Matthew 22:23-33

I stumbled upon this passage and found it quite interesting. Basically, a trick question is given to Jesus concerning marriage in the afterlife in order to discount resurrection. He is asked if a woman is widowed more than once and is married to multiple men over the course of her life, who will be her husband in the afterlife? Jesus answers: “In the resurrection, they neither marry nor or given in marriage, but are like angels of God in Heaven.” In other words, no eternal marriage.

Now, a Mormon take on this passage (which is also found with some variation at Luke 21:27-40) is the following:

Notice that Jesus did not say that marriages would not exist in the resurrection. What he did say was that they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, that is, marriage ceremonies are not performed by resurrected individuals. He was talking about the act of marriage not the condition of marriage. Jesus was telling them, in effect, that if the wife were married for eternity to one of the brothers, she would be his wife in the resurrection, but if she were not married to any of the brothers for eternity, she would be the wife of none of them since marriages are not performed in the life to come, but must be performed in mortality in LDS Temples.

This raises the question in my mind of what about all those people who don’t marry in LDS Temples? Or those who don’t marry, or have alternative or multiple loving companionships over the course of their lives? I continue to be baffled by the Mormon notion that everyone must marry and stay married to be happy and worthy in Heaven. It seems very ethnocentric.

I’m less inclined to accept the Mormon interpretation above because they neither marry, nor are given in marriage” to me means two separate things: getting married and being married. I’m curious other people’s takes on the passage.

22 thoughts on “Matthew 22:23-33

  1. I always liked the Mormon version of it, but it did seem a bit strained. You know, kind of like the scripture used to support baptism for the dead. Just not enough.

    I don’t like the idea of being separated from my husband in the afterlife (if there happens to be one) and I REALLY don’t like the idea that I’m supposed to be “married to Christ”–and it does get a little weird when you consider men, too, are to be married to Christ (am i right?)

    I dunno.

    The Bible makes little sense to me anymore, if any at all.

  2. This kind of legalistic approach to the Gospel is one of the reasons I had to leave. How anyone can find spiritual edification in that approach is beyond me. If I believed in an afterlife, I’d prefer the one that Jesus describes. In any case, regarding that Mormon answer at the link:

    Jesus was telling them, in effect, that if the wife were married for eternity to one of the brothers, she would be his wife in the resurrection …

    No, He wasn’t. He was telling them exactly the opposite, that just like the rest of us, she’d be an angel of God in the resurrection. How is it even possible to discuss the Gospel with a Mormon if they feel free to just make stuff up and feel no compunction about putting words in Jesus’ mouth?

    Regarding the OP’s questions, I’d say somebody else apparently also fails to grasp the beauty of a Plan of Salvation that involves mostly busting ass here on Earth in order to overcome the logistical and administrative challenges that are imposed by answers like the one at the link.

  3. It’s funny, a couple of missionaries once tried to tell me someone who didn’t get married in life would have that mistake fixed by God in heaven, because it’s not their fault they didn’t get married. I was trying to say how demeaning it is to say that someone was less worthy of heaven if they’re single. So what about proxy sealing rituals in the temple? Even if you accept that mormon interpretation, it contradicts what I was told, doesn’t it?

  4. So what about proxy sealing rituals in the temple? Even if you accept that mormon interpretation, it contradicts what I was told, doesnt it?

    Aha, but it’s actually that passage in Matthew that requires the proxy ordinances! [By Mormon logic] it’s because ordinances like marriage can’t be performed in heaven that they must be performed on Earth (by proxies in the temple). And what about all those people whose names weren’t found and/or got sealed to the wrong people by accident? Well, there’s “the millenium” when all that can be straightened out with Earthly temple proxy ordinances, directed by Jesus.

    @2 I totally agree about people just making up whatever they want and having no compunction about claiming that’s what the Bible meant. I also agree with @1 that the Bible, already, doesn’t really make sense. So you can see the motivation for making stuff up, if you’re intent on believing that the Bible is supposed to be relevant.

  5. The whole point of eternal marriage is to let people feel food about death and missing their loved ones. It’s a feel-good idea that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, which is why most sects just leave it vague. It’s one more example of Joseph Smith not shutting up soon enough.

  6. Its one more example of Joseph Smith not shutting up soon enough.

    Yes and no. It’s obviously a major selling point for Mormonism. Most Christians read that passage and assume it means what it says — they they won’t be married in the afterlife. Mormonism claims prophetic authority to re-interpret that passage in the way a lot of people would rather understand it…

  7. So you can see the motivation for making stuff up, if youre intent on believing that the Bible is supposed to be relevant.

