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Burial or Cremation?

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Question #1:  Hello again, Dr. Luginbill, I wrote to you a few weeks back regarding my joy at your newly posted study on sin and its impact in our lives. I briefly mentioned some health difficulties, and recently the inevitability of my mortality has weighed heavy on my mind. I'm writing to ask your opinion, and for your interpretation on what the Scriptures say about funerals, and methods of burial. I've always planned to donate my organs, and allow my physical body to be used for science. I also requested of my family that I be cremated. Now, after more deeply studying the Word, and some introspection, well, I question that choice. I've always believed that after death we are resurrected with a new body, one that is perfect in the same fashion as our Lord's. However, He still bore the scars of the cross, and I think you've made reference to His appearing in the same, although perfect body after He died.

I am in a bit of a quandary. Would it be a sin to be cremated, or would that prevent me from entering into His Kingdom? Aren't these bodies just mere shells to contain our Spirits, and to allow us, in these imperfect bodies, to recognize each other? Or do I need to keep this body whole, so that it can be made perfect when Jesus returns to claim us for Himself?

I will appreciate any information that you maybe able to share with me on this topic.

Thank you for your time, and again, I cannot begin to thank you enough for all the time, effort and hard work you put into this site. It is such solid food, and makes my journey through this desolate wilderness much more bearable. May our Lord and Savior continue to use you as an instrument of His great pleasure.

In His Love

Response #1:  Good to hear from you. This is a difficult question and one which often takes an emotional toll on people, especially believers. Let me say right from the start, however, that nothing that could ever happen to our physical bodies in terms of their destruction after death will have anything whatsoever to do with our eternal state or status. The amazing thing about our Lord's experience in this regard is that His body did not suffer decay (Ps.16:10), for He was resurrected before that could happen. The experience of His physical body is thus different from that of any other human being who has ever lived. I am no scientist, but I feel it safe to say that after more than five thousand years the bodies of Adam and Eve have long since decayed into their essential elements, and that must be true for a goodly portion of mankind, no matter how diligent the burial preparations may have been. The Rabbins answered the question of how an obliterated body could be resurrected by saying that there was one bone in the body, a very small one apparently, which was indestructible. That, of course, is not biblical. I would prefer to say that nothing is impossible for God. He made the entire universe in the blink of an eye, and has known about its every event even before He created it, no matter how small, down to the swerve of every electron and sub-atomic particle. If it were required that we be reconstructed from the exact atoms of which we were composed at time of death, assembling them would be a small thing for our omniscient, omnipotent God.

As far as the nail marks on Jesus' hands and feet are concerned, it is difficult for me to draw any conclusions inasmuch as He is as yet the only resurrected human being. It is possible that we too will bear marks of this life, but I would sooner suppose that (our Lord's experience being unique, and these marks being a memorial to His unique sacrifice for us, dying for us on the cross) these marks are also unique. There is certainly nothing in scripture to suggest that we will experience anything similar. More important will be the divine marks that all believers will bear forever (Rev.3:12).

I cannot find anything in scripture which definitively points to a solution to your question, either commanding burial or condemning cremation. However, I would offer this observation: all of the patriarchs, first century believers - and our Lord - were buried. None of them were cremated (at least as far as we know from scripture). For the first century believers, this may be an important point since, of course, cremation was the normal Roman and Greek practice. At my university our associated art museum has a large collection of Roman cineraria, that is, cremation urns. It was the practice for lower and lower-middle class individuals with limited resources to pool their money in "burial clubs" to purchase a "nice" square box of decorated marble whereon their names could be inscribed and all their ashes (eventually) placed. Yet of course under Vatican city we have the catacombs where the early Christian dead were buried. In both the catacombs and the large tombs around Jerusalem the bones of the dead were often collected long after the flesh decayed and assembled in mass collections in order to save space. In cremation in the ancient world, of course, many bones would also survive (the flesh being burnt away), and my understanding is that even two millennia later some of the boxes in our university's collection do still contain bones and bone fragments.

