Matthew 22:30

About five years ago the Church flirted with a pilot program to put answers to about 50 challenging questions about the Church on its website. The issues were identified, and a couple of dozen respondents were assigned to write responses to two issues each. I was one such respondent, and I prepared a draft of my answers.

The project died and was never implemented. But I was just now searching for something else on my computer and stumbled upon my draft responses to my assigned questions. I thought some of you might be interested to read one of them. (The format and scope of the response was dictated by project managers.)

How does the Church explain the belief that husbands and wives can still be married after death in light of Matthew 22:30?

Jesus was responding to a trick question posed by the Sadducees. The real point of the question did not have to do with marriage, but with an argument against the resurrection. Jesus responded along three lines: (i) that they did not understand the scriptures, (ii) that they did not properly take into account the power of God, and (iii) that their assumptions about the resurrection being a simple continuation of mortal existence were not correct.

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Matthew 22:23-30 reads as follows:

“The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, 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.”

Comparable parallels are set forth at Mark 12:18-25 and Luke 20:27-36.

First, we must understand the background to the question posed by the Sadducees. Although the Pharisees accepted the idea of a resurrection, the Sadducees rejected it, as verse 23 states. The question itself is based on the law of levirate marriage (levir is Latin for “brother-in-law”) from Deut. 25:5-10. This law provided that if a married man were to die childless, his brother was to marry his widow, and the first child of this union would be deemed to be the child of the deceased husband, so that his seed would not die out after him.

The Sadducees portray this question as being based on an actual factual situation (“there were with us”), but it almost certainly was a hypothetical, the kind of question debated by religious scholars of the day. The most usual form of the question involved two husbands only, and the usual answer was that the woman would be the wife of the first husband in the hereafter. (See Yarn, Ensign, cited below.) But the Sadducees are not asking a genuine question they have an interest in, for they did not accept the underlying premise of the question that an afterlife exists. They expanded the number of husbands to seven to make the situation appear ridiculous and difficult for Jesus to answer. This was simply a trick question, a rhetorical attack on the idea of a hereafter.

Jesus gives a three-pronged response to the question posed by the Sadducees:

1. Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures. It is unclear to what scripture or scriptures Jesus alludes. There is no Old Testament passage to the effect that marriages do not continue in heaven, so that could not be Jesus’ meaning here. He may have been referring to the levirate law itself in Deut. 25, or to a more general passage, whether dealing with marriage (such as Gen. 2:23-24) or eternity (such as Eccl. 3:14).

One possibility is that he was referring to the apocryphal book of Tobit. (In Jesus’s day, many books were regarded as scriptural that would not ultimately be included in the Old Testament canon.) Tobit 6:10-8:9 contains a story in which a woman named Sara had been married to seven different husbands—all brothers—each of whom was killed on the wedding night by a demon. According to this story, Sara ultimately marries an eighth husband, Tobias, son of Tobit. The archangel Gabriel instructs Tobias how to chase the demon away, and he therefore is not killed as the others had been. Gabriel informs Tobias that his wife Sara had been appointed unto him “from the beginning,” which suggests that she had not been sealed to any of her prior husbands but was to Tobias. Jesus may have been accusing the Sadducees of basing their question on this story, but leaving out the critical information necessary to answer the question.

2. Ye do err, not knowing . . . the power of God. God, who gave the levirate law in the first place, cannot be considered as ignorant of the complications posed by the test case, and he has the power to deal with and rectify any perceived inequities that may arise in the resurrection. Severing the marriage ties of a husband and wife who had lived their lives together in love would not be a demonstration of the power of God.

3. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God. At this point Jesus corrects the mistaken understanding of the Sadducees to the effect that the resurrection is simply a continuation of mortal life as we know it. The time for entering into marriages is mortality; the nature of life in the hereafter will change from that which we are accustomed to here and now. The expressions “marry” [gamousin] and “given in marriage” [gamizontai] translate forms of the related Greek verbs gameō and gamizō, which have to do with the act of becoming married. The first verb is used here to refer to men and the second to women. If Matthew had wanted to report that Christ had said in effect “Neither are they now in a married state (because of previously performed weddings),” the Greek in which he wrote would have let him say so unambiguously. He would have used a perfect tense [gegamēkasin] or a participial form [gamēsas] of the verb. He did not, so that cannot be what he meant. Jesus said nothing about the married state of those who are in heaven. By using the present indicative form of the verb, Matthew reports Jesus as saying in effect “In the resurrection, there are no marriages performed.” Jesus goes on to compare those in the resurrection to the angels of God, for unlike mortals they will never die and, according to Jewish tradition, they do not need to eat. The key point is that, contrary to the misconceptions of the Sadducees, life in the resurrection will be different in many ways from life in mortality. (Jesus then goes on to make an additional argument in favor of the resurrection in the following verses.)

