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.
10 thoughts on “why is there no marriage in the resurrection?”
Some interesting thoughts, Martin. Although, if it is all right, I would enjoy throwing in a couple of musings of my own. Certainly I can understand the interpretation that Jesus’ proclamation means there will be no marriages in the resurrection (aside from the metaphorical marriage – or “attachment,” if you will – between Christ and redeemed humans), and that the institution will be abolished entirely.
However, there are several reasons why I for one am not convinced that this is what Jesus declares, in the context of his answer to the Sadducees. Feel free to correct me if I have made any mistakes, but there seem to be a couple of things which still leave open the possibility, at least, of married couples in some capacity, even in the new heavens and earth.
1. In one of the gospel reports of this conversation (I found two), Jesus gets more specific with what He means by “like the angels in heaven” and says that in the resurrection, people will not die. The Sadducees, disbelieving in a resurrection of the dead, seemed to present in their question a caricature of the afterlife, one that was a direct continuation of life on this side of death (almost like death simply moved you to another country), and where people would still need to resolve dilemmas like the seven brothers dying one after the other and marrying this one woman, and which marriage needs to be recognized. We treat their inquiry like it is serious and honest, but it is hard to see their treatment of the resurrection as anything but childish, superficial and cartoonish when they use seven brothers in the story, when they could have articulated the same “problem” with just two or three brothers. Of course, they were trying to also ensnare Jesus on the horns of what they thought an impossible dilemma. And in the research I have done on this passage, it seems that “marrying and giving in marriage” refers to the beginning of a couple’s marriage, and their giving away of any children they might have into new marital unions. However, the final word on the *condition* of marriage itself seems curiously absent, as does the hypothetical situation of couples being married anew before God’s kingdom would be fully and finally established. Again, I could be horribly mistaken, but is it possible that in context, Jesus is telling the Sadducees “You guys are missing the point – life will not include a barrage of new marriages being built like dominoes falling over each other, since people will no longer need to endure death and widowing”?
2. If somehow this niggling little hunch of mine actually turns out to be correct, the direct answer to the Sadducees could be “She would belong to the first brother. Remember, the other six married her to take care of her and continue the family line, as a cultural obligation which has long been a part of Jewish tradition.” Jesus had a curious habit of not directly answering superfluous questions, instead diving to the heart of what a person truly needed to hear. May it be that this question of marriage in heaven belongs in that category?
3. In all frankness, I am quite nervous of the idea that genders could be done away with. Partly this is due to Genesis 1 (“male and female He created them”), but also it is due to gender’s level of import in the human experience. What sex a person is will forge so much of their identity that to strip gender away would in all likelihood be comparable to cleaving a person’s soul in half. So, I will have to see it myself before I believe that God abolishes a human being’s gender and somehow keeps them recognizable as being the same person. And again, Jesus describes resurrected folk as being like angels in the respect that they will not die (which also seems to leave wide open the option that even angels could have genders).
4. All that I can find scripturally which is stated in no uncertain terms is that there is no “need” for marriage in heaven. But then again, lack of a need will be no bar to the presence of other earthly institutions in the afterlife. Even in the recreation of the entire cosmos, God states that there will still be nations and borders, with Israel as the primary country. In the final resurrection, man shall have no need of food at the so-called Marriage Supper of the Lamb, or of the mansions Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us, or of fellowship with each other when we have God as our friend for all time. But Jesus declares that He is no utilitarian when it comes to the consummation of His kingdom. Even then, abundant life and excessive blessings will be poured out on God’s people. So, while marriage as an institution might not satisfy requirements in the afterlife, does that automatically disqualify it as even a fringe benefit? Just because something is not needed, does it follow that it will not pass the curtain of death or survive in some new context when creation is remodeled? What we know for sure will be excluded from heaven are death, sin and suffering. When it comes to good things, in the new heavens and earth, the better will not necessarily exclude the lesser.
Again, I want to keep myself open to any correction, so please let me know if I have said anything questionable or erroneous. I want to be open to learning and instruction.
In case anyone is still reading, a positive (though possibly speculative) case can be made that male-female relationships similar to marital bonds can continue between the redeemed into the next life. This may then also imply a romantic, physical or even sexual aspect in such a relationship. This positive case is made on my website (click on my name) – all interested visitors are welcome.
I read this and surmise that Jesus was referring to the ceremonial/legal aspect of actual “marrying”, i.e. weddings. Adam and Eve didn’t have a wedding ceremony but were coupled.
Also, Isaiah Chapter 65 talks about bringing forth children. I’ve heard it argued that these are only “mere mortals” going into the millenium after the tribulation but I don’t buy it.
