Will we be male and female in the resurrection?

3resurr3In recent debates about the meaning of marriage, one area of speculation has been whether our differentiated sex identity as male and female (this is biological sex identity, not ‘gender’ as it is often called, which, properly understood, is about social constructions of masculine and feminine identity) will persist into the new creation. Two people in particular have raised this issue. Robert Song, in Covenant and Calling, questions the logic of sex difference at the centre point of his argument:

Sexual differentiation is therefore justified within marriage, but it is only justified because marriage in creation is oriented to procreation. There are no other grounds can provide the theological weight needed to require that marriage be sexually differentiated. However, this also implies that if procreation is no longer eschatologically necessary, Then there are no grounds for requiring all committed relationships to be heterosexual (p 48).

I don’t agree with his dismissal of ‘other grounds’, but the point he is making here is that, if procreation is not needed in the new creation, neither will sex difference, and if sex difference is not a feature of the new creation, then to the extent to which we live out that new creation in the here and now (2 Cor 5.17) then we should be less concerned about it, and indeed can dispense with it as a feature of covenant sexual relationships akin to marriage.

A slightly different perspective comes from Mike Higton (also of Durham) in his essay in the book Thinking Again About Marriage. After reviewing two recent C of E reflections on marriage, he comments:

The aspects of this theology that I am most readily able to affirm are its insistences that to live well involves responding attentively to our bodiliness, and that we are not bodily in the abstract but always as particular sexed bodies. We receive that particularity, that differentiation, as a gift from God. (p 20)

But he goes on heavily to qualify this. The terms he uses are concerned with redemption, but this must (at least implicitly) include the fall, since without the fall there is no need for redemption.

We are not simply called…to live in attentive response to our bodiliness, but to live in attentive response to our bodiliness in the light of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. Christian ethics, then, is not simply conformity to creation but about creaturely participation in redemption.

I find it interesting that this is precisely the context for Paul’s currently most contentious comments on same-sex sexuality, in Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6.9—the fallenness of humanity and its need for redemption, and the participation in the kingdom of God now as an anticipation of the eschaton—though Higton’s direction of movement appears to be different from Saint Paul’s.


How might we engage with this question? The key text that is consistently turned to is the debate between Jesus and the Sadducees about the possibility of bodily resurrection in Mark 12.25 = Matt 22.30 = Luke 20.36 which includes the key phrase ‘they will be like the angels [in heaven]’. The issue is: what does Jesus mean by this phrase? There are five things at stake here in relation to post-mortem existence, and it is important to identify them and tease them out, since they are often collapsed together in discussion:

  1. Will we have bodies rather than living a disembodied, ‘spiritual’ existence?
  2. If we do, will those bodies have continuity with our present bodies in being sex differentiated?
  3. If they are, will bodily sexual expression be part of post-mortem life?
  4. If it is, will that lead to procreation in any form?
  5. As a result, will the institution of marriage persist into the new creation?

To see some of the possible answers to this, it is worth reading an answer very different from Jesus, from the Jewish midrashim (which probably originate from a similar period):

All the orifices [of the body] will spew out milk and honey, as well as an aromatic scent, like the scent of Lebanon, as it is said: “Milk and honey are under your tongue, and the scent of your robes is like the scent of Lebanon” (Song of Songs 4.11). And “like seed” which will never cease [to flow from the bodies of the righteous] in the world to come, as it is said: “He provides as much for His loved ones while they sleep” (Ps. 127.2), and friends are none other than women, as it is said: “Why should my beloved be in my house?” (Jer. 11.15). Each righteous person will draw near his wife in the world to come and they will not conceive and they will not give birth and they will not die, as it is said: “they shall not toil for no purpose” (Is. 65.23)…. and they will come to the world to come with their wives and children. (Midrash Alpha-Betot, Batei Midrashot, II, ed. S. A. Wertheimer (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav, 1980), 458)

This is the kind of ‘mundane’ vision of life in the new creation which Jesus is rejecting. Ben Witherington, in his commentary on Mark, believes that whilst Jesus is rejecting 3 and 4 in our list, he is not rejecting 5, in that existing marriages will persist, but new marriages will not take place. The problem with this view is that it is precisely existing marriages (between the woman and her seven brothers) about which the Sadducees are questioning Jesus! And his response is clear: these will not persist.


