Sunday, November 13, 2016

Marriage is Not Eternal

Traditionally wedding vows have gone something like this:

"I, ___, take you, ___, to be my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.

Did you ever wonder why we say, “until death do us part?” It’s because there will be no marriage in the life after death. How do we know this? Because the apostle Luke tells us that Jesus said so.

In Luke 20 some Jewish leaders called the Sadducees came to Jesus asking him a resurrection question related to the Old Testament law of marriage as established in Deuteronomy 25.[1] This marriage law stated that when a man died leaving his widow childless, the man’s brother was required to marry the widow. The Sadducees posed a hypothetical situation to Jesus where a woman marries several brothers who each die leaving her childless, and then she dies. They ask Jesus “…at the resurrection whose wife will she be since the seven were married to her?”[2]

Now, this is an interesting question, because the Sadducees didn’t even believe in the resurrection. Perhaps they were trying to trick Jesus with what they thought was an impossible question to answer. Nevertheless, Jesus replied:

The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.[3]

Luke tells us that Jesus’ response astounded them. “Some of the teachers of the law responded, ‘Well said, teacher!’ And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”[4]

Although no one asked any more questions, I’m sure they burned with questions. I would have wanted to ask questions. For example, “Why will the resurrected not marry or be given in marriage?”

In The Resurrection of the Son of God, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright offers this explanation about why there will be no marriage for those resurrected: “The logic of Luke’s version of Jesus’ riposte then depends for its force on two unstated assumptions: (a) that marriage is instituted to cope with the problem that people die; (b) angels do not die.”[5]

At first blush, it seems unfathomable that marriage was, as Wright states, “instituted to cope with the problem that people die.” Arguably the biblical purpose of marriage in general should be understood to mean so much more than just coping with death. But Wright’s statement must be understood in light of examining Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees. Old Testament marriage law had to do with the importance of keeping the family line going after the death of a spouse but before children could be born to the husband and wife. The Sadducees’ question to Jesus comes from an assumption that the main purpose in marriage was to be fruitful and multiply as stated in Genesis 1:28. In other words, at the time of Jesus, Jewish understanding of the laws of marriage had to do, at least in part, with death when it attempted to interfere with continuing family lines.

Jesus blows away their understanding of marriage and the resurrection by explaining that at the resurrection there will be no more marriage, “they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.” Wright offers this explanation about the likeness to angels:

The “likeness” in question is meant, not in the ontological sense that the resurrected ones are now the same sort of creature as the angels, nor in the locational sense that they are sharing the same space, but in the functional sense that the angels do not marry.[6]

He concludes that we will not be like angels in all respects, but only “that they are immortal.”[7]

Thus, we can conclude that one of the reasons there will not be marriage in the after-life is because there is no need for it. For Christians, death will be defeated.

There are other reasons for biblical marriage, such as how it symbolizes Christ and the church[8] and the wedding feast yet to come.[9] But we will save that for another day.

[1] Deut. 25:5-10, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.  The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.’ Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, ‘I do not want to marry her,’ his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, ‘This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.’ That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.” All Scripture quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
[2] Luke 20:33.
[3] Luke 20:34-36.
[4] Luke 20:39-40.
[5] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 423.
[6] Ibid., 422; emphasis original.
[7] Ibid., 423.
[8] Eph. 5:25-32.
[9] Rev. 19:6-9.


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