Adam and Eve were living as God intended prior to sin coming into the world and I think that is how God planned for things to be. I doubt we’re “neutered” as a reward for our faithfulness.
The fundamental problem with this and all attempts to argue for the continuation of present-day marriages into the resurrection is that it ignores Jesus’ actual answer. Thus John wants Jesus to say, “She’ll be married to the first brother,” but of course Jesus quite explicitly avoids saying that! If the answer were that simple, why not simply say it! Instead Jesus says there will be no marriage at the resurrection.
In my bible study group we are presently having this discussion to some level. I must confess I do understand what Jesus says, that “At the resurrection there will be no marrying or giving in marriage”Is that however a condition which will exist throughout the eternal order? Or a statement of FACT at the resurrection. For it is judgement which men will rise for. I have difficulty placing that statement into context on the basis of writings which describes activities during the millennial reign of Christ and clearly that Kingdom which will be occupied by redeemed souls proposes the idea of the continuation of birth and death. Who are these people who will live long fulfilled lives? I believe they are Saints living in the Kingdom.
Thanks for your comment. I think you’ll find this sort of problem repeatedly when you read the Bible because, in my opinion, premillenial eschatology doesn’t correctly represent biblical teaching (now obviously some people will write me off just because I’ve made that statement). I’m aware that it is a significant doctrine in parts of the US, but here in Australia (and, as far as I can tell, in the rest of the world) it is held only by a small minority of Christians. I think that it’s worth reading widely on the debate and noting that significant biblical scholars do not hold to a pre-millenial interpretation. From an amillenial perspective, the problem you’ve noticed does not appear.
As I say, there’s lots to read on the topic. Perhaps take a look at this article for starters.
I’d like to add a few thoughts in favor of some sort of romantic relationship continuing in the afterlife, as opposed to the “strictly agape love and nothing else” belief that is so prevalent in modern Christendom: I conceive of three levels of intimacy on the romantic plane in descending order of hierarchy: marriage, coupling, romantic love (eros). Now the question is, assuming Jesus’ words are literal, does absence of marriage automatically exclude the other two (no marriage, just coupling, either sexual or non-sexual of a male and female in romantic love) or one (no marriage, no coupling, just romantic love–but that doesn’t make much sense) or does His words exclude everything having to do with a romantic/sexual nature (no marriage, no gender, no coupling, no romantic love)? I speculate that if the scriptures emphatically state “the restoration of ALL things” to their former state, then this would presuppose conditions as they existed prior to Adam’s fall (no marriage, male and females coupled, having sex and creating children in romantic love with themselves, and agape love with everyone else).
I would also argue that we can safely speculate that the Bible has been so tampered with over the centuries that we cannot be certain just exactly WHAT Jesus’ actual words were, or if He even said them. As we know from Biblical scholarship, the gospels were written decades after Jesus arose, and that nobody named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually “wrote” the gospels that are ascribed to them (they were, in fact, written by anonymous people who heard stories about Jesus from 2nd, 3rd, 4th-hand, etc accounts of His life and then assigned the names of the apostles to their writings to give them validity). It is therefore possible that since we have only this single verse and nothing else upon which to build an entire sub-theology, we might be justified in assuming that this singular verse in its three similarly-worded forms (Matthew, Mark & Luke) was “inserted” into the texts merely to deal with a thorny question that kept arising among the followers of Jesus and His disciples during the time christianity was growing in the Mediterranean.
Thanks for taking the time to reply. Nonetheless, I think you’re mistaken at just about every turn and so your claim is simply unsupportable. Let me address your claims:
In the end, then, I think your attempt to repudiate Jesus’ words here is far more speculative than affirming them.
All the best,
Oddly, some are still convinced that ‘human’ sexuality is one dimensional, existing (like animal husbandry) for the singular purpose of procreation, and therefore contributes nothing uniquely important to our experience and understanding of the spiritual life. Trying to persuade such people that our sexuality (including our identity as male or female) is also an essential part of the complex and complementary nature of our spiritual life, and of who we are as God’s created beings, is likely to be of no avail. Theology should never be allowed to triumph over common sense.
While I agree that human sexuality should not be reduced to the one-dimensional notion that it exists exclusively for the purpose of procreation, I think that the problem with making common sense the arbiter for truth is that it is both unreliable and heavily dependent upon one’s worldview. What was common sense 500 years ago may seem ridiculous today, so who’s to say that we are now in a position to reject a theological notion merely on the basis of what seems to us to be common sense?
Yet I’d say that a one-dimensional view of human sexuality is not biblical and so would not be expressed by any well reasoned theologian anyway!