Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2015

Even a century ago, the issue of the advisability and appropriateness of cremation was still being discussed in mainstream Protestant Churches. For centuries, the view had prevailed that those religions which taught the resurrection of the body (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) naturally favoured burial of the dead. The body was to be treated with respect, even in death. Those eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which teach that in death the soul flees the body with no desire to have anything more to do with it, practised cremation.

It is thus right and good that the issue be revived for discussion today, as Schmidt has succeeded in doing. Christians ought to think through this issue, although I rather think that the case is overstated in places. Regarding the embalming of Jacob in Genesis 50:2, Schmidt says that ‘Joseph had no biblical support or approval for what he had the embalmers do to his father and later to himself.’ It is difficult to see how the dead body of Jacob could be taken back to Machpelah in Canaan for burial unless it was embalmed. Similarly, the discussion over the burning of bodies in Amos 6:10, presumably to prevent the spread of disease, may lack a little in taking account of the context. Burial at sea, for example, shows that one cannot always do what one would wish. However, the acceptance of cremation without taking cognizance of the overwhelming biblical emphasis – without a specific command, admittedly – on burial is, in my view at least, a sad feature of modern church life. Burial or cremation makes no difference to the deceased, but the long-term impact of cremation would surely be to undermine belief in the resurrection of the body.