Jesus’ Teaching on Man, Woman, and Marriage

Dr. James Ware

A View from Campus

Dr. James Ware

Jesus’ teaching on matrimony, given in his interaction with the Sadducees on the topic of the resurrection in Luke 20:27–40, reveals the striking continuity of the Church’s historic doctrine of matrimony with the mind and teaching of her Lord.

The Sadducees come to Jesus with a question designed to deconstruct the resurrection hope as laughable and self-contradictory: if a woman, through the custom of levirate marriage, has had multiple husbands in her lifetime, when the resurrection takes place, whose wife will she be? 

Here is Jesus’ reply in Luke’s Gospel: “And Jesus said to them, ‘The people who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those considered worthy to attain that age and the resurrection from the dead do not marry, nor are they given in marriage. For they can neither die any longer, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, since they are people of the resurrection’” (Luke 20:34–36).

In this passage, we find five key teachings of Jesus on man, woman, and marriage:

  1. Marriage Is Ordered to Procreation. Jesus here teaches that, in the everlasting life of the age to come, procreation will no longer be necessary; and, therefore, marriage will cease. The procreative purpose of matrimony is the unmistakable presupposition of our Lord’s argument in this passage. Following the teaching of Christ, the Church teaches that marriage is ordered to procreation and the family, so that the consent of those who validly wed must include openness to the gift of children, who are, in the words of “Gaudium et Spes,” “the supreme gift of marriage.” This is also why the Church 1) opposes artificial contraception as contrary to the very nature of marriage and 2) enthusiastically encourages adoption. 
  2. Sexual Union Is for Marriage Only. Although Jesus, in this passage, describes the purpose of sexual union as procreation, he speaks not of sex but of marriage. Implicit in our Lord’s teaching is the truth that the only proper context for sexual union is holy matrimony – a total union of persons, sealed by their free and irrevocable consent to a life-long covenant of total fidelity. This is the beautiful and joyous Christian ethic of matrimony, of which our secular culture’s sad and lonely sexual ethic of mere consent is but a shadow and a parody. 
  3. Marriage Is a Male-Female Union. The words of the passage rendered above as “marry” and “are given in marriage” reflect two distinct Greek verbs. When used in tandem, these verbs are always gender-specific. Thus, when Jesus speaks of those who “marry” (gamousin), the implicit subject is men, and when he speaks of those who “are given in marriage” (gamizontai), the implicit subject is women. Jesus’ words thus make clear that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. The teaching of Christ in this passage clearly prohibits same-sex unions, as well as every other form of sexual intimacy outside the unique covenant of marriage.
  4. Gender Is Bodily and Binary. Jesus’ gender-specific language for women and men, and his understanding of their union as ordered to procreation, show that there are two genders, man and woman – and that this is a bodily reality. Contemporary LGBTQ ideology denies that there are only two genders, male and female, and claims that one’s gender identity is unrelated to the body. But our Lord teaches that gender is bodily and binary.  
  5. The Gender Binary Is Forever. In using these gender-specific expressions, not only for “the people who belong to this age” (Luke 20:34), but also for “those considered worthy to attain that age and the resurrection from the dead” (Luke 20:35), Jesus makes clear that binary gender difference—our identity as male and female—will continue after the resurrection. Manhood and womanhood will endure forever. This is, of course, the historic teaching of the Church. This passage reveals that this doctrine has its origins in the mind of Christ himself. According to contemporary LGBTQ ideology, the gender binary is a mere social construct that oppresses and enslaves. But in the teaching of our Lord, our bodily identity as woman or man is the gift of God, which frees us to be fully ourselves and fully human.

Dr. James Ware is Professor of Religion at the University of Evansville, faculty advisor to UE’s Newman Center and a member of Annunciation Parish. He may be reached at [email protected].