“For in all the world there is nothing to equal the day on
which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings
are Holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”1
the vision of the exalted importance of the Song of Songs as
purportedly expressed by Rabbi Aqiba at the Council of Jamnia
(ca. 90 A.D.). According to tradition, Aqiba’s speech helped confirm
the Song’s place in the canon of Scripture.
I think the narrative of Romantic love, meeting it’s fulfilment in Christ, in Marriage, is one of Feast …so find this outline by Leithart most perceptive. Is it coincidence that the Bible uses the language it does when describing Marriage?
Eugene Peterson’s quote in ‘Run with the Horses’, where he laments the Bible being restricted to ‘literature’, I think applies equally well here. The Bible as ‘allegory’ doesn’t get near the fullness of revelation.
Furthermore, the whole misunderstanding of the gift of sexuality parallels the misunderstanding of Play as defined by Huizinga, Jeremy Treat, Lincoln Harvey and co elsewhere on this blog site. All of the arguments against sex and Marriage in the Kingdom completely miss the point, saying that ‘there wont need to be sex’ etc- the same thin iis said of Sports, music, art etc and completely misses the point of God’s Good Creation and our role as His co-creating Children. See Treat’s short article on A Theology of Sport to give you am idea of the structure a Hopeful Theology of Marriage and Sexuality should take.
We may compare the ‘rules’ of Marriage to the rules of the game, etc and recognise all these Gifts as they are, not a distraction from but a MEANS of Worshipping and Giving Glory to God in His Kingdom, which is for this life and the next, for Eternity; through a glass darkly now or a seed yearning to grow to become even more in the next life as St Paul shows. A wonderful balance of continuity and discontinuity, as the Bible makes clear. (Although obviously not clear in a way, given the confusion abounding…)
Recently, I’ve discovered Patricia Beattie Jung and her fine book Sex on Earth as it is in Heaven- A Christian Eschatology of Desire. This is a necessary work and well executed. See it viz sex in the Kingdom of God as it fits well with a lot of what ive been saying here and the resources I’ve been gathering.
She recommends Richard B Hays like me, but also Daniel Louw, Lewis B Smedes and others non Eastern Orthodox who believe Sex can be a product of he Kingdom of God.
Mrs Beattie Jung has also introduced me to Fr Edward Vacek’s more nuanced work on Eros, Agape, Self Love and Philia in his work on Love; Both Human and Divine. He has been kind enough to respond to my queries and I’d recommend his work. He shows how Nygren and others are wrong in assuming Eros refers to ‘a lack’ and shows that it is not an inferior form of love. PB Jung does well in highlighting this in her book.
She highlights a positive reading of Corinthians viz sex in Heaven and this fits in with the big picture. (I’ll add more about this in general, and this passage here when I get time.) She also shows that the merely ‘allegorical’ and more Gnostic readings of Scripture are not universal and not a clear ‘tradition’. Again, Jung helpfully shoes us how different Christian authors such as Augustine changed their views on Marriage and Sexuality over time and how historically conditioned a lot of these ideas are.
The Body of Christ has grown and will continue to grow with us, so let’s feed it the healthy Scriptural food it needs to grow healthily.
Just discovered Shaji, I’ll evaluate and give my opinion later.
Some dialogue between myself and Biblical Anthropology scholar Alice Linsley-
Recently, I’ve been trying to understand some of the context surrounding this Mysterious Love Poem, especially as it may pertain to Marriage. I’ve seen a few people say that it is only a ‘spiritual’ allegory for the relationship between God and Man, but don’t think that makes sense- From what I’ve read of Fr Schmemann in ‘For the Life of The World’ and ‘The Eucharist’ as well as others such Christos Yannaras, they treat it as a both-and… reflecting our relationship with God and one another. This fits so well with The great commandment and fits The overarching narrative of, at least the Eastern understanding of ‘Deification’ in my view. The liberal Anglican Theologian even suggests placing it into the Liturgy of Marriage and when juxtaposed with Schmemann’s meditation on Marriage in his aforementioned work, makes utmost sense. (whilst Thatcher and I often disagree, I find this to be most insightful). 😀
Leithart avoids the allegorical approach in favor of a typological that allows for the historical reality and envisions the Groom as a type of Christ and the beloved as a type of the church. I am reminded of the Bridegroom Orthros services in Orthodoxy. These are of great spiritual insight.
Alice’s response to Gary A Anderson- “…this idiom of joy occurs in the exact location where early Jewish sources had located Adam and Eve’s first sexual tryst. ” Really? I do not find a specific location in Scripture. In fact, Eden is described as a vast expanse extending from the Upper Nile (Pishon and Gihon at Havilah) to the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Here is a map of Eden according to the Biblical data. Where did the union of Adam and Eve take place? That is impossible to specify.
Alice says- The “lusty” yearning for the lover suggests youth. We know from analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Hebrew rulers that the sister bride was taken while the ruler was still young, around the age of 18. She was a half sister, such as Sarah was to Abraham. Sarah was the bride of his youth and Keturah was the bride of his old age, taken before he came to rule over his territory. The events given in Scripture about the eschaton, link the reign of Christ to the Marriage Feast. Rather than speak of 2 dispensations (suggesting that God changes), we would understand the Church to be the second wife, the bride taken before the enthronement. Interesting! Are the faithful who lived in expectation of Messiah’s appearing the first wife? I believe this is how we are to understand the relationship of faithful Israel and the Church. My Orthodox friends will please forgive me, but I don’t find supersessionism in the Bible. It comes from the writings of some of the Church Fathers. For example, Justin Martyr wrote, “For the true spiritual Israel … are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.”
