Is the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” in the Bible?


By BibleAsk Team

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Although the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is used in church tradition and services, it is not found the Bible. However, the Scriptures present passages with similar meanings such as:

-At the creation of man, “God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).

-Man was made of “the dust of the ground,” and “the dust will return to the earth as it was” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

-After the fall, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

-Abraham expressed his profound humility in God’s presence, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

-Solomon the wise stated that the dead will return to dust, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).

The Natural Consequences of Sin

The Scriptures present dust as the sad consequences of sin. After the fall of Adam and Eve, the Lord informed Adam that the grave was his certain destination. Man thus, understood that the plan of redemption would not prevent the loss of his present life, but it did offer the assurance of a new life (Genesis 3:15).

With the change in Adam’s nature from conditional immortality to mortality began the fulfillment of this sad prediction, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Unless in mercy man had been granted a day of grace, death would have occurred instantaneously.

Thus, divine justice required man’s life; divine mercy afforded man an opportunity to gain it again. Praise God for His infinite love and redemption through the sacrifice of His Son, Christ (John 3:16), humans can escape the corruption of death and have eternal life (Isaiah 51:11).

A Symbol of Mourning

In ancient cultures, people who mourned their loved ones or were humbling themselves before the Lord, often sat on ashes or placed it on their heads as a sign of grief and repentance (Genesis 37:34; 1 Kings 20:32; Isaiah 37:2; Daniel 9:3; Jonah 3:6; 2 Samuel 13:19; Isaiah 58:5; Daniel 9:3; etc.).

We read about a wide usage of ashes as an emblem of sorrow in the Story of Esther. When Mordecai heard of the royal decree to exterminate the Jews, he tore his clothes and “put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.” And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; “and many lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:1,3).

Where Did the Phrase “Ashes to Ashes” Originate?

This phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” is found in “The Book of Common Prayer,” which includes morning & evening prayers, communion prayers, service for baptisms and confirmations that were used in the Church of England. This phrase, comes from the “The Order for the Burial of the Dead,” which says:

“FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”

For a Bible study of the State of the Dead, check: The Intermediate State.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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