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Eternal Marriage: Plain and Precious, or Invention?

“Why don’t you Christians want marriage to last forever?” “Why do you impose a divorce on all marriages at the point of death?” Maybe you’ve had LDS friends put you on the spot with such questions. They offer us the promise that LDS temple marriage seals a couple together for all eternity. Who wouldn’t want that, if they are happy with their marriage?

God is the one who decrees that a marriage is limited to only as long as both partners shall live. The apostle Paul clearly teaches this in Romans 7:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39. Paul tells the Corinthians that a woman is free to remarry if her husband shall (literally) “fall asleep.” (If we took that verse literally, many of us men would be trying to find a drug that could keep us awake indefinitely!) Death is not a divorce, if God is the one who does the separating. And God declares that the surviving partner in a one-flesh relationship is free to remarry.

But that’s just marriage “for time,” according to LDS doctrine. Does any kind of marriage exist that will endure forever?

God created marriage for the purpose of human companionship. God is the one who declares that “It is not good for the human to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) And God created us male and female so that we might each complete what is lacking in the other. The Fall of humankind magnified that lack, which makes marriage a truly wonderful gift from God for many of us. But we must not idolize marriage by valuing it higher than Jesus and Paul did, who rated contented celibacy higher than marriage. (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, 38-40) The fact that Jesus and Paul prioritized the contented single life as an option is a huge contradiction to the LDS doctrine that marriage is necessary for exaltation to divine status.

Marriage as it now exists is not designed or intended to last forever. Jesus makes this clear in his confrontation with the Sadducees over the question of resurrection. (Matthew 22:23-33 = Mark 12:18-27 = Luke 20:27-40) Jesus wins a victory for the Pharisees in the debate by becoming the first rabbi to prove from the Pentateuch that there is resurrected life after death. But Jesus teaches in the same passage that in the resurrected world, we will be “like angels,” who “cannot die” and do not reproduce. Therefore, marriage as we know it will not exist. (LDS teaching is that angels are resurrected humans on their way to exaltation, who still can and will reproduce in large numbers when they reach godhood.)

If Adam and Eve had not sinned, wouldn’t their marriage have lasted forever? Then why is that not God’s design for all marriage? Adam and Eve were not immortal. They were mortal, only in the sense that they could die if they sinned. If they had eaten of the tree of life after the Fall, they would have become immortal evil beings like Satan, with bodies. So Adam and Eve were intended to have children within a one-flesh marriage relationship. But ever since death entered the world, our world has changed forever, and so has the expiration date on marriage, now that death and resurrection are part of the picture. “Be fruitful and multiply" will no longer be necessary (10 billion souls will suffice), and God’s got better plans for us in our future.

Families will still exist in heaven, but the earthly family bonds that held us together will no longer be so all-important, and our ties to the whole family of Christ will be strengthened exponentially. The intimacy of heaven will overwhelm the islands of intimate Paradise we have had in our earthly marriages. There will be no lack of love in heaven, but romantic love as we know it will be only a foretaste. Marriage will be one of those childhood fascinations which Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11 that we will put away. Marriage is a wonderful provision for this life, but it is only provisional.

(As an evangelical, whose tribe is often accused of wrongfully putting marriage on a pedestal, suddenly I find myself deemphasizing marriage almost to the point of giving the impression that I value it far less than I do!)

Our LDS friends are reading Jesus wrong when he teaches that marriage is not for our resurrected existence. You say he really means that marriages must be done now, because there is no marriage after this life? Then how can you perform eternal marriages for people who have died, which you do all the time in your temples? And what about those who die without ever having married, or who were married to an unworthy spouse? How can LDS theology allow anyone to perform valid marriages for those who have died? It doesn't matter whether they can be done by proxy on earth. The LDS explanation of what Jesus teaches is that marrying must be done on earth, but yet they claim to be able to join two people who have died, the very place where they claim that marriages cannot happen.

No, Jesus is clearly ruling out marriage as an enduring reality in the resurrected world. The whole thrust of Jesus' answer to the Sadducees is destroyed otherwise. The LDS claim about eternal marriage leaves the Sadducees’ question unanswered: "Whose wife shall she be?" If the correct answer was “the one to whom she was eternally sealed,” or “Jesus was talking about marriage for time, not eternity,” Jesus would have said so. His silence on eternal marriage speaks volumes. To claim that Jesus taught eternal marriage, but withheld the concept from his answer to the Sadducees, is a claim that lacks all credibility.

And why didn't Jesus just say that the woman would belong to all seven husbands? Joseph Smith and Brigham Young practiced polyandry (marriage involving multiple husbands) as well as polygyny (marriage to multiple wives). Joseph and Brigham married women who were already married to living husbands, in direct contradiction to Doctrine and Covenants 132:61. If a man can be eternally sealed to more than one wife, why can't a woman be sealed to more than one husband?

Jesus throws eternal marriages of any kind off the table. They are an LDS invention. Neither Jesus nor anyone else kin the Bible ever taught eternal marriage. Wishing or wanting eternal marriage to exist does not make it true. Instead, let those of us who have been happily married treasure marriage for what it is: a foretaste of heaven. Death ends marriages, but it does not end relationships. Relationships are merely put on “Pause.”