Ever since I was a young teen-ager, I was looking forward to getting married. I wanted Jesus to come, but not until after I got married. God blessed me with marriage to my best friend and the prettiest girl on the planet. Marriage was even better than I ever imagined. I still wanted God to come, but had to admit that no marriage in heaven was not a plus.
During this time, I often wondered why there would be no marriage in heaven. Taken as a whole, the Bible is very marriage-positive. Marriage was given before sin entered the world. God said it was very good. Sex is more than a way to reproduce. It creates unity between the husband and wife (Gen 2:24 & 4:1, 1 Cor 6:16). Marriage is used throughout scripture as a parallel of God’s love for the Church. But irony of ironies, there will be no marriage in heaven?
The early church fathers taught that the passion that accompanies married sex is an evil necessitated by the need to produce children. Click here to read more about views of early Christian church teachings on marriage and sex. It is no surprise that the early church never questioned Jesus' statement that there would be no marriage in heaven. Mainstream Christianity of today recognizes the legitimacy of sexual pleasure within marriage. Even Roman Catholics now recognize the unitive nature of sex within marriage. As far back as I remember -- the '70s -- Christian books written for the purpose of helping married couples enjoy sex have been commonplace.
However, even though the church recognizes sex without the goal of procreation is legitimate, church teaching on sex is still largely negative. If sex is mentioned in a sermon at all, it is usually in the context of "don't do it unless you're married". That sex is sacred and designed by God to be partaken of only in marriage unquestionably needs to be taught. But the emphasis is usually on all the bad things that happen if you don't do it God's way, with little or no mention of the blessings to be had if you do it God's way. There are now excellent resources available that teach the proper biblical view on sex and marriage and help people obtain the wonderful marriage that God wants for us, but they must be sought out. They are usually written by laymen, not notable theologians. The Song of Solomon is now widely recognized as praising physical love between a husband and wife. But when is the last time you heard a sermon on the Song of Solomon?
Marriage, while permissible and officially acknowledged as good, has not been embraced as something important in the life of a Christian.
So it is no wonder that few have questioned the words of Jesus that "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage", or have done a critical analysis of these passages and historical context in which they were spoken. As we will see, upon careful analysis of these New Testament passages, a number of questions are raised and the "no marriage in heaven" teaching is not as clear as it at first appears. I feel it a privilege to continue the tradition of laymen advancing the cause of marriage within the church, but pray for the day when marriage is given the respect and attention it deserves from the pulpit and in Sunday school.
Jesus on Marriage
Matthew 22:23-33 relates an event where some Saducees, who do not believe in a resurrection, proposed a hypothetical situation where a woman was widowed and had not yet had children, and was remarried to her husbands' brother to provide an heir as provided by Deuteronomy 25:5-6. The other six brothers also died in turn, so that she was eventually married to all seven brothers. The Saducees challenged Jesus teaching of a resurrection, asking if there were a resurrection, whose wife would she be? Jesus told the Saducees that they did not know the scriptures. He tells them that in the resurrection, there is no marriage. The onlookers were impressed by Jesus' argument.
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? For they all had her.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.noteAll scriptural quotes are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
This seems straightforward enough. But on closer consideration, several questions come to mind:
•If the heart of Jesus' answer to the Sadducees is that there will no longer be marriage in heaven, how can he accuse them of not understanding scripture? There is nothing in the scriptures that existed at that time to suggest that there will not be marriage in heaven.
•How will we be like the angels in Heaven? If it were not for additional details given by Luke's account of the same event (Luke 20:27 - 40), we could reasonably assume Jesus was saying that they are celibate. There is much of interest in this passage.
There is nothing in the Old Testament to suggest that angels are celibate. Most Jewish scholars and some Christian scholars believe that Genisis 6:2 refers to fallen angels marrying human women. Most Christian commentators say that it merely refers to godly men marrying ungodly women. We cannot know for certain what is meant by this passage. However, if angels are indeed celibate and Jesus was arguing that there will be no marriage in heaven and we will be like angels, it seems He would have mentioned that. If angels in heaven are not celibate, then it is likely that we will not be either.
Luke 20:36 tells us exactly how we will be like angels in the resurrection. We will be like angels in that we cannot die!
