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Why won’t there be marriage in the resurrection?

What are we to make of Jesus’ saying that in the resurrection people will not marry or be given in marriage? I’ve been looking at Robert Song’s argument for covenant partnerships for gay and lesbian people in his book Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships. Marriage is instituted, he says, “to deal with the problem that people die”. Resurrected people will not die, so the institution of marriage becomes redundant. “Where there is resurrection, there is no death; where there is no death, there is no need for birth; where there is no birth, there is no need for marriage.”1

Since the church is the “community of the resurrection”, the hope of having children is no longer “intrinsic to the community’s identity”. This is what makes celibacy meaningful for Christians: it is a sign of the transcendence of procreation; and Song argues that the contemporary church urgently needs to “recover the significance of authentic celibacy”.2 He also suggests that “certain other kinds of relationships” have been made possible by the coming of Christ, including childless ”covenant partnerships” between homosexual people. But that is not my concern here.

The question I want to address is: what did Jesus have in mind when he talked about the resurrection of the dead?

And Jesus said to them: The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those considered worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die again, for they are angel-like and they are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. And that the dead are raised, even Moses showed in (the passage about) the bush, as he calls Lord the God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob. And God is not of the dead but of the living, for all are living to/in him. (Lk. 20:34-36, my translation)

1. The argument presupposes a coming transition from the present age to the age to come: the “sons of this age” marry and are given in marriage, but in “that age” or the age to come (cf. Lk 18:30) the “sons of the resurrection” will not marry or be given in marriage. Matthew directly connects the end of the present age with the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:3). Luke prefers to speak about “this generation” of Jews, which is unrighteous and which will be condemned when judgment comes upon Israel (Lk. 9:41; 11:29-32, 50-51). If this “evil generation” is to be judged, then obviously it will not pass away before the catastrophe of the war against Rome (Lk. 21:32). It is safe to say that Luke understood the “end of the age” in the same terms as Matthew.

2. The background to the politically controversial Pharisaical belief in the resurrection is found primarily in Daniel 12:1-3:

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Dan. 12:1–3)

What is described here is the restoration of Israel following the crisis provoked by the blasphemous pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes in the early second century BC (“At that time…”). The righteous who are alive are delivered from their oppressors, but there is also a limited resurrection of some of Israel’s dead to participate in the life of the age to come.

3. Jesus has refocused the tradition on the coming crisis of the war against Rome. Josephus did the same, though less optimistically: “it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were” (Jos., War 1:12).

Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world event—the resurrection of all dead people described in Revelation 20:12-13. He is talking about the end-of-the-age of second temple Judaism, when Israel would be delivered and at least the righteous dead would be raised to share in the life of the age to come—a limited resurrection anticipated by the resurrection of the saints at the time of the crucifixion (Matt. 27:52-53).

4. Luke’s phrase “sons of the resurrection” is inclusive because “marry and are given in marriage” refers both to the man and to the woman. The men actively marry; the women “allow themselves to be given in marriage” (the verb is in the middle voice). Resurrection puts an end to the patriarchalism that made Levirate marriage a rational practice.

5. But more importantly, the “sons of the resurrection” are the righteous “saints” who have suffered at the hands either of the corrupt leadership of Israel or of Rome. They correspond to the “sons of God” or “saints” (hagiois) who, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, are persecuted and killed by the impious, but who “live for ever” and “will receive a glorious crown and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord” (Wis. 5:5, 15-16).

They are the martyrs who “alone are able to overcome the passions of the flesh, since they believe that they do not die to God, even as our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not die to God, but live to God”; who die for the sake of God but “for God now live, as do Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the patriarchs” (4 Macc. 7:18-19; 16:25).

Jesus appears to have shared the belief with the tradition reflected in 4 Maccabees that the righteous dead, who died for the sake of God, would be raised along with the patriarchs.