The potential continuation of the marriage state in the hereafter for those married in mortality is consistent with another statement of Jesus, as recorded in Matt. 19:6: “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Additional Online Resources

• The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, CES Course Manual Religion 211-212, 21-8. (Quotes James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 548 on this question.)

• Tvedtnes, John A., “A Much-Needed Book That Needs Much,” FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997), 33-42. (Explores the possible relevance of the apocryphal book of Tobit to the question as posed by the Sadducees.)

• Yarn, Jr., David H., “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1986, ____. (Answers the question “Inasmuch as Latter-day Saints believe in marriage for eternity, how do we explain Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 22:29-30?”)

Comments

  1. Kevin, not only is your treatment of the classical missionary question interesting and carefully crafted within the venue’s requirements, the whole project is fascinating. Do you know why it was killed? I can imagine several answers to that but wonder what really happened.

  2. Nicely said.

  3. Wasn’t the angel in Tobit Raphael, not Gabriel?

  4. Perhaps it is also important to note that the very language of marriage that Jesus was rejecting, with its specific gender roles, denotes marriage as an act of property ownership–that God’s way is not one of “traditional marriage,” where the female is ultimately a commodity that is purchase, traded, “given” between males.

  5. Thanks for this. I would love to have seen the whole project’s final product. This question really bugged me as a missionary, and the standard answers weren’t adequate. Seems like putting possible answers like this all in one spot in a standardized format would be great.

    So, you’re going to post your other question and response eventually, right?

  6. Cool. Thanks for pulling it together here.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    WVS, no one ever told us why the project was killed. I assumed that the Church decided maybe it would be a bad idea to highlight critical issues or to put up an “official” answer to them.

    David T., yes, you’re right, my mistake.

  8. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I’ve never understood how people could insist on interpreting it as “in the resurrection, the are not married.” Even in the King James English it seems clear enough. “They do not marry” doesn’t mean “They are not married.”

  10. Very insightful, Kevin. Thank you.

  11. The question then becomes, if they can be married why do they not marry?

  12. #9: Left Field,
    I guess, because as you read it, it would not have answered the question as asked. That is: “Who’s wife would she be?”.

  13. #12: I don’t claim it as *my* reading; it’s the plain meaning of the words, both in Greek and in the English translation. He answered the question by declining to take the bait.

  14. #13: Left Field:
    Well, then I guess everyone missed it until you came along. He answered the question by not answering it.

  15. What’s with the snark, man? I assume you read the OP. If you disagree with Kevin, then I’m sure we’d all like to hear your analysis.

  16. #15: Left Field,
    Sorry for the snark.
    “Jesus said nothing about the married state of those who are in heaven”.(Kevin)
    Mormonism is/has been very unclear about marriage. Do most end with death_yes. Can somthing be done after death_yes. In the after life, are they talking about a marriage or a sealing_I don’t know. Can a man have more than one wife_no__but he can have more than one marriage, etc.
    You said “it’s clear enough. It’s not for me.

  17. Left Field’s snark aside, a proper response to the issue he raised seems a necessary part to any complete answer. I have no idea how to reconcile it and given that the OP fails to address it, I wonder if Kevin does.

  18. Rather, Bob’s snark aside.

  19. So I wonder what this means for all of the cute old ladies who are (sometimes tritely) told that it’s okay if they don’t marry in this life because they can just handle it later.

  20. I’m not sure there is a satisfactory answer by Jesus to the Sadduces’ question. If I read the response as Kevin interprets it, I’m not sure which brother is to have the hypothetical woman as wife. If I interpret the response as I think Bob is implying (silly Sadduces, marriage doesn’t exist in the heareafter), then the interpretation is at odds with the response (there is no marrying). Maybe this is like response Jesus gave to the question posed by Nicodemus–Jesus ignored the question and taught what he felt the questioners needed.

