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.