“Carl Jung once remarked that when people brought sexual questions to him they invariably turned out to be religious, and when they brought religious questions to him they always turned out to be sexual.” (Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, p. 15)
“As theologian Sarah Coakley has so brilliantly said, ancient Christian reflection on desire shows that Freud is exactly wrong: Talk about God is not repressed talk about sexuality; talk about sex is, in fact, repressed talk about God.” (Jason Byassee, “Not Your Father’s Pornography,” First Things, January 2008)
How should Christians read the enigmatic book usually called “The Song of Songs” which is found in their Old Testament Scriptures? The proper approach to both the explicit sexual imagery found within these pages, and to the equally unbounded celebration of the sheer goodness of erotic love, is neither allegory (i.e. the whole thing is really about God and His people, and not the mutual delight between spouses) nor literal (i.e. sexual love is secularized and entirely disconnected from its relation to God’s covenant with Israel). Rather, the Song simultaneously celebrates both forms of covenant love (human and divine), simply because the erotic love of spouses in marriage is itself already typological and symbolic of divine love for Israel by virtue of creation and redemption. From the beginning, “sex” and “spirituality” have always been mutually interpreting and intimately linked to each other. Every unfolding stage of the biblical metanarrative only serves to further establish and explain this foundational logic. For Christians who think rightly about their story, this much must be said: in talking about the one (either sex or spirituality), the other subject is always necessarily in view as well. Neither can be understood or experienced rightly in splendid isolation.
Robert Jenson strikes the right balance:
“The Song’s poesy of sheer bodily delight, invoked in order to speak of the Lord and his people joined passionately in the temple, simultaneously evokes human love as it would be, were we lovers in Eden or in the garden the temple depicted: it would be the joyous image of God’s love for Israel.” (Robert W. Jenson, “Male and Female He Created Them,” in I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, eds. Braaten and Seitz, p. 185)
And Stephen Barton appeals to the inherent symbolism of human sexuality in the Christian story for the “multiple levels” approach to the Song of Songs:
“Nor is sexuality limited to our relations with one another. It has a mystical dimension whereby it is able to become fundamental to our relations with God as well. That is why the Song of Songs has always been interpreted both as a celebration of love between a woman and a man, and also as a celebration of the relation of mutual desire between God and the people of God.” (Stephen C. Barton, “‘Glorify God in Your Body’ (1 Cor 6:20): Thinking Theologically About Sexuality,” in Life Together: Family, Sexuality and Community in the New Testament and Today, p. 80)
Similarly, Richard Davidson contends that:
“Those who have resorted to an allegorical interpretation to legitimize the existence of the Song in Scripture have missed the crucial point—the Song of Songs in its plain and literal sense is not just a ‘secular’ love song but already fraught with deep spiritual, theological significance.” (Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, p. 621)
For instance, the strong allusions to and echoes of the Garden of Eden in the Song point beyond the particular love of this anonymous couple, back to God’s original creational intentions for all of humanity which were scarred and frustrated by sin:
“In the Song of Songs we have come full circle in the Old Testament back to the garden of Eden. Several recent studies have penetratingly analyzed and conclusively demonstrated the intimate relationship between the early chapters of Genesis and the Song of Songs. In the ‘symphony of love,’ begun in Eden but gone awry after the fall, The Song constitutes ‘love’s lyrics redeemed.’ Phyllis Trible summarizes how the Song of Songs ‘by variations and reversals creatively actualizes major motifs and themes’ of the Eden narrative: ‘Female and male are born to mutuality and love. They are naked without shame; they are equal without duplication. They live in gardens where nature joins in celebrating their oneness. Animals remind these couples of their shared superiority in creation as well as their affinity and responsibility for lesser creatures. Fruits pleasing to the eye and tongue are theirs to enjoy. Living waters replenish their gardens. Both couples are involved in naming; both couples work…Whatever else it may be, Canticles is a commentary on Gen. 2-3. Paradise Lost is Paradise Regained.’” (Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, pp. 552-53)
Finally, in her wonderfully lucid commentary on the Song, Ellen F. Davis provides much grist for the mill for confused modern readers:
“The task of writing a theological commentary on the Song of Songs is a daunting one. Is it the least ‘biblical’ book in the Bible, or the most? There is in the whole book not a single overt reference to God, to prayer, or to any aspect of Israel’s religious practice or tradition…Overwhelmingly, modern interpreters read the book as purely secular love poetry, even soft pornography. Yet, taking a longer view, Christians have through the centuries regarded the Song of Songs as one of the most religiously profound–and most difficult!–books of the Bible. Except for Genesis and the Psalms, the Song has generated more commentary than any other book of the Bible…
The approach taken in this commentary is that the Song of Songs is, in a sense, the most biblical of books. That is to say, the poet is throughout in conversation with other biblical writers…The Song is thick with words and images drawn from earlier books. By means of this ‘recycled’ language, the poet places this love song firmly in the context of God’s passionate and troubled relationship with humanity (or, more particularly, with Israel), which is the story the rest of the Bible tells. Far from being a secular composition, the Song is profoundly revelatory. Its unique contribution to the biblical canon is to point to the healing of the deepest wounds in the created order, and even the wounds in God’s own heart, made by human sin. Most briefly stated, the Song is about repairing the damage done by the first disobedience in Eden, what Christian tradition calls ‘the Fall’…Vritually all the books of the Bible bear traces–one might say ‘scars’–of the great and terrible experience of exile as a result of disobedience to God.
The theological importance of the Song is that it represents the reversal of that primordial exile from Eden. In a word, it returns us to the Garden of God. There, through the imaginative vehicle of poetry, we may experience the healing of painful rupture [in our relationship to both other human beings and God]…The lovers’ garden of delight is the very opposite of the harsh world into which Adam and Eve ‘fell’…The lovers’ graden is subtly but consistently represented as the garden of delight that Eden was meant to be, the place where life may be lived fully in the presence of God.