So what is Jesus saying about sex identity, if anything? First, it is worth noting that angels in the Bible appear to be consistently male (rather than sexless) and in Genesis 6 this is particularly clear. Secondly, and possibly surprisingly, this exact question was a major point of debate in the early church Fathers—and their answer is unambiguous. Drawing on this text in particular, and more widely on the fact of Jesus’ and Paul’s singleness, they see virginity as an anticipation of the resurrection life. Cyprian of Carthage comments:

What we shall be, already you have begun to be. The glory of the resurrection you already have in this world; you pass through the world without the pollution of the world; while you remain chaste and virgins, you are equal to the angels of God.

But what is really fascinating in the patristic writings is the way that they frequently move from the question of resurrection life and virginal existence (encouraged not least by Rev 14.4) to the question of the bodily organs, including sexual organs. They appear to face a very similar kind of reductum ad absurdum argument to the one that the Sadducees present to Jesus: if we are to be raised bodily, and if we are going to do without sex in the resurrection, what is the point in having sexed, differentiated, sexual organs? The answers given are unambiguous. Both Pseudo Justin and Tertullian argue that, if having sexual organs does not unavoidably lead to sexual intercourse in this world, it will certainly not do so in the world to come. Jerome also argues that the resurrected ones will not cease to be human and the difference of sex will also remain.

If the woman shall not rise again as a woman nor the man as a man, there will be no resurrection of the body for the body is made up of sex and members.

In other words, in our list of five issues, they see items 1 and 2 firmly fixed together; the idea of the loss of sex difference, evidence in the bodily organs, is one small step from a rejection of bodily resurrection. But there is a line drawn between these two and the last three (sexual relations, procreation and marriage) which also belong together.


There is a fascinating parallel here with contemporary debates about disability, and whether disabilities which are seen to shape self-understanding and identity will persist into the resurrection. This is especially important for those who wish to resist a ‘medical’ understanding of disability, which will then be ‘healed’ in the resurrection. Nancy Eiesland, in The Disabled God, comments:

The resurrected Jesus Christ in presenting impaired hands and feet and side to be touched by frightened friends alters the taboo of physical avoidance of disability and calls for followers to recognize their connection and equality at the point of Christ’s physical impairment.

But if Jesus takes his bodily wounds into the resurrection life, then by the same logic he surely takes his bodily organs (both sexual and digestive) into this life. Luke 24 tells us that he ate fish, and John 21 that he cooked some for others; Augustine’s symbolic reading of these texts need not detract from their more obvious significance that resurrection is indeed bodily. Frances Young, in God’s Presence, makes a similar argument in relation to her disabled son Arthur:

Arthur’s limited experience, limited above all in ability to process the world external to himself, is a crucial element in who he is, in his real personhood. An ultimate destiny in which he was suddenly ‘perfected’ (whatever that might mean) is inconceivable—for he would no longer be Arthur but some other person. His limited embodied self is what exists, and what will be must be in continuity with that. There will also be discontinuities—the promise of resurrection is the transcendence of our mortal ‘flesh and blood’ state. So there’s hope for transformation of this life’s limitations and vulnerabilities, of someone like Arthur receiving greater gifts while truly remaining himself.


Signorelli_ResurrectionWhat can we conclude from all this? In the biblical accounts, sex differentiation is not imagined to be absent in the resurrection, and indeed its absence would be unimaginable and implausible if the resurrection life is indeed bodily—as it is vigorously claimed to be in all NT texts that explore the question. To be human and bodily means to be male or female, both in this age and in the age to come.

But we also need to note that, in the age to come, sex differentiation is seen in the NT to have lost its primary significance, because of loss of interest in procreation, and therefore the loss of interest in both sexual intercourse and marriage. This is why Paul sees the Spirit at work in the whole of the early Christian communities, regardless of sex identity.

It is therefore not possible to dispense with sex difference in marriage without actually dispensing with marriage itself. The two are inextricably linked.

A final note of caution on all this is offered by C S Lewis, in On Miracles:

I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer ‘No’, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.


