Some Christians today believe that cremation is justified because they hold that burial in the OT was a Jewish cultural practice. Having that viewpoint about burial in the OT, they believe that we are free to follow what is culturally acceptable in our day.
Several lines of reasoning from Scripture show that these beliefs are not right.
Job and Eliphaz Did Not Follow Jewish Cultural Practices
Job and Eliphaz were God’s people, but Scripture never speaks of them as being Hebrews or Jews. Furthermore, we do not have any basis to hold that they ever had any contact with any people who were Jewish.
As such, what they believed and practiced attests to what God’s people who were not Jews, never under the Mosaic Law, and never had received that revelation believed and practiced. Because Job and Eliphaz spoke about burial in ways that either declare or imply its propriety, we know that burial by at least certain of the people of God in the OT was not a Jewish cultural practice.
Job 3:22 Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?
Job 10:19 I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.
Job 17:1 My breath is corrupt, my days are extinct, the graves are ready for me.
Job 21:32 Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.
Job 27:15 Those that remain of him shall be buried in death: and his widows shall not weep.
Job 5:26 Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.
Moreover, there are no passages in which Job or Eliphaz speak of the propriety of cremation.
Many Other Peoples Did Not Follow Jewish Cultural Practices
Scripture reveals that many other peoples that also were never Jews practiced burial. When they did so, they certainly were not following Jewish cultural practices of burying dead people.
Gen. 23:6 Hear us, my lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead; none of us shall withhold from thee his sepulchre, but that thou mayest bury thy dead.
Num. 33:4 For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn, which the LORD had smitten among them: upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.
Isa. 14:19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
Ezek. 32:22 Asshur is there and all her company: his graves are about him: all of them slain, fallen by the sword:
Ezek. 32:24 There is Elam and all her multitude round about her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, which are gone down uncircumcised into the nether parts of the earth, which caused their terror in the land of the living; yet have they borne their shame with them that go down to the pit.
People of Meshech and Tubal
Ezek. 32:26 There is Meshech, Tubal, and all her multitude: her graves are round about him: all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword, though they caused their terror in the land of the living.
Furthermore, Scripture never speaks of any of these peoples practicing cremation.
God Did Not Follow Jewish Cultural Practices
Scripture reveals in multiple ways that God did not follow Jewish cultural practices when He dealt with either His people or other peoples.
First, God commanded the Israelites that those who were hung had to be buried.
Deu 21:23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
He was not following a Jewish cultural practice when He issued that command.
Second, when God buried Moses, He did not do so because He was under any obligation to follow any so-called Jewish cultural practice.
Deuteronomy 34:6 And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.
His choosing to bury Moses and to reveal that He did so shows that burial was not a Jewish cultural practice in the OT.
Third, God fiercely judged the Moabites for burning the bones of the king of Edom to powder. God was not judging the Moabites for their failure to follow a Jewish cultural practice.
Amos 2:1 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime: 2 But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet: 3 And I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith the LORD.
These passages show that divine actions pertaining to burial in the OT were not instances of God’s following Jewish cultural practices.
In addition, God never authorized or approved of cremation in the OT.
Scripture makes plain that burial in the OT was not a Jewish cultural practice. It also never speaks of the propriety of cremation.
Christians who support the use of cremation instead of burial cannot appeal to burial in the OT as being merely a Jewish cultural practice that can be set aside in favor of the cultural practices of their own time. They also do not have any passages in the OT that they can cite as support for cremation.
See also The Biblical Importance of a Proper Burial
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