I was startled this evening by a Bible passage quoted by ElShaddai Edwards, even though it is taken from my current favourite Bible translation:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 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, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. …”
Luke 20:34-36 (TNIV)
I was startled by what this appears to be saying. The contrast is between “The people of this age” (more literally “the sons of this age” but intended to be gender generic) and “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead” (RSV “those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead”). This sounds at first like a contrast between worldly, sinful people and faithful Christians. After all in Luke 16:8 the same phrase in Greek, literally “the sons of this age”, seems to refer to dishonest people. So this passage would appear to be Jesus teaching that good Christians will not marry. Could that be what Jesus, or Luke, was really saying? Could this be the same teaching, but in stronger form, as Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35?
The question cannot be resolved from the parallel passages as they omit this contrast and give much simpler readings:
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Matthew 22:30 (TNIV)
When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
Mark 12:25 (TNIV)
But it seems to me that there is a clear but subtle indication that Jesus’ meaning is not what I have suggested. It can be found only in the original Greek, not in English translations. I have checked all the versions of these verses at Bible Gateway and not one of them makes this point clear. The Greek word rendered in TNIV as “considered worthy” is an aorist or past participle, indicating an event preceding what follows. So an accurate rendering of the first part of verse 35 would be “But those who have been considered worthy of taking part”, or more pedantically “But those who will have been considered worthy of taking part”. The Greek clearly means that first they have been considered worthy and only then they do not marry. And the phrase “considered worthy of taking part” cannot be divided up temporally; if they have been considered worthy of taking part, that means that they have already attained this and are taking part in it. Luke uses a similar phrase in Acts 5:41, with the same main Greek verb, which implies that the apostles had suffered disgrace, not that they might do in future.
So, despite the possible misunderstanding in almost any English translation, Jesus’ words as recorded for us in Greek seem unambiguous. The ones who do not marry are not Christians who are looking forward to “taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead”, but those who are already taking part in them, in other words those who have been raised from the dead. Thus Luke teaches the same as Matthew and Mark.
As for “The people of this age”, the ones who do marry, the implication is that this phrase refers to everyone alive in this world, Christian or not. That may have implications for the understanding of the enigmatic passage in which Luke 16:8 appears – although we then have to ask, who are “the people of the light” in this verse?