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God’s Word for You

Marriage in the resurrection - Part 1

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 31, 2022

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.

Denial of the physical resurrection was one of a number of strong beliefs held by the Sadducees. Their Scriptures consisted primarily of the first five books (those of Moses). The other books of the Old Testament were considered by them to be, at best, of lesser importance. They rejected the doctrines of hell, of angels, and of the resurrection of the body. There were other things (see my comments on the Gospel of Luke), but these are the beliefs that help us to understand their question (entrapment) here.

The Sadducees were not alone in their belief of a resurrection without the body. This was a Greek ideal: Since the body appears to be the source of sin and every evil, then the spirit (so the Greeks believed) must shunt off the body in order to enter into Paradise. The Sadducees could have proved the doctrine of the resurrection of the body if they had correctly read the account of Abraham offering Isaac, for there Abraham says to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go on over there. We will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). Since he was commanded to slaughter the boy and offer him as a sacrifice, he could hardly have said “we will come back to you” if he did not believe that the Lord would return Isaac to him through the resurrection. So even using their own standard of proving doctrines only from the five books of Moses, they could have believed in the resurrection. Yet Jesus will prove the same doctrine through a much simpler verse.

19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.  20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children.  21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third.  22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too.  23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (NIV)

Before we listen to the Lord’s answer, let’s understand the question. The Sadducees begin by citing or at least paraphrasing Deuteronomy 25:5-6. Jesus doesn’t comment on the inaccuracy of their quotation, but he answers the spirit of what they ask. There was an ancient tradition that said a brother was responsible for his brother’s wife if the brother died (Genesis 38:8). This was ratified in the law of Moses, and this is what the Sadducees used for their argument: If there is a resurrection, and one woman has married seven brothers lawfully, one after the other, then to which brother is she married in the resurrection?

The Sadducees were trying to claim that Moses agreed with them, that is, about their disbelief in the resurrection of the body. They could have cited any number of actual cases of the Levirate law (the “brother-in-law law”), but they came up with the case of “one bride for seven brothers” to expose what they saw as the absurdity of a physical resurrection. Marriage, they maintained, was for the flesh, not for the spirit.

The trap in this case involved injustice. If Jesus agreed with them that the Bible does not speak of a physical resurrection, then they could maintain that they were right and the Pharisees were wrong. If, however, Jesus would maintain that the woman would be a wife in the resurrection, then there would be an injustice in one of two ways. Either this would be an injustice to the other six brothers who had married her on earth but would not have her as a wife in eternity, or else it would be an injustice to them all if she were married to them all in eternity, since she could not be faithful to all of them at the same time. As with most objections to a doctrine, the correct answer hadn’t occurred to them.

We might observe these things and perhaps others I have not thought of regarding the Levirate law:

1, The law is recorded in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. If a man died without a son, “his widow must not marry outside the family.” The first son produced by this marriage would carry the name of the dead brother for the sake of his name and inheritance.

2, A brother or close relative who refused to marry the widow was given a special kind of curse (Deuteronomy 25:7-10).

3, The chief example before the giving of the law is the case of Judah’s sons (Genesis 38:6-11). Er, Tamar’s husband, died, but Onan would not impregnate her, so the Lord put him to death. Since the third son was too young to marry her, she was told to live in her father’s house until the third son was old enough to marry her, but she took matters into her own hands and got twin sons through Judah himself (Genesis 38:8-18). One of these sons was in the line of the Savior (Matthew 1:3; Luke 3:33).

4, The chief example following the giving of the law is Ruth marrying Boaz in Bethlehem (Ruth 4:13). Ruth also became an ancestor of the Savior (Matthew 1:5; Luke 3:32).

5, An unanswered question should come in the case of Enoch’s wife. While they were raising their large family, Enoch was taken into heaven. Did his wife, Methuselah’s mother, take another husband? I think she would have been permitted if she were still alive, for although her husband did not die, he was taken into heaven, thereby releasing her from her earthly vow.

6, One reason for the preservation of the family line in this way was to protect the family inheritance under the Ninth Commandment.

7, Another reason for preserving the line was perhaps “the desire of every Jew to have his name perpetuated as a possible ancestor of Christ” (Wenzel, Commentary, p. 590).

8, Yet another reason for the tradition and the later law was “our Lord God wished to provide for the female sex. Most of the males perished in war and other dangers, but the females were spared such dangers and survived. Consequently our Lord God wished to give them an advantage and made this provision for them, and if a man was unwilling to cohabit with his deceased brother’s wife, he nevertheless supported her” (Luther, LW 54:109).

So the law served an excellent purpose in its time, up to the first coming of the Messiah. Now there is no longer a need, although a family of great wealth might find a useful example in this law in the event of the death of an heir. But the law, like all of the law of Moses, is no longer binding.

As for the trap set by the Sadducees, Jesus will answer in the verses that follow. Pray for your marriage or the marriage of your parents and others who are close to you. Pray that God would preserve marriages, lead husbands and wives to love each other, honor each other, respect one another, and especially that they would take everything in the kindest possible way (Philippians 1:27; 3 John 1:6). Those who are married are one flesh (Genesis 2:24), and their marriage permits them to be blessed with godly chastity (1 Corinthians 7:2-5), lifelong companionship (1 Corinthians 11:3), and to provide the ideal relationship with which to raise and nurture children (Psalm 113:9, 127:3; Proverbs 17:6). Every blessing of the Lord is truly his grace overflowing into us and then outward to all around.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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