why is there no marriage in the resurrection?
In Matthew 22:23ff, Jesus reveals to the Sadducees that there is no marriage in the resurrection. Specifically, he says in verse 30:
ἐν γὰρ τῇ ἀναστάσει οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἄγγελοι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ εἰσιν.
For at the time of the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.
Now although this resolves the problem raised in the passage by the Sadducees, it does raise some questions, in particular, why is there no marriage and what does it mean?
It seems that any answer to this question must ultimately return to the function of marriage itself, and for this we must travel to Gen 2:18–25. In this passage, the woman is created in answer to the second of two problems identified in creation (the first problem is identified in Gen 2:5), and in response to the rather startling observation by God that something is “not good.” That is, the woman, and (in the context) marriage, are the answer to the man’s isolation. With her, in the covenantal relationship of marriage, he is no longer alone, he has his עזר כנגדו (ʿēzer kĕnegdô, ‘heler suitable for him’).
So, in marriage, the man finds the answer to the problem of being alone. Why is this no longer a problem at the resurrection? There are at least a three possibilities:
- Following David Clines,1 who identifies the help the woman provides the man as being purely related to childbearing and so the ability to fulfil the blessing of Gen 1:28, we would have to conclude that at the resurrection this command is seen as fulfilled—the earth/land is then filled and, with its inhabitants enjoying eternal life, the population need not grow any further, and so there is no need for procreation and ultimately marriage.
- Alternatively, and in the context of Genesis 2 I think preferably, the main problem with being alone is not the inability to perform some tasks but, instead, being out of relationship with others, i.e. being alone is in itself problematic. If this is the case, the absence of marriage points to a situation where the particular “aloneness” described in Genesis 2 has been resolved via other means. Perhaps Jesus’ envisages a degree of intimacy and openness in all human relationships at the resurrection that ultimately fulfils the ideal of marriage and fully solves the problem of “aloneness.”
- Another option is that resurrected people are not gendered, i.e. there will be no male and female, and so no marriage. Whether this is likely to be the idea behind Jesus’ comment would depend on whether angels were thought to be without gender. Now all angels I can think of that are mentioned in the Bible are grammatically male, but this is far from decisive since it may be that they are simply not marked for gender. OTOH, if Gen 6:1-6 refers to angels cohabitating with humans (which is far from certain) then it would suggest that angels were thought to be gendered. Some examination of first-century angelology would be needed to clarify this further.
Of course these explanations are not mutually exclusive, they may be true in some combination (they may also both be wrong). There may also be other possible reasons for the absence of marriage in the resurrection.
What we can say, however, is that if Gen 1:28 reflects a divine purpose, then perhaps that purpose is fulfilled at the resurrection,2. So if the earth is full and there is no more death, is procreation necessary. If it is not, then that aspect of marriage is no longer required (although I think Gen 2 makes it clear that marriage is more than this). So it could be argued that neither gender nor marriage is needed at the resurrection and hence this explains the situation Jesus describes.
1. See David Clines, “What Does Eve Do to Help?” which can be read online here. I should point out that I do not follow David Clines at this point—I think Genesis 2 in the context of the OT makes it clear that the problem identified with the man’s “aloneness” is not confined to his inability to fill the earth.
2. Although there may be no such necessity: I see no requirement that the resurrection needs to mark the end to any further development or advancement in the divine plan for creation. It may simply mark the end of this phase.