The doctrine of eternal marriage has always been a controversial one especially within the Christian/Messianic polygyny community and has, sadly, sometimes been divisive. Part of the problem that exists between the New Covenant Christian/Messianic Evangelical teaching about eternal marriage and the traditional evangelical Christian one is that we usually aren't talking about the same thing at all. Because one of the cults - the Mormons - believe in eternal marriage, it is wrongly assumed that the Mormon and New Covenant doctrine are one and the same. They aren't. In fact, they are radically different, being poles apart. This also goes for our mutual views of plural marriage.
When the New Covenant Christian doctrine of eternal marriage first appeared on the Internet in 1996 it sparked a brief but furious debate between ourselves and an evangelical polygamy site in Utah with the latter branding us as 'heretics', and effectively disfellowshipping us from a section of the Christian polygamy community over which this ministry exerted a strong influence. This took place in 1996/7. Though we never pressed our belief as a dogma that other evangelical Christians 'had' to believe as we did (Yah forbid that we would exercise any sort of compulsion), the reverse was applied to us - accept our interpretation or get the cold shoulder. One might say that we were effectively 'excommunicated' from this very radical, hyper-conservative circle of polygamists. Right until the time their ministry fell apart and they disbanded (a kind of poetic justice) they would not talk to us, let alone recognise we even existed, and you could not find this website listed in their links of other polygamous sites (they list Muslim, Hindu, and various pagan polygamy sites though - I guess we must be alot 'worse' than them!). The same fate met another large American polygamy ministry's (though the owner thereof does not, I hasten to add, subscribe to eternal marriage himself), for he committed the unpardonable sin of being the first to have a Christian polygamy ministry. Both now have strong cultic tendencies.
I hasten to add that not all Christian/Messianic polygamists are as dogmatic as this segment of the patriarchal community was for we have been offered the right hand of fellowship by other polygamists who do not believe in eternal marriage and, of course, by those who do. For that we are very grateful for we ourselves never intended to make this an issue of controversy nor a test of fellowship (this not being a doctrine of salvation), there being polygamists from many denominational backgrounds who have learned to live with one another in Christian/Messianic grace and charity. For a history of these two wings of the Patriarchal Christian Polygamous Movement, see my article, Submission vs. Oppression: A Short History of Modern Polygyny.
Our ministry has, actually, already addressed this issue in a number of places and in great detail, in both a monogamy context (see Apostolic Interviews #9: A Question of Eternal Marriage, a response by our leadership to the venomous diatribe against me by the one-time Utah evangelical Christian who then became a Messianic Jewish polygamist who is now a Messianic Jewish monogamist with a a radio program and a large following. His diatribe was eventually removed along with his whole website. You can read my response, Eternal Plural Marriage). I would like to encourage you to first read these three articles before reading this new one.
Useful though these articles are, I felt that a point-by-point reply was long overdue to the very thorough article by The Polygamy Page on his Christian pro-polygamy site (with the catchy motto, Two's Company, Three's Allowed) which is pretty reflective of the views of most evangelical Christian polygamists. My purpose is not to be dogmatic and say that the view of the latter is unequivocably wrong but to show that there IS another way of looking at this question using only the Bible witnesses, which is our common source of doctrinal and practical authority.
The Polygamy Page's essay appears below in green. Whilst we differ in this one area I do want to stress that we are agreed in almost everything else on his otherwise excellent site which is linked below at the end of this article. It is my prayer that this article will not only shed some light on this topic by dispelling commonly held misunderstandings about New Covenant Christian belief but also present another dimension to biblical marriage that I am sure most Christians/Messianics have never before considered. As polygamy has opened the eyes of many evangelicals willing to let the Bible witness speak before human and church tradition, may you the reader also gain a glimpse into another dimension of marriage that began before this earth life and will continue into the eternities. The Polygamy Page's article appears in green typeface and my response in blue.
How long does a marriage last? Given that the Bible only allows very limited grounds for divorce, does that mean that marriage lasts for ever? Or is it true that marriage is also ended by death?
These questions have not traditionally been difficult to answer. The Church taught for centuries that marriage was something that was entered into for life, and that a marriage inevitably ended with death.
Then, in the past two hundred years, a separate doctrine gained popularity, claiming that marriages went beyond the grave - that they could be eternal or celestial in nature.