Because healing must occur at multiple levels, the language of the Song of Songs plays simultaneously upon several registers…The poem uses language and symbols that elsewhere in the Bible represent the love that obtains between God and Israel…In my judgment, interpreters of the Song are always in danger of becoming doctrinaire in one of two directions. Modern commentators tend to adhere rigidly to a sexual interpretation, decoding the highly metaphorical language of the Song into a serires of physically explicit references. The suggestion that religious experience is part of what the poet had in mind is regarded as foreign, if not hostile, to the Song’s celebration of faithful human love. Their ancient and medieval counterparts erred in the other direction. For them, the poem was an allegory, a coded account, of religious experience. So every image had to be decoded: the two breasts that are ‘more delightful than wine’ (1:2) were the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament and the New Testament, Christ’s mercy and truth, and so on…
The sexual and the religious understandings of the Song are mutually informative, and each is incomplete without the other. For a holistic understanding of our own humanity suggests that our religious capacity is linked with an awareness of our own sexuality. Fundamental to both is a desire to transcend the confines of the self for the sake of intimacy with the other. Sexual love provides many people with their first experience of ecstasy, which literally means ‘standing outside oneself.’ Therefore the experience of healthy sexual desire can help us imagine that it might mean to love God truly–a less ‘natural’ feeling for many of us, especially in our secular society. On the other hand, from what the Bible tells us about God’s love we can come to recognize sexual love as an arena for the formation of the soul. Like the love of God, profound love of another person entails devotion of the whole self and steady practice of repentance and forgiveness; it inevitably requires of us suffering and sacrifice. A full reading of the Song of Songs stretches our minds to span categories of experience that our modern intellects too neatly separate.
Yet the Bible itself often allows the two realms of human love and religious experience to interpenetrate. It is telling that the metaphors by which the prophets–who were themselves poets–most commonly characterize God’s relations with Israel are those of courtship and marriage, and also adultery, divorce, and difficult reconciliation…
The recurrent tragedy of biblical history is that human love and responsiveness to God repeatedly weakens and fails. The Song of Songs answers that tragic history, stretching all the way back to Eden. What we hear throughout–and only here in the Bible–is mutual love speaking at full strength…The Song affirms as incomparable the joy of faithful sexual relationship…[and] the images of the Song underscore throughout the lushness of sexual exclusivity (5:1, 6:9)…The lovers’ mutual delight is completely nonutilitarian. The Song shows us love in its purest form. This is the only place in the Bible where the love between man and woman is treated without concern for childbearing or the social and political benefits of marriage. Of course, in this world, all love, including the love of God, is inevitably ‘tainted’ by an awareness of practical benefits. Perhaps this is why the Song has no clear story line (despite the attempts of numerous commentators to give it one!)…
The Song affirms that the desire for loving intimacy both in sexual relationship and in relationship with God is fundamental to our humanity…Perhaps the greatest religious value of the Song of Songs for our generation is to make the [original] perspective from the Garden real and compelling…
The Song of Songs is, more than anything else, like a dream transcribed. The scene shifts constantly and without apparent logic; characters appear and disappear abruptly; fragmentary images are left unintegrated. Yet the images, though jumbled together and sometimes bizarre, are not random. Dream images are rooted in a personal and social history, and working with them inevitably leads below the surface of awareness, often revealing surprising connections. So it is with the Song: its images are deeply contextualized. Their roots can be traced into ancient Near Eastern religion, art, literature, and history, and the physical geography of Israel, as well as through many books of the Old Testament. Like our most important dreams, the Song reaches far back in order to say something startlingly new. Therefore it resists simple decoding and invites us instead to ponder, puzzle, draw connections, and push beyond what we thought before. In short, it encourages the vigorous exercise of the religious imagination, while assuming that our imaginations have already had some ‘training’ in biblical tradition.” (Ellen F. Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, pp. 231-38)
Alice- The tendency to allegorize the Song of Songs is unfortunate because it keeps us from exploring the historical and cultural context of this discourse on love between a ruler and his beloved. The beloved is called “sister” and this is a clue that links the text to the Egyptian ruling class. Note that the “Groom” likens her to “the chariots of Pharaoh” in 1:9 (Septuagint) and to a “mare in Pharaoh’s chariot” in the Masoretic text.
No Marriage in Heaven?
3 years ago
I had the common “’till death do us part” phrase taken out of my wedding vows, replacing it with “’till God do us part.” The reason was partly because the phrase is odd in itself. Why would anyone, much less a Christian, give death power over one’s marriage? Death does not by itself dissolve a marriage, even if it makes a marriage soluble. But the other, more significant reason is that I am utterly unconvinced by the fundamental axiom of status quo Christianity that “there is no marriage in heaven.” This line is mindlessly parroted as if it were as obvious as the existence of the external world. The overbearing confidence derives from a naïve reading of the following passage:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matt 22:23-32)
The encounter is recorded in the other synoptics as well (Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38). I want to ask two questions: Does this passage give us good reason to think that there will be no marriage in heaven? and Are there any reasons to think there will be marriage in heaven? Taking them in order, then:
I. Does this passage give us good reason to think that there will be no marriage in heaven?
The answer is no. The following points have been made before, but apparently they cannot be made enough.
1. The passage is not about angels or heaven. This is the first thing that needs to be said. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard it said that there is no marriage in heaven because we will be like the angels in that either (a) the angels are genderless (whereas marriage is between a man and a woman), or (b) the angels are immaterial, bodiless beings (whereas marriage, founded on the command to procreate, is rendered obsolete sans the possibility of physical intercourse).
This is a ridiculous interpretation, not least because it misses precisely what the passage is about; namely the status of the resurrected. The resurrected will have physical bodies. That’s what it means to be resurrected. Because it forgets this, it misidentifies the relevant respect in which the resurrected are like angels; i.e., being immortal (more on this below). The fact that the question on the minds of status quo Christians is always framed in terms of whether there will be marriage in heaven, as opposed to in the resurrection, is telling: the status quo interpretation is unduly influenced by a non-Christian, Platonic pie in the sky bye and bye idea of heaven. As such, the interpretation is also absurd because it makes grand, unwarranted assumptions about the nature of angels and “heaven.”