6. Those who are raised in Daniel 12:2-3 continue to live on earth. When Jesus says that the “sons of the resurrection” are “angel-like” (isangeloi) or “as (hōs) angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30; Mk. 12:25; cf. Matt. 13:43), he may have been influenced by Daniel 12:3 LXX: “And those who are intelligent will light up like (hōs) the luminaries of heaven, and those who strengthen my words will be as (hōsei) the stars of heaven forever and ever.” In that case, his point is not that the resurrected will be in heaven but that they will like angels, no longer subject to death, in the presence of restored Israel.


So where does this leave us? If marriage is primarily about procreation, then there is no need for it in the resurrection—whether in some sort of “first” resurrection of the martyrs (cf. Rev. 20:4-6) or in the final resurrection of all the dead. Of course, what we sentimental moderns want to know is whether we will still have marriage as companionship in the resurrection, but this is not what Jesus was asked about.

Can the passage be used to explain celibacy? Perhaps, indirectly. But we should be aware that Paul’s argument for staying single during the “distress” of the transition between the ages was a very pragmatic one: the saints in Corinth were in for a rough ride, and he would rather they didn’t have the added burden of marriage and family (1 Cor. 7:25-31).

What is the most important thing to grasp from the passage? That Jesus was a first century Jew with an eschatological outlook similar to that of the Pharisees.

  • 1. R. Song, Covenant and Calling (2014), Kindle Loc. 418-419.
  • 2. Ibid., Kindle loc. 520.

Comments

Andrew,

I have a hunch that something here would tie in with the ethiopian enuch. The ability for faithfull offspring to come from one who cannot produce children. Something about dead trees now producing?

Hmm. I see what you’re saying, but I think your congregation would be a lot bigger if, instead, you used this text as a basis for the new heavens and earth being an eternal free-love commune.

God creating Eve for Adam to cure loneliness, so marriage won’t exist in the the renewed creation because of how many people there are now, is inconsistent. If simply being more aware of God’s presence and love makes marriage unnecessary, than God would have had no reason to create gender and sex to fulfil a different kind of intimate desire to begin with, because God and Adam had exactly that kind of relationship we’ll have with him in the renewed creation, before Eve was made. God still made the marriage union and different genders and the ability to reproduce from sexual attraction. Death being the reason for reproduction contradicts us having that ability during conditions when death wasn’t a factor. At the beginning God said for us to be fruitful and multiply, giving no indication it was to ever stop. Sexual desire for someone your married to isn’t even sin, so there’s another reason it doesn’t need to be destroyed. Food isn’t necessary for an immortal life either, but the only creation of God that isn’t renewed is the intimate marriage relationship with couples, which produces much greater joy and pleasure than food? That makes no sense. Just because some people manage to not care if they can continue having a sinless sexually intimate relationship with someone for eternity, doesn’t make it fair to teach that those who do care should just get over it somehow.
Jesus was only referring to the act of marrying and being given in levirate marriage anyway, not the actual state of being married. Being married to Jesus is meant metaphorically, and is supposed to be how believers relate to him now, so being married to him contradicts the prudish interpretation of people neither marrying or being given in marriage at the resurrection. We couldn’t be married to Jesus then either. The description is given of God as a husband to his people in parts of the old testament, like Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. That wasn’t meant to sever marriages of male and female couples anymore than being described as married to Jesus is. We see that the creation account of Genesis and old testament descriptions of God being married to his people contradict the prudish interpretation of what Jesus taught about the future fate of marriage. Bible scholars N. T. Wright and Ben Witherington have studied the context of what Jesus said about marriage to the sadducees. http://tinyurl.com/y6gqnhfa http://tinyurl.com/y2w6o3we

According to this article by Randal Rauser, Witherington is certainly correct about the Greek terns, But the logic of the argument implies that the conclusion is not merely the cessation of the instituting of new marriages but the cessation of the institution itself: otherwise the reductio wouldn’t work. https://randalrauser.com/2019/03/will-there-be-sex-in-heaven/

The Christian view of heaven promises the experience of maximal good. Sexual intercourse is among the greatest goods we currently experience. So we should expect to experience sexual intercourse in heaven. But Christians deny that there will be sexual intercourse in heaven. Therefore, this counts against the Christian view of heaven.

