I’ve been reading Stein’s treatment of Mk 12:18-27 in his new commentary. It doesn’t seem to me that his interpretation is quite satisfactory. For example, some scholars (e.g. Green, Kilgallen, Witherington) think the type of marriage which is excluded in the afterlife is levirate marriage, and not marriage in general. Stein objects to that on the grounds that “this does not resolve the problem of the Sadducees’ illustration. How can the marriage state of the woman continue simultaneously with all seven brothers,” R. Stein, Mark (Baker 2008), 554n8.
But there are two problems with this objection:
i) In the OT, you could be married to more than one person at a time. While the OT frowns on polygamy, it doesn’t take the position that polygamous marriages are invalid. And the OT supplies the immediate frame of reference.
Insofar as a polygamous marriage is sinful, you couldn’t contract a polygamous marriage in the world to come. But that doesn’t mean the afterlife dissolves all previous relationships which were initiated in sin. For example, a child conceived through rape, adultery, fornication, or incest was conceived in sin, but he doesn’t thereby cease to be the child of his sinful parent or parents in the world to come.
ii) A more immediate difficulty with Stein’s objection is that it doesn’t cohere with something else he says. He earlier said, “The question of the Sadducees involves not just the specific doctrine of the resurrection but also the general doctrine of life after death. The resurrection from the dead, in the technical sense of the resurrection of the body, was seen as a future event occurring at the end of history (12:23: ‘in the resurrection, when they rise’). The fact that Jesus argues that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive (12:27) deals more with the doctrine of life after death. Since the Sadducees denied both, the demonstration of either would refute their denial of life after death,” ibid. 549n2.
But if that is true, then Jesus’ reply isn’t targeting their specific rejection of the resurrection, but their general rejection of the afterlife, whether it be the intermediate state or the final state. Their rejection of the afterlife in toto is what underwrites their specific rejection of either phase of postmortem survival.
On that interpretation, Jesus isn’t trying to resolve the specific problem they pose, but to challenge their underlying denial of the afterlife, which their specific example was intended to illustrate. So Stein fails to apply his own explanation to the case at hand.
Stein also says that “Whereas marriage on earth is for the purpose of procreation (Gen 1:28) and companionship (Gen 2:18-23), in the resurrection there is no longer a need for procreation…for there is no more death” (cf. Luke 20:36), ibid. 554.
i) But a basic problem with this interpretation is that the institution of marriage was never predicated on mortality. It’s a creation mandate, given to Adam and Eve in their unfallen state. It’s not a lapsarian ordinance.
The implication of Stein’s interpretation is that if Adam and Eve had never fallen, they would have remained childless. That’s good Mormon theology, but bad Biblical theology.
By contrast, mortality was a specific presupposition of levirate marriage. Therefore, the identification of marriage with levirate marriage in this pericope is more coherent with the overall teaching of Scripture.
ii) In addition, Scripture doesn’t say our companionship with the saints will compensate for the loss of marital or familial companionship.
And different forms of companionship are not interchangeable. The companionship of a husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, grandmother, grandfather, granddaughter, or friend are not equivalent. Likewise, a relationship with God is no substitute for human relationships, or vice versa. Different relationships have distinctive virtues. And, of course, your mother isn’t my mother. Your son isn’t my son.
No doubt heaven has its compensations. Unexpected compensations. But we need to avoid facile explanations. Some things remain mysterious. We won’t know till we get there.
Finally, what is the relevance of the angels to this debate? On the face of it, the status of angels, as discarnate spirits, is more analogous to the intermediate state than it is to the final state.
But as Bock points out, “by comparing the resurrection to angels, Jesus strikes at another doctrine that the Sadducees denied—the reality of angels,” D. Bock, Luke 2:1623.
In that event, Jesus introduces angels into the discussion to take a swipe at another Sadducean error: their denial of angels. And this ties into the general discussion of the afterlife inasmuch as immortality presupposes existence. Nonentities can’t be immortal. Jesus is using their question as a pretext to turn it against another one of their errors. The audience would no doubt appreciate the irony of his reference to angels in responding to the Sadducees.