Does Marriage End at Death?
NCW 15, January 1995
Q. I understand that you in the New Covenant do not believe that marriage ends at death, and that those who truly love each other and the Lord remain married in heaven. You usually cite Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 but never Luke 20:27-39 which is a longer version of Jesus' discussion with the Sadducees on the resurrection. In quoting Matthew or Mark you argue that since Jesus was talking about the Sadducees (who did not believe in a resurrection), those who are not married in the resurrection are the Sadducees, because of their unbelief -- you classify them with "the world" who won't be married in the resurrection either. But Luke's account surely contradicts this position because it says more than Matthew or Mark; indeed, does not Jesus actually say that everyone, including the Sadducees and those who are worthy to attain the resurrection, "neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:35, NASB)?
There is a level of subtlety in Jesus' way of communicating deep truth that is sometimes hard to grasp, and which He intended the unspiritual to miss. When Jesus talks about "life" and "death" he is not always talking about physical life and death, but the spiritual. "He who loves his life loses it," He said to His disciples (John 12:25, NASV) does not mean that if you love living you suddenly die, but that those who love self lose inner spiritual life.
To another disciple, who wanted to go and bury his dead father, He said: "Allow the dead to bury their owd dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60, NASV). Everybody knows that Jesus was not here suggesting that dead corpses bury other corpses, but that in this situation burying the physically dead was best left to the unspiritual, i.e. those who were spiritually dead.
There are many subtle forces at play in this discourse of Jesus to the Saducees. Firstly, they are out to trick the Saviour, for they do not themselves believe in the resurrection the the dead, or in angels. They are the equivalent of today's intellectual liberal theologians.
The question about marriage revolved around a question in the Mosaic Law which called for a man to raise up children to his dead brother's widow (Deut.25:5). The purpose of this Law was to make sure that a man who had no children was not disinherited. The children raised up by the brother would then inherit the dead man's land and property. This kind of marriage had little, if anything, to do with romantic love -- it was a marriage of duty, to preserve tribal identity.
The Sadducees weren't interested whether the brothers loved this woman or not, but were only interested in using a legalistic technicality of the Law to try and trip Jesus up. You must remember that when Jesus answered a question He spoke within the context of His questioners' mindframe. Here were hypocritical Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (and therefore could not believe in Jesus -- see John 11:25) because the Pentaetach says nothing about the subject; they rejected the prophets (as the modern liberals do) who accepted and spoke of the resurrection.
Nevertheless we find the Sadducees mentioning a principle which was evidently accepted by the Pharisees and Jews of the time, namely, that marriage continues beyond the grave. This was perhaps a question that had been brought up in the dicussions between Pharisees and Sadducees in the past and which was unresolved.
Let me try and expand the verses in Luke that are troubling you so that they make more sense: "The sons of this age (the world/the Sadduccces/the unbelievers in the resurection) marry and are given in marriage (according to religious or secular custom), but those (believers) who (by contrast) are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection of the dead (whether in heaven or on the millennial earth), neither marry, nor are given in marriage (according to religious or secular customs of the unbelievers); neither can they (spiritually or physically) die anymore, for they are like angels (who are spiritually and physically alive), and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:34-37, NASV).
So really there is no difference between the Lucan and the Matthean and Markan accounts, except that it is a little more detailed.
Those who are worthy to attain to the resurrection will continue to be married there, whereas those who are not will remain single. In actual fact, the Lucan version, which we have been studying here, is probably more reliable than the Marcan or Matthean accounts which are contractions of the Lucan. Mark's and Matthew's give a slightly different meaning to Luke: "...in the resurrection they [the brothers and wife] neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matt.22:30). Matthew and Mark speak of the seven brothers and the woman, whereas Luke speaks of mankind in general and those worthy of the resurrection.
Scholars generally recognise that Luke was the most detailed of the synoptic gospel writers; as a physician (Col.4:14), he had an eye for detail and is known for his accuracy. Each of the three writers of the synoptic gospels had different audiences and therefore laid different stresses in their accounts, editing the available material as appropriate.
Matthew's purpose is to witness that Jesus is the Messiah of Old Testament promise and he addresses a chiefly Hebrew audience. His was the only Gospel written in Hebrew, the others being written in Greek.
Mark's Gospel is of quite a different style, the personality of Peter being reflected on almost every page, and it is possible that Peter was the source of most of Mark's information. They certainly had a close relationship, Pater calling Mark "my son" (1 Pet.5:13). Vividness of detail is another characteristic, despite being the shortest of the Gospels. It is probably the earliest of the Gospels.
Luke was one of Paul's companions (Philem.24; 2 Tim.4:11, etc.) and had many contacts with the apostles and other witnesses of Gospel history. This, together with his intellectual training and his intimate contact with men like Mark, enabled him to write a trustworthy and comprehensive Gospel. He also wrote Acts.
Whatever Jesus' original saying, there can be little doubt that the Lucan version of the Sadducee incident is the fullest and ought to be given the greatest weight when analysing this question of marriage after death. We must also remember that the main theme of this discourse was not marriage but the ressurection and the existence of angels, both of which the Sadducees denied. It is not, as such, therefore, a discourse on marriage.
Despite these problems we can use our overall knowledge of the Bible, and especially the New Testament, to realise that God, as the author and promoter of love, does not, as part of His purpose, plan to extinguish it. It is absurd to suppose, based on one passage about the Sadducees, that at death the deep, intimate love between a husband and wife will suddenly become extinguished, and the bond that tied them together suddenly be loosed. So sacred was this bond between husband and wife that our relationship to Christ is repeatedly compared with it in the New Testament (Eph.5:22-33); logically, if the marriage relationship between husband and wife is to end in the resurrection, as most of Christianity teaches, then so too must the Church's marriage relationship with Christ end too. And that, of course, is quite preposterous.
For a more detailed treatment of this subject, see Apostolic Interviews IX, A Question of Eternal Marriage and NC&C 344 & 440.
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