The 'Church' is a very complex entity indeed represented, as it is, by hundreds of denominations. If the truthfulness of the doctrine of marriage is to be measured by the number of people who adhere to it and/or by the length of time such a doctrine has been believed, then I must bow out and conceed immediate defeat. Fortunately, though, these are not the criteria by which truth is established. Were it to be, then we would have to admit the the doctrine of salvation through the sacraments and claimed authority of that institutional Church claiming temporal apostolic succession rights must prove either the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church to be true (you can take your pick) since neither Protestants nor free Christians/Messianics like myself have been around very long in comparison to these giants. To claim therefore that a doctrine must be true because it has been taught for so long by so many is just a red herring and not a promising start to a discussion of such a topic.
They canít both be right. Some would claim that two types of marriage can exist at the same time, but in essence the dispute is clear. Some people believe that marriages can last into eternity - while others say that they cannot. Who is right?
The Polygamy Page is here hinting at the Swedenborgians and Mormons, hoping that by associating us (and others like us) with these 'heretics' will sufficiently prejudice the reader. This is a favourite tactic by lawyers who, once they have planted a thought (however devious and/or false) in the minds of the jury is hard to dislodge even though it may subsequently be demonstrated to be false. Many careers have been destroyed by the 'art' of rumour-mongering; I knew a teacher who was accused of molesting a pupil and was dismissed. He was finally acquitted but his name had become so stained in the public eye that no-one would hire him again and people continued to look at him suspiciously. His career was ruined. Though I would hope this is not The Polygamy Page's purpose here it looks suspiciously like he wants to dismiss our eternal marriage teaching by implied association. A more honest approach would have been to go direct to the Bible itself.
What the Bible teaches about Marriage
In actual fact, New Covenant Christians consider this argument to be irrelevent because we don't believe in the Swedenborgian/Mormon claims at all. We believe in a 'third' class of marriage which isn't even discussed in The Polygamy Page's article which we call, for wont of a better term, 'Edenic Marriage'. We teach that there are two types of marriage (but not the 'two' The Polygamy Page is discussing): (a) Marriage contracted in heaven before this mortal life which becomes an eternal (never-ending) marriage if the two partners (or more in a polygamous one) are true and are abiding in a saved condition in Christ when they die; (b) Marriages contracted here on earth which end at death.
We do not believe that all those who are married in this sphere are necessarily those who were married in the heavenly sphere before this life - in fact, the great majority probably are not. If, for example, a couple married in heaven find each other and are married here on earth too, and are true to Christ, then when they die their earthly contract will end (because it was a temporal one) but the one they made in heaven before this life will resume. They may therefore be said to have been under two contracts - a heavenly one and an earthly one.
As can be seen throughout the Bible, men and women are treated differently. The bible doesnít talk about single and married men because their marital status is not an issue. However, women are divided into two camps, for their marital status is important.
Women are classified either as virgins or wives. Other categories also exist - such as prostitutes and widows, but the two main categories are the most important. Wives are shown to be of two types. The main type is that understood by modern society - where a woman is part of a manís household, is his helper and where he is her sole sexual partner. The other type is the betrothed woman. This is seen most clearly in the Old Testament. She is legally a wife but, while promised to him, she has not yet joined his household or been united to him sexually.
There is no other stage of courtship that is recognised by scripture. Women are either married or unmarried. Wives are either betrothed to or united with their husbands. These days, in the US, Britain and other parts of the world we also have the secular concept of engagement, where a man and woman express their intent to marry, but it has no legal effect and no moral effect.
It is unrecognised by scripture. That is not to say that people should not get engaged - it is their own choice - but it would be incorrect to claim that it was scriptural, and there are no grounds for believing that it was ever practised in biblical times.
However, there was something similar to engagement in the Middle East which is still preserved by the Samaritans in Israel called 'Dedication' and is believed to have been practiced in biblical times too.
That these things are true can readily be deduced from the Mosaic Law which treated betrothed women just as a normal wife, and from the complete absence of any other form of courtship being mentioned in all of scripture. Furthermore, it can be seen that betrothal is merely what happens on the way to a complete marriage. Normal marriage is a more pure form of marriage than betrothal because it involves the physical union of two becoming one flesh through sexual intercourse.
