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Will You Be Married on the New Earth?

As it often does, our weekly Co-Pastor prayer time began with a random discussion of a whole bunch of things.  Today we talked for a couple minutes about marriage in the new heavens and new earth.  Most believe there is no marriage (to my dismay), but not everyone believes that…

The primary passage referred to in this discussion is Mark 12:18-27.  In this passage the Sadducees, who deny the resurrection, ask Jesus a question about the resurrection.  Jesus’ response, in part, is this: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?  When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”

Most people interpret this to mean that there is no marriage in the new heavens and the new earth.  But NT scholar Ben Witherington disagrees.  Here is a selection from his commentary on Mark:

“12:18-27 has often been misread to suggest that Jesus expected an eschatological state of affairs that involved the transcending of human sexual differences and the cessation of human sexual activity, and indeed of marriage…

“Jesus stresses that in the age to come people will neither marry nor be given in marriage.  Notice what Jesus does not say.  He does not say there will be no marriage in the age to come.  The use of the terms [marry] and [given in marriage] is important, for these terms refer to the gender-specific roles played in early Jewish society by the man and the woman in the process of getting married.  The men, being the initiators of the process in such a strongly patriarchal culture, “marry,” while the women are “given in marriage” by their faither or another older family member.  Thus Mark has Jesus saying that no new marriages will be initiated in the eschatological state.  This is surely not the same as claiming that all existing marriages will disappear in the eschatological state” (p. 327-328)

Witherington goes on to explain that the phrase “will be like the angels in heaven” refers to the fact that people will no longer experience death.  Because there is no death, there is no use for the levirate marriage law discussed in this passage.  “Thus the question of the Sadducees is inappropriate to the conditions of the eschatological state” (p. 329).

I’m pretty sure that Witherington is in the minority in this interpretation, but it is interesting to consider.  What do you think?  And, if Witherington is correct, should I start encouraging my youth group to get married now just in case Jesus comes back this year?

  1. February 20, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I’ve wondered about this passage, and I think it is the thread by which most of our eschatological views about marriage dangle.

    Safe to say that Witherington is in the minority view I would assume.

    Either way, Jamie and I plan on hanging out together on the New Earth.

  2. Andrew Ford
    February 20, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Still planning on the 4th tree back from the throne on the right? Jill and I will meet you there.

  3. mikewittmer
    February 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    This is interesting. The main drawback of Witherington’s view is that it doesn’t seem to answer the Sadducee’s question. If this is what Jesus meant, then the Sadducees could have rightly accused him of a non-sequitur. How does the fact that there won’t be any new marriages initiated on the new earth begin to answer their question about which brother the woman will be married to?

    And Andy, what kind of kinky meeting do you have in mind exactly? 🙂 I doubt that swingers will be tolerated on the new earth.

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