1.1. Nothing in the Bible compels us to think of angels as genderless or bodiless. If anything, angels always appear to be male. But more interestingly, the characteristics ascribed to angels in the Bible bear an uncanny resemblance to the characteristics of the resurrected body: (i) angels can appear and disappear similar to how the resurrected Christ is said to; (ii) on at least one occasion, Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance inspired fear and terror in the minds of the disciples, just as an angelophany might (Cf. Luke 24:1-5); (iii) angles, like Paul’s description of the resurrected body, are radiant with glory, powerful, and immortal; (iv) Jesus, when he ascended to heaven, didn’t slough off his acquired human nature. This means that heaven, even now, must be compatible with having a physical body, at least a supernatural one like Christ’s resurrected body (taking Christ’s resurrected body as paradigmatic, it might also suggest gender is retained). So, the fact that Jesus says the angels are in heaven does not mean the angels are in an immaterial, bodiless state. (It hardly needs to be added that this is not to say one becomes an angel upon being resurrected; no, just that but how the resurrected are said to be like angels may well include having a supernatural body.)
1.2. “Heaven,” in fact, is mentioned merely en passant and bears no rhetorical weight for the point Jesus is making. N. T. Wright comments on the passage:
This last phrase does not mean ‘they, like angels, are in heaven’. It does not refer, that is, to the location of the resurrected ones, however easy it is for late western minds to assume that it should. After all, had first-century Jews believed that people ‘went to heaven when they died’, they might well have supposed that marriage continued in that sphere; mentioning the location of the departed would not have made Jesus’ point. Rather, as some later scribes tried to make clear, it means ‘they are like the angels who are in heaven’, or, if you prefer, ‘they are like the angels (who happen to be in heaven)’, as I might say to my nephew in London, ‘You are just like your cousin (who happens to be in Vancouver).’ (Resurrection of the Son of God, pp. 421-422)
It could be that the only reason Jesus mentioned angles and heaven at all was to take an additional swipe at the Sadducees, as it is thought that they also denied the existence of angels and any notion of a lively afterlife. You could delete the entire “like the angels in heaven” clause from all three accounts and no part of Jesus’ point would be lost. Pointing out that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of the living is sufficient for making the point about immortality. This consideration alone exposes just how flaccid this status quo Christian axiom is, based solely as it is on an afterthought clause of eight words.
2. The passage is about Levirate marriage, not necessarily marriage generally. The problem the Sadducees present is premised on the Levirate practice where a man takes his childless widowed sister-in-law as his wife to ensure that his deceased brother’s bloodline will not die with him. Once this is understood, the relevant sense in which the resurrected will be like angels, as Luke’s account makes clear, is clear: they will be immortal (Luke 20:36). What could be more obvious: if you are immortal, there is no need to beget children to carry on your lineage. Wright explains:
The Levirate law, quite explicitly, had to do with continuing the family line when faced with death … A key point, often unnoticed, is that the Sadducees’ question is not about the mutual affection and companionship of husband and wife, but about how to fulfill the command to have a child, that is, how in the future life the family line will be kept going. This is presumably based on the belief, going back to Genesis 1.28, that the main purpose of marriage was to be fruitful and multiply. …[T]he question about the Levirate law is irrelevant to the question of the resurrection, because in the new world that the creator god will make there will be no death, and hence no need for procreation. Jesus has addressed the question’s presupposition, undermining the need to ask it in the first place. (Ibid., p. 423)
Similarly, Ben Witherington:
Where there is no death, there is no need or purpose either to begin or to continue a Levirate marriage. The question the Sadducees raise is inapplicable to the conditions in the new age. On this interpretation Jesus is answering specifically the case in point without necessarily saying anything about marriage apart from Levarite marriage. (Women in the Teaching of Jesus, p. 34)
So, Jesus is at least saying that the resurrected will not participate in Levirate marriage. Witherington further suggests two reasons to think Jesus’ response did in fact concern only Levirate marriage. “Perhaps, like many of the rabbis,” Witherington muses, “Jesus distinguished between marriage contracted purely for propagation and name preservation, and the normal form of marriage” (p. 34). This is more likely than not given that “Jesus recognized that non-Levarite marriage had a more substantial origin, purpose and nature than merely the desire to propagate and maintain a family name” (ibid.). Second, Witherington senses “a negative evaluation of Levirate marriage” in Jesus’ response to the Sadducees’ question, which “would further support His attempts to give a woman greater security and dignity in a normal marriage, and give her the freedom to feel that raising up a seed through Levirate marriage was not a necessity” (p. 35). Levirate marriage, like other Deuteronomic laws, fell out of use once the conditions for its institution became less common. By Jesus’ day, life expectancy was higher and clan identity was less palpable.
3. But even supposing Jesus is making a point about marriage generally, it is a point of limited scope. If marriage in general is in view, we can at most infer that the act of getting married will not occur in the resurrection. Witherington points out that the terms for “marry” (γαμοῦσιν) and “be given in marriage” (γαμίζονται) “reveal that the act of marrying, not necessarily the state of marriage, is under discussion. Thus, the text is saying, no more marriages will be made, but this is not the same as saying that all existing marriages will disappear in the eschatological state” (p. 34).
To summarize our answer to the first question: It’s not clear from this passage that Jesus had marriage in general in mind, as opposed to just Levirate marriage, and even if he did, it does not amount to unrestricted abolition of marriage in the resurrection.