Additional Notes

In the earlier version of this article, Alan Darley helpfully added in the perspective of Thomas Aquinas on the question of bodily sex difference:

Although risen men will not occupy themselves with such activities ( as nutrition and reproduction), they will not lack the organs requisite for such functions. Without these organs the risen body would not be complete. But it is fitting that nature should be completely restored at the renovation of risen man, for such renovation will be accomplished directly by God, whose works are perfect. Therefore all the members of the body will have their place I the risen, for the preservation of nature in its entirely rather than for the exercise of their normal functions.’ (Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae 157 tr. Cyrill Vollert in Light of Faith: The Compendium of Theology by Saint Thomas Aquinas (Sophia Institute Press, 1993), pp.178-179.)

In contrast to the consistent view of the New Testament scriptures and the patristic period, gnostic texts appear to depict a collapse of sex difference in the age to come. Darley writes:

In the ‘Gospel according to the Egyptians’ used by a Gnostic sect called the Naassennes which argued that death will prevail as long as there is conception and birth. Hence they quote an alleged ‘saying’ of Jesus: ‘ I came to destroy the works of the female.’ It goes on to describe a conversation between Jesus and Salome in which Salome asks ‘How long will death prevail?’ Jesus replies: ‘When you trample on the garment of shame, when the two become one and the male with the female neither male nor female.’ (See F.F.Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Hodder and Staughton, 1974), p.157).

It was a tenet of Gnosticism that Adam was androgenous before being divided into male and female (the Gnostic reading of Genesis 2:21-13) and that the eschatological age would inaugurate a return to this primordial state. Interestingly, Gnostic rituals included a ‘sacrament of the bridal chamber’ to enter this superior state.

The son called Gospel of Thomas reflects this same background.

Saying 4 Jesus said: ‘Let not old man who is full of days hesitate to ask the child of seven days about the place of life; then he will live. For many that are first will be last, and they will become a single one.’

Saying 11. Jesus said: ‘This heaven will pass away and that which is above it will pass away, and the dead are not living and the living will not die. Today you eat dead things and make them alive, but when you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two; but when you have become two, what will you do?’

An abolition of sexual difference is likewise suggested in Saying 22, (a Gnostic interpretation of Galatians 3:28).

Saying 22: ‘ Jesus saw some infants at the breast. He said to his disciples: ‘ These children at the breast are like those who enter the kingdom’. They said to him: ‘Shall we, then, enter the kingdom as children.?’ Jesus said to them: ‘When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as below, and when you make the female one, so that the male is no longer male and female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the kingdom.’

Saying 106: Jesus said: ‘When you make the two one, you will become sons of man, and if you say, ‘Move over, mountain!’ It will move.’

This saying seems to be teaching that only when the two sexes are reunited into one personality will true humanity will be achieved. Such an anthropology is rooted in a non-trinitarian, undifferentiated monad as Saying 61 indicates:

Jesus said: ‘Two will be resting there on one divan: one will die, the other will live.’ Salome said: ‘Who are you, sir, and whose son are you, that you have taken your place on my divan and eaten from my table?’ Jesus said to her: ‘I am he who derives his being from him who is the Same; to me has been given from what belongs to my Father.’ ‘I am your disciple’ said she). ‘Therefore (said he), I tell you this: when one is united, he will be full of light; when he is divided, he will be full of darkness.’ (Sayings from the Gospel of Thomas translated in F.F.Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Hodder and Staughton, 1974), p.110-156)


On the question of whether our disabilities persist into the new creation, I added this observation in my recent exploration of disability in response to Candida Moss’ comment that ‘I think that if I’m not disabled in heaven, I’m not myself’:

But if disabilities lie on a spectrum, rather than being something absolute, does this still make sense? Again, at what point of being disabled does my disability become ‘part of who I am?’ I wonder whether this claim is in danger of making a category error, mistaking means for ends. It is certainly the case that my disabilities and limitations can form in me a greater self-awareness, a sense of humility, perhaps a quality of patience that I did not have when I could do things more easily, and even a greater consideration of others. They shape me in a way that I might not have been shaped without these disabilities. But these things have only needed to be formed in me by my limitations because my sinful, fallen life did not manifest these things already.

The promise of the life of the new creation, when we raised to life, is that we will be ‘perfect’ in the sense of having reached our full potential as the creatures God intended us to be—to ‘become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4.13). If that involves a healing of my ‘disabilities’, then I shall be content.


