Scriptures

Who Were The Sadducees?

Introduction

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 ‘Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.’

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 ‘When they heard this, they were amazed. So, they left him and went away. That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.’

Mark 12:18-27 ‘Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!’

Luke 20:27-40 ‘Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 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, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.’ Some of the teachers of the law responded, ‘Well said, teacher!’ And no one dared to ask him any more questions.’

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

Exodus 3:6 ‘Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.’

Exodus 3:15-16 ‘God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ ‘This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. ‘Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.’

Jesus’ argument was 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 ‘(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)’

From Acts 23:8 we learn that they did not believe in either angels or spirits. However, angels are mentioned a number of 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 ‘Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So, they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.’

Mark 15:3 ‘The chief priests accused him of many things.’

Mark 15:10-15 ‘Knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. ‘What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them. ‘Crucify him!’ they shouted. ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.’

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.

‘And as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already the evening’. Acts 3:1-4

Something that is 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 ‘If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they instruct you to do. Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.’

However, the leading priests lost the respect of the people by becoming corrupt. When this happened, many Jews began to the 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 to 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 in punishing those who violated the Law. Stranger yet why would they want to be priests and the religious leaders if there is no resurrection?

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

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Philippians 4:8

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