II. Are there any reasons to think there will be marriage in heaven the Resurrection?
We should agree that there is no marriage in the resurrection insofar as its purpose is to procreate in the face of death. But it is hardly insignificant that marriage was instituted prior to the fall; i.e., before death had entered the world. The institution of marriage forms a union grounded in God and the created order He calls good. We cannot equate, then, a deathless world with either a marriageless world or a world without procreation. If God is about re-storation and re-creation, undoing what sin and death has done, there may well be other purposes for marriage and/or procreation in heaven, such as a sui generis form of companionship. If you’re tempted to rejoin, “but the resurrected will have no need for companionship other than God!” I will agree, but note that God saw that it was good to give Adam a companion despite the fact that He was already with Adam in the garden. And it’s not that Adam needs a companion; it’s rather that God showers upon Adam blessings well beyond necessity. Indeed, God didn’t need to create. But he did. God’s act of creation, and His command for us to be fruitful and multiply, illustrates well the Medieval dictum that bonum est diffusivum sui: it is the nature of goodness to spread itself out. The unity of marriage is not only good, but very good. And if the Genesis narrative tells us anything, it’s that disrupting unity is not good.
I’m not saying this is a decisive reason to think there will be marriage in the resurrection. But the possibility is worth taking seriously. At any rate, we can safely conclude with Witherington that
Nowhere in the Synoptic accounts of this debate are we told that we become sexless, without gender distinctions like the angels, or that all marital bonds created in this age are dissolved in the next. The concept of bodily resurrection indicates that there is some continuity between this age and the next which leaves the door open for continuity in the existence of marriage (p. 35).
Family life in the afterlife
I’ve been reading Stein’s treatment of Mk 12:18-27 in his new commentary. It doesn’t seem to me that his interpretation is quite satisfactory. For example, some scholars (e.g. Green, Kilgallen, Witherington) think the type of marriage which is excluded in the afterlife is levirate marriage, and not marriage in general. Stein objects to that on the grounds that “this does not resolve the problem of the Sadducees’ illustration. How can the marriage state of the woman continue simultaneously with all seven brothers,” R. Stein, Mark (Baker 2008), 554n8.
But there are two problems with this objection:
i) In the OT, you could be married to more than one person at a time. While the OT frowns on polygamy, it doesn’t take the position that polygamous marriages are invalid. And the OT supplies the immediate frame of reference.
Insofar as a polygamous marriage is sinful, you couldn’t contract a polygamous marriage in the world to come. But that doesn’t mean the afterlife dissolves all previous relationships which were initiated in sin. For example, a child conceived through rape, adultery, fornication, or incest was conceived in sin, but he doesn’t thereby cease to be the child of his sinful parent or parents in the world to come.
ii) A more immediate difficulty with Stein’s objection is that it doesn’t cohere with something else he says. He earlier said, “The question of the Sadducees involves not just the specific doctrine of the resurrection but also the general doctrine of life after death. The resurrection from the dead, in the technical sense of the resurrection of the body, was seen as a future event occurring at the end of history (12:23: ‘in the resurrection, when they rise’). The fact that Jesus argues that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive (12:27) deals more with the doctrine of life after death. Since the Sadducees denied both, the demonstration of either would refute their denial of life after death,” ibid. 549n2.
But if that is true, then Jesus’ reply isn’t targeting their specific rejection of the resurrection, but their general rejection of the afterlife, whether it be the intermediate state or the final state. Their rejection of the afterlife in toto is what underwrites their specific rejection of either phase of postmortem survival.
On that interpretation, Jesus isn’t trying to resolve the specific problem they pose, but to challenge their underlying denial of the afterlife, which their specific example was intended to illustrate. So Stein fails to apply his own explanation to the case at hand.
Stein also says that “Whereas marriage on earth is for the purpose of procreation (Gen 1:28) and companionship (Gen 2:18-23), in the resurrection there is no longer a need for procreation…for there is no more death” (cf. Luke 20:36), ibid. 554.
i) But a basic problem with this interpretation is that the institution of marriage was never predicated on mortality. It’s a creation mandate, given to Adam and Eve in their unfallen state. It’s not a lapsarian ordinance.
The implication of Stein’s interpretation is that if Adam and Eve had never fallen, they would have remained childless. That’s good Mormon theology, but bad Biblical theology.
By contrast, mortality was a specific presupposition of levirate marriage. Therefore, the identification of marriage with levirate marriage in this pericope is more coherent with the overall teaching of Scripture.
ii) In addition, Scripture doesn’t say our companionship with the saints will compensate for the loss of marital or familial companionship.
And different forms of companionship are not interchangeable. The companionship of a husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, grandmother, grandfather, granddaughter, or friend are not equivalent. Likewise, a relationship with God is no substitute for human relationships, or vice versa. Different relationships have distinctive virtues. And, of course, your mother isn’t my mother. Your son isn’t my son.
No doubt heaven has its compensations. Unexpected compensations. But we need to avoid facile explanations. Some things remain mysterious. We won’t know till we get there.
Finally, what is the relevance of the angels to this debate? On the face of it, the status of angels, as discarnate spirits, is more analogous to the intermediate state than it is to the final state.
But as Bock points out, “by comparing the resurrection to angels, Jesus strikes at another doctrine that the Sadducees denied—the reality of angels,” D. Bock, Luke 2:1623.
In that event, Jesus introduces angels into the discussion to take a swipe at another Sadducean error: their denial of angels. And this ties into the general discussion of the afterlife inasmuch as immortality presupposes existence. Nonentities can’t be immortal. Jesus is using their question as a pretext to turn it against another one of their errors. The audience would no doubt appreciate the irony of his reference to angels in responding to the Sadducees.
September 15, 201214 Comments
by: Coleman Glenn
Are there marriages in heaven? The most obvious answer would seem to be no, based on Jesus’ words to the Sadducees as recorded in Luke 20:27-38, Matthew 22:23-32, and Mark 12:18-27. Here’s the Luke account:
But certain of the Sadducees, who deny that there is any resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if someone’s brother die having a wife, and he die childless, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed to his brother. There were therefore seven brothers, and the first took a wife, and died childless. And the second took the wife, and he died childless. And the third took her, and likewise the seven also, and they left no children, and died. And last of all the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, whose wife of them is she? for the seven had her to wife.” And Jesus answering said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but they who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for they cannot any more die; for they are equal to the angels, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
It seems fairly straightforward – Jesus clearly said that there was no marriage in the resurrection. But Emanuel Swedenborg, whose works inspired the founding of the New Church, claims to have seen married couples in heaven. Because of the apparent contradiction, some people have labelled the New Church teachings on eternal marriage as anti-scriptural.