(This is a summary of a longer paper I gave at the Tyndale Fellowship Quadrennial Conference in 2016 entitled ‘Are we sexed in heaven?’ and it was published here in a shorter form in 2016. A full discussion was published as a chapter in the book resulting from the conference Marriage, Family and Relationship: Biblical, Doctrinal and Contemporary Perspectives. You can read the draft of my chapter here: Ian Paul Sexed in Heaven for pubn  The pictures are from the frescoes of Luca Signorelli in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy.)


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23 thoughts on “Will we be male and female in the resurrection?”

  1. If we are invited and called (and loved) as the Bride of Christ in eternity, wouldn’t we be committing adultery if we had sex with other people anyway?

    As for Cyprian: “you pass through the world without the pollution of the world; while you remain chaste and virgins…” What a horrible way of viewing the gift of sex. You get the impression that some of these guys are absolutely terrified of women’s sexuality (or to be more honest, their own sexuality).

    I think, in eternity, we are who we are: physical – yes; in union with God – yes; probably having a rapturous relationship with God – I think so. God is the lover of our souls.

    As for the exact appearance and feeling of our bodies: I’ll leave that one for God to reveal. One thing we are assured: well-being. And, I believe, more physicality than we have ever experienced before.

    Our primary focus, I suspect, well I’m sure, will be on God in whom then in the fullest sense we shall live and move and have our being. And on the God-given life in community… the sacred and eternal household of God… and sharing of aspects of consciousness, sharing of awareness, sharing of love.

    And everywhere, wherever we go… there will be God. And God’s amazing, tangible peace.

    We will be made new at the resurrection – whatever that means. Maybe we should wait and see?

    • If we are invited and called (and loved) as the Bride of Christ in eternity, wouldn’t we be committing adultery if we had sex with other people anyway?

      Hi Susannah,

      As individuals we are not brides of Christ. It is the people of God, the Church which is the bride of Christ. Yes, the unfaithfulness of adultery can be committed by the people of God, as Israel did. An example of an individual is that of Demas, who was in love with the present world. It is said that those who marry (or have an afair with) this present age, will be widowed in the next.

      Perhaps the attractions of this present world are akin to the pleasures of sex for its own sake.

      • Hi David,

        “It is said that those who marry (or have an affair with) this present age, will be widowed in the next.”

        I can’t recall what text that’s from?

        I do recognise that the Church as a whole is likened corporately to a Bride for Christ, and that’s a lovely insight.

        At the same time, each one of us is also God’s beloved. God does not erase our individuality. I think it can be particularly helpful to many women to understand that they will be (or are) brides for Christ. It is such a lovely image, and encapsulates the tender love and union Jesus Christ bestows on us, and the invitation to give ourselves in return.

        Is that more complex for a man? I don’t know. But metaphors are not exactly literal, so I guess we can approach understanding, and opening to truth, in various ways? People vary temperamentally. A metaphor that works for one person may be a lot less helpful to another.

        Anyway, the point of my statement was a reassertion of the words attributed to Jesus, that suggests we will not be marrying or having sex with other people in heaven. To me, if I did, that would seem to me to contradict my bridal givenness to Christ.

        Female receptivity in sex is certainly a trait that may offer an instinctive inclination and understanding to be receptive to the love (and ardour?) of God. I find it very helpful, but maybe not everyone would. I don’t know.

        Best wishes.

  2. If one of the main reasons for a companion to man was to avoid loneliness then given that presumably we will no longer feel alone on the renewed earth (because God’s presence will be experienced literally everywhere), then it would seem logical there is no need for marriage.

    As for our bodies I suspect they will remain largely the same, as it should be remembered organs have different functions. I strongly suspect Jesus’ resurrection body was largely the same, and it seems He will forever remain the man/God through eternity, with His scars as a reminder of what He did.

    As for the question of disability, I do find it an odd position to take that disabled people will continue to be disabled in the next life. Noone can doubt the reason behind all disabilities is a malfunctioning of the body. As such I believe all such disabilities will be healed completely and the person restored to the physical health they were always supposed to enjoy. I suspect such arguments originate from some of those who have known nothing else, rather than from those who became disabled through disease or accident. It reminds me of those deaf people who view the inability to hear as some sort of ‘alternate’ way of living, and refuse, for example, their children getting cochlear implants. The reality is ears are there for a reason.