No it doesn’t, only legal customs of marriage were invented after humanity sinned, so thats all Jesus could be refering to, not the union of a man and woman in an intimate sexual relationship. God created marriage and sexual passion for spouses and being alone was the one thing God said during the creation account that is not good and made Eve to complete humanity with both genders, so he couldn’t have simply meant it’s not good to be without company because Adam had animals and God for that. It was specifically about a committed sexual relationship. He then said that is the reason a person will leave their parents and be united with a spouse and the two will become one flesh. He also said to be fruitful and multiply, with no indication that was to ever stop. God can’t change his mind about the ideal state for males and females if he is the same forever. We are made in Gods image and gender is part of our design. It says in the bible that the law was necessary because of sin, and marriage for any traditional, political or legal reason is no less unlawful to divorce from than for reason of being in love. Relationships are not the point, only the law. The original Greek in the account with the sadducees for marry and given in marriage meant the male proposer paying a fee to the womans dad and the woman being given to the man respectively, because she didn’t get a choice. There is no correlation with legal customs and sexual love relationships there. Would any of the people who heard Jesus answer been amazed at it if he meant sexual feelings and relationships would be eliminated? I’m pretty sure Jews had as much sexual desire as most other people, so would have felt despair if that was the context. Whether most Christians have believed that there being no dissapointments in the new creation means the saved wont care about things God made for joy and pleasure if any of them are eliminated, doesn’t make it correct. It’s a delusional interpretation that tries to claim loving something passionately that God made but not caring about it anyway because of what the saved will experience is somehow not a manipulation of free will. Heaven isn’t the final destination, it’s the renewed earth. The only thing that needs elimination is what sin did.

I forgot to mention that marrying and being given in marriage wasn’t done for Adam and Eve to be married, so thats another reason Jesus couldn’t have meant changing peoples desire that he created us with.

Obviously, God intended man and woman to live forever together as husband and wife. It was not to be “until death”. God actually meant for men and women to experience sexual desire and pleasure in the pristine environment of Eden. Everyone would have been united with the opposite sex forever. There would have been no homosexuals in spite of there being no written prohibitions or laws concerning such. If God created paradise with humanity ordered in pairs, then paradise restored must also include this fundamental unit. A female for a male, and a male for a female. All created in the image and likeness of God.

@ German

What do you make of this …

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:30; cp. Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35-36)

… then?

The use of the terms [marry] and [given in marriage] is important, for these terms refer to the gender-specific roles played in early Jewish society by the man and the woman in the process of getting married. The discussion is about levirate marriage, not all marriages.

The resurrected people will not die, so the levirate marriages to a brother in-law performed after the resurrection becomes redundant. Where there is resurrection, there is no death; where there is no death, there is no need for birth; where there is no birth, there is no need for levirate marriage. Marriage as companionship in the resurrection is not what Jesus was asked about. The discussion It’s not about the relationship between two people

[1] ” God actually meant for men and women to experience sexual desire and pleasure in the pristine environment of Eden. (…) If God created paradise with humanity ordered in pairs, then paradise restored must also include this fundamental unit. A female for a male, and a male for a female. All created in the image and likeness of God.”

[2] “Marriage as companionship in the resurrection is not what Jesus was asked about. The discussion It’s not about the relationship between two people.”

Marriage as “companionship”? I don’t see ho you can harmonize your [2] above with the “paradise restored”, including “sexual desire”, in your [1] above.

The discussion is about levirate marriage, not all marriages.

