9. A QUESTION OF
What the Bible Teaches About Marriage in the Next Life
Q. A question that is causing some concern amongst our Christian friends outside B’rit Chadashah (the New Covenant Church of God) is our belief in the doctrine of ‘eternal’ or ‘celestial marriage’. They are saying that we are not true Bible-believing Christians because Jesus said there would be no marriage in the resurrection (Lk.20:34-35). Some are saying that we are ‘closet Mormons’ and believe in our own revelations more than the Bible. Perhaps you could clarify the situation.
A. Before we get into a discussion of this subject I wish to categorically state for the record -- even though we have said it dozens of times before -- that New Covenant Christians are Bible-believing Christians. What this means is that every position we take, doctrinally and practically, must square with, or be a natural development of, the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. Anything that is a flagrant contradiction of the New Testament is unreservedly rejected by us.
Unfortunately there will always be some people who will contradict us no matter what we say because they are not interested in our position. They will misquote us and try to fit us into a mould which is both alien as well as repulsive to us. They will label and slander us. This we accept as a reality of this sin-sodden world. We don’t like it and we will defend ourselves but we are realists. There are people out there, even those who wear the label ‘Christian’ who just aren’t interested in the truth. We pray for them, that pride and obstinancy may break through whatever fears or demonic holds the adversary has upon them.
Q. So New Covenant Christians do not, as one critic has said, just “pay lip-service to the Bible”?
A. Anyone who has seriously studied our literature will know that such is the height of absurdity. It’s so absurd in fact that I don’t think it is profitable to say anything more on the subject but to address your specific question about ‘eternal marriage’.
Before I look at the biblical evidence I think it is important to state what the doctrine of eternal marriage is not. According to the Utah Mormons (as distinct from Reorganized Latter Day Saints who adopt the traditional Protestant position) eternal marriage is an earthly marriage which has been sealed in one of their temples by one having the proper authority. In short, were I to wish to be eternally married to my wife according to Mormon doctrine, I would have to take her to an LDS Temple and go through a ritual in a special room (called the Celestial Room) and there, holding my wife’s hand in a special grip borrowed from the Freemasons (called the ‘Patriarchal Grip’ by the Mormons) have a blessing pronounced over me by a Mormon High Priest who has obtained the authority to do the same by someone who has received the same authority in lineal succession from Joseph Smith. In short, all hangs on Joseph Smith.
To be worthy to go to an LDS Temple I would have to accept the Mormon gospel, acknowledge that it is the “only true Church upon the face of the earth”, be baptised by one having the proper authority, and be faithful to the Mormon system.
Q. How does that contrast with the New Covenant position?
A. It is different in almost every way. To begin with, the validity of a marriage, whether for this life or for eternity, is not dependent upon any man or organisation. According to New Covenant belief, for a man and woman to be sealed together for eternnity, all (and that is a big word!) that is required is the Lord Jesus Christ.
It means, contrary to the whole Mormon system of salvation, that a couple must have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and be walking in His commandments. For a New Covenant Christian, Christ -- and Christ alone -- seals a marriage. Though Priesthood officers “officiate” at public weddings they are not themselves the authority in “making” a marriage, but symbolic tokens of God’s presence and authorisation. Only God can call a couple and only God can seal.
Q. Why, then, is there a necessity for a public wedding? Why not just get married in private?
A. For two reasons. Firstly, the Bible makes it plain that there must always be a public witness to a wedding. The community must know that a couple are married to preclude adultery and so the community can support and sustain that marriage. Secondly, there must be witnesses to the marriage covenant so that the community can, if necessary, remind the couple of the agreement they made before God and witnesses that they are truely bound.
So a public wedding sends out two important signals. First, it sends one out from the couple, saying: “Look. We’re married in the sight of God and witnesses. Our marriage union is sacred. All prospective suitors keep permanently away.” And secondly, it sends one out from the witnesses, saying: “We are witnesses before men and before God that you are married. We are here to support and sustain you in that marriage, protect you from potential adulterers, and to alert you if you we see possible signs of your breaking the marriage vows.”
Q. So New Covenant Christians do not say that only they can administer covenants of evertal marriage?
A. Absolutely not. Though it is true we administer formal, verbal covenants (and are probably unique in that), the substance of covenant- making is of the heart whether one issues words or not. It is our belief that there are going to be lots of eternal marriages between Christians of all denominations.