    Peter

  3. It is a strange thought that I will no longer be married to my wife in heaven – even if I will know she was my wife and these are our children. It is also strange to think we will not be sad to find only some of our family there, if that is how things work out. How will we remember things we have lost but not feel sad about them?

    Heaven is quite a baffling idea in many ways, since so much of meaning in life comes from the purposes and relationships we have here (family, work, volunteering, activism). Will it be possible to fail in things we attempt? Will things still be hard work? If so how will we avoid being sad or disappointed at times? I guess we won’t, though perhaps not for long.

    And how old will we be? Will infants who die be resurrected as infants or as (or to become) mature adults? This seems to be linked to questions of disability. I agree with Peter that it doesn’t seem right to think that disability (understood as dysfunction) will persist in a perfected creation. But does that mean the severely disabled will be like completely different people? If so, what exactly does the continuity consist in? The continuity here and now can be baffling enough – between a fertilised egg, an embryo, a baby, a child, a youth, an adult, an old person. To a materialist personal identity is merely a trick created by memory. But if we don’t sign up to that, what exactly does continuity consist in, and will we recognise it as continuity? Presumably we will still remember our former life on earth (even if we have suffered from dementia), otherwise it really is difficult to grasp the meaning of continuity. Though some people have lost their memory, or (if tiny infants) never had it.

    I sometimes think the more you contemplate heaven the more it becomes an article of faith! It’ll be good and, perhaps once there, it will even make sense.

    • All good questions, Will, which I think we’ve all wondered about. I think in the end it is mostly guess work as to what the reality will be like. Given the joy that children can give, Ive often thought it odd that they may not exist in the next life as many believe.

      But rather than ‘heaven’ I believe in a renewed earth and heaven, so I think there will be a definite continuity between reality now and then, mostly lived on earth (but who knows!). If im ‘in’ then I hope to God I wont be doing my current job lol. But I think we could still very well become tired – there is nothing ‘wrong’ about the body becoming tired and needing sleep. Even Superman needed sleep! A resurrection body may need that too.

      As for our life left behind, I wonder if there will be a time for grieving? After all Scripture does talk about God wiping every tear from our eyes…

    • Is “sadness” evil?

      It might be thst we are indeed overwhelmed with God “in heaven” but does that preclude all reasons for /kinds of sadness?

  4. We’ve talked about this before, but I do still like (in spite of it’s obvious limitations) Wright’s term “Transphysical” to describe our Resurrection bodies; emphasising both the change/transition from one type of physicality to another, no less physical, and the continuity between the types. When God creates humanity, it is ‘Good’.

    I would otherwise agree with Will that ‘over-thought- in regards matters of heaven and the future can often be unhelpful.

    When considering such things I am reminded of Origen’s response to the Christians asking him what would happen to the bodies of the deceased at the Resurrection if said deceased had been consumed by cannibals. Origen reminds them that God has not shown himself to be incapable, and politely tells them to stop asking stupid questions.

  5. In the article you wrote:
    “Ben Witherington, in his commentary on Mark, believes that whilst Jesus is rejecting 3 and 4 in our list, he is not rejecting 5, in that existing marriages will persist, but new marriages will not take place. …”

    In Matthew 19 verse 6 and Mark 10 verse 9 the man and the woman in marriage become one flesh and Jesus says “Therefore what God has joined together ….”

    If God has joined us together then in Mark chapter 12 the one question that the Sadducees never ask is “which one did God join together and instead only concentrate on begetting children.

    If God joins a man and woman together then perhaps that God created marriage might continue and the human marriages might not.

    When God created them male and female it was before the fall. Before the fall God created them male and female as stated by Jesus in his answer in which he tells us what marriage actually IS.
    The article also says:
    “….The terms he uses are concerned with redemption, but this must (at least implicitly) include the fall, since without the fall there is no need for redemption.”

    If without the fall there is no need for redemption it is perhaps important that God had already made us male and female before the fall!!!

    The truth for all of us really is that we will never know until we get there.