Many have implied that sex is dirty or sinful because it is related to the body (the flesh), but the Bible clearly teaches that sex is a gift from Elohim (God), and that it should be conducted morally, which the Bible teaches is solely within marriage. Indeed the sexual union in marriage is shown to be a shadow of the truth of the spiritual union of Christ and the Church/Messianic Community. Marriage is for physical union. Paul even allows marriage on the basis of it preventing sexual immorality. Betrothal looks forward to a future physical union, and is therefore completed by that union.
Some will wonder why it is necessary to consider how a marriage begins in an article about how it ends. The simple reason is that occasionally, those who teach ideas of eternal marriage get a little concerned about the possibility of sex in eternity, and wish to portray their eternal marriage as Ďplatonicí and not involving sex. This is dubious. Not only does all the evidence point to Plato indulging in homosexual acts, but it ignores the primary reason for Paul the Apostle allowing marriage.
However, most of those who teach eternal marriage make sure that sex is included. And on top of this they build other doctrines, asserting that man will still be able to reproduce in eternity, and that his spiritual progress will, to some extent at least, be dependent on the numbers of spirit wives he has or the number of spirit children he can father.
Before moving into the reasons why marriage is just for life, we should be aware that taking away the false doctrine of eternal marriage removes the basis for these other false doctrines about fathering children in eternity, about further spiritual progression in eternity and about any link between the two. These false doctrines, unsurprisingly, have absolutely no basis in the Bible, and in a number of places run contrary to it.
This is a Mormon doctrine and not a New Covenant Christian one so I will not even begin to defend it - it is, in any case, purely within the realm of speculation. I will add this, however: since according to Yah'shua (Jesus) we (not presently defined) are to be like the angels in heaven, and since angels (in view of their marrying women in the days before Noah and creating a race of giants) evidently have the powers of procreation, then humans in the resurrection are not necessarily precluded from having the power of reproduction either, but indeed may have such. More than this cannot be said.
Till Death Us Do Part
Luke 20 vv27
The Sadducees raised a very important question. It was possible for a woman to be married to several men over the course of her life, but only to one at once. So whose wife was she when all were resurrected? They raised this question because they thought it disproved the resurrection, and expected to defeat Christ with it. In fact he both answered their question and defeated them by being raised from the dead himself.
"Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him, saying, "Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man's brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife."
And Yah'shua (Jesus) answering said unto them, "The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection."
His answer was simple. After the resurrection there is neither marrying or giving in marriage. Godís people donít marry each other after the resurrection. You would think that this answers the question. The woman would be married to none of them. However, some point out that Christ didnít say that marriages already contracted would then be annulled. They then build up the teaching that marriages can last forever on something which Christ didnít say.
This is arguing from silence. Not the best method of argument but occasionally it can be fair. For example - the Bible says nothing against polygamy - therefore itís okay to do it.
The Mormons have a point, if, granted, a somewhat weak one. Yah'shua (Jesus) is, however, talking about marriages contracted in this life and especially about the "children of this world". Those who are worthy of the resurrection in life in the next world do not contract marriages in the way that those of this world do - there is no courtship, betrothal or full marriage. Those who are soul mates, and who were soul mates before their incarnation, will always be soul mates. Their marriage, like Adam and Eve's, has no beginning of end. Adam and Eve were never 'married' because Eve was already a 'part' of Adam. We, too, are like Adam, having our soul mates who were made from us, to whom we cannot be married because we always were. Adam and Eve were created married. And so were we, according to the New Covenant Christian belief.
However, in this case, an argument from silence cannot be relied upon, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Christ obviously thought he had answered the question. If, however, it was still possible for marriages on earth to last forever, then the question was unanswered. Who would the woman be married to? Christ wasnít avoiding the question like a modern politician - he was answering it. The fact that marriages didnít occur after the resurrection was answer enough. The only way that it can be construed to answer the question is to allow the fact that it means that marriages end at death.
Secondly, we have the benefit of considering other Scriptures on the matter.
Not all revelation is general, as we know, but may be situational. In this case there is a definite context, namely, the Sadducees, for whom eternal marriage would have been utterly meaningless since they did not believe in the resurrection or life after death at all. They were, in any case, viewing the whole marriage issue through temporal eyes, the subject matter being the Law of Levirate, that is, the obligation of a brother (in this case seven, in succcession) to raise up seed to a childless late husband. Since they didn't believe in the resurrection there wouldn't be any marriage for them either. They belong to the unbelievers. As for the believers - those worthy of the resurrection - their eyes were on eternal things, so the temporal marriage system which occupied the Sadduccees' world was of no consequence or interest to them, since they would not be bound by such considerations. The Law of Levirate was an earthly law, having no consequence in heaven.
