Is There Marriage in Heaven?

Is there marriage in heaven?

It seems that most Christians will tell you “no” based on Jesus words in Matthew 22:23-33 and it’s parallel account in Luke 20:27-40. I’ll copy both here for the sake of convenience.

According to Matthew:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

According to Luke:

There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward, the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

And Jesus said to them, “the sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage abou the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him. Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

Now, it’s easy to see why so many conclude that there will not be marriage in heaven based on Jesus’ words here. For one, it would provide a clear rebuttal of the Sadducees–their riddle being pointless in an afterlife without marriage. For another, if you lift Jesus words and set them apart from the story, “no marriage in the resurrection” is precisely what it sounds like.

But as I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m skeptical of that take.  The more I looked at these texts, the less convinced I became that the common interpretation is the correct one.

First, I have to be honest. I’m looking at these verses so closely because I don’t like the idea that marriage won’t exist in heaven. God’s Word taught me the value of marriage and its centrality to human nature. Accordingly, I find it odd that it also says this very good thing will pass away in the next life–especially when you consider how many people have been deprived of it altogether in this fallen world. God said that in the new heavens and new earth, he would make all things new–not phase out literally the first thing he ever told us to do that lies at the heart of our being made in the image of God.

But I must also remember that sometimes God does things that don’t make sense to fallen mortals like myself. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and his ways are higher than my ways. I’ve written before that saying “God would never do X” without Scriptural warrant really just means “I would never do X if I were God.” And since we’re not God, that’s not a terribly meaningful judgment. I see other people make that mistake all the time, so I can hardly consider myself immune to it. When God tells us things we don’t want to hear, our response should be faith seeking understanding. We know what He said and we know He is Good. We need to pray for wisdom to understand the ‘why’.

All that said, attempting to understand why involves meditating on His Word. In doing so, I found a number of textual problems with the usual interpretation that marriage will no longer exist in Paradise:

  1. If you read Jesus’ words in Luke that way, the implication is that we won’t marry in heaven because we won’t die anymore in heaven. In other words, it argues that marriage is not needed where there is no death. (Usually, people add in the speculation that because no one’s dying, we no longer need children to keep the population going.) But marriage very clearly did exist before death in the Garden. It was even commanded, and thus necessary in that sense. So that explanation would put Jesus’ argument at odds with the rest of Scripture.
  2. It doesn’t explain why Jesus changed verb tenses. The Sadducees asked whose wife will the widow be. But Jesus answers in the present tense: they “marry and are given in marriage” and they “neither marry nor are given in marriage”. He also doesn’t talk about the people after the resurrection, but Luke specifies people considered (present tense) worthy to attain to the resurrection. The implication is that they haven’t been resurrected yet. In short, grammatically, Jesus is not talking about a future reality like the Sadducees were, but a present one.
  3. It really makes the angel comparison senseless. It’s worth noting that the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels anymore than they did in the resurrection, so Jesus is apparently trolling them to some extent here. But many have speculated that the comparison works because angels are sexless. Jesus, however, specifies in Luke that the similarity to angels is a matter of immortality and status (“equal to angels,” “sons of God”) rather than a hypothetical sexless nature. What’s more, angels are another subject we don’t know much about Scripturally, and this would be the only statement we have suggesting that they are sexless. With that in mind, Jesus’ comparison would mean practically nothing. That doesn’t sit right, especially when Jesus tells them in Matthew’s account that they’re wrong because they don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power.
  4. This explanation has Jesus answering the Sadducees by giving them a glimpse into a heretofore unknown detail about life in the hereafter. As the Son of God, Jesus certainly has access to insider knowledge and has shown himself willing to share it as he sees fit. But again, that isn’t exactly congruent with his condemnation of the Sadducees in Matthew–that they’re wrong because they don’t know the Scriptures. Wouldn’t his answer to them therefore be in reference to something either stated by Scripture or reasonably deduced from it?