  6. Scripture seems not to speak of sexless beings in the resurrection; Jesus in his resurrection body is still “he” and not “it.” I’m sure male and female continues in eternity as both reflect the image of God.

    I like C.S. Lewis’ point above about sex and chocolate and think that’s probably about right. Though it is difficult to imagine experiences more pleasurable than sexual union, Paul’s reference in 2 Corinthians to the inexpressible in the third heaven suggests a reality so sublime that no one who enjoys sex now will regret its absence. Perhaps we will be like children again with no libido since there will be no reproductive need for it.

  7. Interesting observations! As Mat suggests there must be surely some discontinuity?
    But it is interesting to note that the dominant personal metaphor in all of Scripture is Yahweh ‘married’ to Israel; Christ, the bridegroom of the church. So did God look at human marriage and think that is a good illustration of his relationship to his people (where no procreation is involved)? Or did he create our sexual identity and marriage to that end? As regards Clive’s comment that “what God has joined together” —I suggest (as does Craig Blomberg) that this is a reference to the institution of marriage, rather than God creating individual ontological unions.

  8. These kind of questions are those I have often wondered about. The Bible gives little detail about the eternal state however two things we can be clear about:

    (1) That life will be eternal- there will be no death -after all Jesus conquered death did he not?
    (2) That the resurrection body is raised incorruptible – there is no sickness (1 Cor 15:52) and that includes disabilities.

    As to the state itself well, I think memories will play a part. For those of us who are Star Trek afficionados then the ‘Generations’ film postulates the existence of an entity called the ‘Nexus’ that if you are inside it, translates your deepest thoughts, hopes and desires into physical reality.When I first saw this film it set me thinking as to what the heavenly state could be like.

    Now I would have thought ( excuse the pun) that all our thoughts and memories must be known to God. So he knows for example ,of a much loved cat that I once had, a beautiful place I once visited, my loved ones and all other experiences that framed my life on Earth. They have not been forgotten.

    So my take on this would be that heaven may not uniform but different for all of us with our thoughts and desire being filtered by the Spirit to complete a deep sense of contentment and fulfilment. So maybe my wife will be there to greet me when I die, I will see my cat again, all the longings and desires I had would be perfectly fulfilled and over it all, is the City of God .

    I think CS Lewis captured much of this notion in his writings. Perhaps heaven will in fact be tailored for us..

    • “That the resurrection body is raised incorruptible – there is no sickness (1 Cor 15:52) and that includes disabilities.”

      I believe much of this, but in some cases what we label ‘disability’ may actually have integral blessings: for example, is autism a disability or can it also be a form of neurological diversity and ability?

      Another question I have is: is heaven just going to be a kind of hedonism? Or will it involve the service, sacrifice, surrender, givenness and cost that can make lives deeper and more precious? In other words, what will heaven actually be about and for? In abstract I ‘get’ that it’s for the glory of God. But how our identity, our personalities, our memories, our sacrificial capacity for love plays out… that’s way beyond easy understanding.

      But the ‘thousand virgins’ kind of heavenly idea – a kind of hedonistic paradise – or ‘all my favourite things’… my cat, my favourite food, my best friends, bottles of 50-year-old malt whisky… I can’t really ‘get’ that at all.

      I agree, it’s all pretty wonderful to think about. The key answer to what we will have is: God. Community in the household of God. As ever, the words trail off……. …… … .

      We are all in the hands, and the enfold, of God.

  9. Fascinating perspectives. But a counterpoint…it seems to see why a resurrected human body would have digestive and reproductive capacities that would never be used. While this may conform with patristic speculation, it seems profoundly counter to the beautiful synthesis between form and function that we perceive all around us in creation and reflect a sublime beauty that I think as theologians would be hazardous to reject. It seems dubious to dogmatically claim this certainty when the scriptures are so vague about the exact nature of the resurrected body. We see even now that a body part not used withers or ceases to function. But we carry a non-functioning penis for all eternity…perhaps more caution is required

  10. This is all good stuff. However, I think there is something vital missing from the whole discussion – beauty.

    The article and thoughts surrounding it all seem to focus in on the particulars of physicality in terms of function and purpose. I think there is something much more meaningful to the enjoyment of sex, and that is the awareness of and enjoyment of beauty. I think it is this thing which sets us apart from animals, although we often talk of it in terms of being able to think, make music, art, language etc. I think all those things are also joined up with ideas of “what is beautiful?”.