  21. This type of discussion raises a whole different set of questions for me. Why in a Church where we believe in continuing revelation and state, as an article of faith, that Bible is (at least to some degree) flawed to we need to try and reconcile every belief we have with every single verse in the Bible? We do, in-fact, believe that there will be those that will be given in marriage in the resurrection (how many times have those that are single been told that if they don’t get that chance in this life they will in the next.) Why not just come clean and say we reject this verse? That we believe, based on modern revelation, that this verse was not in the original manuscript, or that temple marriage is a doctrine of the last dispensation and hadn’t been revealed at the time the Savior spoke these words, or some other explanation? I think we short change ourselves when we try to force fit every verse of all the scriptures into a modern understanding of the Gospel.

  22. Chris: we probably don’t reject this verse because Joseph Smith didn’t reject it in the JST. As far as all the single old ladies, they will be married before the resurrection happens in the spirit world via proxy ordinances probably done during the millennium. As far as having a hard time accepting that Jesus wouldn’t give a complete answer, I don’t see why anyone would find that strange as it’s by no means the first time the Lord chooses to let a question go unanswered.

  23. As far as all the single old ladies, they will be married before the resurrection happens in the spirit world via proxy ordinances probably done during the millennium.

    $#&@!!!! and @&^$%!!!!

  24. Re: 22

    I agree with you that the JST not rejecting this verse is likely why many would be uncomfortable rejecting it themselves. But just because it wasn’t touched in the JST does not mean that it is a correct representation of the mind of God. The JST was never finished, and is only treated as semi-official cannon in any case (does anyone here know, did Joseph Smith ever say he thought that the JST was to be definitive? it doesn’t seem like something he would say.)

    As to your second point I think we know less than you imply. There is nothing I know of (not that I’m an expert) in the cannon that would explain the timing of events as you describe them, and much that calls it into question. For example, those brought forth at the time of the Second Coming, prior to the Millennium, are resurrected, (D&C 88:97-98) and there are those who were resurrected at the time of Christ’s resurrection. Assuming that some of these individuals were single in life (and that marriage actually is as important as we believe it is) then they would still need the opportunity to marry post-resurrection. (Although I think Ardis in #23 addresses this point more eloquently.)

    It seems that we walk a long and tortuous path sometimes, and even at times wrest the scriptures to get them to say what they do not, all to satisfy the objections of our critics. I think we are too insecure in our beliefs. The longer and more tortuous the interpretive paths the less likely we are to see the truths that are there and the more we tread the scriptures like proof texts. We spend our energy picking out specific verses to prove that we a have “The Truth”, rather than learning what the scriptures have to teach us about how to live in harmony with it.

  25. We spend our energy picking out specific verses to prove that we a have “The Truth”, rather than learning what the scriptures have to teach us about how to live in harmony with it.

    Thank you, Chris 134:2

  26. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    re: #23
    Steady on, Ardis! Give it to ‘em with both barrels, not with mere symbolology. I know you can craft
    a far better response than that!

  27. This is not just a academic question for man people. One of my ancestors was sealed to a woman named Naomi. She had one child. He was murdered for unclear reasons (blood atoned?) or rather died in a hunting accident in the cleaned up version. She remarried another man and they had a large family and lived together for over 50 years. He had Godbeitye tendencies, rejected polygamy, wouldn’t support united orders, desired separation of church and state, etc. but also served in a Bishopric and never left the church. He was never sealed to Naomi but expected that a just God would not deny him this blessing. Do you think his free thinking tendencies might have had their source at least partly in his problem with this doctrine of eternal marriage?

    A contemporary cousin was sealed to a man who was killed in a auto accident. She remarried another man who is the father of her six children. He was unfaithful more than once and after the children were all safely at BYU, she divorced him. He repented and is back in full-fellowship and is sealed to another woman. My cousin married a third man whose first wife died of cancer. She wishes to have her sealing undone and be sealed to her third husband but really doesn’t like the idea of being a second eternal wife. Although not a major sinner, the first wife was supposedly not really a believer and “not valient.” My cousin’s children will be sealed to which or both of their parents?

    My Protestant friends ask, what exactly will a marriage in the next life be? If good decent people are allowed to associate with their relatives including their spouses, then how are they going to be kept apart? After 60 years of marriage and 10 children, you are going to be friends in heaven, just like the lady who sat in the next pew and hardly ever had a reason to say much?