    On the other hand, a holy text can be read as though its meaning changes as a culture unfolds rather than trying to keep one interpretation in stone. Another way of saying this is that no single interpretation can possibly hold all ways of knowing the divine. I personally have no problem with calling the Bible relevant — in fact, we all think like Christians to some extent (unless you’re from certain places around the world…like Nepal?), and it’s good to be introspective. I just have a problem with people saying that they have the one and only “true” interpretation, because to me this points to power dynamics.

    I’m still pretty convinced that the reason a lot of religions hate postmodernism is not because it does away with God, but because it does away with unwarranted authority.

  8. Alan — I agree with you in principle, but I think the Bible in particular isn’t as well suited to that sort of use as other texts might be. The Bible has too many specifics, and in particular it has too many specifics about things that have no place in modern morals and ethics (eg. genocide + dedicating the booty to God, slavery, stoning people, etc.).

    Words and sentences have meanings. Some are more specific and some are more ambiguous. It’s fun and enlightening when you have a poetic or metaphorical passage that can naturally be applied to lots of different situations. There are other passages, however, that are simple and straight-forward, that don’t have a million different “interpretations” unless you’re deluding yourself.

  9. Im less inclined to accept the Mormon interpretation above because they neither marry, nor are given in marriage to me means two separate things: getting married and being married. Im curious other peoples takes on the passage.

    My understanding of that bit has always been that men marry, while women are given in marriage. (“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?”, to quote the old BCP.) I believe it’s still considered “good form” in some circles for a man to ask his intended’s father for her hand in marriage, though nowadays that’s generally as empty a formality as is the practice of “sustaining the Brethren.”

  10. @9 That’s probably an accurate interpretation of the phrase “they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” And it’s not totally outrageous to interpret that as meaning “there are no weddings in heaven.”

    The real problem, though, is his follow up “but are like angels of God in Heaven.” It’s a bit of a stretch to claim that he meant “like angels of God, people are married only in temple ceremonies on Earth (during their mortal life, or by mortal proxy).”

  11. It’s interesting that the church has tried to defend the idea of eternal marriage by using that text (that blog post is consistent with what I’ve read elsewhere) instead of simply saying it’s mis-“translated.”* Joseph Smith, after all, had no problem with “correcting” many other inconvenient verses. Why hasn’t the easy way out been taken with this passage?

    *Using “translated” in the broad Mormon sense including translated/transcribed/transmitted/etc.

  12. its actually that passage in Matthew that requires the proxy ordinances!

    This would be ridiculous. The idea that some things have to be done on Earth because they’re impossible to be done in Heaven puts a very limited view on the nature of Heaven. Although without this view, Mormon fastidiousness on Earth might dissolve.

    What if all it takes is to be a “good person?” Mormons will be very annoyed in Heaven. They’ll be like, “What?! I could have had gay sex all along?!” Or, “Excuse me, God, but why is there wine at this homecoming party?”

  13. @12 lol, sincerely, that’s the way I learned the doctrine as I was growing up Mormon.

    And, yes, if all it takes is to be a good person, a whole lot of people will be pissed.

  14. honestly, i’m learning to just take a “meh” approach to this stuff. i can’t make sense of much of it, and i’d just rather apply my energies elsewhere.

    i’m with kuri, though: why not just “retranslate” it or have a “revelation” or something. Supporting a doctrine as fundamental as this with one little scripture is hardly enough, especially when it’s this debatable.

    I’m tired of putting words into Christ’s mouth or deciding what he was *really* saying. It’ll all figure itself out later.

    And yes to Alan. Doesn’t seem quite logical that ordinances need to be done here in order to be valid in the heavens. And I know, I know. “Needs to be done in the flesh” or whatever. But seriously, don’t we get our bodies back anyways, per Mormon doctrine?

  15. In the context of the question, the apologist interpretation is very strained. Jesus wasn’t being asked about the performance of marriage ceremonies. The ceremonies have already happened as a precondition of the question. The question was, “If a woman is married to three different men during her lifetime, whose wife will she be in heaven?” The question is specifically about the condition of marriage after the acts have already been performed. And Jesus’s answer is meant to address the act of marriage? Even though he further qualifies his answer by linking it to the condition of angels in heaven? That makes no sense, unless you are already committed to a particular doctrine and are cherry-picking Bible verses to try to support it.

