By Eric Johnson
“For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” Mark 12:25
In an account given in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38), Jesus was approached by members of the Sadducees, the Jewish religious party that did not believe in a bodily resurrection from the dead. In an attempt to trick Him, these leaders presented what appears to be a hypothetical situation involving seven brothers. When the oldest brother died, he left a wife and no children. As was the custom in those days, the next oldest unmarried brother took the woman for his wife. However, the second brother died, as did the third through seventh brothers. Before they died, each of them had married the oldest brother’s wife, making her a widow seven times over.
The question they asked Jesus was: “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? For the seven had her to wife” (Mark 12:23). Jesus chastised his inquisitors, saying in verse 25 that those who die would “neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
At face value and as it has been historically interpreted, Jesus appears to be saying that heaven will be much different than life as we know it on earth. We may wonder why Jesus and the biblical writers didn’t give more specific details about heaven, but to the question that asked about the afterlife, Jesus told them that they erred “because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God.” He repeated his condemnation in verse 27.
While the gift of sex and procreation is a very important part of this earthly life, Jesus clearly taught that neither of these will play a role in the afterlife. The future joy God has in store for the believer is incredibly more magnificent than the temporary pleasure of sexual fulfillment. In addition, there will be no need to procreate in heaven. Thus, while it appears we will be able to recognize fellow believers and family members who are Christian in heaven, there is no indication from the Bible that we will be eternally paired up with a particular mate. Historically, Christians view all believers as part of God’s great family rather than millions of smaller groups.
However, Mormon leaders have interpreted this passage quite differently than the historic Christian view. LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “What then is the Master Teacher affirming by saying, ‘in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven’? He is not denying but limiting the prevailing concept that there will be marrying and giving in marriage in heaven. He is saying that as far as ‘they’ (the Sadducees) are concerned, that as far as ‘they’ (‘the children of this world’) are concerned, the family unit does not and will not continue in the resurrection. Because he does not choose to cast his pearls before swine, and because the point at issue is not marriage but resurrection anyway, Jesus does not here amplify his teaching to explain that there is marrying and giving of marriage in heaven only for those who live the fulness of gospel law-a requirement which excludes worldly people” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:605,606).
Agreeing and saying that this was not “the Lord’s final word on the subject” since the question was a trap set by Jesus” enemies, David H. Yarn, Jr., a BYU professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, said, “The Lord did not say there would be no people in the married state in the resurrection but that there would be no marriages made in the resurrection” (A Sure Foundation, p. 115).
Some Mormon leaders have read their own interpretations into this passage, explaining that this wife had been eternally sealed to the first husband. For instance, LDS Apostle James E. Talmage wrote: “The Lord’s meaning was clear, that in the resurrected state there can be no question among the seven brothers as to whose wife for eternity the woman shall be, since all except the first had married her for the duration of mortal life only, and primarily for the purpose of perpetuating in mortality the name and family of the brother who first died.” (Jesus the Christ, p.548).
It appears that the only biblical reference to the possibility of marriage continuing after death is Revelation 19:7-9, but this passage is talking about “the marriage supper of the Lamb” where the bride (God’s people) is invited. Therefore, it appears that the above Mormon authorities such as McConkie and Talmage have to make their conclusions based on mere presuppositions. While these explanations may sound good to a Mormon audience that cherishes the institution of marriage-but so have Christians for 2,000 years!-the ability to read between the lines of Jesus’ teaching does not make a doctrine true.
The Mormon leaders are unable to provide any additional support from the Bible as to the importance of an “everlasting principle” and “eternal covenant” known as celestial marriage. How many people would, upon reading this Synoptic Gospel account in conjunction with the teachings of the Bible, exclaim, “This proves the biblical principle of eternal marriage”? Rather than supporting the view of eternal marriage, then, Jesus explained that the institution of marriage was for this life only and not the life to come. To assume anything more is biblically and exegetically unsound.