Marriage in the Resurrection?
Jesus said "for in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" Mt 22:30 (also Mk 12:25; Lk 20:34-35). These words may have considerable pastoral significance for many Christians who enjoy or look forward to their marriage.
Despite the apparently obvious meaning (and implications) of this saying, I attempt in the paper below to present a positive case that a unique, romance-like love relationship like a marital bond between a man and woman (and maybe even childbirth and child rearing in this context) might still exist in the resurrection age. This is the first "study" I know of that tries to bring all relevant OT data to bear and examine this issue from a variety of angles. I also provide extra links below supportive of this positive case.
Before reading it, please note the following points -
- This paper is written in a semi-scholarly style and references mostly academic works available at a university.
- Given the subject matter, I'll still try to assume an orthodox Christian protestant (evangelical) perspective on Scripture, theology and philosophy.
- I am NOT a qualified Biblical scholar, but only a layman with an intellectual and pastoral interest on this subject. Thus the positive case I present may have serious flaws in it.
- This study is a work in progress and much more work can be done. My time commitments prevent me from further developing and polishing my case. It is left for the interested reader to do this.
- Note that this paper only attempts to present a good positive case. I will NOT say whether I think that this case is ultimately convincing or correct.
- Nonetheless I hope the paper might help the reader see this issue from a fresh perspective. I hope the reader might find it interesting or maybe even encouraging.
- Due to time commitments I won't necessarily be able to edit this paper based on reader suggestions. It will be left to the interested reader to respond to and/or develop the ideas in this paper further.
- You can leave comments, if you wish, at 'rezfamilies' 'at' 'gmail' 'dot' 'com', but I ask for your understanding if (due to my other commitments) I am unable to reply to you.
- The reader is free to use this document in whichever way he/she wishes. There is no copyright. Link to this web page if you feel like it.
- Edits and/or updates to this article may or may not be posted in the future.
Here is the paper -
Version 3 - 4 April 2009 - familial_structs_escha.pdf
Below I try to compile a collection of other (to me noteworthy) websites/books that make a positive case. They are largely Christian sites, but note I do not necessarily endorse all the content of these pages or the sites they belong to -
1. http://www.ewtn.org/library/Marriage/zmarrheavn.htm (Catholic perspective)
2. Meyendorff's book (Eastern Orthodox perspective)
- Another link also espousing the Orthodox view is found in
- The article says that love (probably of the romantic type) continues between married couples into the next life, but doesn't go so far to say that other 'earthly' or 'carnal' aspects of this-worldly marriage (sexual intercourse, parturition etc) will continue. Meyendorff's view is likely in agreement with this shorter article.
3. The following website argues that marriage and begetting children can occur in the Millennial Kingdom (see parts 3, 15 and 16) -
Appears to be a Messianic Jewish website. Also see the links at the bottom of the page, which lead to other interesting points and discussion (most of which of course, have been covered in the paper and other sites). Basically makes the point that the type of "marriage" which Jesus says will cease is the "earthly" type (dependent on human government, custom and recognition). Also a long discussion on the corporeality of the "Sons of God" in Gen 6.
5. The following website discusses empirical evidence for the existence of soulmate bonds (including romantic soulmates) that continue even after death. This evidence draws from some Near Death Experience (NDE) cases. Note it does NOT have generally theological/biblical/Christian content but the empirical evidence still seems interesting -
Some interesting thoughts on this blog, which are also found in my paper.
More interesting thoughts on this blog, especially comment #1.
8. For those with access to the Expository Times journal, Peter Shepherd makes a positive case for sexual relationships in heaven in the 2 articles below -
Shepherd, P, "Sex in Heaven?", The Expository Times, vol 104, pp. 332-336, 1993.
Shepherd, P, "Sex in Heaven (Correspondence)", The Expository Times, vol 105, pp. 84-85, 1993.
An interesting article that basically takes the view that the Mt 22 mainly concerns Levirate marriage. Contains links to other sources treating the same subject, including a useful link to Ben Witherington's treatment.
Similar points to what has been made. Gives more Bible verses, and also some analysis of the Greek meanings of "marriage" (this discussion however is beyond my abilities).
Makes the case that God will do the job of pairing off people in the afterlife. See also the interesting comments discussion.
Another quite useful article that also employs much of the same arguments found in the main paper above, albeit more concisely. See the comments discussion too.
Some more interesting articles from the Triablogue -
- http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2007/12/is-there-sex-in-heaven.html (the preceding 2 blog posts provide reasons to think Jesus was referring only to Levirate marriage, given the clearer connection or flow of thought from resurrection immortality to "no more marriage")
- http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/11/holodeck-heaven.html (a speculative fictional story about what life is like in the afterlife)
On my reading, these articles basically make the case that romantic, even sexual relationships, can continue in the resurrection, even if these be not termed 'marriages' in the postlapsarian, earthly sense. The author, Ernest Martin, is referred to approvingly by Michael S Heiser, an OT scholar who has written much on Biblical supernatural themes, and who I respect.
A fairly detailed article examining Bible passages concerning the New Heavens and Earth. Also some interesting discussion on the nature of contracts/covenants. Comes to the conclusion that no marriage-like relationships exist in the Millennial kingdom, but these will resume after (in the New Heavens and Earth)
An apparently scholarly article discussing ancient Jewish and early Church views on this very subject. Should be read in conjunction with my patristics research (below). It may not so explicitly state that marriage will continue in the resurrection, but seems open/friendly to this idea.
16. Here's a link to a letter by Charles Kingsley, once chaplain to Queen Victoria. He tries to explain Mt 22:24-28, but still says his union with his wife is "as eternal as my own soul". He doesn't take the traditional view of this pericope.
