.     “undertaker will lift him up to carry out his bones” (NASB)

                                            iii.     “the one who anoints him for burial” (ESV)

·      If cremation is involved it may be that “In the carnage of war, normal burial is not always possible, especially when the number of casualties is high.”[9]

·      “The text can also be understood as referring to someone who burns incense or a memorial fire for the deceased.”[10]

d.     A couple of summary points:

                                               i.     There are only three references in the Bible to actual cremation.

                                              ii.     These instances come from narrative and prophetic texts describing things that happened or will happen.  “It is not legitimate to build a theological conclusion on such texts.  They do, however, form the first part of a larger picture of the biblical view of cremation.”[11]

7.     God’s use of fire in judgment (partial cremation)

a.     Leviticus 10.1-2—Nadab and Abihu

b.     Numbers 16.1-38—Korah’s rebellion

c.      Joshua 7.1-26—Achan’s household

d.     Leviticus 20.14—man who marries a woman and her mother; all burned with fire

e.     Leviticus 21.9—priest’s daughter “profanes herself by harlotry” is burned with fire

·      “Such a history of judgment fire ‘hardly provided a positive incentive for the burial practice of cremation’ in ancient Israel.”[12]

8.     Fire is often used in the Bible as symbolic of judgment

a.     Old Testament: Isaiah 10.16-17; 30.27-28, 33; Jeremiah 4.4 (cf. Lamentations 2.3-4); Zephaniah 1.18; 3.8; Malachi 4.1

b.     New Testament:

                                               i.     Jesus: Matthew 3.10, 11, 12; 7.19; 13.40, 42, 50; 18.8; 22.7; 25.41 (just to cite Matthew)

                                              ii.     Paul: 1 Corinthians 3.13, 15; 2 Thessalonians 1.7

                                            iii.     Others: Hebrews 10.27; 12.18, 29; 2 Peter 3.7; Jude 7

                                            iv.     Revelation: 8.5, 7, 8; 9.18; 11.5; 14.10; 16.8; 18.8; 19.20; 20.10, 14, 15; 21.8

·      “In themselves, these passages say nothing directly regarding cremation.  They do, however, help us to sense how God’s people would have viewed such a practice against their conceptual world view…  Though perhaps not as negative to 21st century Americans, fire would have had a much more negative association for the Israelites.  That fire would form any part of their funeral practice seems quite unlikely.”[13]

9.     Burial in the Bible

“Scripture clearly reports that biblical characters showed great care and respect to the bodies of their deceased loved ones, with burial being the most common funerary practice.”[14]
“There is no dispute that the Bible presents burial as the standard way to handle a corpse.”[15]

a.     Sarah (Genesis 23.3-18)—1st recorded burial

                                               i.     Abraham goes to great lengths to secure a tomb

                                              ii.     This tomb becomes the burial place for next few generations:

·      Abraham: Genesis 25.9-10
·      Isaac and Rebekah: Genesis 35.29; 49.31
·      Jacob and Leah: Genesis 50.13

b.     Rachel buried by Jacob on the way to Bethlehem: Genesis 35.19-20

c.      Joseph made his sons promise to bury his bones in the land of Israel (Genesis 50.25; Exodus 13.19; Joshua 24.32; cf. Hebrews 11.22)

d.     Aaron (1st high priest) buried in Moserah (Deuteronomy 10.6)

e.     Moses was buried by God opposite Beth-Peor (Deuteronomy 34.5-8)

·      “The burial of Moses is one of the most intriguing in Scripture, for it was performed by God himself, and it was followed by a dispute between the archangel Michael and Satan, who apparently desired the body of Moses for an unspecified reason.”[16]  (cf. Jude 9)

·      “If this was God’s preferred method in the only such recorded instance, it ought to be treated as a significant precedent.”[17]

f.      Joshua: Joshua 24.30

g.     Various judges: Judges 8.32; 10.2, 5; 12.7, 10, 12, 15; 16.31

h.     Samuel: 1 Samuel 25.1

i.       David: 1 Kings 2.10 (cf. Acts 2.29—Peter mentions David’s burial and tomb)

j.       Various kings:

                                               i.     1 Kings 14.31; 15.8, 24; 16.6; 22.37; 22.50

                                              ii.     2 Kings 8.24; 9.28; 10.35; 12.21; 13.9, 13; 14. 16, 20; 15.7, 38; 16.20; 21.18, 16; 23.30

k.     John the Baptist: Matthew 14.12

l.       Lazarus: John 11.17-18

m.   Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 5.6, 9-10

n.     Stephen: Acts 8.2

o.     Jesus: John 19.38-42—“as is the burial custom of the Jews” (v. 40)