Perhaps this is a distinction without a true difference, but one issue that has always stuck in my mind about this particular choice is that of Christian witness. It is true that in faith we understand that it does not matter what happens to our physical bodies - God is capable of resurrecting us no matter what. But I have always personally been bothered by the message that cremation may send. We expect these bodies to be raised from the dead. So why are we deliberately destroying them? It may be an act of complete faith, but it may possibly send a message of hopelessness to friends, family, unbelievers who are witnesses to the final disposition of our earthly shell. It may interest you to know that some Christians have the opposite concern, namely, they feel that burial with its modern expense and apparent wastes is a bad thing, but wish to be buried rather than cremated nonetheless because of their unease about cremation.

From the scripture I am certain that God is able to resurrect us whether our deceased bodies are in fairly good repair or have been entirely obliterated either from time or cremation or any other cause. I am also defiantly certain that our salvation is based upon our faith in Jesus Christ and our faithfulness in maintaining that faith until the end - not upon what happens to these bodies after the fact. And it is true that since these bodies are temporary and the ones to come eternal, ultimately, it does not matter what will happen to them and we should not be concerned at all about what will befall them after our demise. On the other hand, God definitely does care about our bodies. They are temporary tents, but they are very important nonetheless (cf. Ps.139:13-16; 1Thes.4:3-7).

So I would say that on balance this is a matter of personal faith. Nothing would be worse than to be cremated merely because one feels external pressures of some sort when in one's heart one feels that burial is the proper way and the proper witness. And by the same token, what true witness would burial send if in one's heart and in one's biblically based principles the person in question truly has a faith-based rationale for the other course (Rom.14:23)? As you can most likely see from this e-mail, I lean to the former option, but I do so in complete confidence that if I were to suddenly pass and those responsible for settling my affairs decided to have my body cremated instead of buried (and/or have my organs given out), it would not in any way affect my eternal state and status one iota. There are many things with the potential to interfere with my sleep, but this will never be one of them.

I hope that this response is helpful to you. Please do feel free to write back about it if you would like to discuss the matter further.

Thanks again so much for your good words. I draw great encouragement from your enthusiasm and your faith in spite of the troubles you are going through (2Cor.1:3-11).

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

I came across your website today. Very nice material. God bless you in your work. I hope you are preaching somewhere, despite your post-tribulational viewpoint. Have you considered that it is the judgment seat of Christ and not the tribulation that provides the focal point for faithful Christian watching and waiting? Where do you place this historical event in your eschatological view?

I originally found a link to your site when researching "the restrainer" of 2 Thessalonians 2:7. "Now ye know" of verse 6 gives us some good reason to pursue some classical studies, but having spent some time trying to recover the common understanding of the nether world in the day of the apostle in the near east, I have not been very fruitful. It seems the ancient Thessalonians are in better stead understanding some spiritual realities than I am.

For many years, I have wondered about Pergammon, and why the Germans were so pre-occupied with the throne of Zeus that they transported it in whole back to their own country.

The matter of the interim resurrection body is what brought me back to your site. I follow your reasoning. The conclusion itself is novel to me. I have benefitted in the past from someone steeped in the classics: George H. Pember. I have some of his unpublished writings. Did you base your reasoning on the use of the word oiketerion in Jude and 2nd Corinthians?

Your thoughts on apostasy are very helpful, especially to me at this time. I have been victimized to an extent by one described in 2 Tim 3:1-9, and have come into a “chalepos kairos”.

I am one of the preachers who are holding for the gap in Genesis 1:1-2, others having been so overrun by the creation science people. I have written a small pamphlet on why it is a heresy. I consider that someone wants our children to know more about dinosaurs than angels.

Of late I have been pondering the substantiality of the firmament as a hammered out work. Have you considered how the "waters above" met the fountains of the deep in the deluge, especially when that "above" includes beyond the sun and stars?