Q. The premises are therefore completely different from Mormonism?
A. Completely. And that is why we get very irritated when we are likened to them. You know, the Mormons practice baptism by immersion like Pentecostals and Baptists but it would be outrageous to accuse Pentecostals and Baptists of being ‘Mormons’ or even ‘closet Mormons’. Why? Because evangelical Christians and Mormons perform water baptism on completely different grounds. Mormons claim many things which we and other evangelical Christians do not. They say, for one thing, that only they have legitimate outward authority to administer this ordinance, and that baptisms peformed by other churches are therefore invalid. They also say that the ordinance of baptism literally washes away sins, where as New Covenant Christians and other evangelicals say that baptism does not save, but is a symbol of the inner working of the Spirit in a man’s soul. The ordinance is commanded, and therefore we administer it out of obedience and love to our Master, but not because we believe without it we shall go to hell.
Our view of eternal marriage is on just the same sort of premises. Mormons say that without eternal marriage performed by them in their temples a man may be saved but not “exalted”. They make marriage a condition of salvation/exaltation. We say, along with other evangelical Christians, that salvation/exaltation is all a matter of what we are inside, our faith in Christ, and our resultant obedience to His commndments. We do not believe that everyone is called to be married in this life...
Q. Does that mean that they will be forever single?
A. No. But then we have got to think this whole question in a way very different from the Mormon one. In short, we have got to think biblically. So why don’t we address the biblical issues first?
Q. The main objection to the concept of eternal marriage is Luke 20:34ff and related passages in the Synoptics (Mark and Matthew). Perhaps we could start here.
A. Yes, this really is the core scripture on the subject because it is the only one where Jesus addresses the whole question of marriage in the afterlife. Why don’t we let the Sccripture speak for itself. I will quote the Authorized Version and the NIV which between them give a fairly represenative translation of the Greek:
“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 to the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection” (Lk.20:34-36, KJV).
“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age amd 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” (Ibid., NIV).
Q. That surely settles the issue? There will be no marriage in the resurrection -- in the next life...
A. Let’s just see what’s there and not go reading anything into the text that isn’t there. Although Jesus is using marriage as an illustration of the resurrection, we’ll put the resurrection issue to the side for a moment.
Jesus makes a direct comparison between “the people of this age” (NIV) or “the children of this world” (KJV) (the NASB and RSV called them “the sons of this age”) and “the children of the resurrection” (NIV, KJV). He says, directly and unambiguously, that the marriage practices that obtain in this world are not those which occur in the next.
Q. In otherwords, no-one will be married!?
A. Hold on, we must carefully define terms here, otherwise we are going to go round in circles using the same words to mean different things. What is meant by the rather interesting phrase, “marry and given in marriage”? Why “given in marriage” in addition to “marry”?
First of all, Jesus is not referring to any special custom of marriage. He is not talking about Jewish customs, for example. He speaks of the whole planetary idea of marriage when he says, “the children of this world”. He is talking about the principle of marriage in general. Now the Hebrews had their customs, the Hindus had their, and we in the Western world have ours. There are many different customs. But Jesus isn’t talking about customs but about the whole principle of marriage as it relates to THIS world.
Some cultures are monogamous and some are polygamous. Some have stricter rules and regulations about marriage. Not everyone follows the biblical pattern. Yet marriage, wheoever it is entered into by, and in whatever culture and whatever religion, is approved and sanctioned by God. Thus the marriage between a devout Christian couple and an atheist couple are recognised by God as being “marriages”.
So the question remains: what is a marriage in the general sense?
The answer, as J.S.Wright, former Canon of Bristol Cathedral, England, puts it, is as follows: “Marriage is the state in which men and women can live together in sexual relationship with the approval of their social group”.
Q. So marriage is essentially the licence to have a sexual relationship?
A. Correct -- in its general, world-wide sense. And, by implication, having children, if the couple choose to have them. That is the purpose of marriage in this world -- to have legal sex and to raise families. People “marry, and are given in marriage” for this purpose. The contract is for life whether you are an atheist or a Christian -- the atheist because he doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and the Christian because this basic, general contract or vow is for this life, and only for this life. This is the contract established in the Law of Moses. If one or other of the partners dies, then the surviving partner is at liberty to marry again. This Law, which is now a part of the Christian law, still applies.
Therefore all general marriage contracts entered into on this basis are for this life alone. Jesus is saying that this earthly arrangement does not continue in heaven. He says that the children of the resurrection do not make such contracts. Earthly-type marriage comes to an end.
Q. I see that you are hinting at something else but I am already sceptical...
A. I understand. But please don’t go and create a whole theology of marriage on the basis of only one passage. We must see what the Bible says as a whole, and there are other very important passages relating to this passage.