“In one sense, Jesus’ burial is simply one more example of common Jewish custom.  As a narrative even it has no inherent normative force.  But as with other aspects of Jesus’ life, as Christians we often take his life as exemplary, if not technically imperative.  Our wedding ceremonies often refer to Jesus blessing marriage by his presence at the wedding in Cana (John 2).  He attended the Sabbath services, visited with ‘sinners,’ showed compassion to those who hurt, etc. In the same way, and to the same extent (and only to that extent), we are wise to consider his example in death, for in this case it is not only what would be normal for someone of his day and culture, but it was also ordained by God that he be buried (Isa 53:9).  The NT makes an emphatic point that his body did not suffer decay when he was buried (Acts 2:31; see also v 27, citing Ps 16:10); cremation was not an option.  None of these factors in their own right would, perhaps, be determinative, but since they complement all the other factors considered thus far, it should not be ignored that Jesus was indeed buried— not cremated—and that by God’s choice.”[18]

10. Refusal to show care for a corpse or to deny a decedent burial as a sign of judgment

a.     Individuals denied a proper burial

                                               i.     Jehoiakim: Jeremiah 22.19

                                              ii.     Jezebel: 2 Kings 9.30-37

                                            iii.     Ahab’s offspring: 1 Kings 21.17-24

                                            iv.     Sisera and Jabin: Psalm 83.9-10

b.     Other references related to lack of burial being a sign of contempt or judgment

                                               i.     Deuteronomy 28.26; 2 Samuel 21.6, 9; 1 Kings 14.10-13; 2 Kings 9.10

                                              ii.     Psalm 79.1-4; Ecclesiastes 6.3

                                            iii.     Jeremiah 8.2; 14.16; 16.4-6; 25.33; 29.22

                                            iv.     Revelation 11.9

11. Summary statements on biblical material

a.     Biblical record consistently depicts burial.

b.     Cremation is virtually unknown in biblical practice.

c.      “The biblical text suggests that cremation was viewed as abhorrent or at least offensive.  The connotations of fire imagery in Scripture are consistent with this reaction.”[19]

d.     “These observations are strictly descriptive. There is no normative statement forbidding, allowing, or commanding cremation.  (The only exception being the two legal dictates in tightly defined situations as retribution for particularly heinous sin.)  On the other hand, it must be observed that neither is there any prescriptive statement establishing burial as the only acceptable practice for God’s people.  In and of themselves, descriptive statements in the biblical text are not normative.  Even though we have a consistent, positive pattern for burial, and even though we have some indications of God’s preference for burial in two particular situations (Moses and Jesus), we cannot hermeneutically extrapolate a divine imperative for all situations.  For this we need to involve additional considerations, both theological and cultural.”[20]

Theological Considerations

12. The nature of the human body

a.     Created by God and declared good: Genesis 2.7; 1.31

                                               i.     Material body is not denigrated

                                              ii.     Body is not a “prison-house” of the soul (e.g., Plato)

b.     Incarnation: Jesus shares in our flesh and blood—Hebrews 2.14

“Christians should treat the human body, with its strange and idiosyncratic design, with special respect.  Why?  Because this is the form in which God became flesh.”[21]

c.      Body and salvation

                                               i.     Body will be redeemed—Romans 8.23

                                              ii.     Body will be transformed—Philippians 3.21

                                            iii.     1 Corinthians 6.12-20

·      Lord is for the body—v. 13

·      Raise us up—v. 14

·      Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit—v. 19

“True, this is a description of a live body, but upon death a body, which is no longer indwelt by the Spirit, but which has had the privilege of being God’s temple, ought to be honored.  Though not technically indwelt after death, if the body is a member of Christ due, in part to the resurrection, then this body is still somehow, united to Christ.”[22]

·      We are called to glorify God with our body—v. 20

d.     When someone is buried, the New Testament still refers to the person as being buried

                                               i.     Mark 15.44-47

·      “Mark refers to Jesus as a person—though what was taken down from the cross, wrapped, and placed in the tomb was, indeed, the corpse.”[23]

                                              ii.     Mark 16.1, 6—personalized speech about the body

                                            iii.     John 11.43—Lazarus is called for even though the spirit of Lazarus is not in the tomb

·      “Even in death the body that is laid in the tomb is not simply a body.  It is the body of the person.  More properly, it is the person as respects the body.  It is the person who is buried or laid in the tomb… So what is laid in the grave is still integral to the person who died.  In and during death the person is identified with the dissolved material entity.”[24]

·      “This is not to suggest that a corpse is all there is of a person, but it certainly does argue that we ought not speak of the immaterial soul as the ‘real person’ who only possesses a (disposable) body.”[25]