  16. Lisa #14, Actually there is a revelation–its the one called the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. The Church seldom bases its doctrine on the Bible, but instead finds Biblical passages to support (as near as possible) the doctrine “revealed” by Joseph Smith.

    Most Christian denominations expect their to be a relationship with loved ones after death, but the idea of marriage seems superflous, because, unlike Mormons, they don’t envision sex in the after life. And, of course, to have legitimate sex requires marriage, you know. But that eternal marriage and eternal procreation idea fails to address sex drive and attraction. If there is such a thing as arousal in the nest life, then there is the possibility of, well, hanky panky. So, the safest theology is one where they neither marry or are given in marriage. But that isn’t nearly as interesting as what Mormons with their complicated ideas about sex have come up with.

  17. Sex in heaven. Yeah, they do have an advantage in doctrine there–I mean hell, I’ll take it.

    But as far as “The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage” — didn’t that originally refer to polygamous marriages, only later to be…uhm, downplayed and treated as general marriages performed in the temple? (nevermind that plural marriage is *still* practiced by the members, if only posthumously?)

    I dunno. When we’re talking about discussing it with non-members or investigators, this is the scripture they point to, and that’s what I was referring to. It’s akin to the scriptural evidence to baptizing the dead–just that one little verse. As long as it’s in the Bible.

    The Bible–it’s a hook. Get ’em with ANY shred of evidence in the Bible–however stretched and manipulated intellectually–and then hit ’em with the D&C. And hope they don’t look any further into it, dismiss it if they do.

    Just like the WoW has changed in its interpretation, or at least in the way it’s treated today.

  18. Lisa, you are correct when you say that the eternal marriage, “Forever Families” concept taught as doctrine today is quite different from “celestial marriage” as taught by JS and BY. Celestial Marriage wasn’t only polygamy, but kingdom building through “adoption” of other families into your family. It was Prseident Woodruff who decreed that sealings could only occur between a husband and wife(s) and their children. No longer could women be sealed to the now deceased Joseph Smith, for example. Either Joseph had enough eternal wives, or it was no longer thought that being sealed to Joseph would givea sister a leg up, so to speak, in getting admitted to the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom.

  19. @15 Those are good points.

    I also thought about pointing out that the straight-forward reading of the passage makes sense as an answer to the question he was asked, whereas the apologetic interpretation doesn’t. But it turns out there’s an apologetic response to that, too:

    It says in the passage that the people posing the question were deliberately trying to trip Jesus up. So, naturally, Jesus gave a misleading answer that seems to be saying one thing, but really means something totally different and doesn’t even address their question. Would Jesus do something like that??? Of course. Just look at Mark 4:10-12:

    And when he(Jesus) was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
    And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
    That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

  20. One question I’ve had for a while but only really thought seriously about recently: from an orthodox LDS viewpoint what does it even mean to have an eternal family? I mean, if I don’t get married in the temple am I not allowed to hang with my spouse and children in the hereafter? Is some sort of marriage police going to break up any hug or kiss we might share just because we don’t live in the nicest part of heaven? Can we not get together for an FHE with members of the family-that-was and play charades like some old Homefront commercial? Is it really just that we won’t be able to have sex? ‘Cause if that’s all, that’s just messed up: plenty of older couples share deep and meaningful relationships without much or any sex. Marriage should be more than just sex.

    It seems, however, that since this doctrine grew out of a culture were the man was expected to literally preside over the family perhaps it is that ability to rule over others that was originally implied by a “sealing”: you’d still be able to tell some people what to do. If so, what is there about our modern-day ideal of marriage as a relationship founded on love between equals (at least that’s the ideal most people have and the one on Church commercials) that requires a temple sealing to persist beyond death?

  21. NYCPHWSN — I have definitely heard Mormons argue that it’s about sex; that only those in the highest part of the Celestial Kingdom will have eternal genitals (others will just be all smooth in the nether regions, like Barbie dolls). But it’s one of those questions that the leaders (and the correlated manuals) studiously avoid clarifying.

    Your interpretation — that it’s about who has jurisdiction over whom — is probably pretty close to the way the doctrine was originally understood (in the early days of the restoration). However, modern Mormon intellectuals would probably claim that the eternal sealing seals the family together in some additional way that we mortals can’t yet understand.

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