Romans 7 vv 2-3
This clearly states the rules about marriage. The woman the Sadducees mentioned was quite legitimately married to all those men. Romans shows us that it would have been wrong for her to be married to more than one at once. If she did this, she would be committing adultery. However, on her husbandís death she is freed from the law of her husband, and can marry another. When she is married she is under the law of her husband. When he dies she is no longer under his law - she is now unmarried, and can therefore marry again.
"For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man."
Thirdly, we can recognise that the idea that marriages continue into heaven is not found anywhere in Scripture. To advance the idea is to speculate.
Under the temporal law, this is perrectly correct. This is not, however, to prevent her from remaining single the rest of her life if she so chose, if it is her wish to be true to a soul mate in a contract that is trans-temporal and heavenly.
Fourthly, the idea that marriages continue beyond death is a misunderstanding of what the Bible says marriage is about. Marriage is a covenant or contract based on the idea of one flesh.
Possibly, but that does not mean that the eternal marriage concept us false. Such a conclusion does most certainly rest on an assumption though, viz. that all there is to be revealed about marriage and the next life is to be found in the Bible. Whilst that may be true it is nonetheless speculation. We may, on the same grounds, dismiss the Trinity doctrine as speculative as in content is far exceeds any teaching on the Godhead to be found in the Bible! The Bible is silent about many things about the next life but that is not to say that there isn't 'more light and truth' to be revealed from Elohim's (God's) Word.
The Polygamy Page does not address the circumstances that surround rather special 'marriage' that Adam and Eve had, and have, nor its implications for eternal marriage. Whilst it may be claimed that Elohim (God) 'married' them in Eden, this is not stated in the Bible and is an assumption based on a preconceived idea of what marriage is.
It is the appropriate environment for a sexual union. However, it is the union of bodies which provides an illustration of the union in Spirit that the church has with Christ.
That is not true. Marriage is much more than sexual union. A man daydreaming about a married woman and how he might possess her for his own as her head without any thought of sex would still be committing adultery in his heart. The Polygamy Page is reducing the marriage relationship to the sexual. But there is an emotional element that is not to be found in non-sexual relationships. It is also a state of mind. In short, the marriage relationship involves the whole person - or, as Paul would have it, "body, soul and spirit". Whilst it is true marriage is the exclusive environment for sexual activity it is a lot more than that. A couple may be married who have no sexual relationship owing to one disability or another. I am reminded of a New Age cult which teaches that if a husband and wife do not have sex for more than a year that their marriage contract is at an end.
No, this is definitely an incomplete definition of marriage which I suspect only a man could arrive at. Whilst sex completes the marriage contract it is not the contract itself. Betrothal is. Marriage is therefore a COVENANT or AGREEMENT not unlike that which exists between the believer and Christ. It is a question of the heart - as a man sumbits himself to the Lordship of Yah'shua (Jesus) so the woman submits herself to the lordship of her husband. In Bible times (as it ought to be today) to have sex with a betrothed woman was to committ ADULTERY.
Thus a couple are no less married if they have not consummated their relationship than a couple ceases to be married in the eternities because they have had sex! The modern world may define marriage in a different way and will continue changing its definitions (to include lesbians and homosexuals, for instance) but that is of no interest to us.
After the resurrection, true Christians will have new bodies.
Certainly this is true but there is more than the physical body. What about the spiritual body? When a man and woman become "one flesh" it is not describing the combination of physical flesh to make a baby but the union of SPIRITS.
The contracts made with their old bodies will no longer be valid because those mortal bodies will have been changed into something entirely different - into something immortal.
Correct. But they will still be their same 'selves' - same mind, same heart, same personality, and the same union of mind and heart will obtain between those who were spouses on earth IF they are in Christ and IF they are soul mates. The essential union or marriage is of the PERSON, not a lump of meat. That meat will go and we will be given NEW bodies - resurrected ones - to confer physical immortality to the essential person.
Hence the marriage contract will have no basis on which to survive - for both the bodies that it was based on will have been changed into something new.
