David Jones, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has an excellent article in the latest issue of JETS on the topic of cremation, which I’ve received permission to post. It’s called “To Bury or Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation” (PDF).
Here’s the purpose of the essay:
In light of the growing interest in cremation, this brief work will attempt to summarize some of the key historical, Biblical, and theological considerations that have been a part of the moral discussion of cremation within the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The goal of this article, then, is to provide the reader with the material needed in order to develop an informed ethic of cremation, as well as to suggest perhaps a general trajectory for the discussion.
And here’s the conclusion:
After reviewing some of the key historical, Biblical, and theological considerations that have been a part of the moral discussion of cremation within the Judeo-Christian tradition, ultimately the practice must be viewed as an adiaphora issue [i.e., something biblically indifferent].
This being said, however, it seems legitimate to draw the following three conclusions.
First, church history witnesses considerable opposition toward cremation with the normative practice of the church being burial.
Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of how to treat the deceased, both the example of Biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a pro-burial direction.
Third, the body is theologically significant; thus, both the act of and the imagery conveyed by the treatment of the deceased ought to be weighed carefully.
Certainly not all deaths will afford loved ones an opportunity to choose the method of interment. Indeed, factors such as the location and manner of death, nation-specific legal parameters, as well as the resources of the surviving family will bear upon funerary practices and decisions. Yet, if given a choice, those left behind ought to consider carefully what is being communicated in their handling of the body of a 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.
You can read the whole thing here. It’s a model of careful Christian ethical analysis and application.