Before we go on, though, we must at least be agreed about what Jesus says in this passage. And He is saying that earthly-type marriages do not take place in heaven. Are we agreed on that?
Q. Yes, that is clear enough, though I do have other questions. Doesn’t Jesus also say that the saints will be single in heaven like the angels?
A. I do not see that in the passage we have been discussing. Jesus doesn’t say angels are single nor, to my knowledge, does the Bible as a whole. (Interestingly Mormons say angels are single and they use this as a threat against their members to stay faithful -- “if you aren’t faithful and get sealed in the Temple you’ll become single and sexless like an angel”. But where does God say that? I admit I used to believe that until recently (that angels are genderless and single) but in closely looking at the biblical data I could find no evidence for it. In fact I found the opposite.
When Jesus compares humans with angels in Luke 20:36 He is not looking at the marriage estate but that of the resurrection: “Neither can they (the children of the resurrection) die anymore: for they are equal unto the angels” (KJV). In other words, we will have glorified bodies like the angels. Now I find that interesting. Remember, this whole passage is essentially about the resurrection -- the question of marriage is incidental. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection and were out to trap Jesus, but Jesus caught them in their own snare.
There are two sharp contrasts in this passage which must constantly be borne in mind -- the contrast of this world with its death, and that of the heaven with everlasting life and resurrection. The two are separated by a great gulf.
Q. You have implied that angels have gender and sexuality. What is the evidence for this?
A. I dislike the word “angel” because it is a Greek concept and does not convey the original Hebrew sense. They are more properly called beni elohîm, meaning “sons of God” and are always referred to in male terms.
If you go back to a very early period of earth’s history you will discover a remarkable incident about which scriptorians have speculated much on. Let’s read the KJV on this subject:
“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daugters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that h also is flesh...There were giants in the earth in those days...” (Gen.3:1ff., KJV).
As you know, Moses goes on to describe how wickedness increased upon the earth as a result of these liasons.
The NIV translates “sons of God” as Nephilim who are understood to be angels who came from heaven and had illegal intercourse with the daughets of Adam.
Q. This passage has been explained in other ways...
A. Yes, and we owe it to ourselves to consider the other interpretations before we weigh the evidence. There is only really one alternative interpretation which is the one the Mormons believe in. They teach that the “sons of God” are those who were of the “covenant” whereas the “daughters of men” were pagan girls who were not. Though this is an interesting interpretation it doesn’t explain how “giants” resulted from these liasons. If you think about this interpretation it can become a little comical -- the world ought to be full of giants today too. Fortunately, it isn’t.
Most other Christians (who are Bible-believers, that is, and who do not think this is just a myth) maintain that these “nephilim” or “sons of God” were angels. Jewish tradition uniformly maintains this and the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Old Testament beni elohîm as “angels of God”. The apocryphal books of Enoch elaborate on this interpratation which is quoted in three places in the New Testament. See what Jude says:
“And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home -- these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6, NIV).
There can be no doubt, if we say we are Bible-believing Christians, that angels were responsible for defiling women and having children who became giants. And only someone who is completely and willfully blind will claim that these angels were either “spirits”, “genderless” or “sexless”.
Q. So they were physical beings with procreative powers?
A. Why do you ask me! See what the Bible says for yourself. But if you’re still not satisfied, turn with me and see what the apostle Peter said:
“For God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Pet.2:4, NIV; also 5-6. The other quotation from Enoch is in 1 Pet.3:19-20, about a similar theme).
But in case you’re in any doubt that “sons of God” has been translated correctly, look up Job 1:6, 2:1 and 38:7. We’ll look at just one of them:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and satan came also among them” (Job 1:6, KJV).
This, and the other two references, confirm that the contextual meaning can be nothing other than angels. There are similar phrases elsewhere, e.g. bar elohîm in Daniel 3:25, and bar elîm in Psalm 29.1 and 89:6 which refer explicitly to angels.
I don’t think I need to labour the point. The “sons of God” were angels who had physical bodies who could have sexual intercourse and make children. This indicates also how similar angels and men actually are.
Q. I’ve heard it said that it wasnć’ the angels having intercourse with men but that they were spirits who possessed evil men who in their turn engaged in promiscuous sex, which led to the giants...