At first glance the charge seems justified. But looking closer at Jesus’ response, it becomes clear that this isn’t quite as cut-and-dried as it first appears. Some of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is puzzling – He says those in the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage “for they cannot any more die.” Why would the possibility of living forever have anything to do with whether or not they marry or are given in marriage?
It’s not just New Church scholars who have asked that question. And taking a step back, it becomes clear that Jesus is here addressing a very specific question about a specific kind of marriage – namely, a marriage as a legal contract under the law of Moses.
To understand this, it’s necessary to understand why the Sadducees were asking Him this question in the first place. The Sadducees “deny that there is any resurrection.” They were asking Jesus a question about marriage in the resurrection not because they were curious, but because they wanted to prove that there could not possibly be a resurrection at all.
According to the law of Moses, if a married man died before having children, his wife would marry the man’s brother – and any children they bore would bear the name and lineage of the original husband. The “marriage” in this case was a legal contract establishing heritage, and ensuring that the original husband’s name would be carried on into the next generation – that his life would be carried on through “his” children, even though they were born from his brother.
The trap that the Sadducees laid, then, was that the law of Moses required the woman to marry multiple men – but the same law forbade a woman from marrying several men while all were still living. If there was a resurrection, then the woman could not help but break the law of Moses; and to the Sadducees, this implied that the very idea of a resurrection was contrary to Scripture, and so was not possible.
But Jesus responded that “they who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for they cannot any more die.” What does not dying have to do with not being married? If we’re talking about marriage as a union of souls – two becoming one flesh – then not much. You could live forever and still be in union of souls. But if marriage is a legal contract to ensure that a family name is carried on through children, then suddenly it does become relevant whether a person will die again. If they no longer die, then a marriage to carry on the family name is no longer necessary. Marriage as that kind of legal contract is no longer a reality.
Jesus’ response addresses marriage as a legal contract – which is what the Sadducees were asking about – but it says nothing about marriage as the union of two souls. If that’s what the Sadducees had been asking about, the answer would have been easy: the woman would be married to the man she’s truly become one with. But that’s not what the Sadducees were asking about. Note that they could just as easily have asked, “Which of his wives is Jacob married to?” but they didn’t, because according to the law of Moses it was fine for Jacob to have had multiple wives. Their question specifically rested on the idea of the Mosaic law continuing to be in effect in the resurrection, and specifically about the Levirate marriage.
The kind of marriage that Jesus spoke of in contrast to the Mosaic marriage was a different thing entirely. He said, “On this account shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall be into one flesh. Wherefore they are no longer two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God has joined together, let not man put asunder,” and “Moses, because of your hard heartedness, permitted you to send away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” The ideal of marriage was that of Adam and Eve – not a legal contract but a union of souls. It is marriage, but in a sense so different from the idea of the Sadducees as to not even be deserving of the same name.
And so when Swedenborg wrote about marriages in heaven, he clearly stated that they were something different from marriages as a legal contract or marriages for the purpose of having children in this world:
Marriages in heaven differ from marriages on the earth in that the procreation of offspring is another purpose of marriages on the earth, but not of marriages in heaven, since in heaven the procreation of good and truth takes the place of procreation of offspring….All this makes clear that marriages in heaven are not like marriages on earth. In heaven marryings are spiritual, and cannot properly be called marryings, but conjunctions of minds from the conjunction of good and truth. But on earth there are marryings, because these are not of the spirit alone but also of the flesh. And as there are no marryings in heaven, consorts there are not called husband and wife; but from the angelic idea of the joining of two minds into one, each consort designates the other by a name signifying one’s own, mutually and reciprocally. This shows how the Lord’s words in regard to marrying and giving in marriage (Luke 20:35, 36), are to be understood. (Heaven and Hell 382)
Swedenborg does elsewhere describe those heavenly relationships as “marriages” because that is the best way to describe them in “this world” terminology, but he continues to distinguish between merely natural marriages and spiritual marriages, or the union of two souls.
One final note: it is not only Swedenborgians (and Mormons) who entertain the possibility of marriage (or something spiritually analogous) continuing in the resurrection. Eastern Orthodoxy allows for that possibility; several Protestant Bible scholars have made similar arguments to the one I make above (e.g. Ben Witherington in Women in the Ministry of Jesus); and even some staunch Calvinists hold it out as a possibility. So although it’s a different interpretation of scripture than many Christians are used to, it’s by no means unheard of, and it is not anti-scriptural. In fact, to me it seems more in line with the core teachings of scripture about what happens in a true marriage: the two become one.
A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Father Cantalamessa on Marriage in Heaven
Pontifical Household Preacher on Sunday’s Gospel
ROME, 10 NOV. 2006 (ZENIT)
Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
* * *
There came a poor widow
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (b)
1 Kings 7:10-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
One day, Jesus was standing before the temple treasury, watching people deposit their offerings. He saw a poor widow come and put in all she had, two copper coins, which make a penny. He turned to his disciples and said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than the others. All have given from their excess, but she, in her poverty, put in all she had, all she had to live on.”
We might call this Sunday the “Sunday of the widows.” The story of a widow was also told in the first reading, the widow of Zarephath who gave up all she had left to eat (a handful of flour and a drop of oil) to prepare a meal for the prophet Elijah.
This is a good occasion in which to turn our attention toward both the widows and the widowers of today. If the Bible speaks so often of widows and never of widowers it is because in ancient society the woman who was left alone was at a greater disadvantage than the man who was left alone. Today there is no longer this difference. Actually, in general it now seems that women who are alone manage much better than men.