No, not at all, you have completely missed the point. The Sadducees resorted to the example of the levirate marriage for 7 brothers to the same woman as an extreme case of the general question of the relationship between marriage in the present age, and what will happen “in the resurrection”. And we know that they did NOT believe in the resurrection. They wanted to see how Jesus would sort himself out of the paradox they proposed to him.

Jesus’ reply …

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22:30; cp. Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35-36)

… seems to suggest that EITHER there is not going to be “sexual desire and pleasure” at all, in the resurrection, OR angels have … free sex.

Do you see a third way?

Some problems with your interpretation is that in Luke 20:36 Jesus states one of the reasons for not marrying and being given in marriage is because the resurrected can’t die anymore but will be like the angels in heaven. God creating sexual relationships before humans sinned and could die contradicts death being a condition for marriage and sex. Levirate marriage, however, is dependent on death, so it has to be that specific custom Jesus is refering to. The Greek words used for marrying and being given in marriage, gamousin and gamizontai, refer to the legal institution of marriage. This was not needed with the first couple, Adam and Eve, so says nothing about the actual married state. God created marriage and sexual passion for spouses and being alone was the one thing God said during the creation account that is not good. It makes no sense to believe God would change his mind about the ideal state for males and females if he is the same forever. Jesus did not state people won’t be husabands or wives anymore, just that no one will marry or be given in marriage. If he meant the former he could have simply said that relationship will be gone instead of referring to two different acts involved in the legal institutions of mortal marriage.
The point of the new creation is to restore things to it’s original state before humans sinned. Sexual attraction, being in love from that passion, the fulfilment of it with intercourse and the husband and wife relationship needed to have that sinlessly was all part of what was deemed good. God makes no mistakes, so nothing he made needs to be eliminated.

Breaux,

there are some problems with your counter-comment.

God creating sexual relationships before humans sinned and could die contradicts death being a condition for marriage and sex.

I don’t know how literally you take the narrative of Adam and Eve. Anyway, the fact that they had offspring only AFTER they were banned from Eden and became mortal should at least entail that “in the resurrection”, sexual relationship (if it will exist at all) with be without offspring.

And, of course, Jesus did not actually answer the direct and perfectly legitimate question of the Sadducees: “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” (Luke 20:33)

Or are you suggesting that, “in the resurrection”, all marital relations are “reset”, so to speak, relative to the present age? But then, why didn’t Jesus say so clearly, instead of comparing the state of the resurrected to being “equal to angels”? (How far would the comparison go, BTW? Do angels have sex?)

Jesus did not state people won’t be husbands or wives anymore, just that no one will marry or be given in marriage. If he meant the former he could have simply said that relationship will be gone instead of referring to two different acts involved in the legal institutions of mortal marriage.

To marry and to be given in marriage are not “two different acts involved in the legal institutions of mortal marriage”. They are, so to speak, the “masculine side” (gameō - see G1060) and the “feminine side” (gamizomai - see G1061) of the same act: the marriage between a man ad a woman.

Youre critique is itself full of errors. God created marriage and sex before humans sinned, so having children only after is not evidence there won’t be reproduction if he wanted us to do so anyway. He said to be fruitful and multiply with no indication that was to ever stop, also before Adam and Eve sinned.

I would suggest only the marriages of people who weren’t ideal for each other according to God would be married to different people who are ideal for each other. I wrote what Jesus meant about being like angels in my first sentence in my last post, which also provided the point of context to his statement about marriage. He’s simply contrasting mortality with immortality. Angels did have sex and marry as written in genesis 6:1-2, but Jesus said the heirs of eternal life would be like the angels in heaven, where the angels who reproduced were not. But sons of God only ever refers to righteous angels, so if the sons of God were attracted to human women before they cleft heaven to marry them, and the heirs of eternal life will be like them, we can conclude sexual desire won’t be done away with.

The masculine word refers to taking a wife and always involved a payment to the father of the bride. The feminine word refers to the woman being given away by the father because she didn’t get a choice, so it does refer to two different actions, not the state of being married. Those conditions wre not needed for Adam and Eve to be married anyway.

