Question: Does Jesus's statement that in the resurrection they "neither marry nor given in marriage" a refutation of the Mormon concept of eternal marriage?

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Question: Does Jesus's statement that in the resurrection they "neither marry nor given in marriage" a refutation of the Mormon concept of eternal marriage?

Peter affirmed that man and woman can be "heirs together of the grace of life"

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)

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

Peter affirmed that man and woman can be "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7). The New Testament likewise teaches that our earthly families are merely reflections of a heavenly family in which we are sons and daughters of God (John 20:17; Acts 17:28-29; Heb 12:9). Those who become "like him" (Matt 5:48; 1 John 3:2) will thus have the opportunity to become fathers and mothers of other eternal families (2 Pet 1:3-4; D&C 132:19,30-31).

There is no Biblical obstacle to the doctrine of eternal marriage

There is no Biblical obstacle to the doctrine of eternal marriage. This doctrine is consistent with the Bible, but it is not drawn from it. As in all things, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is guided by modern revelation, and the doctrine of eternal marriage came to the church through this means.

The verses in Matthew 22:23-30 are among the most misunderstood scriptures in the Bible

The verses in Matthew 22:23-30 are among the most misunderstood scriptures in the Bible. Everyone notices the parts of it they think they understand and ignores the other parts. For example, in verse 29, Christ says, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God." What scriptures did he have in mind? Where is it written in the Old Testament that marriages do not continue in heaven? And how is the power of God displayed by severing the marriage between a man and a woman who have lived their lives together in love? In fact, the New Testament says exactly the opposite. In 1 Corinthians 11:11, Paul says:

Nevertheless, neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

which certainly sounds like an eternal principle. And Jesus says, in Mark 10:8-9,

And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

The Bible teaches that the power of God unites. There is no mention anywhere of death changing anything — no "till death do you part." It is man who insists on separating married couples.

The context in which this question was posed makes it clear that the Sadducees were trying to entrap the Lord

The context in which this question was posed makes it clear that the Sadducees were trying to entrap the Lord. Since the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection (Matt 22:23), asking a question based on that belief (Matt 22:28) was an obvious ruse. We should also note that the Pharisees had made a similar attempt that same day which had failed to "entangle him" (Matt 22:15-22). The question posed by the Sadducees was based on a dilemma contrived from the law of Moses (Deut 25:5-10). Because the law of Moses constituted a lower law, the law of marriage it contained was for this life only (Rom 7:1-3). By contrast, the Lord was teaching the higher law of the gospel which brought with it a higher law of marriage for eternity. In fact, the Sadducees' question is confirmation that the Lord and others were apparently teaching the eternal nature of marriage. Otherwise, the question would have made little sense.

"Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures"

So what is the scripture that the Sadducees erred by not knowing? We don't know for sure, but there is one scripture which the Sadducees should have known which seems to bear on their question. This is in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament Apocrypha (which was generally accepted as scripture in Christ's time). Tobit tells the story of a young Jewish girl from the Medean city of Ecbatane, Sara, the daughter of Raguel, who "had been married to seven husbands, whom Asmodeus the evil spirit had killed, before they had lain with her." Tobit3:8 Since none of these marriages were ever consummated, she was not truly married to any of the brothers, or, in the words of Tobit, "neither [was she] named after any of them." Tobit3:8 One night, Sara was praying at her window that God would find her a husband, and that same night an old man named Tobit was also praying. Tobit was penniless and blind and had nothing but his wife, Anna, and son, Tobias, who was not yet married. Tobit prayed to God that he might die and be delivered from the miseries of his life. That night, God sent an angel to both Sara and Tobit. The Book of Tobit says, "And Raphael was sent to heal them both, that is, to scale away the whiteness of Tobit's eyes and to give Sara the daughter of Raguel for a wife to Tobias the son of Tobit, because she belonged to Tobias by right of inheritance." Tobit3:17 Raphael then led Tobias to Sara and told him not to fear for his life if he married her, because it was he whom God had chosen to be her rightful husband. They were married and lived happily ever after.

So if the Sadducees were indeed referring to this story from Tobit, then they did indeed err, not knowing: 1) the scripture which made it clear that Sara was really married to none of the seven, so the seven brothers died unmarried, and 2) the power of God, who could send an angel to see that she married the husband to whom she rightly belonged and by whose priesthood she could be married to him, not to the others, for eternity.