13. The resurrection of the body

a.     All will be raised—John 5.25-29

b.     Bodily resurrection—Philippians 3.21

c.      1 Corinthians 15.35-44

                                               i.     Image of sowing a seed—vv. 37-38

·      Burial tends to more accurately picture this reality

                                              ii.     Contrasts—vv. 42-44

Sown a Perishable body
Raised an Imperishable body
Sown in Dishonor
Raised in Glory
Sown in Weakness
Raised in Power
Sown a Natural body
Raised a Spiritual body[26]

                                            iii.     “There is an organic connection between a seed which is planted in the ground and the stalk of wheat which grows from that seed—and that despite the fact that the atoms of the seed are not necessarily the same atoms to be found in the plant which grows from it.  Paul argues the same is true of the resurrection.  The body which is planted in the grave is not identical with the body that is raised (vv 42-44).  The body which is planted (the ‘seed’) is perishable and dishonorable since it is dead and decaying; it is a weak and natural body.  But the body raised, though organically connected with the body planted, will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.”[27]

“In an effort to comfort those mourning the loss of a loved one we have too often adopted terminology that does not reflect a biblical view of resurrection or a full-orbed, biblical view of the human person.  When we say, referring to a body lying in the casket, ‘This is not really Joe, it’s just his body; the real Joe is in heaven with Jesus,’ we have not made a full biblical statement.  It is certainly true that Joe is in heaven with Jesus (assuming Joe was a Christian), but we have implied that the body in the casket is no longer important.  More significantly, we have divorced the body from the person; it was only a disposable possession.  The corpse is certainly nonfunctional now that it has been separated from the immaterial, but it is still an integral part of the person, else there would be no point in a resurrection.  If the spirit was the real person, there would be no further need for a body, of, if a body were desired, it could be created with no reference to the original body.  God, however, has said that our mortal bodies will be resurrected and glorified.”[28]

Historical and Cultural Considerations

14. Non-Christian systems and their approach to cremation

a.     Hinduism—has practiced cremation for thousands of years

b.     Buddhism—follows the example of Buddha who was cremated (486 BC)

c.      Confucianism—originally forbade cremation but later embraced the practice

·      Japan has the highest cremation rate in the world: 100%[29]

15. Burial and the spread of Christianity

“Is it irrelevant that when Christianity spread across the western world, cremation ceased to be the most prevalent practice?  Though burial was, indeed, a Jewish practice, the early church was soon a Gentile majority as the gospel spread across the Roman world.  In Gentile areas the norm was often cremation due to the many centuries of Greco-Roman influence.  Yet Christianity—even Gentile Christianity—never adopted or practiced cremation.  This would suggest that the Christian world view (including the Christian doctrines of creation and resurrection) inherently rejected a pagan practice viewed as incompatible with Christianity.”[30]

16. Cremation in the United States—some historical aspects

a.     “The changes in America regarding the practice of cremation over the past century are significant in that they entail a shift ‘from certain religious beliefs and metaphors (most of them Christian) to alternatives (some Asian, some New Age, and some more modern versions of Christianity).’  It has been, in other words, a theological shift in how people view death—actually a shift in how the person is viewed in relation to this world and to God, and that deliberately and consciously away from an orthodox Christian worldview.  The increasing popularity of cremation is often no less ‘spiritual’ than traditional Christian burial, it is just a different spirituality—a nonchristian one.”[31]

b.     “Throughout the history of the pro-cremation movement in the 19th and early 20th century it was almost exclusively unorthodox in leadership.  Though this argument should not be pressed too far, the histories written make it quite clear that ‘free thinkers,’ whether they be Masons, Unitarians, Theosophists, or atheists, were the primary advocates of cremation in this early period, particularly those enamored with eastern thought.”[32]

c.      “Liberal Protestant ministers … were especially concerned with eradicating the popular notion that the earthly body would have some continued existence in the afterlife—an idea which in their view defied both science and rational thought… [They] considered the immaterial world of the mind and spirit as the true reality and … deemed an undue attention to the body as ‘unsophisticated.’”[33]

d.     The advance of cremation since the 1960’s—what caused the expansion of the practice? 

                                               i.     Rodney Decker references Stephen Prothero’s Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America (Berkley: Univ. of California Press, 2001) as mentioning the following items:

·      Vatican II

·      Expose of funeral industry—Jessica Mitford The American Way of Death (1963)

·      Rise of the counter-culture and environmentalism movement—“Save the land for the living.” (Slogan by some cremationists)

                                              ii.     “Funeral practices express one’s worldview.”[34]

Conclusions and Some Objections Answered

17. The Bible is consistently pro-burial.

a.     There is little about cremation in the Bible

b.     The most that can be said for cremation biblically is that there may be cases where it is not condemned

c.      Objection: Our culture is different than the biblical culture.  There are other practices we modify to fit our culture (e.g., “greet one another with a holy kiss” becomes a handshake or hug).