On this occasion I would like to treat a theme that is of definite interest not only to widows and widowers but also to all those who are married, especially during this month in which we remember the dead. Does the death of a husband or wife, which brings about the legal end of a marriage, also bring with it the total end of communion between the two persons? Does something of that bond which so strongly united two persons on earth remain in heaven, or will all be forgotten once we have crossed the threshold into eternal life?
One day, some Sadducees presented Jesus with the unlikely case of a woman who was successively the wife of seven brothers, asking him whose wife she would be after the resurrection. Jesus answered: “When they rise from the dead they will neither marry nor be given in marriage but will be like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25).
Interpreting this saying of Jesus wrongly, some have claimed that marriage will have no follow-up in heaven. But with his reply Jesus is rejecting the caricature the Sadducees presented of heaven, as if it were going to be a simple continuation of the earthly relationship of the spouses. Jesus does not exclude the possibility that they might rediscover in God the bond that united them on earth.
According to this vision, marriage does not come to a complete end at death but is transfigured, spiritualized, freed from the limits that mark life on earth, as also the ties between parents and children or between friends will not be forgotten. In a preface for the dead the liturgy proclaims: “Life is transformed, not taken away.” Even marriage, which is part of life, will be transfigured, not nullified.
But what about those who have had a negative experience of earthly marriage, an experience of misunderstanding and suffering? Should not this idea that the marital bond will not break at death be for them, rather than a consolation, a reason for fear? No, for in the passage from time to eternity the good remains and evil falls away. The love that united them, perhaps for only a brief time, remains; defects, misunderstandings, suffering that they inflicted on each other, will fall away.
Indeed, this very suffering, accepted with faith, will be transformed into glory. Many spouses will experience true love for each other only when they will be reunited “in God,” and with this love there will be the joy and fullness of the union that they did not know on earth. In God all will be understood, all will be excused, all will be forgiven.
Some will ask of course about those who have been legitimately married to different people, widowers and widows who have remarried. (This was the case presented to Jesus of the seven brothers who successively had the same woman as their wife.) Even for them we must repeat the same thing: That which was truly love and self-surrender between each of the husbands or wives, being objectively a good coming from God, will not be dissolved. In heaven there will not be rivalry in love or jealousy. These things do not belong to true love but to the intrinsic limits of the creature. ZE06111001
See more at-
My own short response in email correspindance with Adrain Thatcher ( thanks to him for his time)
We were speaking of Lukes Gospel and what Adrian thought was his ‘disparaging’ view of Marriage. I’m not sure I added anything to the sources above or the Orthodox Theology of Marriage from Behr, Meyendorff, LeMasters, Calivas and co but I’ll share anyway.
Thank you for your thought-out response once again. I’m with you in that I don’t want Luke to have a lower view of Marriage either.
I appreciate the argument and can see why so many of us are taken in by it. (I was raised RC myself and thought the same but in studying the Orthodox Theology of Marriage at its finer moments, have changed views.)
However, like John Meyendorff’s title in his book on Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, I think Resurrection changes the nature of Marriage.
I think Luke is attacking Marriage for reasons of posterity, political gain, etc and worldly marriage generally so people aren’t looking at it in the right context; I think we should look at the big picture and see what makes sense in relation to that.
People leaving marriages of convenience at that time for the sake of the Kingdom of God is one thing but I don’t think it makes sense to view that as a recommended course of action throughout the ages as some do. (I’ve read a bit about this in Fr Phil LeMasters work.)
Yet, I think that popular view of Marriage as lesser is built on a house of cards because the Marriage of the Kingdom is something entirely different.
I tend to think of it in terms of Homo Ludens and ‘Play’- Marriage and Sexuality as God’s Good Gifts, good in and of themselves; meant for His glory and ‘human beings fully alive’ rather than marriage for the kind of utilitarian motivations Luke and Christ Himself are critiquing. If marriage is for posterity only, we have a problem but if it’s a Good gift of God, a true vocation whereby we can manifest love for Him and one another abundance and in co-Creation, that’s something different surely!? because it is good in uniting us with Him and one another, a means of Grace and Sacrament of The Kingdom.
That makes a lot more sense against the narrative of the scriptures in general, imho, viz The Christ who celebrated His first public miracle at the Wedding at Cana and the God who pronounced the world good, saying ‘go forth and multiply’ before the fall. (I’ve seen a similar twisted post-lapsarian argument to Martin’s in readings of Nyssa and Maximus but it’s very Biblically unsound in my view.)
I tend to look at it like the folks who do the great Bible Project videos on YouTube; by looking at The Story and try and understand the stories in relation to that.
Fr John Behr’s got some good stuff to say on this I think, Meyendorff, LeMasters and other, predominantly but not exclusively, Orthodox. I’ve also found Richard M Davidson, Fr Ed Vacek, even John Milbank and others to be great, alongside yourself.
Let’s Pray, as lovers of Marriage, that the Orthodox are right for the sake of spouses the world over.
I like that you’ve looked at the different synoptic gospels and compare and contrast them, whilst dealing with the historical milieu; I’ve also befriended an Anglican Lady and Biblical Anthropologist, Alice Linsley, who roots these stories in their proper context and would recommend her work too.”
What I didn’t mention at the time was that some of these critiques of ‘marriage’ were in the context of speaking to a Greek audience. (To which Luke is addressed) and Luke often paraphrases Jesus. It is not a literal word for word account of what Christ said. That is worth noting and it should be remembered that the different Gospels were addressed to different groups. A writer writing to a Greek audience wouldnt look into the Covenantal Marriage pointed to by Christ at Cana, or more generally. See The Bible Project on the historical here- https://thebibleproject.simplecast.fm/episodes/5c984bc1/luke-part-one-an-intro-to-reading-the-gospels
Thank God for the Hope and True Christian Vision which these sorts of sources are getting at.