    Real life has so many complexities, that I think it is pointless at best and often hurtful to be making definite arrangements in marriages for the next life. We have little knowledge of what will be and not be at that time and can not judge what any individual will do. We can believe in vague but noble concepts and leave it at that.

    P.S. Since I have problems with some of the details of Joseph Smith’s many marriages, I don”t entirely trust him on this topic. Why we continue to allow his weaknesses flog us is beyond me.

  28. Thanks, Chris, for pointing out that my implication of single women getting sealed during the millennium prior to their resurrection was not well founded. I realize I cannot fully support that assertion. It probably came to me because it was the only thing that made sense with the idea that no sealings can be done on resurrected people.

    President Woodruff said (http://lds.org/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-wilford-woodruff/chapter-18-temple-work-becoming-saviors-on-mount-zion?lang=eng&query=%22morning+of+the+first+resurrection%22): “It is our duty to rise up and build these Temples. I look upon this portion of our ministry as a mission of as much importance as preaching to the living; the dead will hear the voice of the servants of God in the spirit-world, and they cannot come forth in the morning of the [first] resurrection, unless certain ordinances are performed, for and in their behalf, in Temples built to the name of God. … Somebody has got to redeem them, by performing such ordinances for them in the flesh as they cannot attend to themselves in the spirit, and in order that this work may be done, we must have temples in which to do it; and what I wish to say to you, my brethren and sisters, is that the God of heaven requires us to rise up and build them, that the work of redemption may be hastened. Our reward will meet us when we go behind the veil. …”

    Is the marriage sealing excluded from his “certain ordinances” list? The whole point of us doing proxy ordinances is that dead people with only spirits and no body cannot do it for themselves. It would seem illogical that a marriage sealing doesn’t require a body and can only be done with a spirit. Similarly, if we say that marriage sealings can be done with a resurrected body, why can’t baptisms and endowments be done on a resurrected body? It is conceivable that since the latter ordinances are required to enter the celestial kingdom, they must be done before resurrection to enable the person to be resurrected to a celestial glory. A marriage sealing is only required for the highest degree on the celestial kingdom, so there is some logic that suggests it can be done on a resurrected body that has already been resurrected to a celestial glory. With this logic, however, I have no idea how to interpret Matthew 22:30.

    Anyways, I seem to have reversed my opinion on the matter, and I thought explaining my thought process might be beneficial to some.

  29. Kevin, very nice. Thanks.

  30. mormon metamucil says:

    I’ve always been more interested in the last part, “but are as the angels of God in heaven.” What is the Church’s take on that?

  31. Interesting. I’d never heard the bit about Tobias before. I’m not sure how relevant it is to the typical Mormon since we don’t accept that story. But it really does seem like a reasonable thing for Jesus to mention. Thanks.

    I think in a Mormon context it’s a more interesting question. After all what if one wife is sealed to a husband who is somewhat abusive but dies. She marries someone else who is very nice. To whom is she sealed? Add in all the problems of vicarious sealings and I think our marriage doctrine gets complex fast.

    My gut reaction is that prior to the resurrection we can simply marry whomever we want. So I rather suspect there will be a lot of rearranging of companionships in the hereafter. Further of course most of us will be quite different in the hereafter so it’s hard to judge too much based upon what we were like here. (Especially since unlike God we can’t unpack what the place of poorly functioning brains was)

    Whenever I read that passage about Levirite law it bothers me since it seems like the desire or choice of the woman doesn’t seem to matter. I’m far from a feminist but I think this is a case where the cultural setting of the question is pretty problematic. Part of me just wishes Jesus had said, “she’s married to whomever she wants to be.”

  32. mormon metamucil #30, “I’ve always been more interested in the last part, “but are as the angels of God in heaven.” What is the Church’s take on that?”

    I think the Church would point to D&C 132’s creative rephrasing of that to state that the unmarried are not exalted, but appointed angels in heaven. However, context would probably point to the popular 1st century angelology, in which the Enochic lit was popular, and presented angels as celibate heavenly priests. The fallen angels were those who left their heavenly service to fornicate with the women below, resulting in bastardized offspring monster giants.

    Clark #31,

    I think the narrator’s #4 comment is applicable to your thoughts.

  33. Glass Ceiling says:

    This is one of the great things about modern revelation. Sediment not have to depend on the Bible for the question of marriage after death. The Bible passage saying that Christ said otherwise is clearly wrong…not translated correctly.

