I've been corresponding with a friend about the question of postmortem marriage. I'm posting my side of the correspondence.
I've blogged on topic on at least two other occasions. My correspondence takes for granted that prior analysis:
1. The traditional interpretation may be correct. However, it’s striking how an entire, unquestioned edifice has been erected over a single, brief, somewhat enigmatic statement. It’s usually considered shaky theological method to have only one prooftext for your position, especially a major position.
2. Moreover, as is often the case in the gospels, we’re probably getting a condensed version of what was said, rather than a full transcript.
3. One of the basic interpretive questions involving Mt 22:30 (and synoptic parallels) is the nature of the comparison with angels. What particular aspect of angelic nature is analogous?
i) In principle, it could be incorporeity. Indeed, considered by itself, that would be quite logical. There is no sex in the afterlife because the saints are sexless (like angels), and the saints are sexless because they are discarnate spirits (like angels). Asexual in practice because asexual in constitution.
So that would be a very logical way to ground the notion that there is no sex in the afterlife.
But while this is, in some ways, the most straightforward explanation, it’s generally rejected since the synoptic discussion centered on the resurrection of the just. That would be a reembodied state.
ii) Of course, one reason Jesus uses the angelic comparison is to take a swipe at Sadducean disbelief in angels. It’s a comparison by way of contrast–in contrast to the Sadducean belief.
iii) Most likely, the intended analogy is immortality–the saints and angels are both immortal.
And that would eliminate the need of remarriage to replace a dead spouse–a la levirate marriage.
Likewise, although this goes beyond the immediate scope of the synoptic discussion, it would also eliminate the need of marriage to replace dying members of the older generation (or, for that matter, those who die young).
iv) On the other hand, (iii) falls short of eliminating possibility or potential value of sex in the afterlife. Even in this life, barren couples have conjugal relations. Indeed, Scripture mentions such cases, with no hint of disapproval.
4. On a related note:
i) Does death automatically dissolve marriage? Or does remarriage dissolve the previous marriage? The Sadducean question is couched in terms of death followed by remarriage, not merely the death of the spouse.
Death frees the widow/widower to remarry, but is death itself what dissolves the marriage–or remarriage occasioned by the death of one’s spouse?
ii) Theoretically, the woman in the Sadducean hypothetical could still be married to her final husband, since each remarriage dissolves the prior marriage. And theoretically, if she hadn’t remarried, she could still be married to her first husband. The Sadducean dilemma, considered on its own terms, is a false dilemma. Of course, one can challenge the framework, but that’s a different issue.
iii) Also, it may be that death is analogous to adultery in the following sense: adultery doesn’t ipso facto dissolve a marriage; rather, adultery renders a marriage dissoluble. But it’s still up to the aggrieved party whether or not to actually divorce the adulterous spouse. The marriage remains intact unless and until he/she takes the next step.
Likewise, death might render the marriage dissoluble, without dissolving it. Additional conditions would have to be met to dissolve it.
5. There is also the question of what point Christ is trying to make. Commentators agree that he changes the subject. He’s really making a point about the reality of the resurrection, in opposition to the Sadducean denial thereof.
6. Unfortunately, the traditional interpretation forces otherwise levelheaded commentators and theologians to wax giddy about the superior and surpassing value of platonic love in the afterlife. You have Peter Kreeft extolling the virtues of “spiritual intercourse” between men and women in heaven, or even “spiritual intercourse” with God. I wonder how many men have been alienated from the faith by that kind of rhetoric.