                                               i.     Wayne Grudem lists out six potential candidates for culturally relative commands in the New Testament[35]

·      Holy kiss (Romans 16.16; 1 Corinthians 16.20; 2 Corinthians 13.12; 1 Thessalonians 5.26; 1 Peter 5.14)

·      Foot washing (John 13.14; compare 1 Timothy 5.10, which is not a command)

·      Head covering for women or wives in worship (1 Corinthians 11.4-16)

·      Short hair for men (1 Corinthians 11.14)

·      No jewelry or braided hair for women (1 Timothy 2.9; 1 Peter 3.3)

·      Lifting hands in prayer (1 Timothy 2.8)

                                              ii.     Grudem notes that “all of these examples refer to physical items or actions that carry symbolic meaning.”[36]

                                            iii.     He further notes: “only the physical, surface manifestation is culturally relative, and the underlying intent of the command is not culturally relative but is still binding on us today.”[37]

                                            iv.     Rodney Decker applies this to the burial/cremation issue:

“Other customs, however, either contain or embody theological truth and are used as such to teach Christian doctrine.  Although the exact nature of a grave may be cultural (and perhaps even geographical/geological) in that it may be an earth-dug grave or a man-made mound or tomb, the practice of burial appears to be used theologically in the Bible.  It is not only the basis of Jesus’ teaching on resurrection but is the basis of Paul’s extended theological explanation of resurrection.  In such cases the practice should be viewed as not merely cultural but also theologically normative.”[38]

18. The practice of burial better reflects and symbolizes biblical and Christian theological distinctives—salvation of the body through resurrection.

a.     “[W]hat practice best reflects the Christian hope of the gospel?  Should we be concerned to testify to our hope even in the form of our funerals and the disposition of our corpses?  I would suggest that this is the case and that burial of the body presents a much clearer picture of resurrection than does the deliberate destruction of the body by fire.  Although only an analogy, Paul’s picture in 1 Corinthians 15 of death and resurrection as that of a seed which germinates is a deliberate and important analogy. … The analogy is deliberately chosen to illustrate the resurrection.  If we are to proclaim the hope of the gospel in death, we are wise to conduct our funerals and dispose of our corpses in a similar way.  Burning and grinding a corpse to ash does not seem to reflect the Christian hope of resurrection.  The mental picture seems to be at odds with our theology.  It would seem most appropriate to preserve the deliberate biblical analogy of a seed planted rather than devise a new fiery picture—one never used theologically in the Bible to portray the death or resurrection of the believer.”[39]

b.     “As Paul taught, the very body that is sown perishable is raised an imperishable body (1 Cor. 15.42).  The is best symbolized by burial, for it anticipates the final preservation of the body in the resurrection.  The image presented of the dead being asleep (1 Thes. 4:13-18) is also preserved through burial.  The Christian has escaped the judgment of fire presented in the Bible (Rev. 20:14).  Cremation is the wrong picture to remind believers of salvation in the body by resurrection (cf. Rom. 8:11).  On the other hand, cremation better symbolizes pantheism, which in its Eastern forms is usually associated with a salvation from the body by escaping the cycle of reincarnation.”[40]

19. The practice of burial betters honors the body as a good creation from God and as an integral part of the Christian’s life.

a.     “For Christians, burial is not the disposal of a thing.  It is caring for a person.  In burial, we’re reminded that the body is not a shell, a husk tossed aside by the ‘real’ person, the soul within.  To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:23), but the body that remains still belongs to someone, someone we love, someone who will reclaim it one day.”[41]

b.     “Deliberate destruction by fire and grinding seems a quite inappropriate means by which to ‘honor’ the body, and that despite the word games played by cremationists to make the burning and grinding sound palatable.”[42]

20. Objections and answers

a.     Objection: “It doesn’t matter what happens to the body because God will resurrect it anyway.  God is powerful enough to resurrect a cremated body.

                                               i.     Yes, God can and will resurrect all bodies (buried, cremated, eaten by animals, etc.). 

                                              ii.     The issue is not God’s power but what theological statements we are making with our practices with the dead body.

                                            iii.     Burial is a better imagery for the future resurrection.

b.     Objection: “Cremation is more economical than burial.  Burials can run into the thousands of dollars and this is not good financial stewardship.