    Few of us would claim to be beautiful in the jaw droppingly, moment stoppingly way that we all know some people are blessed with being. I’m sure we’ve all had a moment or several in our lives when someone truly beautiful has walked by, or perhaps a famous person on the screen we just think “wow!” and something stops in our brains for a moment in time. When humans are at their healthiest they seem to be their most beautiful. I don’t think this is just societal/cultural, I think it is something deeply human and even godly. Beauty and sex of course go hand in hand, but beauty can be enjoyed without sex. Think about any art gallery you’ve been to.

    I think we will all simply be beautiful in heaven. I think there will be a place for our current form, transformed like Jesus’ transfiguration into something amazing and beautiful. Will that be then very ordinary? I hope not. I think we will enjoy just all being the perfect version of ourselves. I think we will be very very beautiful.

    Sex in its best form is a decent into the depths of beauty and joy. It is love and energy, and senses on fire. It is looking at the other and being absorbed in the astounding beauty of their being as it interacts with our own physically and emotionally. I don’t think we will lose this somehow, rather I think we will find new heights in which that deep meaningful enjoyment is reached. But that’s not to say I think heaven will be an orgy either. I think the point I’m trying to make is that we will just be enraptured in the beauty of life, and of being and of Jesus. That’s how I understand Eden to be and how I understand heaven to be. Just made in God’s image, and He is after all … beautiful.

    Where does sex fit into that? I’m not really sure. But I think the things which make women really REALLY beautiful will be present and perfect and part of what we still find beautiful. Same with men. Only I think we’ll all be more like that perfect human form we sometimes catch a glimpse of and wonder if we went to the gym a bit more we could attain.

    As someone with a disability I have mixed thoughts on where our disabilities will feature. I personally don’t think my disability will feature in heaven tbh. Anymore than my beer belly will. I don’t think my joints will ache and I don’t think my nose hairs will grow problematically. I think I’ll be beautiful. And I think you will too.

    • Thank you so much for this, Evan. I think that first flourishing of romantic love – when we are stilled and deeply moved by the whole beauty of who a person is… their presence, their nature, their appearance – is a reflection of that incipient beauty inside all of us, that longs for release in our lives.

      To me, that romantic aspect of sexuality… and the way it makes us treasure another person, such that we commit, and care, and sacrifice for them… I think that is very much how I see sexuality expressed in heaven. Especially being expressed by God.

      To me, there is original beauty (and longing for beauty) in us all. And I think God sees that beauty in us, and delights in it, and longs for its fulfilment and release. But God’s delight in us is thread throughout with tender love and care.

      Just knowing that deep love and care will help us relax, and let go, and receive in heaven.

      Staggering beauty and shining glory is very much a feature of heaven. Along with peace, and an end of anxiety, and trust, and safety… and everywhere, the sweet presence of God.

      I’m so grateful you majored on beauty. I think we’ll look pretty lovely, but it will be a loveliness that includes the way of the Cross, and the awareness of givenness in love. It is not just cheap, surface beauty. We’re not called to be models, but saints. And beauty can sometimes be found in the eyes of a wizened old woman. Above all our eyes will behold the Lord Jesus in his glory. Now that’s beauty!

      • Yes. On one occasion in the 1980s my sister[s], I and friends watched Miss Universe – not for the usual reason of course but (as time went on, the object became) to see if we could see someone who was actually pretty rather than well formed. Who had a nice smile. As time went on, we finally spotted one – but unfortunately it was the presenter Anne Diamond. No luck there – and our search continued. I was reminded of this 4 years ago when speaking a eulogy at the funeral of a 95 year old saint. Her smile in her 90s, as seen in photos displayed, was simply beautiful, as would universally have been agreed. Proof that there is something stronger than the power of youth.

