Category Archives: Mormon Apologetics

Biblical Arguments for Eternal Marriage?

Dur­ing the course of cor­re­spond­ing with a beloved but dis­tant Mor­mon friend, I encoun­tered some of the first Bib­li­cal argu­ments for eter­nal mar­riage I had ever heard. Usu­ally the argu­ments have to do with want­ing to stay mar­ried after death or with strictly Mor­mon scrip­tures, and not with the Bible itself. Now, I don’t think the doc­trine of eter­nal mar­riage is a deal breaker by any means — it’s entirely periph­eral to the fun­da­men­tal incom­pat­i­bil­i­ties between Mor­mon the­ol­ogy and Chris­tian­ity. But for what it’s worth, I just hap­pen to think it is false. Here is how one of his Bib­li­cal argu­ments goes (rewrit­ten in log­i­cal form):

1. All that God does is eternal.

2. God did Adam’s and Eve’s marriage.

3. There­fore, Adam’s and Eve’s mar­riage is eternal.

This is a log­i­cally valid argu­ment (its con­clu­sion fol­lows inescapably from its premises), but I dis­pute the truth of (1). The heav­ens and the earth are a clear coun­terex­am­ple: We know that God cre­ated the heav­ens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), and yet He intends to destroy them (1 Pet. 3:7). There­fore, since the heav­ens and the earth are not eter­nal, despite being done by God, not every­thing God does is eternal.

When I pointed this out to him, instead of under­cut­ting my coun­terex­am­ple, he sim­ply tried to rein­force (1) with Bib­li­cal evi­dence (which would, I think, if strong enough, rebut my coun­terex­am­ple and force me to rein­ter­pret 1 Pet. 3:7). The text he used was Eccl. 3:14.

The prob­lem I see with that, is that it is set in a con­text of cyn­i­cism, hyper­bole, and other noto­ri­ously hermeneu­ti­cally trickly rhetor­i­cal devices. For exam­ple, start­ing just five verses later, in verses 19 and on, the author, taken at face value, seems to teach that men die just like beasts and are not priv­i­leged with an after­life. Nat­u­rally he and I both agree that this face value read­ing is false. For surely, as we allow scrip­ture to inter­pret scrip­ture, we see else­where teach­ings all about the afterlife.

What of this verse, then? Well, when we inves­ti­gate the his­tor­i­cal con­text of Eccle­si­astes we dis­cover some inter­est­ing facts. Solomon, the pre­sumed author, mar­ried the daugh­ter of an Egypt­ian ruler (1 Kings 3:1). Egypt­ian reli­gion was obsessed with the notion of a phys­i­cal after­life wherein a per­son could lug all of his earthly pos­ses­sions, wives, etc. on into eter­nity. The Egyp­tians never took seri­ously the final­ity and sever­ity of phys­i­cal death. Con­trast­ingly, the Bible teaches that death ought to be viewed as the “last enemy”, in which earthly pos­ses­sions count for noth­ing (1 Cor. 15:26, Matt. 6:19–20), and that it takes a spe­cial act of God through Jesus to over­come it (1 Cor. 15:55–57). There­fore it is far more likely that Solomon was rebut­ting the Egypt­ian notion of the after­life than that he was deny­ing the Jew­ish hope in res­ur­rec­tion dur­ing the Age to Come. But to under­stand this requires the use of a lit­tle elbow grease. A sur­face level read­ing of a verse from Eccle­si­astes with­out respect to con­text should be imme­di­ately approached with caution.

So what does this verse actu­ally mean then, if not that lit­er­ally every­thing God does is eter­nal? Well, in con­text, Eccle­si­astes com­prises exam­ple after exam­ple of the failed attempts by humans to gain insight into value and into the future. The point the author seems to be mak­ing here is that we must be faith­ful and con­tent with what lit­tle knowl­edge and respon­si­bil­ity we have, await­ing with patience the unfold­ing of God’s eter­nal plan. Jesus sums it up when He says that while the heav­ens and the earth will pass away, His word will not. In other words, what God intends to be eter­nal, His eter­nal plan, will be eter­nal. But that doesn’t mean God never does things for a finite period of time, or cre­ates tools or instruc­tions designed to be use­ful for a finite time (the Mosaic law comes to mind as a great exam­ple — surely the Mor­mon church doesn’t advo­cate the ston­ing of adul­ter­esses or the strict dietary laws of the Mosaic law?).

The next Bib­li­cal argu­ment for eter­nal mar­riage he gave goes like this:

4. God left Job with twice what Job had orig­i­nally had.

5. God left Job with ten children.

6. Job orig­i­nally had ten children.

7. There­fore, Job con­tin­ued to have his orig­i­nal ten chil­dren despite their deaths.

This, as you can see, is not even directly related to mar­riage, but to fam­ily. The doc­trine of eter­nal mar­riage is actu­ally a corol­lary to a deeper-​​running and more devel­oped doc­trine con­cern­ing the “seal­ing” of famil­ial rela­tion­ships — par­ent to child, hus­band to wife, etc.

And this too, is a log­i­cally valid argu­ment. And inter­est­ingly enough, I accept its con­clu­sion. The chil­dren who died were not oblit­er­ated, unlike Job’s mate­r­ial pos­ses­sions. But the mere facts that A) the chil­dren con­tin­ued to exist after their deaths, and that B) they will always each have the prop­erty of hav­ing been born to Job, do not imply that they were ever “sealed” to him in the strict Mor­mon sense.

I will admit this: if the Mor­mon doc­trine con­cern­ing seal­ing is true, then the Job nar­ra­tive may arguably be called a glimpse of it. But I don’t think that the Job nar­ra­tive on its own can be taken as con­sti­tut­ing any pos­i­tive evi­dence in favor of the doctrine.

My friend is sharp, and he admits in his email that the Bible only offers “glimpses” of the doc­trine of eter­nal mar­riage. I hope he will even­tu­ally per­mit the use of sim­i­lar log­i­cal and hermeneu­ti­cal argu­ments in future cor­re­spon­dence con­cern­ing more fun­da­men­tal questions.