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Christian Burial Versus Barbaric Cremation

Email Follow-ups

      The following email exchange are in response to my article Christian Burial Versus Barbaric Cremation. The emailers’ comments are in black enclosed in greater than and lesser than signs. My comments are in red without notations.


> Subject: Re: Darkness to Light - Vol. XVI, No. V 

      Are you saying cremation is making an ash of oneself?

 Ron<

 😊


> Subject: Re: Just a little confusion

 Hi Gary,

      In the latest Darkness to Light Volume XVI, Number V where you were discussing the issue of disposing of the body, that is the “Christian Burial versus Barbaric Cremation”. You quoted from Philip Schaff about the Wends and Germans burning the bodies of their dead. Actually, this practice was typical of the Greeks as well. In fact, most pagan nations burnt the bodies of their dead and it is definitely a pagan religious custom.

      In Pagan Europe, though today Europe is not far from being pagan again, they burned the bodies of the dead as a sacrifice to Odin (Woden). Note the also the similarities in the George Lucas Epic Star Wars.  

      Taking then what is written in the Scriptures, particularly 1 Kings 13, I can say without any doubt that cremation of the body under normal circumstances is not looked on favourably by the LORD. In fact, it is considered a sign of judgement from GOD. Note also, the instructions of the Old Prophet to his sons regarding the burial of his own body and the “lay(ing) my bones beside his bones.” So, in contrast to the common idea of cremation, the Bible tends to lean more heavily on the purpose on “burying my dead out of my sight,” which considers also the grieving sequence by the loved one.

      One may ask, “What about those who are burnt, or evaporated in accidents, in acts of terror, or religious persecution? Or the many martyrs burnt alive or their bodies burnt and/or dismembered?”

      Our God is a Mighty God for whom there is nothing impossible, and He will resurrect the bodies of those that have suffered this way (whether saved or unsaved) to face the final judgement with those who have died under normal circumstances, with those who are yet still alive at the coming of the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

      All that said and done I come to a serious issue and the real reason for this email response.

      In your newsletter you write the following when discussing Abraham, “It should be noted that the LORD just assumes Abraham will be buried when he dies, not cremated.”

       Ouch. Hopefully this is a typo. But if it is not then you have a serious problem.  No, the LORD does not assume! The Lord knows! I'm sorry Gary but you are definitely wrong! Because to say that the LORD assumes that Abraham will be buried and not cremated then you are saying that the LORD is not omniscient (all knowing - even the end from the beginning).

      Prayerfully I hope it was a typo.

Humbly in Christ's Name,

John<

        Thank you for your email. In regard to the bulk of it, those are all good points and ones I might have bought up myself, if I had expanded the article into two or more parts. But I restricted myself to just the one example of cremation being pagan and to the Book of Genesis to keep the article to a reasonable length for a one-part article.

      On the word “assume,” you are reading too much into it. If you have read my other articles and books, you would know I definitely believe in the omniscience of God. Here, I was using the word assume in the sense of “to take for granted; suppose (something) to be a fact” (Webster’s on Dictionary.com).

      My point was, the LORD did not have to command Abraham to be buried, as He “took it as a fact” that he would be. Or to word it as you wanted me to, He knew Abraham would be buried, so He did not have to issue a specific command in that regard. But since there might be some confusion, I have added a clarifying statement to the article as it is posted on my website.

       It should be noted that the LORD just assumes Abraham will be buried when he dies, not cremated. By that I mean, the LORD did have to issue a specific command to Abraham to have his body buried, as He knew it would be.

 

>Subject: Re: Just a little confusion

       Thank you, Gary. My trust in you is restored. I was worried that you may have changed your view since then. But all good now that you have explained it.

      Accept my humblest apologies if I have caused any offence.

In Christ’s Name,

John<

 

      Thank you, and no offense taken.

 


>Subject: Re: Darkness to Light - Vol. XVI, No. V

 Thanks Gary!

      I believe that when the valiant men burned the bodies of Saul and his sons it was to honor them, so their bones could be easily transported and buried at Jabesh.  This was not a barbaric burning. Also, I believe that Amos 6:10 refers to non-barbaric burning of bodies.

      Hi again!

       The account of Saul’s death is in I Samuel 31 and his cremation is in I Samuel 31:12.<

 

      Thanks Gloria. I might have addressed these passages, if I had expanded the article into two or more parts. But I restricted myself to just the Book of Genesis to keep the article to a reasonable length for a one-part article. But since you brought these verses up, I will address them in some detail and publish it as a follow-up to that article, along with a couple of other emails I have received on that article.

