Mormon ordinances/Marriage/Is it essential

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The role of temple marriage and sealing in receiving exaltation

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Question: Is marriage essential to achieve exaltation?

There is no Biblical obstacle to the doctrine of eternal marriage

Some criticize the Latter-day Saint view of marriage as essential on the following grounds:

  1. If marriage is essential to achieve exaltation, why did Paul say that it is good for a man not to marry? (1 Corinthians 7:1)
  2. Why does the Mormon Church teach that we can be married in heaven when Jesus said in Matthew 22:30 that there is no marriage in the resurrection?
  3. Since not all members of the Church are married, doesn't this mean there will be many otherwise good Mormons who will not be exalted?

There is no Biblical obstacle to the doctrine of eternal marriage.

  1. Some of Paul's statements addressed specific situations (e.g., missionaries wishing to leave their labors to be married), and some refuted false ideas in the Christian churches about avoiding marriage. There is textual evidence for the importance of marriage in the early Church, and evidence from early Fathers and the Bible that Paul was, in fact, married.
  2. It will be too late for weddings after the resurrection, but the state of marriage itself can exist eternally, if entered into via the Lord's way. This is supported by the details of the situation described in Matthew, and the original Greek.

Latter-day Saints do not draw their doctrine from a reading of the Bible—as in all things, they are primarily guided by modern revelation. That same revelation assures them that no worthy person who was unable to marry will be denied any blessing in the hereafter.

The critics misstate the Biblical evidence: Paul's statement is a response to a particular situation, probably regarding missionary work

In brief, the critics misstate the Biblical evidence.

  1. Paul does not say it is good not to marry. Paul was probably married himself. But, married or not, his advice to the Corinthians — that the unmarried remain unmarried and that the married be as if they were not married — is a response to a particular situation, probably regarding missionary work.
  2. Jesus' response to the Pharisees in Matt 22 says nothing about the marital status of the righteous in heaven. It responds to a particular question about an actual case that the Sadducees were using to try to trick the Savior.

The critics also misunderstand or misrepresent LDS doctrine on the necessity of marriage for salvation. Each of these points is discussed below.

Paul and "good not to marry"

The basis for the suggestion that Paul counseled against marriage and sexual relations is found in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2:

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

There are several things that should be understood if one is to correctly interpret this passage and, indeed, the entire seventh chapter of Paul's letter to the Corinthians. These are:

  1. The statement, "it is good for a man not to touch a woman" was probably not Paul's.
  2. Paul may well have been married himself, but traveling in the ministry without his wife.
  3. Paul taught the importance of marriage in many places.
  4. The reason for Paul's advice to the unmarried was for an unusual and a temporary situation.
  5. Paul is careful to point out that this advice to remain single for the time being is not God's commandment, but was only his personal (though very wise) opinion.
  6. Paul is clear that marriage, not celibacy, is a requirement for church leadership.

For a detailed response, see: Further discussion of Corinthians 7

Jesus and "neither marry nor given in marriage"

Matthew 22:23-30 (or its counterparts, Mark 12:18-25 and Luke 20:27-36) is often used by critics to argue against the LDS doctrine of eternal marriage. The Sadducees, who didn't believe in the resurrection, asked the Savior about a case where one woman successively married seven brothers, each of which died leaving her to the next. They then tried to trip up Jesus by asking him whose wife she will be in the resurrection. Jesus' answer is almost identical in all three scriptural versions.

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. (Matthew 22:29-30)

This scripture is one of the most misunderstood scriptures in the Bible. If one is to understand it properly, one must take into account the following:

  1. The question that the Sadducees asked was not a hypothetical one but was based on a real case of a woman who married seven brothers in succession, and that Jesus is commenting on this particular case.
  2. The original Greek of this passage makes it clear that Jesus intended no statement concerning the marital status of the righteous in heaven.
  3. The eternal unmarried state is the state of the angels in heaven, but it is not that of the heirs of salvation.

For a detailed response, see: Further discussion of Matthew 22:23-30


Question: Will Mormons who are not married in this life be able to achieve exaltation?

People who live a worthy life but do not marry in the temples, for various reasons beyond their control, will at some time be given this opportunity

In discussing the nature of marriage for time and eternity, anti-Mormon authors McKeever and Johnson ask the following:

Although continued good works are essential, Mormonism teaches that a person must be married in the temple to have a chance at exaltation. But what happens if a person does not get married, for whatever reason, and dies single?[1]

In his article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, James T. Duke explains the LDS doctrine on this subject:

People who live a worthy life but do not marry in the temples, for various reasons beyond their control, which might include not marrying, not having heard the gospel, or not having a temple available so that the marriage could be sealed for eternity, will at some time be given this opportunity. Latter-day Saints believe it is their privilege and duty to perform these sacred ordinances vicariously for deceased progenitors, and for others insofar as possible.[2]

This is not a new teaching. In 1957 Joseph Fielding Smith said to the single sisters of the Church:

You good sisters, who are single and alone, do not fear that blessings are going to be withheld from you. You are not under any obligation or necessity of accepting some proposal that comes to you which is distasteful for fear you will come under condemnation. If in your hearts you feel the gospel is true and would under proper conditions receive these ordinances and sealing blessings in the temple of the Lord, and that is your faith and your hope and your desire, and that does not come to you now, the Lord will make it up, and you shall be blessed, for no blessing shall be withheld.[3]

Likewise Harold B. Lee counseled the single women of the Church:

You young women advancing in years who have not yet accepted a proposal of marriage, if you make yourselves worthy and ready to go to the House of the Lord and have faith in this sacred principle, even though the privilege of marriage dies not come to you now, the Lord will reward you in due time and no blessing will be denied you. You are not under obligation to accept a proposal from some one unworthy of you for fear you will fail of your blessings.[4]

Bruce R. McConkie also taught this principle when he wrote:

I am perfectly aware that there are people who did not have the opportunity [of celestial marriage] but who would have lived the law had the opportunity been afforded. Those individuals will be judged in the providences and mercy of a gracious God according to the intents and desires of their hearts. That is the principle of salvation and exaltation for the dead.[5]

While LDS doctrine states that Celestial marriage is necessary for exaltation with God, the doctrine also states that worthiness is more important than an ordinance, and that the worthy will be provided with all the opportunities necessary so that they do not lose their chance at any blessings. This is one of the great purposes of the LDS temple work for the dead.


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 218-219. ( Index of claims )
  2. James T. Duke, "Marriage: Eternal Marriage," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:859.
  3. Joseph Fielding Smith, Elijah the Prophet and His Mission (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957), 51.
  4. Harold B. Lee, Youth and the Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1955), 132.
  5. Bruce R. McConkie, "Celestial Marriage," The New Era (June 1978): 17.