Who Were The Sadducees?


The Sadducees were a religious sect in the time of Jesus. Their origin is not known for sure. Some think they date back to Zadock, a high priest during the time of David and Solomon. However, in all probability, they came into existence during the period between the Old and New Testaments.

We do know that they came from the leading families of the nation such as the priests, merchants, and the rich. They can well be described as aristocrats. The high priests, the most powerful members of the priesthood were mainly Sadducees, Acts 5:17.

One of the distinguishing marks of the Sadducees was their rejection of the “traditions of the elders” advocated by the Pharisees. They claimed that God not only gave Moses a written law, but also an oral law which was passed down and given to the elders. They in turn passed these oral laws on down to their successors. The Pharisees claimed the oral law was needed to interpret the written Law of Moses.

They regarded these traditions as important as the Law of Moses itself. By contrast, the Sadducees insisted that only the laws written by Moses (the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament) were the only binding laws. In short, the main difference between the two parties was confined, on the whole, to this general rejection of Pharisaic traditions.

With the Sadducees, little value was placed on the writings of the Prophets or the Psalms. They didn’t outright reject them but they did not feel they were on an equal with the Pentateuch.

The most prominent doctrine of the Sadducees was the denial of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. They believed that the soul dies with the body, thus the extinction of life. The Sadducees said that Moses nowhere mentions anything about a soul or a resurrection. One incident where Jesus clashed with the Sadducees is recorded in three of the Gospels, Matthew 22:23-33 / Mark 12:18-27 / Luke 20:27-40.

They approached Jesus with a ‘what if’ question, designed to show the consequences that can arise from believing in the resurrection of the dead.

‘Suppose,’ they asked, “a woman had seven husbands in this life and each of them died without leaving children? Whose wife would she be in the world to come?’ Jesus replied with a two-part answer

First, He said that they were wrong to suggest that earthly relationships, such as marriage, will continue after the resurrection.

Second, He pointed out that they were wrong in not believing in the resurrection. He said, ‘Have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’. Matthew 22:31-32.

Read Exodus 3:6 / Exodus 3:15-16. Jesus argued that since God told Moses that He was (not had been) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob therefore their souls lived after their bodies died. If they were no longer in existence then He would not have said this for “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must have lived on after their deaths since God is still their God. If they didn’t live on then God could not be their God. He couldn’t be the God of someone who didn’t exist, Acts 23:8.

From Acts 23:8 we learn that they did not believe in either angels or spirits. However, angels are mentioned several times in the writings of Moses. In view of this, it is difficult to see how they could harmonise this with their denial of angels.

They may have regarded angels as simply God appearing in some kind of visible form. We wonder what kind of explanation they would have given for the demons who possessed the bodies of many of the people.

At the death of Christ Matthew informs us that, ‘the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.’ Matthew 27:52

Did any of the Sadducees see them?

The Sadducees at first disregarded the quarrels the Pharisees had with Jesus as a matter about which they had no concern. It wasn’t until many of the people believed the Lord to be the Messiah that it got their attention.

Since the Roman government appointed the High Priest they were jealous of anyone who might threaten their power. Jesus was drawing large crowds and was popular with the common people. They were afraid if He gained too many followers that the Romans might throw them out of their positions as priests.

On one occasion they said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation’. John 11:48

They were desperate to protect their high positions and rank for it was the Romans who appointed them. Should the Roman Emperor learn that the Jews believed in the coming of a Jewish king who was to rule the world and that someone had appeared in Palestine who claimed to be that Messiah then their positions would be endangered!

It would appear to the Romans they had lost control over the people. With them, it was strictly a matter of politics and power. It’s clear the Sadducees played a major role in the arrest of Jesus and His condemnation. They urged Pilate to have him crucified, Mark 15:1 / Mark 15:3 / Mark 15:10-15.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the Pharisees seem to become less hostile to the followers of Christ; but the Sadducees maintained an attitude of suspicion and hatred. This was because the resurrection of the dead became the leading doctrine of Christianity. Luke informs us that the Sadducees “were filled with jealousy” because the apostles were attracting crowds of people, Acts 3:1-4.

Something interesting about this situation is that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, was an agent of the Sadduceean high priest that led him to persecute Christians. The Sadducees were in complete control of the Sanhedrin although there were a large number of Pharisees who also served on this ruling body of Jews.

For many years it was the responsibility of the priests to teach the law of God to the Israelites. They were the authorities the people would go to for interpretation or application of the Law, Deuteronomy 17:8-13.

However, the leading priests lost the respect of the people by becoming corrupt. When this happened, many Jews began to go to the scribes who had become experts in God’s law and who usually lived pious, disciplined lives, although many of them were not priests. Thus, many of the Jews began to follow the teachings of the scribes and let the scribes interpret the law of God for them.

Unfortunately, with this changeover to the Scribes the ‘traditions of the elders’ were taught. These traditions were made up of customs, rulings, and interpretations that the scribes passed on as the authoritative way in which God’s law should be applied.

The Sadducees also believed in the free will of man. Man is responsible for his own prosperity or misfortune. They interpreted the law literally and tended to support strict justice as opposed to mercy toward the offender.

Considering their concept of no life after death it seems strange to us that they were so intent on punishing those who violated the law. Stranger yet why would they want to be priests and religious leaders if there is no resurrection?

The answer may lie in their belief that God prospered the righteous.



"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."