  11. What an excellent article.
    It brought to mind a talk, billed as a lecture, but a lecture it is not, entitled, “Recovering ‘Heaven’: the awesome significance of seeing the new creation clearly” by a former President of FIEC, Rev Rupert Bentley-Taylor.
    It covers more ground, from Genesis- Revelation than Ian Paul’s Article and is an exultant, fast paced,clear, biblically thematic, extended (by today’s standards), well referenced with scripture (and other citations including Plato, NT Wright, CS Lewis, Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones and others) sermon on a seemingly much neglected subject today, with a following Q&A session, touching on some points raised in the comments above.
    It’s well worth a listen, as I did again in the sleepless early morning hours today.
    If Ian permits, it is here, freely downloadable, and is introduced as:
    “Evangelicals rightly stress the glorious plan of salvation and the proclamation of the gospel. However, what exactly we are being saved for, beyond this life, is often regarded in the haziest manner. There must be something better and more exciting than floating on clouds and playing on harps ahead of us! Why are we so unclear about the nature of future glory? What should excite us about ‘heaven’? What can we be confident about in that Life ahead? How should seeing the New Creation more clearly affect our thinking and behaviour in this present fallen world? It is time to penetrate Satan’s smokescreen. It is time to regain a clearer sight of Glory.”
    A covering handout set out following outline:
    Recovering ‘Heaven’: the awesome significance of seeing the new creation clearly
    I. The Most Glorious Future
    II. The Most Neglected Future
    1)
    2)
    3)
    4)
    5)
    6)
    III. The Most Certain Future: Revelation 21 & 22
    1) 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth
    1. Destruction
    2. Continuity:
    3. Physicality
    2) 21:1 And there was no longer any sea
    3) 21:2-3 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem… prepared as a bride
    1. A coming down out of heaven
    2. The dwelling of God is with men
    3. With each other.
    4) 21:4-6 No more death or mourning or crying or pain,
    5) 21:9-27 God’s people as the Holy City
    https://www.christian.org.uk/resource/recovering-heaven-the-awesome-significance-of-seeing-the-new-creation-clearly/

  12. Ian,
    Today, I heard your BBC Radio 4 contribution to “You and Yours” on the rise of secular celebrants and decline in CoE births, deaths and marriages.Though time constrained, you made your points quickly and clearly drawing out the particular distinctions in relation to baptism v naming and the transcendent, future, aspect of death, rather than play-back memories of a life lived (cue the the more generalised topic of this, your article, but I doubt the BBC would dare host a live discussion .)

  13. The springboard for this excellent post was this comment in Song’s work:

    Then there are no grounds for requiring all committed relationships to be heterosexual.

    Divorce sex from procreation, which is what the modern world attempts to do, and there is no objection to same-sex sexual activity.

    The basic premise seems to me to be wrong here. I would suggest that:

    There are no grounds for requiring all committed relationships to be sexual.

    or, in other words:

    There can be committed (and intimate) relationships which are not in the least sexual.

    (To turn the sentence round gives something I would agree with: all sexual relationships must be committed.)

    That committed equals sexual seems also to be an assumption of our time. That shows up the poverty of our modern world in hardly recognising nor honouring committed relationships such as deep friendship. Even the bond between parent and child, or between siblings should be a committed relationship. The committment to each other of comrades in arms is another example. I think that the example of David’s ‘mighty men’ in 2 Samuel 23:13-17 is perhaps a pattern for how blokes should relate to Jesus. There is deep love and commitment there.

    Why is a sexual relationship between a man and a woman singled out by most societies as the one type to have the institution of marriage, which hedges it around with responsibilities rather than privileges? Is it not simply that such a relationship is oriented towards procreation, which is a good for society as a whole.

  14. As Augustine saw, Jesus’s choice of words in Matthew 22:30: “neither do they marry” can only refer to males and “nor are they given in marriage” can only refer to females (19.22.17). In other words, far from saying that there will be no distinctions of sex identity in the new creation, Jesus said in essence that those who are male in heaven will not take a wife, nor will those who are female be given in marriage”

    I think the eternal purpose of our sex distinctions it has to do with the way in which humanity as male and female images the unity and distinction within the Trinity is likely. Whatever the case, “men and women will always be beings-in-relation, even when the business of procreating has been fulfilled”

    In fact, John Behr construes the interpretation of Jesus statement about marriage and the resurrectionto mean that no marital union will occur for the sake of repopulation as a result of death. But this, he says, leaves open the possibility that marriage and sexual union may continue in the resurrection without procreation as its objetive.

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