                                               i.     “First, since when have economic factors been determinative in theological issues?  This is not to suggest that economic factors are irrelevant.  It does claim, however, that in itself this does not constitute a determinative argument.”[43]

                                              ii.     “Second, it is a false picture to contrast cremation and burial in terms of cost.  The difference in the cost of a funeral is not between burial (expensive) and cremation (inexpensive), but between extravagance and simplicity.”[44]

21. Final Concluding Thought…

“Certainly not all deaths will afford loved ones an opportunity to choose the method of interment… Yet, if given a choice, those left behind ought to consider carefully what is being communicated in their handling of the body of the decedent.  After all, within the Christian tradition, funerals are not simply ways of disposing of dead bodies, nor are they solely about remembering the departed or expressing grief.  Rather, for believers, funerals ought to be Christ-centered events, testifying to the message and hope of the gospel.”[45]


Rodney J. Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?  A Biblical Perspective on Cremation and
Christianity in Western Culture,” (William R. Rice Lecture Series; Allen Park, Mich.: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, March 15, 2006), 1-46.  Online:

Norman Geisler and Douglas E. Potter, “From Ashes to Ashes: Is Burial the Only Christian
Option?” Christian Research Journal 21/1 (July-Sept 1998), 28-35.  Online:

David W. Jones, “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” Journal of the
Evangelical Theological Society 53/2 (June 2010), 335-347.  Online:

Russell D. Moore, “Grave Signs,” Touchstone 20/1 (Jan/Feb 2007), 24-27.  Online:

“The NFDA Cremation and Burial Report: Research, Statistics and Projections” (September

“2015 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report: Research, Statistics and Projections” (July


“Funerals and Ripoffs”

Funeral Consumer Alliance of Arizona

     [1] Rodney J. Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?  A Biblical Perspective on Cremation and
Christianity in Western Culture,” (William R. Rice Lecture Series; Allen Park, Mich.: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, March 15, 2006), 4.  Online:  Decker is quoting the The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971).
     [2] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 4.
     [3] David W. Jones, “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53/2 (June 2010), 335.  Online:
     [4] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 5.
     [5] This new process is still in the developmental stages.  See the article, “Sweden’s New Funeral Rite—Bodies Freeze-dried, Powdered and Made Into Tree Mulch,” by Kate Connolly in The Telegraph (September 28, 2005).  Online:  Also see “Freeze-drying the Dead Could Help Save the Planet” by Nicholas Tufnell Wired (October 14, 2013).  Online:
     [6] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 2-3 for statistics supporting the following a.—f.
     [7] These are taken from the “2015 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report: Research, Statistics and Projections” (July 2015).  The 2015 percentages were announced by the NFDA—see “2016 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report Released: Rate of Cremation Surpasses That of Burial in 2015” June 30, 2016.  Online:
     [8] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 3.
     [9] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 8.
     [10] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 8.
     [11] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 8.
     [12] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 10—Decker is quoting John J. Davis What About Cremation? A Christian Perspective.
     [13] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 12.
     [14] Jones, “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” 340.
     [15] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 13.
     [16] Jones, “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” 340.
     [17] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 15.
     [18] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 14-15.
     [19] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 16.
     [20] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 16-17.
     [21] John Stott as quoted in Jones, “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” 344. 
     [22] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 19.
     [23] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 21.
     [24] John Murray as quoted in Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 21.
     [25] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 21.
     [26] “It is ‘spiritual,’ not in the sense of ‘immaterial’ but of ‘supernatural,’ as he will explain with the help of Scripture in v. 45, because it will have been recreated by Christ, who himself through his resurrection came to be a ‘life-giving Spirit.’”  Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians—NICNT, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 786.
     [27] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 24.
     [28] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 24.
     [29] “2015 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report: Research, Statistics and Projections” (July 2015), 3.  According to the NFDA report this number is from 2013.
     [30] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 36.
     [31] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 27.
     [32] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 28.
     [33] Karen Flood as quoted in Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 28-29.
     [34] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 31.
     [35] Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, CO.: Multnomah, 2004), 397-398.
     [36] Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 398.
     [37] Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 398.
     [38] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 36.
     [39] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 36-37.
     [40] Norman Geisler and Douglas E. Potter, “From Ashes to Ashes: Is Burial the Only Christian
Option?” Christian Research Journal 21/1 (July-Sept 1998).  Online:
     [41] Russell D. Moore, “Grave Signs,” Touchstone 20/1 (Jan/Feb 2007).  Online:
     [42] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 37.
     [43] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 38.
     [44] Decker, “Is It Better to Bury or Burn?,” 38.
     [45] Jones, “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” 347.