When an explanation doesn’t fit the facts very well, it’s generally not a good explanation. Seeking to understand Christ’s words means finding a better one. So let’s look closely at those words and get a better idea of what he’s saying to us.

So who exactly is Jesus talking about here? “Those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead” according to Luke’s more detailed account. Notice that he’s not talking about people after the resurrection, but people who are (present tense) considered worthy of it. These are not current citizens of the new heaven and the new earth which will come after the old heaven and earth pass away, but those who will be there. He contrasts them with “sons of this age” who marry and are given in marriage (present tense), so we know he’s not referring to those of us on earth. They are people who are now alive, but they are not living on this earth among those who marry, and they are not yet living in the new heaven and the new earth after the resurrection.

Accordingly, we can conclude that Jesus is talking about those who have already died in Christ and now live with Him in heaven awaiting the Second Coming, the Resurrection of the dead, the final judgement, and the new heavens and the new earth. What exactly is this interim state like? We don’t know too much, but they are at rest, they are in paradise, and their state is temporary.

This interpretation is bolstered by Jesus’ follow-up comment to the Sadducees. They only accepted the five books of Moses, so Jesus proved the Resurrection from those alone by pointing out that God told Moses that He is (present tense) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only is Jesus also being very sensitive to Scripture’s verb tenses, he speaks of three men who are in that same intermediate state. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live with the rest of the saints awaiting the resurrection. So that is a category he’s already using in this same conversation.

What does Jesus say about them? “They neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Again, notice the present tense on these verbs, and notice that Jesus is deliberately using a different tense than the one used in the Sadducees’ riddle. He does not say that they will not marry. He says that right now, they do not.

I believe we can also conclude that the saints in glory are not currently married either. First, because the natural understanding of Christ’s words as a rebuttal of the Sadducees’ dilemma is that the woman isn’t wife to any of the seven brothers at the moment. Second, it fits with Paul’s testimony in Romans 7 that death severs the bond between husband and wife. Third, it fits with Scripture’s description of the nature of marriage as a one-flesh union: There can be no one-flesh union when that flesh has been destroyed, and Scripture says nothing of the saints in heaven possessing any kind of intermediate bodies before the resurrection.

Therefore, if we read Jesus’ words carefully, he does not say that the resurrected men and women in the new heavens and new earth will never again marry–that marriage will be phased out of human nature. Rather, he says the saints in glory awaiting the final judgment are not married or marrying right now.

With that understanding, the angel comparison makes a lot more sense. In Acts, Luke says that the Sadducees don’t believe in angels or spiritual beings. But Jesus is telling them that the saints in heaven they don’t believe in are just like these other spiritual creatures they don’t believe in. They are immortal just like angels. They are equal in status to angels as well–sons of God. It’s quite irreverent to the Sadducees, of course, but it answers their objection by referring precisely to the qualities they don’t like about spiritual beings. Plus,  it doesn’t require adding extra-biblical concepts like angels being sexless.

So what then does Jesus say here about marriage in the new heaven and the new earth? Nothing! I believe he is deliberately speaking only of the intermediate state after death and before the resurrection. And it is quite natural that marriage is irrelevant to that spiritual state. But none of that suggests that there will be no marriage after the resurrection when we will once again be embodied. Our bodies will be glorified and imperishable, but will still be human, still be male or female, and still possess the perfect nature God designed in Eden–a nature that included a man and a woman uniting as one flesh. Man being alone in that respect was the only thing in Eden that God said was not good.

Is this the only possible understanding of Jesus’ words? No. It is, however, better than the common one. It fits with the immediate context. It fits with the rest of Scripture. It makes sense of Jesus’ change in verb tense. It makes the angel comparison sensible. It could be deduced from Old Testament teachings about one-flesh unions and bodily death. And as far as I know, it doesn’t introduce any new problems.