A. Yes, that’s what many evangelical Christians say but that’s not what my Bible says. My Bible says they “abandoned their own home” and “took them wives of all”. Try and picture it. These fallen angels took ALL the women they wanted, probably excluding most of the men. They literally corrupted the WHOLE RACE. That is why the Lord had to destroy it in a world-wide flood. Again, we are faced with the silly idea that those who are possessed by evil spirits and have promiscuous sex have giants. There simply isn’t any biblical or scientific evidence to support such a contention. It’s as silly as the old Mormon idea that dark people who are filled with the Holy Spirit turn white.
We have to accept what the Bible says at face value if we believe it to be God’s Revelation and not try and invent doctrines to appease our disbelief.
Q. So if angels are physical beings with procreative power then we, who will be like them in the resurrection, must have the same powers!
A. That is the only conclusion that one can come to, unless an error of assumption has been made along the way. But we should consider more evidence in this question of eternal marriage.
If marriage is not a principle that exists in the afterlife, then obvioiusly sexuality is useless. Now I am not presuming to define what that celestial sexuality will be like. I don’t know. I’ve never seen a resurrected body. I don’t even know if its internal anatomy is the same as ours, or whether for sure we will have sexual organs, but I assume that if the angels did, that they must do now and will do so in eternity. God, never being wasteful, would not create procreative powers if they were not to be used.
We do have a problem with words still. By “marriage” we essentially mean that relationshop between the sexes which obtains here in this world. Since Jesus categorically states that such marriage does not occur in the resurection between men or angels, then “resurrection marriage” must be something else. It is this I think we should address now.
There is, in the Bible, what I call the “simultaneous equation of marriage”. A simultaneous equation is, as you know , is an equation involving two or more variables that are to have the same value in each equation. Thus in the equations:
3x + 4y = 8
5x - 2y = 4
x and y have the same values. We all did this in school, didn’t we?!
Now for the marriage equation. The Old Testament depicts the relationship between God and Israel like a marriage. This comparison is an allegory of earthly marriage. Israel was, and is, a nation which has its existence here on the earth. The common factor of both “marriages” is that they will one day come to an end -- the human marriage at death and the marriage of God to Israel when the present world passes away.
But the Bible speaks of another marriage -- a second equation. It speaks of another allegorical marriage, that of Christ to the Church. This, however, is not a marriage that will end, because it is heavenly, not earthly. If this is an allegorical marriage, of what is it an allegory?
Q. Heavenly marriage!
A. Exactly! That is the missing factor in the equation. We can deduce this from the allegorisation of the earthly marriage in God’s marriage to Israel.
The question is: what is the difference between God’s marriage to Israel and Christ’s marriage to the Church?
One is of the earth and one of is heaven. But what are the qualitative differences? Israel’s marriage was essential of a theocratic state on the earth. The Church’s marriage is of an eternal kingdom that has no end. The relationships, though similar, are a little different. The marriage of the Church is about those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who believe in the redemption of the Cross. One day, we are are told in the Bible, the modern Israelites will accept Jesus as the Messiah too and enter into the Church marriage. Israel thus becomes absorbed into the Church. The two become synonymous. But Israel is changed -- forever.
Q. Like our bodies are in the resurrection?
A. A good comparison. Indeed, Israel absorbed into the Church will be as different from the Church as the physical body, transformed and united with our spirits for ever, is from a resurrected body. One is of the earth and the other of the spirit. One is a shadow, one is the full glory.
The message is this: earthly marriage, which is but a shadow of heavenly marriage, will pass away and become something infinitely more glorious. Paul says this of the resurrection repeatedly.
So let us consider Jesus’s saying to the Sadducees in the new light we have obtained from the Scrptures:
“The people of this age marry and are given in [earthly-type, impermanant, until death-do-us-part] marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage [in that manner, in the earthly sense], and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels”
All of this makes good sense when one views what God’s view of marriage is in general. He has stated quite clearly in the Bible that God does not separate marriage unions or allow men to do the same -- “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt.19:6, NIV). He also says that a couple are one, not two. Oneness is one of the great quests of the Christian and the great desire of God:
“My prayer is...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I have given them the glory that you have me, that they may be one as we are one” (Jn.18:20-22, NIV).
Q. Most Christian say that the saints will be so gloriously one in the spirit in the resurrection that marriage relationships will, as it were, cease to be needful, because all we obtain in marital unity we will obtain in that blessed union with Christ. Do you think that is true?
A. We are, of course, guessing here. I believe that a fantastic spiritual oneness will exist between the saints and our Lord. It will be an ‘allegorical’ marriage par excellence. It will be the fullness. But my question is whether that fullness excludes or includes literal marriage relationships too. The evidence suggests to me that it will. If it were not, why didn’t the Lord choose a different analaogy? Why use a marriage to typify the Chuch’s relationship to her Lord in the resurrection if it isn’t a marriage-like relationship at all?