Of particular interest is the reason given for there being no marriage in heaven. "...those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more... (RSV)" This passage implies that marriage was given to us because we die.
It is indeed now necessary to replace those who die and keep the earth populated. However, marriage, along with the command to "be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28)" was given to Adam and Eve before sin and death entered the world. Furthermore, the purpose of marriage given in Gen 2:18 is that "it is not good for man to be alone". Even though mankind was sinless and perfect and could commune directly with their creator and probably numerous angels, we were created to need the one-flesh union of marriage.
•Why were people astonished at Jesus teaching? Other versions say “amazed”. The answer was so brilliant and probably embarrassing to the Sadducees that "they dared not question Him anymore (Luke 20:40)". To answer the Sadducees’ question about whose wife the poor girl will be in heaven by saying that there will be no marriage in heaven is an answer, but not a brilliant one, and not an answer that would have been so readily accepted by the audience.
A Simple Explanation
There are two types of marriage mentioned in the old testament. There is ordinary marriage as we think of marriage today, and there is marriage where a man marries his dead brother's widow to provide an heir for his brother. In Hebrew, these types of marriage are referred to as ba'al בָּעַל( Strongs #1166) and yibbum (יָבָם Strong's #2992) respectively. Ba'al always refers to a regular marriage, and yibbum always refers to marrying a dead brother's widow, In English, marriage to a dead brother's widow is referred to as a levirate marriage. It is levirate marriages that Jesus is referring to in Matthew and Luke.
The simple explanation is that Jesus was referring to levirate marriage and only levirate marriage these passages!
If this is the case, the brilliance of Jesus's logic becomes evident. By definition, levirate marriage can only exist if death exists. So if there is a resurrection (as there will be, as shown by God's statement to Moses at the burning bush) and no more death, then obviously there can be no more levirate marriage!
But what of the question that the Sadducees raised?
While the question was asked not in a quest for truth, but as an attempt to trick the Messiah, it is a legitimate question. What of people who have remarried after the death of their original spouse? What of divorcees? What of those in unhappy marriages? I don’t know. But I do know that solutions to these problems are not beyond the capabilities of our powerful God. We would not necessarily be married to the same person in Heaven that we are now. There will be cases where one spouse is saved and the other is not. Not all marriages are within the will of God. People in these marriages would not be expected to live with their mistake for all eternity.
Just as we do not discount heaven, angels, or our very existence because we cannot explain them, we likewise should not dismiss heavenly marriage. To me, this makes more sense than distorting the creation account to remove the blessing of marriage from Eden as the church fathers did, then putting words in Jesus' mouth.
If There Will Be Marriage in Heaven, How Does That Affect Us?
Marriage is held in low regard by the church. It is treated as a temporary, throw-away institution. The unimportance of marriage within Christianity is evident when you consider the number of churches that have mens’ or womens’ ministries, compared to the number of churches with marriage ministries. Of the churches that have marriage ministries, even large churches, the marriage ministry is often a stepchild, run by a dedicated volunteer who gets little or no support from the pastor or board. Premarital counseling, if offered, usually includes little if any discussion of sex.
We now have a clearer understanding of the importance of marriage as a wonderful God-given institution and a model of his unending love for us. Perhaps we will devote more effort to our relationships if we realize that the institution of marriage may well be eternal.
A common concern of never-married Christians who believe in the nearness of the end of time on earth is that they will miss out on marriage, sex, and family. This doubtlessly pushes some into premature marriage or settling for a partner that one knows is not in God’s will for them.
Finally, believing that we can be married in heaven gives hope to everyone who is married to an imperfect spouse, and those who are not married but want to be! Whether you are now in a great marriage or a struggling one, or are single and want to be married, you have something great and wonderful to look forward to. Your spouse will be perfect. You will be perfect. You will enjoy close friendship and total openness with your spouse, and the truly unconditional love and acceptance that we all crave. We will not have stressful jobs, financial worries, or wayward children to distract from our marriages. Both spouses will be in perfect health, and both be tens on the attractiveness scale. Damage done by past relationships and unbiblical, anti-sex teaching by the church and parents will be no more.
I hope you are looking forward to this as much as I am!