1. As I said in my previous comment, “I don’t know how literally you take the narrative of Adam and Eve”. In Genesis 2 the man (ha’adam) is created from “the dust of the ground”. The woman (‘ishshah), taken from the man (‘iysh), is called Eve (Chavvah, that is “life giver”) only after the Fall, “because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). Genesis 1, on the other hand, presents the creation of man (ha’adam) immediately as “male and female”, and “God blessed them, [a]nd … said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’” (Gen 1:28).

2. Your “suggestion” that “only the marriages of people who weren’t ideal for each other according to God would be married to different people who are ideal for each other”, however “fascinating”, and while not against the Scripture, has no scriptural foundation either. But I suspect you really “suggested” it as a way out from the question of the Sadducees that Jesus did not really answer.

3. The “logic” of your passage …

Angels did have sex and marry as written in genesis 6:1-2, but Jesus said the heirs of eternal life would be like the angels in heaven, where the angels who reproduced were not. But sons of God only ever refers to righteous angels, so if the sons of God were attracted to human women before they cleft heaven to marry them, and the heirs of eternal life will be like them, we can conclude sexual desire won’t be done away with.

… is rather … er … “bumpy”. Not only, it rather weak in your claim that “sons of God only ever refers to righteous angels”. The phrase translated with “sons of God” (bene-ha’elohim) occurs only in Gen 6:2,4 and Job 1:6,2:1,38:7, and, lo and behold …

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. (Job 2:1)

… the “sons of God”, however “righteous angels”, do not exclude Satan from their presence.

4. Indeed, “to marry” and “to be given in marriage” do not refer to “the state of being married”, but are, once again, the two “sides” (male and female) of the one act of getting maried.

Marriage lasting eternity is founded in scripture for the simple fact that God ordained it and sex in the genesis creation account, when death was not a factor. The ideal is for it to continue forever.

It doesnt refer to Satan as a son of God in that verse, it said sons of God came forth as well as Satan. It’s quite clearly contrasting his status as as son of God with the other angels. You didn’t pay good enough attention to the context.

The context of those greek words is refering to two different actions, but at least we seem to agree it’s not refering to being married. And those customs Jesus was refering to were not done when Adam and Eve were made husband and wife, so cant be teaching couple marriage and sexual desire will eventually end.

@ Eric Breaux

I think it is our mutual presuppositions in interpreting the biblical texts that makes the continuation of our exchange senseless.

  1. You understand the account of the creation of Adam from “the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), and of Eve “from the man’s side” (Gen 2:21) literally. I don’t.
  2. To overcome that difficulties (that even you perceive) of harmonizing marriage on earth with the resurrection, you “suggest” that “only the marriages of people who weren’t ideal for each other according to God would be married to different people who are ideal for each other”. Unfortunately for you, it is only your imagination.
  3. You consider historically real the account of the “sons of God” “taking wives” from the “daughters of man”, of the Nephilim etc. (Gen 6:1-4). I don’t.

Jesus appeals to the conditions at the beginning of creation for why divorce is not acceptible to him in Matthew 19:4-6 and 8, So Jesus affirms that the creation account was literal. What also was part of the conditions before humanity sinned was marriage and sexual relationships and no death, so the initial conditions are God’s ideal. Jesus answer to the sadducees was very specific to marriage customs that are dependent on death, so any problems you percieve with God wanting marriage to last forever because of that account requires ignorance of other parts of the bible teaching about marriage and sexual desire. There is no difficulty with concluding marriage is meant forever, It is you who is using their imagination to justify an ideal, that doesn’t even benefit anyone.

See my previous comment. I do not take realistically any page in the Bible prior to Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram).

Eric, once again you are correct in all of your points. I couldn’t have outlined them any better. I’ve seen you on other sites. Thank you for using common sense regarding this greatly misunderstood subject.