Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) disagreed with the view common in traditional Christianity that there is no marriage in heaven. On the contrary, he said that real, spiritual marriage, which is a union of souls and minds between two people, lasts forever in heaven.
This does not, however, mean that all earthly, legal marriages will last forever. Most of these, Swedenborg says, are dissolved in the afterlife when the true inner character of the earthly spouses are revealed, and it becomes clear that there is no real inner connection between them. If they are bound for heaven, and they want to be married—which most do—they will find another, more suitable partner, and will remain married to that person to eternity. Of course, couples on earth who do have a real inner connection can and do continue their marriage relationship forever in heaven.
Traditional Christians almost universally reject the idea that marriage can continue in the afterlife because of Jesus' statement:
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:30, New International Version. See also Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35)
However, from a Swedenborgian perspective, we must:
- Pay close attention to exactly what Jesus did (and didn't) say.
- Understand what sort of marriage Jesus was talking about, based on the context.
- Look for the deeper spiritual meaning in Jesus' words.
This answer will take these up one at a time.
1. Jesus did not say that there is no marriage in heaven
Jesus' words in Matthew 22:30 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke are sometimes misread, and even misquoted by traditional Christians as saying that we will neither be married nor get married in the afterlife. See, for example, my article Marriage in Heaven: A Response to Tom Wenig.
However, that's simply not what Jesus said, as covered in that article:
The Greek word for “marry” here is γαμέω (gameō). Its primary meanings in the Bible are “to lead in marriage, take to wife,” “to get married, to marry,” “to give one’s self in marriage.” It can also be used of giving a daughter in marriage.
The Greek word for “be given in marriage” is ἐκγαμίζω (enkamizō). Its primary meaning in the Bible is “to give away in marriage: a daughter.” Its secondary meaning is “to marry, to be given in marriage.”
Since the two words are used together here, and the Bible doesn’t waste words, clearly the first one refers to a man marrying a woman, and the second one refers to a woman being given in marriage to a man. This reflects marriage customs in many traditional cultures throughout the world, in which a man is seen as actively taking a wife, whereas a woman is seen as passively being given to a man in marriage by her father, or by her family of origin.
Both words are about the act of getting married. Neither is about the state of being married. In present-day language, one word refers to a groom getting married, and the other refers to a bride getting married.
If we read Jesus' words carefully, he doesn't say that there is no marriage in heaven. What he says is that people don't get married in the afterlife. There's a big difference!
If you ask a married man or women whether he or she plans to get married, the answer will be "No." Why? Because he or she is already married! Even if we take Jesus' words entirely literally, people who are already married on earth could continue to be married in heaven.
This is the first point in how Swedenborgians understand Matthew 22:30, and it doesn't even require any Swedenborgian doctrine. It only requires reading Jesus' exact words as recorded in the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and not adding to them or subtracting from them.
2. Jesus was responding to a question about earthly, legal marriage
In addition to reading Jesus' words carefully, and not sloppily, it is important to pay attention to the context of his words. Here is the Matthew version of the question that was posed to him:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 20:23–28. See also Mark 12:18–23; Luke 20:27–32)
Of course, the Sadducees' question was an over-the-top hypothetical! However, though its basis may seem obscure to present-day readers, it would have been very clear to Jesus and the audience at the time. It drew on the law of levirate marriage, as laid down in the Law of Moses:
If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. (Deuteronomy 25:5–10)
Clearly, the Sadducees' question was based on earthly, legal marriage. And if we read Jesus' response to them carefully, it is clear that he is saying that earthly, legal marriage does not exist in the afterlife. Here is his response in the fuller Luke version:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” (Luke 20:27–39)
Let's look at his responses one by one:
- "those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead"
However this is interpreted, it is not about all people, but about "those who are considered worthy." In other words, in common Christian parlance, it is talking about the "saved," not about the "damned."
- "will neither marry nor be given in marriage"
The sort of (legal) "marrying" and "being given in marriage" that the Sadducees are talking about does not happen in the afterlife.
- "and they can no longer die"
Since death no longer exists in the afterlife, there is no need for one of the key reasons for legal marriage: the right to inherit the property of legal spouses.
- "for they are like the angels"
The angels are spiritual beings, not earthly beings. They are therefore not subject to earthly laws of legal marriage.
