Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Like angels

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching (Mt 22:23-33).

i) I've discussed this before, but I have some additional things to say. V30, and its counterpart in Mark and Luke, became the basis for the traditional view that the world to come is sexless. That interpretation may be correct, but a huge theological edifice has been erected over a tiny foundation. It's generally considered dubious to put much doctrinal weight on a single verse of Scripture. Multiple-attestation gives us greater context. 

ii) Apropos (i), the flow of argument in this exchange is rather enigmatic. That may be in part because the Synoptics don't give us a full transcript of what was said, but only the gift. So some connections are missing. We must fill in the gaps.

In addition, real conversations and real debates are often choppy as they can abruptly veer off in different directions. The account may preserve that.

iii) However you construe it, the passage raises questions about life in the world to come. To a great extent, that's speculative. Within certain boundaries, there's nothing wrong with theological speculation. It's natural for Christians to be curious. And Christian metaphysics opens up many possibilities that naturalism lacks. So long as we stay within the parameters of what Scripture allows and disallows, and keep in mind that this is conjecture.

iv) Apparently, the Sadducees thought this life is all there is. They were physicalists. They denied the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. As such, they deny both the intermediate state and the final state. Therefore, Jesus may touch on both in his response.

They may have felt the closest thing to immortality is to "live on" through your children. 

v) In context, the immediate topic of consideration isn't marriage in general but Levirate marriage in particular. So it's possible that "marriage" in this passage is shorthand for Levirate marriage throughout the exchange. 

That would make sense. Procreation was sole rationale for Levirate marriage. If, in the world to come, there will be no death, then Levirate marriage is moot. 

vi) One problem with the traditional interpretation is lack of consistency. On the traditional interpretation, the most logical explanation is not that saints will be like angels because they won't marry or die; rather, saints won't marry or die because they will be like angels. That's a more direct explanation. If the saints are discarnate souls, then that's why they won't died or get married. They won't because they can't. The soul can't die. And conjugal relations require bodies. 

That grounds the new order in nature. Their future existence is fundamentally different because their nature will be fundamentally different. 

By contrast, the traditional interpretation says humans will be essentially the same. They will have bodies very similar to their original bodies, only their glorified bodies will be immortal. 

vii) But there are problems with that straightforward explanation. It sabotages what Jesus says about the "resurrection". If saints are like heavenly angels in the incorporeal sense, then there is no resurrection of the body. Yet it's highly unlikely that that's what Jesus means, even though it would simplify the inference. 

viii) In principle, the logic could operate in reverse. There is no intermediate state. When the patriarchs died, they passed into oblivion. They will live again when the resurrection of the just takes place. 

But in context it would be very jarring for Jesus to indicate that death terminated the existence of the patriarchs. He seems to imply continuity of existence. Not future existence, but present existence, at the very time Jesus is responding to the Sadducees. 

ix) On the traditional interpretation, the saints will still have gendered bodies. Christian men and women will be resurrected as men and women. As what they were, with some improvements! But their relationships will be Platonic. 

Yet you have to ask how realistic the traditional interpretation is. If they have bodies with sex organs and sex hormones, then the sex drive will be intact. 

x) An advantage of making allowance for marriage in the world to come is that it would compensate for childless couples in this life, or eunuchs (Isa 53:6; Acts 8) who never had a chance. And analogous situations.

xi) A potential objection to the alternative interpretation I'm floating is that procreation in the world to come would eventually result in overpopulation. However, infertile couples can be sexually active. That's a natural contraceptive. Procreation might be confined to saints who never hand the opportunity in this life. So it might plateau. 

xii) Another potential objection to the alternative interpretation is that it leaves the Sadducean dilemma in place. There are, however, answers consistent with the alternative interpretation. Maybe death, or remarriage, or both, or either one, dissolves a preexisting marriage. On any one of these explanations, the deceased wife of seven husbands is either single or married to her last husband.