At any rate, whether the Sadducees and the Savior had in mind this episode from Tobit or not, Matthew 22:25 — "there were with us seven brothers" — means that the situation they are asking about was not an imaginary one. These brothers really existed. And Christ's answer is simply pointing out that none of these particular seven brothers had entered into valid eternal marriages with the woman.

"they neither marry nor are given in marriage"

But, regardless of who the parties were in the Sadducees' question to Jesus, doesn't verse 30 — "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage" — just mean that everyone is single in heaven? Absolutely not. And here's why we can say this so confidently.

The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and the tenses of verbs in Greek can convey very different information from those in English. The Greek verb for 'marry' is gameô. In verse 30, it is written in the form gamousin, indicating that it is in third person plural (they) and in the present tense, so it is translated simply as "they marry."

Now it is important to note that the present tense represents an action, something performed at some particular time. It does not represent a condition. We can be sure of this because the Greek does have a verb tense called the 'perfect tense' that represents a present condition resulting from a past completed action. There is no English counterpart to this tense, so it is hard to translate unambiguously, but the point here is that the verbs in Matthew 22:30 are not in the perfect tense. If Matthew had wanted to report that Christ said, "Neither are they now in a married state," the Greek in which he wrote would have let him say so unambiguously. He would have simply written in the present perfect tense, oute gegamêkasin. He did not; so that cannot be what he meant. Christ said nothing about the marital state of those who are in heaven.

Please note that the use of the perfect tense is just standard Greek. Everyone used it. Matthew used it. A few chapters later, Matthew writes "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you"Matthew 25:34, in which 'blessed' is the perfect-tense Greek eulogêmenoi, literally 'those who are now in a blessed state due to a previously completed blessing,' and 'prepared' is the Greek hêtoimasmênen, meaning 'now in a prepared state due to a previously completed preparation.' We also have Paul writing to the Corinthians, saying "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord" 1 Corinthians 7:10, where the Greek word translated 'married' is gegamêkasin, meaning 'those who are now in a married state due to their previously completed marriages.' This is the same perfect-tense Greek word that Matthew could have used in Matthew 22:30 if he had wanted to state that there are no married couples in Heaven. By using the present tense, Matthew has Jesus simply saying, "In the resurrection, there are no marriages performed." And, of course, the requirement that marriage ceremonies be performed on Earth, not in heaven, is one of the main themes of LDS temple work. Our reason for seeking the names of our ancestors and then, by proxy, sealing them together as couples and families, is just what the Savior said to the Sadducees — that the ordinance itself is not done in heaven. And, since work for the dead did not begin until after the resurrection, the seven brothers the Sadducees asked about were unmarried when they died and were still unmarried in heaven.

"as the angels of heaven"

But what about the Savior's statement that these seven brothers, who were unmarried in heaven, will be as the angels of heaven? Doesn't that indicate that the unmarried state is the heavenly ideal? Well, what is an angel? It is a wonderful calling, but it is not the heavenly ideal. The ideal would be Christ, whom the Epistle to the Hebrews identifies as

Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. [Hebrews 1:4] (emphasis added)

Christ receives his place in heaven by inheritance, and he will not inherit alone, for

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. [Romans 8:16-17] (emphasis added)

The angels are not heirs of God. That place in heaven is reserved for Christ and all those who are glorified with him. The place of the angels in heaven is explained in Hebrews. There, speaking of the angels, Paul writes:

Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? [Hebrews 1:14] (emphasis added)

The verb 'to minister' is diakoneô, literally 'to serve.' Those who are fail to marry will, like the seven brothers in Matthew 22, serve on Earth and in heaven and will assist those righteous married couples who are heirs of God with Christ. Matthew agrees entirely with the Doctrine & Covenants on this subject.

Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. [D&C 132:15-16]

A non-LDS reading

Ben Witherington, a non-LDS biblical scholar, understands this exchange in a similar way:

The case put forward by the Sadducees is particularly extreme. Not only had six brothers attempted and failed to impregnate the woman in question, but she had also outlived them all and was single when she died. It is perhaps this last fact which prompts the question: Whose spouse will she be in the resurrection?...Jesus stresses that in the age to come people will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say there will be no marriage in the age to come. The use of the terms “γαμουσιν” (gamousin) and “γαμιζονται” (gamizontai) 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 men, being the initiators of the process in such a strongly patriarchal culture, “marry,” while the women are “given in marriage” by their father or another older family member. Thus Mark has Jesus saying that no new marriages will be initiated in the eschatological [resurrection] state. This is surely not the same as claiming that all existing marriages will disappear in the eschatological state.” (emphasis added)[1]


Notes

  1. Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001), 328.