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Tuesday, March 07, 2006 

Resurrection & Marriage: Part 1

"Welcome to the blogosphere! Considering the main topic of your blog, I would be interested in a post about the meaning and implications for modern (and all, really) Christians of Matthew 22:23-33, specifically verse 30.

You said that theologians sometimes treat the resurrection almost exclusively as a means to an end (Jesus is divine, the Christian faith is based on an historic truth claim). I agree. Also, I think that theologians mostly talk about the above passage in the same manner. They use it to simply show that the institution of marriage ends and then (quickly) move on to other things.

But what are the ramifications of this passage? I imagine that, since marriage is the divinely established outlet for sexual intimacy (and the deep emotional intimacy this creates) and the building of the family, many people have been discouraged or angered by this passage. What of babies who have died or those who were eunuchs from their mother's womb (19:12), or those who're too hideously disfigured? Also, What of a millenial view of Isaiah 65:23? Yet, this passage usually receives nothing more than a parenthetical mention in articles and discussions." Anonymous

Anonymous is referring in this quotation to the famous passage about some Sadducees, who not believing in a future resurrection of the dead, approach Jesus in the hopes of making a fool out of him by posing what in their minds is an absurd consequence of belief in resurrection from the dead. But Jesus sees through their intentions and deflects their argument by first making a comparison between resurrection life and angelic existence and then by appealing to the Torah, thus refuting their arguments from the only source they considered authoritative. (They accepted only the first five books of Moses and rejected all other writings and oral traditions.)

What disturbs some people, including Anonymous, is that this pericope seems to be affirming that marriage, at the resurrection, will end. And so Anonymous rightly asks what would be some of the ramifications of this? However, before attempting to answer the questions posed by Anonymous, let's first, rather hastily, deal with some preliminary historical-critical inquiries. This passage in Matthew is found also in the parallel pericopes in Mk. 12:18-27 and Lk. 20:27-40. There are few significant differences between the passages. Luke is the more embelished form of the three and, surprsingly, Matthew narrates the more compressed form of the passages. However, though Matthew preserves the shortest version, Markan priority still dominates the judgment of most scholars.

And of course some, Bultmann for example, have in the past claimed that this debate with the Sadducees did not orginate with the historical Jesus, but rather with the early church, being necessitated by some sort of Sitz em Leben. The main contention being that since it doesn't exist in the hypothetical (yes, hypothetical) Q community, this debate must be a purely Markan creation subsequently copied by both Matthew and Luke. However, I find the arguments of Davies and Allison more convincing in their support of the historicity of this encounter (see their ICC Commentary on Matthew Vol.3 p. 223). Thus I will proceed from the assumption that this is a situation that at least in some form goes back to the original Jesus and that Mark preserves the earliest memory of this. Since then Mark is most likely the orginal form of this passage I will deal with this form of the tradition, rather than Matthew's.

Now concerning what might be the possible ramifications of the passage for Modern Christians. First let me proivde the exegetical and cultural reply. I know that I am belaboring a point that has been made many times over, but we must keep in mind that the principal understanding of the purpose of marriage in Jewish thinking was that of propagation or procreation. The modern notions of romantic love and such was foreign to most Jews. And even though there were exceptions (such as the Song of Songs or the love story of Joseph and Aeseneth) among some Jews, this passage, at least, presupposes not the exception but rather the norm, i.e. that marriage is intended to ensure familial continuation and propagation.

This assumption is readily inferred from Jesus' reply that "For when they rise from the dead, they (men) neither marry, nor (women) are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven," (Mk 12:25). In this verse, Jesus draws a similarity between the resurrection state and angelic existence. Angels were commonly thought to be immortal, and thus would have had no need to propagate their own kind. Likewise then, if in the resurrection state we become immortal like the angels in heaven, we will also have no further need for propagation. Consequently, marriage would cease, since it would no longer have a purpose. Unfortunately, the concern of anonymous about the deep intimacy (emotionally and sexually) characterized by marriage is not addressed, nor does it appear to even be implied. The question of the Sadducees and the reply of Jesus presupposes only this common understanding of marriage.

Now interestingly, it doesn't follow necessarily that Jesus himself held only to this common view of marriage in Second Temple Judaism. It is at least conceivable that Jesus could have valued the kind of intimacy that only marriage can foster between two people. Nevertheless, Jesus only debates with the Sadducees in the context of the normal understanding of marriage. And so we have no real way of knowing precisely what Jesus' thoughts were concerning marriage. But the danger works both ways since it is foolhardy to take one small pericope placed in the context of a debate and then to extract systematically a full understanding of Jesus' own views on marriage such that you come away with a Jesus having nothing but a negative view of marriage. The reality is we just do not know.

To be continued...

Hi Chris.

It's "Anonymous" here, lol. My real name is Eric, just so you don't have to keep referring to an anonymous person in your posts. Anyways, I just wanted to say thank you for posting on this topic, and so soon, as it affects me in a more personal way, being born with spina bifida (unable to walk, and very little sensation below the waist). I look forward to further posts on this topic and also to all of your other posts.

God bless.

A positive (though speculative) case can be made that male-female relationships similar to marital bonds can continue between the redeemed into the next life. This may then also imply a romantic, physical or even sexual aspect in such a relationship. If you're interested to know more, an in-depth study of this topic (including the marriage pericope of Mt 22, and Old Testament issues) is conducted on the rezfamilies website - google 'rezfamilies'or go to

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