There is a lot about the next world we don’t know, and we are very limited in our attempts to metaphysically categorize the afterlife. But whatever the details are–and whatever form marriage does (or even doesn’t) take, we know that world will be perfect. We don’t know that because we’ve figured out enough about it to approve. We know it because of who God is. So if my understanding is in error, I’m not particularly worried. God’s got me either way. Nevertheless, I will continue to make sense of his words as best I can according to the wisdom given to me thus far.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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13 Responses to Is There Marriage in Heaven?

  1. Matthew Etzell says:

    Well said; thank you.

    I do find it curious that the Sadducees denied the existence of angels, given that angels are mentioned in Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28:10-15.

    • johnson j says:

      I think it only means named angels. Somewhere the Talmud says they denied angels have continued existence, that they are sent on their mission and obliterated at the end, so no angels like Michael or Gabriel who last long enough to be naned personalities and repeat angels.

  2. Malcolm Smith says:

    This argument appears to be extremely speculative, reading into Jesus’s words ideas which are never specifically addressed in the passage. It is also contrary to the consensus of the church through the ages. What are the functions of marriage, anyway?
    (1) Procreation. That won’t be needed after the resurrection.
    (2) Love. On earth we can only love a handful of people fully. In heaven love expands to everyone.
    (3) Sex. We are not Muslims. Heaven hardly needs to rely on such a short-term, albeit intense, pleasure. The passions of earth cannot enter heaven, not because they are too strong, but because they are too weak.

    • Matt says:

      Malcom, I do find it interesting that you object to speculation on my part and then offer pure speculation on the functional non-necessity of marriage in the new heavens and the new earth. We don’t know a great about the details of that new life, so speculation is always going to play a significant role. (I was tempted to say “unfortunately” there, but God has told us what He’s told us, and if we needed to know more, we would.)

      Now, the weight of the Church’s consensus is another matter; I do take my deviation from that on this subject seriously. Nevertheless, the mere fact of that consensus does not address the Scriptural issues I raised with the traditional interpretation. If there are fathers who have done so of which I’m simply ignorant, then I welcome their input. But on a speculative subject like this, traditional speculation is by no means an absolute.

    • Eric Breaux says:

      In Luke 20:36 Jesus states one of the reasons for no more marrying is because the saved resurrected can’t die anymore but will be like the angels in heaven. The contrast to angels is not sexual desire, He contrasted mortality with immortality. Marry meant the man proposing for the woman to be his wife and being given in marriage meant the father giving her to him. It’s customs done to be married, not being married that they were talking about. Adam and Eve were married without marrying or being given in marriage. The reason for the Sadducee’s question was that the levirate law required a woman to marry the next oldest brother of her husband if he died without children. They thought if the woman hadn’t fulfilled that law, she would still need to be married to all the brothers or they’d be sinning. If she did that, she and the men would commit polygamy which is also a sin, so to avoid sin God wouldn’t resurrect everyone forever. They thought all of God’s laws would be needed in a renewed world, not knowing that the reason for recreating is to restore creation to before those laws were needed. Keeping marriage does not contradict Jesus’s answer to the Sadducees because the woman they asked about is only required to marry any of those men with the levirate law. The law ending does not forbid her from being married to a different man. Jesus’s mention of not being able to die would make no sense unless he only meant legal customs to marry because death is not a reason for marriage. It says in Revelation 20:6 that those who are awakened in the first resurrection won’t suffer for eternity. These are the same people in the prophecy in Isaiah 65:17-25. If Jesus said that those worthy to attain the age of the resurrection won’t marry or be given in marriage and are also said to continue being married and reproducing, that’s proof that Jesus only meant legal marriage customs will be gone. Would any of the people who heard Jesus answer been amazed at it if he meant sexuality would be eliminated? I’m pretty sure Jews had as much sexual desire as most other people, so would have despaired if that was the context. At the beginning of creation, God said for us to be fruitful and multiply with no indication it was to ever stop. There would need to be a bigger earth to fit all physical beings that have ever lived by the time of the resurrection. God expands the entire universe. Doing the same to any planet shouldn’t conflict with His plans. Marriage was the only thing God said is not good to be without before creating it. After Eve was made and brought to Adam, God said for this reason shall people be united with a spouse to become one flesh, not one of other reasons. Jesus repeats this in Matthew 19:4-5 and Mark 10:6-7 and Paul does in Ephesians 5:31. Reproduction and representing God’s relationship are not reasons stated anywhere in scripture. If gender remains, so does marriage. If Jesus’s answer meant no one will be married, then it contradicts us being male and female being the reason for marriage. God’s promised to restore all creation in Acts 3:21 and 24:15, 2 Peter 3:13, Romans 8:20-23 and other prophecies. After God made marriage He called everything very good. The beginning conditions of the creation don’t need improving because God doesn’t change. Many Christians have claimed that something unspecified would be needed to make life better forever and would also make sexuality useless, ignoring the fact that marriage was something needed for creation to not be missing anything good. It’s contradictory and more akin to Buddhism than Christianity. If having something better is a reason to eliminate sex, it’s a reason to eliminate everything God made and we should all just have joy from God’s presence and nothing else for eternity. If simply having a sinless relationship with God makes marriage useless, then God would have had no reason to create gender and sex, because God had the kind of relationship with Adam and Eve that people will have with Him in the renewed creation. Getting rid of sexual desire would waste our parts used for sexual dimorphism, pleasure and reproduction. If Jesus’s answer to the Sadducees meant no one will be married anymore then no one can be married to God. God is described as a husband in Hosea 2:7, Isaiah 45:5, Jeremiah 31:32 and Ezekiel 16:8. That didn’t replace marriage either because they’re analogies just as the wife of the lamb in Revelation. They are different types of relationships that fulfill different desires. If marriage is a representation of Jesus’s relationship with the church, then people would have had to sin for marriage to be fulfilled because His redemption was only done because Adam sinned. God is not going to create something that requires what He hates. Making you unable to care about a sensation anymore is manipulation of free will. Sin is a selfish way to try satisfying a desire that makes us less satisfied afterward. Removing sin doesn’t manipulate free will. That’s not the same as removing a desire for any sensation. They think that since they don’t think of the joy that would be gone from losing that passion for eternity, that wanting to keep something God said wasn’t good to be without is the problem. They’re so obsessed simply with being eternally satisfied that they don’t know it’s only hopeful because it’s by restoration of all God made, not a replacement for any of it. That would make anything God made for us irrelevant. There’s a book all about the joy of sexuality: Song of Songs, and doesn’t imply that marriage is useless without reproduction. There’s no bible book devoted to the joy of any other creation. Heaven isn’t the final destination, it’s the renewed earth. The only thing that needs to be gone is what sin did. Acts 3:21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. Romans 8:20–23 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our body.

      • Matt says:

        That’s interesting; I hadn’t considered the possibility of it being a matter of custom specifically. You raise some good points–you just need some paragraph breaks. 🙂

  3. Dianne Plourde says:

    It seems your thoughts about angels as not necessarily being “sexless” would explain Genesis 6:2. I liked your interpretation even though, of course, it is speculation. I found it comforting as well as interesting. Thanks for taking the time to explain this idea.

  4. Daniel B. says:

    You rest on Luke’s “more detailed account,” but ignore the Lord’s clear description in St. Matthew: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” He does not say “in heaven,” but in the resurrection. What basis do you have to contradict this?

    Further, your interpretation would not answer the question at all. Whose wife WOULD she be? Or are you speculating that everyone gets a blank slate to marry whoever in the resurrection?

    Either way, eschatologically the Bible does speak of marriage in the resurrection—the Lamb to His bride.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for the critique, Daniel.

