Many Christians today fundamentally misunderstand the nature of our existence in glory. They see themselves as being deracinated and materially indistinguishable from other people-groups. They view Galatians 3:28 as, in effect, having a physical and outward fulfillment in heaven, rather than restricting it to the spiritual unity St. Paul intended to convey. This inevitably leads to a depreciation of racial and ethnic identity in our daily lives prior to eternity, and is a fit subject for inquiry. I will defend the thesis that in glory we maintain meaningful relations with those of our family and ethnic and racial groups, not abandoning such covenantal realities for some pretension of atomistic and hollow holiness.
Neither Marrying nor Being Given in Marriage
It is hardly necessary to confute the alienist interpretation of passages like Galatians 3:28. Interpreting those to refer to physical unity is clearly destructive of all of God’s predestined distinctions, permitting not only miscegenation but feminism and sodomy. Those falsely relying on “there is neither Jew nor Greek” passages inevitably undermine basic tenets of Scripture and common sense.
A more formidable opponent contending for the deracinated view of heaven is based on Jesus’s response to an objection from the Sadducees, found in Matthew 22:23-30:
23 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.”
The argument goes that if there is no marriage in heaven, then the lack of married couples extinguishes families, which likewise causes tribes, nations, and races to vanish. Or, if it does not cause all these corporate groupings to vanish, it still shows them to be of no consequence: if the marital union is itself without significance, then so are relatively less important groupings. Perhaps there are certain superficial or physical distinctions in heaven, but, as with marriage, groups based on such distinctions will be effectively nonexistent.
If it were not obvious enough from the implications of this interpretation, Jesus’s statement can be shocking if not understood properly. To say that families and married couples do not exist in heaven grates strongly against our affections and intuitions, seemingly telling us that what we find so important and dear to us is actually worthless. Therefore it is important to have a proper understanding of this passage.
In the first place, we should note that the passage (as well as its parallel in Mark) is a rather isolated instance of the principle in dispute. If it means what the alienists think it means, then it would be the only passage in Scripture teaching it. God need only speak once in order to bind our hearts and minds to a particular doctrine or practice, but the isolation of the passage should lead us to be cautious in ensuring that we do not deceive ourselves.
Second, it is also important to note that Jesus is here dealing with a strictly legal question. He is not concerning Himself with some statement about the importance of our material existence in glory, but is confounding the gainsaying Sadducees who are trying to trap Him. They ask Him a legal question, trying to find a contradiction in biblical law and doctrine, and He provides a legal answer to absolve the contradiction. The context does not extend beyond this legal dispute, in which case we should be careful not to take implications too far. It still could be that the content of His legal answer logically entails that family and race will not persist in heaven, but the nature and the context of the discussion still help us to focus on the meaning of our Savior’s claims. Yet, before elaborating on the true meaning of Christ’s words, I wish to make some statements about our personal identity.
Personal Identity and Corporate Relations
When we reflect on the initially abstract question of our identity, of who we are, we inevitably are led to define ourselves according to various outward relations with others. A mother cannot define herself without reference to her particular children and husband, nor can people living in a closely-knit community define themselves apart from the others. We cannot accurately apprehend our personal constitution apart from our particular sex, and neither can we try to define ourselves satisfactorily without including our cultural and genetic inheritance from our ancestors, which is inextricably tied in with our specific ethnic and racial group. A proper view of identity is corporately and covenantally grounded.