17. As a side project, I tried to do a search myself of all the writings of the Church Fathers who speak on this subject. I did this by searching for keywords in the large files containing their writings available on the ccel website. This is an extremely difficult and exhausting venture and I'm sure others can do a better job of it with more time.
Nevertheless, in my searches I got the impression that almost all the Fathers (including the chiliasts) who spoke on eschatology either had fairly ascetical leanings (i.e. no marriage, sexual activity etc after the resurrection) or simply didn't say anything relevant to this subject. I could only find 4 Fathers who even came close to supporting the continued existence of marriage and childbirth after the resurrection. 3 of these Fathers are also identified in the 3rd website above.
These Fathers (note their names are hyperlinked to the appropriate writing) are -
Irenaeus - where he speaks of the "fertility of the earth"
Lactantius - where he says the resurrected saints will "produce an infinite multitude"
Commodian - who says the saints are "marrying, beget for a thousand years"
Chrysostom - who, although generally an ascetic, appears favorable to the notion of a continuing, apparently exclusive, intimate love-bond between husband and wife even in the next life, as seen in two places -
(a) In this homily, where he displays a sublime wisdom toward (and a seemingly very positive view of) marriage. Below is the relevant edited quote (although it's recommended that the entire homily be read) where he instructs young husbands to pray thus with their wives:
"And I pray, and beseech, and do all I can, that we may be counted worthy so to live this present life, as that we may be able also there in the world to come to be united to one another in perfect security ... But if we shall be counted worthy ... then shall we ever be both with Christ and with each other, with more abundant pleasure ..."
(b) In this poignant letter to a young widow, where he comforts her with the possibility (among other things) that she will one day be re-united with her husband in a manner which appears to share significant continuity with her relationship with him prior to his death.
Chrysostom says so many interesting things (e.g. he seems to imply that if she wants this relationship restored with her husband in the next life, she shouldn't remarry etc) that it's recommended one reads the letter in its entirety, but the relevant edited quotes are given below and can hopefully speak for themselves.
It'll be interesting to ask what Chrysostom would say to her if she had also greatly desired children, or what he'd say to a single person who also desired to be in the sort of relationship that the widow and the husband shared (and will apparently share in the resurrection). Also it'll be interesting to know if Chrysostom would've had any problem with there also being a physical aspect to this intimate post-resurrection relationship (he probably would though, given his ascetical leanings). The quotes are -
"But perhaps you long to hear your husband’s words, and enjoy the affection which you bestowed upon him ... Well! the affection which you be stowed on him you can keep now just as you formerly did."
"For such is the power of love, it ... fastens together not only those who are present, and near, ... but also those who are far distant; and neither length of time, nor separation in space, ... can break up and sunder in pieces the affection of the soul. But if you wish to behold him face to face (for this I know is what you specially long for) keep thy bed in his honour sacred from the touch of any other man, and ... assuredly thou shalt depart one day to join the same company with him ... for infinite and endless ages."
"And then thou shalt receive him back again no longer in that corporeal beauty which he had when he departed, but in lustre of another kind, and splendour outshining the rays of the sun ... the bodies of those who have been well pleasing to God, will be invested with such glory as these eyes cannot even look upon."
"Well then submit to this now ... not to receive him back clad in a vesture of gold but robed in immortality and glory such as is fitting for them to have who dwell in Heaven. "
"And if you find the trial very unbearable owing to its long duration, it may be that he will visit you by means of visions and converse with you as he was wont to do, and show you the face for which you yearn.
For all things which we plant in Heaven yield a large and abundant crop ... And if you do this, see what blessings you will enjoy, in the first place eternal life and the things promised to those who love God ... and in the second place perpetual intercourse with thy good husband ..."
"Wherefore desisting from mourning and lamentation do thou hold on to the same way of life as his, yea even let it be more exact, that having speedily attained an equal standard of virtue with him, you may inhabit the same abode and be united to him again through the everlasting ages, not in this union of marriage but another far better. For this is only a bodily kind of intercourse, but then there will be a union of soul with soul more perfect, and of a far more delightful and far nobler kind."
Update 30/12/12 -
J Trenham's Marriage and Virginity according to St. John Chrysostom (Durham Theses, 2003, available at http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/1259/1/1259.pdf) gives a more thorough treatment of Chrysostom's views on the resurrection life, including those aspects pertaining to the state of marriage in the eschaton. This fascinating (and recommended) study reinforces the above conclusion; namely, that Chrysostom does hold to a view close to the positive case enunciated in the above paper, though without its more physical, carnal or parturient aspects. The thesis also references an interesting quote by Tertullian, which is reproduced below.
Tertullian (found 30/12/12) - who says "But if 'in that age they will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be equal to angels,' is not the fact that there will be no restitution of the conjugal relation a reason why we shall not be bound to our departed consorts? Nay, but the more shall we be bound (to them), because we are destined to a better estate - destined (as we are) to rise to a spiritual consortship, to recognize as well our own selves as them who are ours."
So Tertullian basically believes in a continued, albeit probably spiritual-only, union of the married in the eschaton (though again, his position is likely somewhat different to that argued in the main paper above).
Note the first 3 of these Fathers appear to be chiliasts (or pre-millennialists). Commodian's statement is the most explicit statement I can find that's in favour of marriage and childbirth (and thus presumably sex) after the resurrection, although Chrysostom and Tertullian come close (and say much more). Both Irenaeus and Lactantius aren't so explicit and a case can probably be made for a different interpretation of their writing.