  1. I suppose with the overpopulation objection, it's possible the saints in the world to come could make scientific discoveries and develop future technologies which better use resources on Earth to mitigate overpopulation. Land reclamation already exists, but it could be further advanced. Likewise perhaps people in the world to come could build livable underwater cities as well as cloud cities. Maybe contrary to physics as we understand it today, a revolutionary scientific breakthrough will be made which will allow humans a way to safely travel faster than light and reach Earth-like planets.

  2. It seems to me that if there is sexual intercourse in heaven it will not be based on marriage. Imagine a godly woman who had 3 godly husbands, all of whom she genuinely loved before she herself died (the first two died before her). At the eschaton, will she be forced to be eternally married to the 3rd husband even though she loved her first (or second) husband the most? She'll never be able to be sexually intimate with her favorite husband? If she had her choice, the husband she loved the most wouldn't have died and so forcing her to marry another husband to help raise & provide for her 2.3 kids.

    I'm speculating here, it seems to me that there are two *practical* reasons adultery and fornication are forbidden in this age. I'm setting aside the *theological* reasons for later. The two *practical* reasons are the following:

    1. because of the limited resources allotted in this age
    2. the sinfulness of humanity

    The combination of those two things leads to a bunch of problems in this age. For example, bastard children can make inheritance issues problematic. Polyamory and polygamy usually leads to jealousy (jealousies) and favoritism. Adultery and fornication can lead to individuals abandoning one's duties as a spouse and parent (leaving the faithful spouse and children cold and neglected).

    The two reasons in this age are not problematic in the eschaton. There will be no sacarcity of resources, and redeemed humanity will have perfect love for each other without the possibility of the petty jealousies we see in this Age among polygamous/polyamorous wives, husbands, lovers and half-siblings.

    So, IF there is sexual intercourse in the eschaton, then maybe it will be consentual polyamory or free love (minus things like incest). "Free love" in this age isn't free. It costs the destruction of lives. However, maybe in the next age it's possible.

    Some might say this goes contrary to the NT teaching that Christ's monogamous relationship to the Church is the model and rationale for why monogamy is the NT requirement (or ideal, since I'm not convinced that polygamy is strictly forbidden and sinful under the New Covenant. It's just not the best or ideal.). But someone might argue that there's a sense in which Christ is married to each individual woman in the church, yet that doesn't make Christ unfaithful to each individual woman. So, why not "free love" in heaven among the redeemed. One objection would be that some of the *practical* reasons in this age against homosexuality won't exist in the eschaton either. Therefore, by my logic homosexuality will be permitted in the eschaton too. However, homosexuality is inherently disorderly because it contradicts God design in creation. For example, the rectum was not designed to receive things like a penis (et al. examples).



    1. xi) A potential objection to the alternative interpretation I'm floating is that procreation in the world to come would eventually result in overpopulation.

      I don't find that objection at all plausible. We don't know the physics of the New Creation (cf. Hugh Ross' speculations on the New Creation). Also, maybe C.S. Lewis' statement that heaven is larger on the inside than the outside might be literally true.

      However, infertile couples can be sexually active.

      Infertile couples in this Age can have some consolation in this Age by knowing that the vast majority of conceptions don't result in the zygote attaching to the uterine wall resulting in pregnancy. Which means they might have hundreds of children waiting for them in heaven. Children who were conceived but they never knew it on earth.

      Having said the above, I have no problem with the traditional view. I think there's some truth to what C.S. Lewis wrote:

      The letter and spirit of scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognisable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No," he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fulness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive for splendour. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away weapons they have used victoriously. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them. "Trans-sexual" would be a better word than "sexless" for the heavenly life.- C.S. Lewis from Miracles chap. 16 paragraph 28

    2. typo corrections:

      sacarcity = scarcity [obviously]

      consentual = consensual [not so obviously]

      The original sentence might be better phrased in the following way:

      "If she had her choice, the husband she loved the most wouldn't have died—which led to her having to marry another husband to help raise & provide for her 2.3 kids."

      Grammar is a serious weakness of mine. I'm not sure how to use the em-dash or whether a semicolon would have been better.

    3. Imagine too that the surviving husband of the godly woman who had three husbands before she died also remarried two more times to two other wives. In the eschaton he might be forced to be eternally married to wife #3 even though he loved wife #1 or #2 the most.