I am sure that other Christians will disagree with this picture. We grant them the right to have their own opinions on the matter. It is not a question of salvation. But what we as a people do resent is when some misguided and misinformed people,willfully or otherwise, say that we are ‘closet Mormons’, ‘heretics’, ‘apostates’, possessed of dirty demonic spirits and don’t realy mean what we say about the pre-eminence of the Bible. We do expect them to grant us the right to believe in this teaching because our arguments are perfectly biblical.
Q. What exactly will married life be in the eternities? What is its principle difference from the earthly marriage which Jesus says will not exist in heaven?
A. The principle difference will be that it is endless. People won’t enter into marriage contracts as they do here on earth to then end them at death, because there is no death in the eternal worlds. Marriage in heaven will be totally absorbed in Christ -- here it is principally self-absorption.
I believe personally that family relationships will continue though I cannot say exactly how. There will be husbands and wives, of that I am sure.
Q. But how do you resolve the dilemma of, for example, a person being married to several persons in this life? What about the example posed by the Sadducees to Jesus?
A. For one thing, those marriages were Levirate marriages. The women was married to seven men and all seven died leaving her childless. The brothers of her first husband married her merely to fulfil an obligation to raise up offspring. Assuming that marriage continues in the eternities (and we have no idea -- it was only a story) then technically she would be married to the first.
However, the Spirit whispers to me that such difficulties will not be resolved by human intelligence. Mormons believe that all those they marry are automatically “sealed” to them. As New Covenant Christians we do not believe that is necessarily true. Just as we are saved by the attitude of faith we have towards Christ and not by ordinances like baptism, so a marriage in eternity will be predicated not upon any ritual performed here on earth by men, but on other factors which only God knows -- genuine love and spiritual compatibility for one.
We do not believe that all those who find marriage companions here in this life will necessarily be with the same ones in eternity. That is not our teaching. We believe that God will give us the companions in eternity who are best suited to us and who want to be with us in Christ -- some may be the ones we were married to here on earth and some may not. We have no way of knowing beforehand (thank goodness!)
And this is, I believe, as it should be. It means that ultimately the eternal companionships we will enjoy will be decided by God in heaven and not by man on earth. It means that I cannot go around smugly thinking, “OK. Gottcha! You’re mine for eternity!” I don’t believe it works like that for a moment. Those who are to be together forever will naturally belong to one another in Christ -- and they will, of course, belong to Christ. That is my vision.
Q. What about reproduction?
A. Your guess is as good as mine. I would only point out that angels and reurrected men (and thus presumably women) will have the power to generate new life. How, why, and under what conditions, I do not know, neither do I think it is important for us to know down here. Certainly I do not believe that will be building up their own little empires and making their own universes as demi-gods like the Mormons think they will be. But then they have the whole Godhead question confused too.
I do not think propagating a doctrine of eternal marriage is necessary to our working out our salvation in fear and trembling on earth as, for example, the Mormons do. For them “collecting” their spouses is one of the important things to “do” for their eternal welfare in the next world. But then their picture of salvation is radically different from the biblical one and is based more on works than faith.
Q. What do you say to the accusation that the doctrine of eternal marriage is based on the occultist Swedenborg’s teachings, and that it is influenced by demons?
A. I think I have already answered that. Joseph Smith borrowed Swedenborg’s ideas to create his doctrine of “eternal marriage”, that is fairly certain. But Mormonism’s “eternal marriage” and New Covenant beliefs about eternal marriage are completely different, as I hope what I have been saying adequately establishes. Emmanuel Swedenborg belongs to the Mormon circle of doctrine and practice, not Biblical Christianity’s our ours.
Q. What, then, is our principle mission here on earth?
A. To preach Christ crucified and to bring men and women everywhere into a saving relationship with Him. That is the first and most important thing. Everything else is secondary.
Q. What would those “secondary” things include?
A. That depends on what God’s mission for you on earth is. Ours is clear -- we are to build up a Church and firstborn communities. Other Christians believe they are not to be a part of organised religion at all or to be a part of the work of other denominations. We grant them the freedom to believe that. Our hope is that they would grant us the same freedom to believe what we do in a spirit of tolerance, fellowship and love, accepting that we are what we have always said we were: Bible-believing Christians.
Interview given on Wednesday 26 February 1997.
This page was created on 26 February 1997
Last updated on 13 February 1998
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