True, the nature of the PHYISCAL relationship will be changed because they will possess immortal bodies but the same love, committment and heart-contract will obtain (based on the aforementioned conditions). Thus their marriage will be elevated to an entirely new dimension.
Christ has said there is no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven, so these new bodies will not form the basis of any new marriage.
The only type of union left will be a spiritual union. But that spiritual union will be between Christ and the church.
I have to disagree for the reasons given above. The Polygamy Page's author (if he is married) may have a relationship that is based on the body but mine is based on the WHOLE PERSONALITY. He has (perhaps without realising it) reduced a sacred relationship to the FLESH. Which it may well be for many categories of person - for those who are not soul mates, for instance, or for those who are entirely unspiritual.
Will a wife be united to her husband spiritually? Only in as much as all the church are united in Christ.
That is the same as saying that all horizontal spiritual unions terminate because we will all be so utterly emwrapped in Christ. I reject that entirely. I believe our interpersonal (horizonal) unions will be ENHANCED and ENRICHED because we will be in a perfect world - ALL unions: of friends, of brethren in the family of Christ, and of SPOUSES. To declare that we will be so absorbed in Christ that we won't be interested in one another any more (which The Polygamy Page's doctrine seems to be implying) is to declare for a variety of BUDDHISM or HINDUISM which teach that at Nirvana we will all be so ecstatically focussed on (their impersonal) Elohim (God) that ALL attributes of personity will disappear - indeed, we shall simply be 'absorbed' into a giant, impersonal cosmic soup. Whilst I sure The Polygamy Page does not believe in that its author is certainly implying such in his doctrine of marriage.
Will she be united physically? No. For the bodies which were one have died and been changed into new bodies, and those new bodies will not be given in marriage.
That that condition will obtain is of course conceeded but not that the 'special' relationship - WHICH WAS BUILT BY CHRIST IN MORTALITY - will mysteriously 'end' (because, presumably, it pales into insignificance before the union of the saints with Christ). I do not believe, as The Polygamy Page's teaching seems to imply, that as our union in Christ 'increases' that our interpersonal ones (including the affections of marriage) will somehow 'decrease'.
This I have discussed above. In heaven those who belong to one another in holy matrimony will automatically gravitate to one another in exactly the same way as believers will gravitate to their cosmic Bridegroom, Christ. We must not forget that heaven is not just one eternal banquet or an eternal worship service - it consists of far more. We will not all be gathered together in 'one place' always. Heaven is a perfect SOCIETY consisting of the immortal redeemed. Moreover, it will be ON EARTH. But this is another doctrine about which Christians are not agreed and it may be that The Polygamy Page's beliefs about marriage are coloured by a belief that heaven is not to be on this earth.
Consequently, for all these reasons, it can be seen that it is the teaching of the Bible that it is not possible for people who are currently married to remain married beyond death.
No, this is only ONE conclusion based on certain ASSUMPTIONS. Whilst I grant The Polygamy Page the right to believe this if its author wants to I would hope that he would grant me the right to believe in eternal marriage without accusing me of being 'unbiblical' or (worse) or being a 'heretic'. The doctrine is not one of salvation and irrespective of who is right so long as we are both trusting in Christ we will arrive at the same destination. Whether he finds himself alone and spouseless or not will not be determined by us here in any case - we must await that day to find out!
What I am more concerned about is to be accused of being a 'heretic' deserving of 'exclusion' from the communion of saints which some Patriarchal Christians have applied to us because we do not agree with their 'until death to us part' teaching, for I will most certainly defend myself against such treatment. I am not about to silently 'excommunicate' the 'until deathers' and I would hope that the treatment is mutual - but I would not be surprised if it isn't.
After several years of debating this subject and refining my own beliefs I see no reason to cease a belief in eternal marriage. The doctrine veritably cries out from the pages of the Bible. It moreover inspires me to invest so much more into my marriage - to give to it a 'best' that is stronger than the cords of death and to see it in the same eternal light as that union between Christ and His Church/Messianic Community. Praise Yahweh! Amen.
Copyright - The Polygamy Page, 1996
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This material in green text is part of The Polygamy Page at http://www.polygamypage.info which has since acquired a second domain name at https://www.polygamy.com/ and now boasts of being the 'Number 1 Polygamy Service'. It is based in Great Britain.