    The Bible is filled with issues that have created confusion and misunderstanding. It is a wonderful book, otherwise. But our religion does not stand or fall by it. Thank heaven.

  34. #33, ” The Bible passage saying that Christ said otherwise is clearly wrong…not translated correctly.”

    Or could it be that Jesus of Nazareth simply wasn’t conversant with the principle of Eternal Marriage as is taught today? I don’t think we hold it as a tenant that Jesus, in his mortal ministry, was all knowing on all possible doctrinal matters – while we do have a doctrine that his Atonement was infinite and comprehensive, I’m not sure we have a doctrine that his teaching and doctrinal knowledge at that time was.

    I’ve found we as Mormons are far more likely to throw the Bible’s clear contradictory-to-modern-teaching statements under the bus as “not translated correctly” than try to understand what was being taught then, and why it might legitimately have been a different understanding than 2011 Correlated Manuals.

    I really don’t understand the intense need to have had Peter, Paul, and the Evangelists reading from (or agreeing with) the 2009 edition of Gospel Principles.

  35. David, (34), I just have a hard time seeing the verse as rejecting the discourse on marriage. However one issue is that I’m sure over 3 years Christ said lots of things. A tiny fraction of which we only have. Even assuming Christ did attempt to do something like that by rejecting the female-property view of ancient marriage would it be likely to have been recorded? On the other hand one of the gnostic gospels (sorry – temporarily brain dead and I can’t remember which one – I want to say the Gospel of Thomas) has Jesus telling the apostles that Mary is made a man or words to that effect which are often taken in quasi-feminist terms.

    My point is more just that when I teach this I always emphasize that in heaven we are free beings and a lot of our debate about marriage sometimes misses the forest for the trees. We already know a big part of the millennium will be temple work and I suspect a big chunk of that will be correcting “mistakes” in work we’ve done.

  36. Or could it be that Jesus of Nazareth simply wasn’t conversant with the principle of Eternal Marriage as is taught today?

    Depends. If you think that all such sealings must be done prior to resurrection (as is the dominant view today) then he’d have to be sealed to a spouse prior to his death.

  37. Clark (36),
    According to Ephesians 5, Christ’s marriage – the typical and exemplary eternal marriage – is between Him, and God’s Covenant People (Israel/The Church).

    In fact, I find great power in the Endowment and Sealing ordinances when I see the ‘Man’ standing in for a symbol of Christ (‘The Last Adam’), and the ‘Woman’ standing in for each and every one of us – male and female – who have joined with Christ through Covenant, and become a joint heir with Him into the Divine Family. I think it becomes a much more powerful symbol of the whole divine plan of unity for all mankind, than limiting it simply to marking the extension of a particular nuclear family.

  38. Glass Ceiling says:

    Sorry for the huge typo earlier (sediment was supposed to be Mormons. More phone magic. )

    I lean towards the idea that the temple rites had once existed in the Church before Christ’s time. But by the time of his ministry, the temple was generally defiled (money-changing, for instance ). Therefore, rhis nay be why Christ was not stressing the temple rites in his public sermons.

    I still believe that we will never know. The Bible has been through the meat grinder of the Catholic Church. Plain and precious things were lost. There was a need for a restoration. To restore means to return to what once was.

  39. #38″ Glass Ceiling:
    Do you think only the Bible (or Catholics) can tells us what a was happening before or during Christ’s time? We also have the histories of the Jews, Romans, and Greeks to tell us what Jews did,or did not do in their Temples.

  40. Glass Ceiling says:

    Bob,

    Unless the Jews kept it somewhat under wraps.

  41. David (37), Christ’s (YHWH’s) relationship with Israel as a kind of type of marriage has a long history in Judaism. And certainly his relationship to each of us is in one sense a type of how we ought be in our own marriages. I’d go so far as to say that the most unified we will be (or ought be) is with our spouse as we raise our children and proceed through life.

    All that said, I don’t see how that is relevant to the question of whether Christ was married (and when) or whether marriage between a man and wife is significant. I know some simply allegorize the whole thing a way and there definitely have been Christian movements that did that. (Or lead to celibate monastic or quasi-monastic movements where ones “marriage” is redirected towards ones relationship to Christ). I don’t think that’s supportable within a Mormon context.

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