On that ‘big picture’ approach to The Bible, please do check out the wonderful Bible Project videos. Here’s an example on Love-
Tim Mackie has considered sexuality in light of Christ and His Kingdom here –
Listen to The Marriage Dance – Tim Mackie – August 29, 2010 by Blackhawk Church #np on #SoundCloud
Tim Mackie of the brilliant ‘Bible Project’ on sexual desire and marriage, which he knows are pure, holy gifts, good, indeed Very Good within the narrative of Scripture but the worst thing in the world whenever it is turned towards the fallen twisted self. He is correct.
This realisation that the corruption of the best is the worst is shown by David Cayley in his work on Illich, Girard etc. Including his article on the AntiChrist in their thought and his series on ‘The Corruption of Christianity’.
His work on heaven and earth references John Walton on the relationship between the garden of Eden, God’s temple and Holy Place, presciently showing how the whole Kingdom will be God’s Space and in accordance with a proper Orthodox Theology of Marriage that would include marriage and human sexuality. Dr Behr, Dr Calivas, LeMasters, Meyendorff, Dr Guroian and others show that to suffering degrees. The centrality of the Song of Songs in the temple via Passover is most interesting and this great Holy book should be integral to the Marital Liturgy.
It is an option in Anglican services or example, as Adrian Thatcher told me and is something I’ve spoken to John Milbank about. We agree that it should be seen in similar terms to the Holiest of the Holy of Holies, as some of the Rabbinic tradition had it. Richard M Davidson and Tim himself, as well as a few prophetic others are helping towards that end with their contextualising of this element of God’s story within the story of His Kingdom in toto.
A rather good article looking at the difference that difference makes vis sex. How ‘liberal’ is liberal really?
…How nice too to see Fabrice Hadjadj’s ideas being discussed in English.
(Artur Rosman of cosmosinthelost has done a fine job in sharing some of his insights.)
“‘Difference’ is typically understood to be negative in its meaning—referring merely to the fact that we are not the same. What if we were to start thinking of difference as positive in its meaning, understanding it as naming the particular manner in which two entities are distinguished from each other within their relation?
If we were to do this I believe that a more ‘musical’ account of otherness would emerge. Sexuality exposes us to a world of musical difference, where, as we open ourselves up to otherness, we are caught up within the beauty and delight of a larger cosmic symphony (difference in relation is also characteristic of symbolism). As with musical notes the power and meaning of difference is located within relations, relations through which we belong to something greater than ourselves and which puncture our autonomy and detachment.
In our cultural flight from the otherness of sexuality we seek to dull ourselves to the reality that we exist in and belong to a world that belongs to an Other above all others. A rediscovery and celebration of the created otherness of sexuality holds great promise. As both the Apostle Paul and Fabrice Hadjadj realize, it may be a means by which human beings are freed from the idolatry of self-sufficiency and are comported towards transcendence.”
Ive gained an insight into some of the Antiochan and Alexandrian emphases in interpreting Scripture by way of Christian Spirituality, Origins to the twelfth Century; edited by Fr John Meyendorff and Bernard McGinn. Sandra Schneiders made some important points in her essay on Scripture and spirituality.
I’m something closer to an ‘Antiochan’ at heart and find the de facto implication that the more ‘spiritual’ reading of scripture, which is interpreted as being a more allegorical and Alexandrian reading, is the ‘traditional one’ demonstrably ludicrous and harmful to The Church.
Moreover, ‘allegorical’, even within the Alexandrian school, referred to more than what is now assumed as allegorical. It included a variety of different ‘more than literal’ senses.
The fashion of today’s theologians seems to sway way more to the more effervescent spiritualities of Origen, Nyssa and their ilk but theirs is but one tributary of tradition in a long, wide and meandering river of Christian Living.
History reveals the truth of the matter and shows that the notion of ‘tradition’ is often ambiguous, also highlighting that it’s value is contingent on differing views and not therefore right in and of itself. “Scripture was understood as inspired by God, something a modern believer might also hold. But inspiration was understood in premodern times according to a quasi dictation model, which is hardly tenable today. According to this model, every word of scripture is directly attributable to God and must, therefore, be suffused with meaning worthy of God. This led to the attempt to find serious religious significance in passages we today would easily relativise or even pass over. The attempt to find deep meaning where none probably exists led to the strained inventiveness of some patriotic exegesis that moderns rightly find groundless or even fantastic.”
I must say, this should inform how we receive certain early Christian’s readings on things like sex and gender, taking them with a pinch of salt. That is something that has become abundantly clear in my research of Clement of Alexandria, Maximos The Confessor and Gregory of Nyssa. Whatever insights they had in other areas, they were not very perceptive in these areas and had ‘groundless’ assumptions of their own which don’t fit texts such as Genesis.
This Antiochan recognition of “history itself as the locus of Divine Revelation” has most salient consequences and should be taken seriously.
This, I think, is an essential feature of Liturgy as a manifestation of God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Marriage, I believe, is just one perilously neglected manifestion of God’s presence in the world, because of a failure of Incarnational nerve and unwillingness to take this more-than-literal life on it’s own Spirit infused terms rather than trying to spiritualise it as non-literal.
Refpections on The Bible Project Podcast how to Read The Bible part 4-
As well as Luke, the bible project show how we need to interpret the Bible on the proper terms, one third of the bible (by chapters) is poetry so we need to take this seriously.
Look at The Song of Songs; God is not trying to reach us in a stern moralistic fashion like many in the Church doviz sex, but instead evolve an experience, as well as our imagination with poetic language. This is His revelation and way of revealing. This shows the importance of experience and feelings, which are part of our sexual, marital relationships.
Again, this fits more correctly with the real life Mysticism of Marriage. The work of Richard M Davidson at al on typology is relevant here as too a Liturgy of Marriage which would appreciate it’s embodied, experiential form; a manifestation of God’s Good Creation and celebration (Think of the marriage feast) of God’s Good Creation than a dehumanizing minimalist and purely ‘allegorical’ and other-worldly interpretation.
Both-and and more besides; such is His overflowing, Joyful abundance.