cremation alter who was the first person cremated in the Bible?

Who Was the First Person Cremated in the Bible?

Old Testament

If you ever wondered who was the first person cremated in the Bible, that is an interesting question. The word “cremation,” “cremated,” or “cremate” is never used in the King James Version of the Holy Bible. To define cremation, it is the burning of a body, or even body parts, such as human bones, after death. There are only a few instances of cremation recorded in the Bible.

The first mention of any type of funeral arrangement was when Abraham lost his beloved wife, Sarah. He then had to make some funeral arrangements. He purchased a burial plot for her and proceeded to bury her in a traditional manner, which is recorded in Genesis chapter 23.

This family plot was then used to place his physical body, and later, his son, Israel, and his wife, Rebekah, and eventually Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, and his wife, Leah. The last person mentioned to be buried in the family burial plot was Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, after his long-dead body was disinterred from Egypt. Burying the body of a deceased loved one was not only a common practice in ancient Israel, but it was the standard practice. There is no biblical evidence to contradict this information.

fresh burial/grave site

Who Was the First Person Cremated in the Bible? — Achan — The “Troubler of Israel”

According to the Bible study method called the law of first mention, the first time a word or concept is introduced in the Bible gives a clear indication of God’s viewpoint of that particular doctrine. The first mention of cremation is in the Book of Joshua, chapter 7.

Achan sinned against God, and because of Achan’s sin, God was angry with the children of Israel. When Achan was found to be the guilty party, his punishment was death by stoning. After he and his entire family were dead, their bodies were burned. Joshua 7:25 “And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.” (KJV)

burning embers

The awful incident may have been the first use of cremation among the Hebrew people. Achan, and his family, had no burial. He was remembered as “the troubler of Israel,” according to 1 Chronicles 2:7. Cremation was an ignoble act associated with awfulness of Achan and his sin.

Burning and the Body of King Saul

There is a seeming contraction in the Bible about funerals and burnings in the disposition of the earthly remains of the bodies of Saul and his sons. After King Saul, the first king of Israel, and his sons, were killed in battle, the Bible mentioned “burning” as applied to the body of Saul and his sons.

It seems that the bodies of Saul and his sons were first cremated, and then their ashes were buried. This account is recorded in 1 Samuel 31:12-13 “All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” (KJV)

incense burning

The valent actions of the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead to honor their late king was praised by the new king, David, in 2 Samuel 2:4-5: “And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul. And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabeshgilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the LORD, that ye have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him.” (KJV)

This same account of the noble actions of the people of Jabesh-Gilead was recorded again by another Bible writer in 1 Chronicles 10:12 “They arose, all the valiant men, and took away the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh, and buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.” (KJV)

The emphasis in all three of these Scripture passages is on the burial of King Saul and his sons. But the mention of “burning” must be addressed. It was not the custom of the ancient Hebrews to practice cremation. Bible scholars have speculated that this “burning” may have been part of a cleansing procedure in order to rid the bodies of disease. However, other verses concerning “burning” associated with other kings gives both a clue and perhaps a clearer answer to the burning associated with the bodies of King Saul and his sons.

Concerning Good King Asa — 2 Chronicles 16:14

“And they buried him in his own sepulchres, which he had made for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries’ art: and they made a very great burning for him.” (KJV)

Concerning Evil King Jehoram — 2 Chronicles 21:19

“And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers.” (KJV)

Considering these two verses, both about “burnings” associated with kings, one good and one evil. It seems that these burnings had to do with an honorable funeral. These burnings were made to honor a beloved king and the burning was also associated with spices and sweet smells. Traditionally, in modern-day funerals, the deceased are honored with flowers. Perhaps in the culture of ancient Israel, part of a funeral service honoring a beloved, deceased individual, especially a king, was the burning of various types of incense.

Human Sacrifice — Cremation

Many of the heathen nations surrounding Israel practiced cremation in the form of human sacrifice to their gods. This abomination was strictly prohibited by God since He did not want, or demand, human sacrifice. God strictly commanded against such practices.

Leviticus 18:21

“And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” (KJV)

Deuteronomy 18:10

“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.” (KJV)

But humans have a free will, and despite God’s goodness some of the Israelite people, including some of their kings, did sacrifice to these false gods. Here are two examples:

2 Chronicles 28:3

“Moreover he [King Ahaz] burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.” (KJV)

2 Kings 21:6

“And he [King Manasseh] made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.” (KJV)

The prophet Jeremiah mourned over the grievous sin of the people of Israel because of the evil practices that they learned from the heathen nations.

human sacrifice picture

Jeremiah 19:5

“They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind” (KJV)

Jeremiah 32:35

“And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” (KJV)

The burning of bodies is associated with heathen practices and cultures. Godly cultures, with Christian beliefs, honor the body and memory of the deceased with a burial.

New Testament

The early Christians practiced burial.

The disciples of John the Baptist buried his body after he was beheaded. Matthew 14:12 “And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.” (KJV)

Just like the people of God in the Old Testament practiced burial as a way to honor the body, so, too, did Christians in the early church practice the standard of traditional burial.

flowers on gravesite

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was buried after he was stoned to death. Acts 8:2 “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” (KJV)

And Ananias, and his wife, Sapphira, who agreed together to tempt God, died within hours of each other. But, despite their sin, they were both buried.

Acts 5:9-10 “Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.” (KJV)

Burial or Cremation for the Christian Today?

Since the Bible never explicitly forbids the practice of cremation, many people believe the choice of what to do with a deceased body after death is simply a personal preferences. After the physical body dies, and the eternal soul — the spiritual body — is immediately transported to either heaven or hell, how the earthly remains is disposed of is a matter of personal choice.

Christians know that God, Who is the Creator of all things, can take a cremated body or buried body and raise it up, giving that deceased person a new body, in spite of how their old body was disposed. The method of disposing of a lifeless body does not affect the eternal life of the soul. But for those Christians who want to glorify God in life and death, the choice of burial or cremation is vitally important.

The burial of a dead body is a public demonstration, a testimony of that Christian’s faith, which includes a future bodily resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:42 “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption” (KJV)

The act of burial is a testimony of faith and hope, looking forward to the resurrection of the body. Cremation appears to send a message of hopeless finality.

white casket being carried

The wise King Solomon wrote these words about a man who, during his life, seemed to have everything good, yet at the end of his life, like Achan, had no burial. Ecclesiastes 6:3 “If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.” (KJV)

Cremation, especially when the ashes are scattered, is not a burial. According to Solomon, words inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, this ignoble end of life is a tragedy, which all of a person’s blessings during lifetime cannot offset.

Jesus Christ — Our Perfect Example

The Bible never explicitly forbids cremation nor commands burial. But for the Christian, with Jesus Christ as our perfect example, we are commanded to “follow in his steps” 1 Peter 2:21 (KJV). Jesus Christ died and was buried, and then He rose again. Christ’s life, death, and burial is our pattern, our example.

empty tomb of Christ

Just as Jesus was buried, so He gave us an example as Christians to follow. This is why, even today, burying is many times called “Christian burial,” a reference back to Jesus’ burial.

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If you learned something from this article called “Who Was The First Person Cremated in the Bible?” check out some other Bible study articles like “How Many Books Are In the Bible?” or for an unusual Bible study, see “Butterflies in the Bible“.

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