- "They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection"
Legal marriage is also not necessary in the afterlife because there are no children borne of marriage then, and therefore no need for legal marriage and parentage to establish rights of inheritance for legitimate children of the marriage. In the afterlife, there are no human parents and children, because all people are God's children, and are brothers and sisters to one another.
Jesus then goes on to refute the assumption behind the Sadducees' question, which is that there is no resurrection, and no afterlife.
In summary, if we understand that Jesus was responding to people who had an earthly, legal view of marriage, everything he says in response makes perfect sense. He is saying to the Sadducees that yes indeed, there is a resurrection and an afterlife, and those who arrive in a happy afterlife will have no need of earthly, legal marriage as not only the Sadducees, but nearly everyone in the history of the world up until recent times understood "marriage."
What he was not talking about is what Swedenborgians would call "spiritual marriage," or what people today call "soulmates." For the most part, today's common idea of marriage based on love and an inner connection simply didn't exist in the times and cultures of the Bible.
The second point in how Swedenborgians understand Matthew 22:30, then, is that on the literal level, or in the plain text of the Bible, Jesus was not talking about marriage based on love as many people understand it today; rather, he was talking about earthly, legal marriage as it has existed in human cultures for thousands of years.
Based on Jesus' words, Swedenborgians therefore affirm that there is no such thing as legal marriage in the afterlife.
3. We must become spiritually married within ourselves or we cannot be married in heaven
One of the hallmarks of Swedenborgian Bible interpretation is that although the basic teachings about what Christians must believe and how Christians must live are all present in the plain, literal meaning of the Bible, since the Bible is the Word of God and not a mere human book, there are also spiritual and divine meanings within everything it says.
A full exegesis of Matthew 22:30 and its context would take far too much space for this answer. For a somewhat fuller version, I refer you to the second article listed for further reading at the end of this answer.
Briefly, Swedenborg traces the origin of marriage to what he calls the divine marriage, which is the marriage of love and wisdom in God. From this comes the "heavenly marriage" which is a marriage of love and truth within a human being.
In contemporary terms, the heavenly marriage takes place within individual people when their heart of love and their thinking mind work perfectly together to bring forth good deeds of love, kindness, and service to their fellow human beings ("the neighbor," in biblical terms).
Developing this heavenly marriage of head and heart, or of love and truth, within ourselves, and expressing it in our lives, is our whole task of spiritual rebirth (see John 3:1–8) during our lifetime on earth. If we do not have this inner "marriage" between love in our heart and truth (commonly called "faith" in the Bible) in our mind, not only can we not be married in heaven, but we can't even be spiritually married here on earth.
Another way of saying this is that unregenerate, selfish, and sinful people cannot be in real spiritual marriages that are based on loving one another because they love only themselves, and are therefore incapable of loving another person.
A third point in how Swedenborgians understand Matthew 22:30, then, is that if we don't get spiritually married within ourselves during our lifetime on earth, we cannot be married in the afterlife.
This draws on the careful reading of Jesus words covered in the first point above. If we read Jesus' exact words, he doesn't say that we can't be married in the afterlife; he says that we don't get married in the afterlife. When interpreting Jesus' words spiritually, Swedenborgians understand this to mean that if we do not do the work of spiritual rebirth that Jesus commands us to do here on earth, we will not be "considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection" spiritually speaking. In other words, we will make our eternal bed in hell, not in heaven. This means that we cannot be in a loving, spiritual marriage to eternity, either.
In short, only people who get married spiritually within themselves can be in an eternally happy and loving marriage in heaven.
As long as this answer is, it barely scratches the surface of Swedenborgians' understanding of Matthew 22:30. Swedenborgians see the Word of God as a deep and inexhaustible well of spiritual and divine truth. From a Swedenborgian perspective, every chapter and every verse of the Bible contains infinite stores of wisdom and understanding.
There are many more points that could be drawn from Matthew 22:30 and the story in which it appears. However, to recap, here are three basic points in Swedenborgians' understanding of Matthew 22:30:
- Jesus did not say there is no marriage in heaven. He said people don't get married in heaven.
- The type of marriage that doesn't exist in the afterlife is the earthly, legal type of marriage represented by the Sadducees' question.
- If we look deeper into Jesus' words, the lesson is that we must get married within our own spirit during our lifetime on earth if we want to be married to eternity in the afterlife.
For further reading
For those who wish to look further into a New Church (Swedenborgian) view of marriage in the afterlife, there is a whole series of articles on my website, which I invite you to read:
And there are more where those came from!