      In Matthew, Jesus is still using the present tense: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” So he’s referring to a present circumstance, and thus, not the new heavens and the new earth which are not yet present. “Resurrection” can be used in multiple senses, and if we let the context establish the sense, he’s using it to refer to the present state of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a few verses later.

      And yes, my speculation is that death of the flesh severs one-flesh unions. So she would be nobody’s wife upon being resurrected.

  5. johnson j says:

    The reason there is no marriage in heaven is so we don’t become sex addicts like the Muslims and kill to attain 72 virgin houris eith translucent skin. And its clear Jesus is saying there is bone because the question is about resumption of current marriages (the woman who was married 7 times, whose wife will she be?) If there was marriage in heaven the answer would just be the last husband.

    • Matt says:

      When sin has passed away, we will be able enjoy every available pleasure without addiction, for at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. If there is marriage and sex in heaven, then the same will apply to those kinds of pleasures. Pleasure and self-control will no longer be in competition with one-another.

      And the discontinuation of earthly marriages upon bodily death would not preclude the possibility of new marriages when we have bodies again in the new heavens/earth.

  6. Adam says:

    I’ve been pondering this topic myself and I always worry that perhaps I’m veering too far into the realm of speculation. That said I too find that the more and more I try and dig into the text the more unsatisfactory the standard answer becomes. The big sticking point for me is about our nature. We are Men and we are Women. Sexual difference is at the core of every cell of our body, and it seems strange to me that they very purpose of why we are sexed would be discarded for the rest of eternity. But how would all that work? would childbearing therefore still be present? it would seem so since the most basic aspects of the female body are for the specific purpose of bearing and raising kids. Unless of course in the resurrected state something so drastic happens that we are no longer men and women in the same biological ways that we think of now. The same goes with men. When we are raised as men, I would assume that we have all of the internal and external plumbing to go with it, right? Sometimes I want to just put this speculating to rest but then my curiosity gets the best of me. What are you’re thoughts on some of these more speculative topics because I’d love to hear that I’m not the only christian pondering this subject of embodiment

    • Matt says:

      In many respects, I think it’s hard to discuss this topic without speculation. God just hasn’t given us a ton of detail about the new creation. And speculation isn’t bad in itself; it’s only a problem when speculation becomes dogma (which is, admittedly, tempting which is why I hedged more in this piece than I normally do.)

      I likewise cannot conceive of life in heaven as male and female without a fundamental change to that nature if sex were discarded for eternity–without effectively ceasing to be men and women. But just because I cannot conceive of it, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talked about retaining our procreation-specific organs in eternity as akin to conquering warriors putting their weapons on display even though they no longer need them. I confess, I never found that particularly convincing, as it rests on the same shallow “genitals are the only real difference between men and women” sentiment as modernism. The longer I live, the more I experience differences so deep that Lewis’ explanation is simply insufficient.

      The other thing that gets me is that Scripture really makes it sound like having children is still a thing in the new heavens and the new earth. In Isaiah 65:21-25, speaking specifically of the “new heavens and a new earth” (v.17), Isaiah writes: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. The shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb hall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

      This really makes it sound like having children is still normal–just without the calamity and apostasy we experience here on earth.

      Removing children from paradise is also hard to square with God wiping away every tear from our eyes. Barrenness is a genuine curse, and Scripture consistently treats it that way. Telling those who, due to fallen nature, were never able to bear children of their own that they will still never be able to bear children throughout all eternity seems absurd to me. It would be like dying of cancer and entering Life still suffering from cancer. Likewise, they would be permanently cut off from beautiful promised blessings like we find in Psalm 128.

      Once again, “absurd to me” doesn’t mean “impossible to God.” His thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and if He opts to remove sex and children while retaining true male and female, then he will do it in a way that is truly paradise and causes these misgivings of mine to melt away with the old fallen creation. Nevertheless, for the time-being, Scripture itself which discourages me from the normal interpretation. Unless God grants me a higher wisdom than I now possess, I cannot simply go with it.

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