The nature of our identity even provides certain restrictions on how we can hypothetically conceive of ourselves. For example, consider a white male living in some small twenty-first century American town named John Doe. Someone could ask the question, “What would John Doe be like if he were born a woman in Africa in 1450?”, but the question would be purposeless, as it would be speaking of a different person altogether. Part of who he is includes his identity as God has rooted it in a particular sex, race, time, and place—not to mention other factors. Our identity cannot be separated from these factors, not even hypothetically. There is a certain sense in which we can hypothetically discuss how we might have been had different things occurred in our lives, but this is within limits. I might be able to discuss how I would be different if I went to a different school when I was younger, but I would be speaking of a different person if I posited too many hypothetical alterations.1
This fundamental premise of human nature leads to a significant conclusion: if we are truly resurrected in glory, then we will not be stripped of these various relations. If a man is resurrected and sees his father, it will not be as if both of them acknowledge the mere biological-paternal relation and forget everything else about how they interacted with one another on earth. On the contrary, the deepness of the father-son relation will be amplified and sanctified in glory. They will certainly be ecstatic to see each other again after having fought the good fight. They will be overjoyed in such a way that presupposes the reality of their familial unity. To think that their relation would not exist in the new heaven and new earth is morally monstrous, a denial that they will genuinely be subjects in heaven. If they are stripped of this father-son relation, or if the relation is reduced to a bare acknowledgment of biological begetting, then the two men are not the father and son they were on earth. The two men might bear certain physical, mental, and behavioral similarities to the father and son, but they are fundamentally different people.
Yet, if we grant this for fathers and sons, why would we deny it for the deepest of all human unions—marriage? Why would we say that those who have become one flesh must abandon all the deep affections that we know are now part of their identity? It is madness to say that marriage terminates on earth in the sense that those deep relations do not persist in eternity.
But what does Jesus mean when He says that in heaven “they neither marry nor are given in marriage”? It would be folly to accuse the Son of God of being incorrect, and His answer really seems conceptually necessary to avoid the paradoxes that emerge from the prospect of legitimate re-marriage. The only way to avoid the conclusion that something like polyandry can exist in heaven is to substantially alter or abolish the institution of marriage as a whole. Yet, that very answer reveals how we can still love our spouses in eternity: there is a difference between the institution of marriage, and the various deep relations stemming from it. The official structure of the family, by which God has delegated authority to the patriarch, entails that the rest of the family is bound to obey the patriarch (within limits), just by the nature of his office as husband and father. This office is part of a formal structure or institution of the family, a structure that will no longer exist in heaven; the obligations bound up with that structure last only “till death do us part.” There will still be deep, abiding affections and relations among family members, but it will not be the case that the family as an authoritative institution will subsist. God has reasons for the institutions of marriage and family (and civil government, etc.) in our life here on earth, but He may no longer have reasons for such institutions when we are in glory.
To directly answer the alienist contention from this passage, then, we say the following: if a woman is legitimately re-married on earth, and she and her multiple husbands achieve eternal life, then they will maintain the deep relationships fostered on earth, and those relations can exist in eternity without envy. The formal institution or marital structure will not be present, but the deep bonds formed will, and all without sinful competition. The spouses will have plenty of time to spend with each other and to love each other, and there will be neither sin nor pain.
A Continental Divide
Even though this passage in certain senses is inconsequential, one’s chosen interpretation of it is a continental divide. As the aforementioned alienist argument goes, an unqualified dissolution of the marital bond a fortiori undermines every other meaningful bond we have with other humans. It leads to an impoverished view of man, disconnecting him from his social identity and abstracting him from his divinely ordained context. It is ultimately anti-Christian. A proper view of this passage, qualifying the abrogation of marriage as only the abrogation of the institution or formal structure, preserves the materiality and corporate identity of man. It allows us to still be ourselves when we are resurrected.
Because of this continental divide, it does not take much of Scripture to give us a proper view of heaven. Even though common sense and reason dictate that we will not, for example, forget our bonds with our parents in heaven, Scripture actually provides further corroboratory evidence that the kinist interpretation is correct. In particular, God’s Word explicitly says that various tribes, nations, and peoples will be present to worship the Lord in heaven (Rev. 7:9). Given the fact that nations and tribes are composed of families (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31-32), it follows that all these corporate groupings will also exist in heaven. Scripture affirms a tenet belonging to the kinist side of the continental divide, by implication affirming the entire kinist outlook.