      That said; in regard to the first passage, in the preceding context, Saul and his army are defeated and his sons, including Jonathan, are killed. Then to keep from being captured and tortured, Saul commits suicide, as does his armor bearer (1Sam 21:1-7). The text picks up from there:

 

      8And it happened on the next day that the Philistines come to be stripping the dead, and they find Saul and his three sons having fallen on the mountains of Gilboa [Heb., Mount Gilboa]. 9And they turned him, and stripped off his armor, and sent it into [the] land of [the] Philistines, sending round about good news to their idols and to their people. 10And they set up his armor at the temple of Astarte [Heb., the Ashtoreths], and they fastened his body on the wall of Baethsam.

      11And the ones inhabiting Jebesh Gilead hear what the Philistines did to Saul. 12And they rose up, every man of might, and marched all night, and took the body of Saul and the body of Jonathan his son from [the] wall of Baethsam; and they bring them to Jebesh and burn them there. 13And they take their bones and bury [them] under the land [in] Jebesh, and fast seven days (1Sam 31:8-13).

 

      Note that Saul and his sons died quite a distance from where they are to be buried. As a result, it probably took at least a day for news of their deaths to reach Saul’s troops in Jebesh Gilead, as it takes a full day before his troops get to his body after receiving the news, even with marching all might. During that day, Saul’s body was hanged on a wall, probably in direct sunlight.

      It would then take a least another day for his troops to take the bodies back to the burial site. That means, by the time they would have gotten the bodies back to Jebesh Gilead, it would have been at least four days since their deaths. In that time, to quote Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “already he stinks, for it is the fourth day [since he died]” (John 11:39b).

      The point is, Jews at this time did not possess the embalming procedures of the Egyptians of that time nor of us today that enables a body to remain for an extended period of time before it starts to decay. As such, normally, the Jews buried their dead within a day of death, as seen in my article when Jacob buried Rachel on the way back to his homeland. He doesn’t wait to bury her until he gets back to Cannon, as her body would have been decaying by the time he did. That is why he buries her on the way.

      But here; Saul and his sons died in enemy territory, so it would not be fitting to bury them there. But given the timeframe, they did the only thing possible—they burned the bodies before they began to decay. This was thus a unique situation and not the norm.

      However, note that they did not continue the burning to the point of burning the bones. And they most definitely did not scatter the ashes to the wind. Instead, the carefully took up the bones and carried them back to Jebesh Gilead and buried them there.

      The situation here is similar to the use of ossuaries that I discuss in the Postscript to the article. But rather than waiting a year for the bodies to decay naturally, they rushed the process along by burning the bodies. But again, the bones were kept intact and buried. That is a far cry from a full cremation, where just ashes are left, and they are scattered to the wind.

      Amos 6:10 is a bit more difficult. To see why, it would be good to quote the first half of the verse from several different versions:

 

KJV: And a man’s uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones out of the house, and shall say unto him that is by the sides of the house, Is there yet any with thee?

 

NKJV: And when a relative of the dead, with one who will burn the bodies, picks up the bodies to take them out of the house, he will say to one inside the house, “Are there any more with you?”

 

NASB: Then one’s uncle, or his undertaker, will lift him up to carry out his bones from the house, and he will say to the one who is in the innermost part of the house, “Is anyone else with you?”

 

NIV: And if the relative who comes to carry the bodies out of the house to burn them asks anyone who might be hiding there, “Is anyone else with you?”

 

ESV: And when one’s relative, the one who anoints him for burial, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there still anyone with you?”

 

CSB: A close relative and burner will remove his corpse from the house. He will call to someone in the inner recesses of the house, “Any more with you?”

 

NRSV: And if a relative, one who burns the dead, shall take up the body to bring it out of the house, and shall say to someone in the innermost parts of the house, “Is anyone else with you?”

 

NAB: When a relative or one who prepares the body picks up the remains to carry them out of the house, If he says to someone in the recesses of the house, “Is anyone with you?”

 

NET: When their close relatives, the ones who will burn the corpses, pick up their bodies to remove the bones from the house, they will say to anyone who is in the inner rooms of the house, “Is anyone else with you?”

 

NIRV: Relatives might come to burn the dead bodies. If they do, they'll have to carry them out of the house first. They might ask someone still hiding there, “Is anyone here with you?”

 

NLT: And when a relative who is responsible to dispose of the dead goes into the house to carry out the bodies, he will ask the last survivor, “Is anyone else with you?”

 

ALT: And their household members will take them and will defiantly endeavor to carry out their bones from the house; and he will say to the one having been leader of the house, “There is not yet existing [anyone] with you, is there?”

