A common question I’ve been asked regards eternal marriage: “How can there be marriage in heaven? Doesn’t that contradict the Bible?”
Many people have quoted the story in Matt. 22 (“they neither marry, nor are given in marriage” in heaven) to suggest that eternal marriage is not possible. To understand that passage, we must first recognize that marriage is an ordinance bringing change in relationships and is thus an ordinance for this mortal world that must be performed before we enter into the eternal realms in the presence of the Father. We do not marry in heaven – that ordinance must be done beforehand. To have eternal power to seal in heaven what is sealed on earth, the sealing of a man and woman must be performed in the Temple by one who has received the sealing power that Christ gave to Peter. This is what Temple marriage is all about. And it can only be done on earth.
Further insight into this questions comes from Dan Bachman (e-mail, March 1999):
It may interest you to know that the Matt. 22 story of the woman and her seven husbands was one of the very passages which caused Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord about marriage. The Lord’s response to his prayer is known as Doctrine and Covenants 132, and is the main revelation responsible for our belief in eternal marriage. What I’m saying is the very passage you say refutes the idea of eternal marriage is the one which led to its introduction in the LDS Church. How so?
The story told to Jesus by the Sadducees was about a specific woman and her seven husbands. They wanted to know “in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?” (Matt. 22:28) The Savior’s reply is extremely interesting and merits a great deal of thought. He said that they erred in denying the resurrection on the basis of this story for two reasons. First, they did not know the scriptures. Second, they did not know the power of God. That is interesting, because these were supposedly the scripture experts of that day — yet he said they did not know them.
He went on to say “For in the resurrection THEY neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. Let me make the following points regarding the Savior’s reply.
1) The word “they” refers specifically to the 8 people in the story, and not necessarily to all other people. Who were these people? In verse 25, the Sadducees say “there were WITH US seven brethren,” suggesting that the seven men in this specific case study were Sadducees also. Sadducees were a rather worldly group that denied the resurrection and generally rejected Christ. They aren’t likely to be in the kingdom of heaven, so their marriages on earth are irrelevant. Yet, most Christians believe that this verse means that nobody is married in heaven. That is wrong – and fact made even more clear by the next point below.
2) If you read verse 30 carefully, Jesus clearly speaks of two groups in
heaven: a) people who are married in heaven and b) angels.
I believe it is this implication that perhaps led Joseph Smith to inquire of God about the meaning of this passage. Joseph left two records about what he learned by revelation in answer to his question. The first is a summary statement about the story, which comes from the minutes of a meeting where he told a questioner that he learned that a man must marry for eternity or else he would be single in heaven. The more detailed account can be found in D&C 132:4-28. The most pertinent verses are 7, 15-17.
Verse 7 explains that for a marriage to be eternal it must meet four conditions which are: 1) it must be made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. 2) It must be performed by “him who is anointed”–in other words who is properly authorized to perform the eternal marriage. 3) It must be done “both as well for time and for all eternity.” And 4) it must be done by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed.”
Now verses 15-17 explain that the reason the woman and her seven husband were not married eternally is because they did not meet these four requirements. Verses 16-17 make clear the distinction between being eternally married and being an angel. They read:
16) Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants…. 17) For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.”
If the story in Matt. 22 is understood in a more generic sense, not just applying to the seven Sadducee brothers, it is still technically correct. Temple marriage, like baptism, is an ordinance of change and covenant making that must occur prior to entering into heaven. They are ordinances intended for mortals to prepare them for the endless state of Eternal Life in God’s presence by bringing mortals into unchanging, eternal covenants. Christ did not say that the married state does not exist, nor that husbands and wives will not be sealed in the heavens, but he said that marriages aren’t performed in heaven. Neither baptism nor marriage is performed in heaven, but must be done on earth. Christ gave Peter power to seal, such that what is sealed ON EARTH might remain sealed in heaven (Matt. 16:19). Temple marriage is also called “sealing” since a husband and wife are sealed together. It is an ordinance that can only be done on earth, like baptism, but if done with proper authority and if the terms of that covenant are fulfilled, then the sealing will be valid in the heavens and the husband and wife will be heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7).
Thus, in a generic sense, Christ explained that after we are resurrected, there would be no confusion about relationships because marriages aren’t performed there. Marriage, baptism, and some other covenants are handled on earth, either by the living themselves or by the living vicariously for the deceased, and sources of confusion will need to be ironed out and resolved with God’s help before we enter into Eternal Life in His presence.
In Matt. 19:4-6, shortly after Christ gave Peter power to seal in heaven what was sealed on earth, Christ spoke of marriage:
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them in the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Adam and Eve, before they fell, were immortal and were joined by God. There is no indication that God said “until death do you part” in joining them. They were married in an immortal state and were intended to remain joined together. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” In the LDS view, based on direct and clear revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we know that marriage is intended to be eternal, that a husband and wife are meant to be sealed together in heaven. Those who have experienced the rich joy of true love between a husband and wife – as I have – should marvel that God would want it any other way. Marriage is one of the greatest and most divine gifts – a gift that is not eradicated in the resurrection. The world has lost this knowledge, but I’m grateful for the Restoration of the fullness of the Gospel and for the restoration of the Temple, where such sacred ordinances are performed.