An objection usually launched against the kinist view of heaven, trying to move the biblical position to the other side of the continental divide, involves the practice of segregation. Race-denying Christians might formulate the argument this way: In heaven, we will have racial integration. It will not be as if all the races will not talk to or associate with one another; instead, we will all worship together. Therefore the kinist premise that racial segregation is valued by God is false, and race is effectively negligible. Race will be inconsequential in heaven, and so it should be inconsequential now.
The problem with this argument is that it fails to understand that segregation comes in varying gradations. It is not an all-or-nothing concept. Just consider how families segregate one from another in different houses, or how men of different racial groups might generally spend time with their own although occasionally interacting with others. Interaction (to some degree) is not logically incompatible with segregation (to some degree), and therefore the broad existence of racial interaction in heaven does not negate the overall kinist view. In heaven, we will certainly seek out those whom we know well in this life, such as our family members, and likely will spend more time with them than with others. Such a practice of familial segregation is consistent with the general fellowship to be enjoyed by all the elect families with each other. Likewise, the practice of ethnic or racial segregation could also occur to a certain degree. The numerous redeemed ethnic and racial groups will especially enjoy the company of the elect of their own kin, as is natural; and this is consistent with other interethnic and interracial interaction.
A separate type of objection is that this is all too speculative. Since we should not speak where God has not spoken (Deut. 29:29), conjecture on the nature of our fellowship and identity in heaven can only be dangerous. To require God to conform to our sentiments on an issue is blasphemous; if it were really that important, He would have made it obvious to us in His Word—and so the objection goes. Ironically, this objection turns out to be quite presumptuous itself. To say that God needs to have made a doctrine like this one obvious is to say that He is forbidden from stating doctrines implicitly in His Word. It cannot be seriously argued that some particular degree of explicitness is required for us to believe a doctrine. We either can reason about it on the basis of general and special revelation, or we cannot.
The question ultimately comes down to the chain of reasoning provided above. Given the premises that we will not at the resurrection somehow forget all our deep bonds, and that part of who we are is corporately grounded, it follows that we will maintain our familial and racial identity in heaven. The reasoning is inexorable: a mere argument that Scripture does not explicitly state my conclusion—even though it essentially does in Revelation 7:9—is irresponsible.
The modern church’s view of heaven is disgusting, teaching in essence that we will be un-sexed, un-raced, un-familied, and un-married aberrations when we reach the pinnacle of human existence and the joy of man’s desiring. This view is satanic in its denial of our humanity and in its death-wish to be removed from our worldly ties, better befitting eastern paganism than biblical Christianity. A healthy view of the resurrection therefore needs to be stated, that the modern church may truly grasp the goodness of the material here and now. More than likely, the church falsely sees our disembodied existence in the intermediate state (between our deaths and Christ’s return: 2 Cor. 5:8; Col. 1:22-24; Heb. 12:22-23)2 as ideal, even though the intermediate state is to be understood as deficient and unnatural, just as death itself is unnatural. Following Paul, we should desire to be “further clothed” with our resurrection bodies (2 Cor. 5:4; cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-54), embracing the full material reality with which God has so graciously endowed us. The modern church denies that we will be resurrected, but Job (ch. 19) says the opposite:
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
- Moreover, we can in one sense discuss how “we” might have been if substantially different things occurred in our lives, but it is probably more accurate to discuss how such substantial differences would affect someone like us at an earlier point in our history. For example, it does not make sense, strictly speaking, to ask how John Doe would be if he were born to different parents in a different country, but it does make sense to ask what someone with such a genetic endowment would be like if born to such parents in such a country. ↩
- The doctrine of the intermediate state also logically follows from the biblical data that we will remain conscious after death but before we receive a resurrection body (1 Thess. 4:14-17; Luke 16:19-31; 1 Pet. 3:18-20). This requires that we retain some disembodied existence prior to Christ’s second advent. ↩