 

      Notice that the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NRSV, NET, and NIRV render the verse as referring to burning the dead, while the NASB, ESV, NAB and my ALT do not have any mention of such. The reason for this is both a textual issue and a translation issue.

      On the former, it is possible the Hebrew text has been “corrected,” which is to say, there is a textual variant. It can be either mrp or shrp. This is seen in Holladay’s lexicon, when it says, “Am 6:10 traditionally = shrp, relative with obligation of cremation & burial; but txt. clearly corr.; suggest rd. (w. LXX).”

      It is the “traditional” rendering of shrp that can mean “burn,” while mrp means simply “anoint” or “embalm.”  But even if the former is correct, it does not necessarily mean cremation, as seen in Brown, Driver, Briggs’ lexicon, “his burner, usually one burning him, but probably burning spices for him.” In other words, both words could be referring to some type of preparation of the body for burial that does not include burning the body.

      The next issue is whether it is the “bones” of the dead or the “bodies” (or “corpses”) of the dead that are carried out. The Hebrew word literally means “bones,” though it can figuratively refer to a corpse, “The plural noun ‘bones’ often is used for a corpse” (TWOT).

      Now, if “burn” (as in of the bodies) is correct for the first issue, then “bones” would surely be meant by the second word. In that case, the situation here would be similar to that of Saul and his sons. The body would have been burned but not to the point of burning the bones. Instead, the bones are being carefully carried out and buried.

      But the context must be noted. The preceding two verses indicate this was a time of judgment on Israel:

 

            8For the LORD swore an oath by Himself, [saying], “Because I abhor all the insolence of Jacob, I have also hated his regions, and I will remove [his] city with all the ones inhabiting it. 9And it will be, if ten men shall be left in one house, then they will die, {but the remaining [ones] will be left}” (Amos 6:8f).

 

      It is the bodies or bones of these ten men that are being carried out. But then notice the second half of verse 10, “And he will say, “No longer.” And he will say, “Be keeping silent, in order to not name the name of the LORD.” The people are afraid to mention the name of the LORD, as that might bring repercussions from the ones oppressing Israel. That then leads to the rendering of my ALT.

      The “LXX” notation in the first quoted lexicon indicates the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew text which my ALT follows has mrp. That is why the ALT does not have “burn.” But rather than “anoint,” it substitutes a word that means “to act in defiance of orders” (Lust-Eynikel-Hauspie).

      It would seem the situation was that Israel was being oppressed, and part of that oppression was that they could not conduct normal religious funeral services for their dead that mentioned the LORD and to bury their dead. But the men here are burying their dead in defiance of that edict.

      Putting this all together, most likely, there was no cremation going on. The bodies were being buried, despite edicts forbidding it. But even if the bodies were being burned, it was not full cremation but only of the flesh. This was probably done due to not being able to bury the bodies immediately due to the edict against it. Thus, as with Saul and his sons, burning the flesh was necessary to keep the bodies from rotting before they could be buried. But even with the hostile situation, there was still a determination to at least bury the bones.

      To conclude, neither of these passages give credence to the attitude of many Christian today that it is okay to cremate their entire bodies and to scatter the ashes to the wind. In fact, these passages buttress my point that the Biblical method is to carefully bury our dead, in that, despite adverse circumstance and danger to the ones responsible for the bodies, there were still burials, though only of the bones due to the inability to bury the bodies before they began decaying. But with today’s embalming technology, that is never an issue, except for maybe in extreme circumstances, such as on a battlefield, such as was the case with Saul and his sons.

 

Bibliography:

      All Scripture verses from Analytical-Literal Translation of the Bible (ALT). Copyright 1999-2018 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org). Bolding added for emphasis.

      BibleWorks™. Copyright 1992-2015 BibleWorks, LLC. All rights reserved. BibleWorks was programmed by Michael S. Bushell, Michael D. Tan, and Glenn L. Weaver.  All rights reserved (version 10.0). Many of the following resources are as found on BibleWorks.

      Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon. Public domain. On BibleWorks.

      Holladay. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Based upon the Lexical Work of Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, edited by W.L. Holladay.  Copyright 1997 by Brill Academic Publishers.

      Lust-Eynikel-Hauspie (LEH). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, Revised Edition, edited by Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie, Copyright 2003 Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart. On BibleWorks.

 

 Christian Burial Versus Barbaric Cremation: Email follow-ups. Copyright 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

The above emails originally appeared in Darkness to Light newsletter.
They were posted on this website November 1, 2018.

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