Response #2:

I would certainly agree with you that we believers in Jesus Christ have our dear Lord as our object and our focus in all things. We strive to walk with Him and to please Him at all times, and our dearest delight is the prospect of being with Him (Phil.1:21). Eternal rewards are certainly a big part of that picture, of course, because, after believing, we are not left here on earth for our health, but rather for His glory and the Church's edification, the former accomplished by a walk of faith, the latter by a ministry of love, both in the hope of a good report and a bountiful reward on that day of evaluation. I'm certainly not looking forward to the Tribulation. The prospect of that possibility is daunting indeed, but a part of the purpose of this ministry is to help my brothers and sisters get prepared for tribulation (whether it comes with a lower or upper case "t"), so that they may make it safely through the crucible to the glories of the other side. Whether or not we personally are given to experience that most terrible of times, we will certainly only make it to the Kingdom through the "fire and water" of personal tribulations (Acts 14:22). What I am looking for is our Lord's return - that's my focal point (Marana Tha!), so that whether I abide until He does return or am taken home before that blessed day, my focus is on Him, and being with Him my heart's main desire. To close the loop on this question, I find the judgment seat of Christ taking place following the resurrection of the Church (the second echelon of resurrection: 1Cor.15:23-24), one of the first orders of business at the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom after the Church is complete.

The Germans certainly have a nice collection of antiquities, but they are hardly alone. One thinks of the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, or the monumental Assyrian sculptures at the Oriental Institute in Chicago. It's easier than having to travel to see these things in situ anyway - as one wag put it, "another pile of ancient rocks, another pair of dirty socks".

On the interim body, all of the passages quoted in the various e-mail responses and studies listed were important, but the key passage that opened this up for me was the Greek of 2nd Corinthians 5:3 which is almost universally mistranslated in the English versions (with absolutely no manuscript support to do so). That verse states that even if we disrobe of this body, we will not be found naked (i.e., even before the resurrection). The passages on the martyrs in Revelation accord completely with this verse as it is correctly translated.

I applaud your solidarity on the Genesis Gap. Of all the things I have taught, I believe I have gotten more flack about this than anything else. Still, the truth is the perfect winnowing fan. One never knows what will set off those who are really not interested in what scripture has to say, but, inevitably, if people have put a higher value on their own agendas and pre-conceptions than on the Bible, that will always come out in the end. As Paul says, the fact of such divisions shows who is approved by God and who is not (1Cor.11:19).

Lastly, on the "waters above", I have written about this in some detail. Please see the following link (from CT 2B):

                    The Waters above the Heavens

Thanks for your good words about Ichthys - your site is pretty impressive. I am sorry but not surprised to hear that you have had your run in with deceivers. It is not only a sign of the times, but, as John says, it serves to show that those who "went out from us did not really belong to us" (1Jn.2:19).

Let us keep on fighting the good fight of faith in the cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Him,

Bob Luginbill

Question #3: 

I read your section describing the heavens in what I acknowledge to be a thoroughly accurate sense of the Hebrew Scriptures. I guess the physics of it is an attractive puzzle to me. The fabric of the firmament must be an amazing latticework allowing compression of space-time / mass-time so that the waters could reach earth in a timely way (no pun intended) at the time of the deluge, as well as the facilitation of travel by angelic beings, and the Lord Himself.

It is also an interesting meditation to consider what the blood of Jesus Christ may have effected in His ascension, as pertaining to the high heaven (epouranios).

As for The tribulation, I am not of your same mind, but we are together on much tribulation as the crucible through which we MUST enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). I understand you to be saying this: the judgment seat of Christ is sometime at Matthew 25:31. You will find that I am one who believes the parable of the virgins and the unfaithful servant pertains to believers in this age, and yet I also believe in a pre-trib rapture, and so I have very few friends in ministry. I think there is very fruitful discussion in these matters, and I will re-read your position until I can accurately restate it.

As for antiquities, I have always been disappointed upon arrival to the "special" locations, but have usually enjoyed the journeys themselves. Last spring, my wife and I believe we saw the "place where two seas meet" on the SOUTH side of Malta, and also enjoyed a brief but enjoyable time in Ephesus (Kusadasi), coming away with some nice leather jackets, and some idea where a synagogue might soon be found.

