I continue to be troubled by the structure of David Jones’ argument regarding the ethics of cremation.
Let’s review his conclusion:
After reviewing some of the key historical, biblical, and theological considerations that have been a part of the moral discussion of cremation within the Judeo-Christian tradition, ultimately the practice must be viewed as an adiaphora issue [i.e. an issue that Scripture is indifferent on]. This being said, however, it seems legitimate to draw the following three conclusions. First, church history witnesses considerable opposition toward cremation with the normative practice of the church being burial. Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of how to treat the deceased, both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a pro-burial direction.Third, the body is theologically significant; thus, both the act of and the imagery conveyed by the treatment of the deceased ought to be weighed carefully. (emphasis mine)
At first glance, it’s a judicious conclusion. It does allow for freedom in the individual believer’s decisions, while still preserving a place for Scripture as counsel.
But the structure of has troubled me throughout the long (and excellent!) conversation we’ve had on the matter below.
Jones seems to suggest that it’s ultimately an adiaphora issue because there is no clear prohibition against the practice within the pages of Scripture. Fair enough. But what of slavery, where there is also no clear prohibition in Scripture?
Let’s rewrite the second of his mitigating points.
“Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of [whether to abolish slavery], both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a [pro-abolition direction].”
This is the exact argument that is often made to suggest that slavery is, in fact, not a “Biblical” practice. The anthropology of Scripture undermines the institution, and any consistently Christian society or individual would work for abolition. Or so the argument goes.
If that argument is correct–and like a lot of folks, I think it is–then it’s hard to see how the Bible is indifferent toward slavery as an institution or a practice. There’s a moral judgment against it that is biblical, even if Scripture doesn’t explicitly prohibit it.
There are, of course, relevant differences between slavery and cremation, the most significant of which is that the one treats humans who are alive, and the other treats humans who are deceased. My point here is also not about the morality of cremation (or slavery) per se. That conversation is still going on of at my other internet home, and there’s no reason to repeat that all here.
Instead, I want to know (and this is a real question): If we adopt Jones’ conclusion that cremation is an adiaphora issue, despite the pro-burial trajectory within Scripture, must we also say the same thing of slavery?