I recently received an emailed question asking whether there will be sexual intercourse in the new heavens and new earth. While I have never undertaken a systematic study of the question, the standard response among theologians has been no.
But why? So far as I can see, one can attribute this response to the following reasons:
First, since Augustine, sin has been commonly linked to coition. While human beings are called to fulfill the creation mandate of populating and stewarding the earth (Gen. 1:28), the means of doing so involves coital acts which necessarily involve some degree of concupiscence (i.e. lust). Such was Augustine’s view, and it tainted views of sexuality for a very long time. To see a memorable example of this, read John Noonan’s classic study Contraception: A History, for it provides a sobering illustration of how many Catholic theologians and ethicists could only justify coition as a means to procreation.
According to Revelation 21:27, nothing unclean will “enter” heaven: ergo, no coition. Also, there will be no new births, thereby undercutting the primary historic justification for coition.
Second, since Jesus describes the institution of marriage as not continuing in the new heavens and new earth (Mt. 22:30), and given that the only framework in this life for the expression of coition is within the covenant of marriage, it is again reasonably inferred that the coital act would cease in the future.
Third, coition has been long interpreted as a symbolic prolepsis of the intimacy that we will enjoy when the church as bride is united with God (Eph. 5:25-30). As Paul wrote, “when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Cor. 13:10, ESV)
Fourth, as I suggested above, there is an absence of a theological tradition endorsing the possibility of physical sexual expression in the post-resurrection state. And while tradition is hardly determinative, we should at least cede some significance to the lack of tradition.
However, we should also consider whether the reasons provided in the tradition are good ones. I think the second and third reasons have some significant force. I do not think the first reason is a good one on its own because it is predicated on a deeply distorted perspective on sexuality.
That said, the first reason does have a moment of wisdom, I think. It recognizes that the fall impacts different aspects of human experience to different degrees, and the effects on sexuality are especially pervasive. The lesson there is that we should be especially conservative about speculating on the nature of human sexuality in eternity.
So what’s the answer? The tentative answer would be no. But I think it is reasonable to count that majority opinion as an adiaphoron (i.e. no essential dogma is contingent on this answer) which could be revised pending good arguments for the contrary view.