What interested me so much about Pergamos (no time to visit, we were on a cruise) is that it once was the place of "Satan's throne," and Pember (and others) have said that the Babylonian priesthood passed to Rome through that kingdom capital. I have not been able to make any verification of this, but came to understand that the great monument to Zeus may be delivered back into Turkish hands someday soon.

The occult aspects of Kaiser (Caesar) Wilhelm and the following Nazi movement certify in my mind that there is something to that altar.

If I understand you correctly, you see mortality swallowed up in life immediately upon the passing of the believer. I assume you are stating that the believer's spirit always remains clothed, and that the oiketerion named there is not a glorified body, but a temporary robe like angels use, or, in the case of those abandoning their principality, laid aside in order to procreate with women (Jude 6, Gen 6:4).

There is an incredible attack by lesser men against the well-understood and necessary teaching of the Genesis Gap. Do you find it part of the willing ignorance concerning "the world that then was?"

Yours With All Things In Christ,

Response #3: 

On the physics of the waters above, I must confess that physics was never a strong point. Given the current debates on the essence of gravity, the "spooky behavior" of daughter particles, and string theory / multi-dimensionality vs. our "anthropic" present universe, I find the biblical picture easier to understand than the scientific one (and blessedly math free!).

On the interim body, you pose the question in an interesting way. As to its precise composition, I'm not able to say from scripture much more than I've said: it's not the body of resurrection, but it's a definite absence of nakedness (2Cor.5:3), one wherein our visage is recognizable and our behavior normal (Lk.16; Rev.6:11 and 7:9ff.).

I would not connect the word oiketerion as it occurs in 1st Corinthians 5:2 with the same word as used in Jude 6. In the former context, Paul uses this word as a synonym of oikodome and oikia (verse 1) to connect the resurrection body with a [permanent] building in contradistinction to the [temporary] "tent" we now occupy. Even this present body is a "earthly tent-dwelling", and here too we have oikia, which, along with oiketerion, oikodome, shares the same OIK- root (cf. ec-onomics; ec-umenical). But while the present body and the future body are both buildings of a sort, all we are told of the interim state is that it is "not nakedness", and we can see from Luke 16 and Revelation 6:11 and 7:9ff. that our habitation in these "white robes" does not seem altogether alien from what is now the case or what is yet to come; but it is most definitely temporary and transitional – a better existence than we now experience, but not as good as the resurrection (see the link: "
Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State.").

To return to the latter passage, it seems clear from the context in Jude 6 that the oiketerion there described as abandoned is parallel to the arche which is not kept, namely, that it is a reference to the fallen angels abandoning legitimate angelic function associated with their heavenly location in the Genesis 6 attack on the human race, so that “realm” is a better way to understand the word in Jude. In contrast, oiketerion in 1st Corinthians 5 is to be understood more in its normal sense of a place in the manner of the near identical word katoiketrion as used in Revelation 18:2, with Paul's use of the metaphor of a building for the individual resurrection body, being a deliberate stretching of the language to emphasize permanence in contrast to the present "tent" (cf. Eph.2:22 where a similar metaphor is used, but collectively there).

If you are interested in the apologetic for my post-Trib position, best thing to read is “The Origins and the Danger of the pre-Tribulational Rapture Theory”, and from Peter lesson #27: "Tribulational Security”. These are both a tad bit polemical, so apologies in advance for that. As to Matthew 25:31ff., I take this rather to be the final judgment, only here the believers from the Millennium are clearly in view as well as all unbelievers (in contrast to Rev.20:11-15
where only unbelievers are in view). I have no problem seeing the parables of the virgins and the unfaithful servant as universally applicable to all who read them – that is also my position (specifically, the foolish virgins represent those who allow their faith-light to lapse during the Tribulation). If you are on the outs with others over this point, I would tie that in to what you say about the Genesis Gap. I find it at once fascinating and depressing that contemporary evangelicalism is becoming simultaneously more and more dogmatic about doctrine at the same time it is becoming more and more disinterested in it (along with the scriptural evidence). We have seen this trend before in the history of the Church, and it has never led to any good.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

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