“How do we explain Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 22:29–30?” Ensign, Feb. 1986, 34–35
David H. Yarn, Jr., emeritus professor of philosophy and instructor of religion, Brigham Young University. These two verses are part of a larger context which commences with verse 23, as follows:
“The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,
“Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
“Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
“Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
“And last of all the woman died also.
“Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
“For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:23–30.)
To understand these verses, we need to understand the context in which the Sadducees asked their question and the context in which Jesus answered it.
First, it should be emphasized that this is a hypothetical situation presented to the Lord by the Sadducees, who, as the scripture itself asserts, did not even believe in the resurrection. They were simply doing what both they and the Pharisees so often did—asking the Lord questions simply to bait him, to see if they could catch him contradicting what Moses, the great Lawgiver, had said.
The question itself was based upon the teachings of Moses: “If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” (Matt. 22:24; see also Deut. 25:5–10.) In the hypothetical case suggested by the Sadducees, in which seven brothers each had been married to a woman in turn, the question was, “In the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?”
According to Dummelow’s A Commentary on The Holy Bible, “The point raised by the Sadducees was often debated by the Jewish doctors, who decided that a ‘woman who married two husbands in this world is restored to the first in the next.’” (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927, p. 698.) Most Jews at the time believed in a material resurrection, and so the question had some importance to them. (Ibid.)
On the other hand, although the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, they were more than happy to use it to try to “bring Jesus into contempt and ridicule with the multitude by asking Him a question which they thought He could not answer.” (Ibid., p. 697.)
But Jesus did answer them, and he began with a mild rebuke: “Ye do err,” he said, “not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Consider the handicap the Sadducees had placed upon themselves. They did not really understand the scriptures—and probably had no wish to do so on this point. They were steeped in false doctrine, and without the gift of the Holy Ghost had no access to the revelatory power of the Spirit. The Savior’s answer, therefore, was not a full doctrinal explanation of the doctrine of eternal marriage. Instead, he quickly defused their argument and then testified of the resurrection using the scriptures that the Sadducees held most sacred.
The Savior effectively dismissed their question on marriage by stating that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” In that way, the Savior turned to the more fundamental issue of the Sadducee’s disbelief in resurrection. Of the resurrection, the Savior bore certain testimony:
“But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
“I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:31–32.)
At this point, the Sadducees were silenced. In Mark’s account of the episode, the Lord adds, “Ye therefore do greatly err.” (Mark 12:27.) The Savior had made their error painfully clear by referring to the Law—Exodus 6:3 [Ex. 6:3]—for support. The Law was considered by all Jews, Sadducees included, as the highest authority in the canon of scripture. They couldn’t very well argue with the scriptures they held in highest esteem.
What, then, do we make of the Savior’s statement that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage?”
First, we see that it was made in response to an attempt by the Sadducees to trap the Lord. Consequently, it would not have been the Lord’s final word on the subject. Why should the Lord scatter pearls before them that they would only trample underfoot? (See Matt. 7:6.) They were no more prepared to listen to a discourse on eternal marriage than they were prepared to accept the reality of the resurrection.
Second, the Lord did not say there would be no people in the married state in the resurrection, but that there would be no marriages made in the resurrection.
Third, we must be clear about the “they” who are neither marrying nor being given in marriage. The context of the scriptures just cited suggests a generic rather than a specific meaning. Simply put, that means no marriages are made in the resurrection. The Lord was warning the Sadducees. They were Jews of the day who had rejected him and therefore had no access to the higher ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. How could these men, whom Jesus had called a “generation of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), qualify for the highest blessings of the celestial kingdom?
What the Savior declared of the Sadducees who would later have part in his death is hardly applicable to his Saints who, through the ordinances of the priesthood and their righteousness, qualify for exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which the Lord equates with eternal marriage. (See D&C 132:19–24.)
The Savior made statements on other occasions that support the idea of eternal marriage. To the Pharisees, who at least believed in the resurrection, he said: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at 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.” (Matt. 19:4–7; italics added.)
The marriage of Adam and Eve, performed prior to the Fall, was certainly done in an eternal context (see Gen. 2:18–24), and the authority to bind on earth and in heaven was given to Peter and the other Apostles. (See Matt. 16:19; Matt. 18:18.)
Although this authority was lost with the priesthood through apostasy, it has been restored in our day. The Lord’s promise is that those marriages performed by his authority and “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood” (D&C 132:19) shall endure forever.