Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sadducees: Sad-You-Sees (Matthew 22:23)

Which Jewish group did not believe in the resurrection? Sadducees (Matthew 22:23).

The Sadducees were a powerful political/religious party during the New Testament era. Like most Jewish sects, the New Testament presents them in opposition to Jesus (Matthew 3:7, 16:1, 6, 11, 12, 22:23, 24; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 4:1, 5:17, 23:6, 7, 8). In Matthew, the Sadducees are often grouped with the Pharisees (Matthew 3:7; 16:1, 5, 11, 12; 22:34). Accurately characterizing the Sadducees is difficult as they left no written records of their own history, organization or beliefs. All of the documents that remain concerning them were written by their competitors: the New Testament, Flavius Josephus [37-100] (Jewish Wars 2.119, 164--66; Antiquities of the Jews 13.171-73, 293-98; 18.11; 16-17; 20.199; The Life of Flavius Josephus10-11) and random rabbinic texts.

The Sadducees emerged around 150 BCE and disbanded after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. They were so bound to the status quo that the absence of a temple made them obsolete. In contrast to Matthew’s presentation, rabbinic literature (as well as Acts) depicts the Pharisees and Sadducees as bitter rivals. It is generally agreed that the name “Sadducees” (Greek: Saddoukaios) is related to the Hebrew tsadaq which means “to be righteous”. Their precise connection to the word is disputed. The most common suggestion associates the sect’s name with the personal name Zadok, either the Solomonic priest Zadok (I Kings 1:39) or another individual of that name. In any case, the doubling of the second consonant is problematic etymologically.

Interestingly, the Sadducees were more known for what they did not believe in than what they did. The New Testament defines the Sadducees by what they rejected, namely resurrection, angels and spirits (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8). Likewise, when chronicling the Sadducees’ beliefs, Josephus also discusses more what they disavowed than what they accepted. According to Josephus, the Sadducees renounced fate, the concept that God commits evil (all evil emerges from humanity’s free will), the immortality of the soul, an afterlife, and postmortem rewards or penalties.

The Sadducees also rejected resurrection. In the New Testament era, resurrection was a divisive issues amongst Jewish factions. When on trial before the Sanhedrin, Paul invoked the topic to divide his accusers amongst themselves (Acts 23:6). Though the Sadducees appear infrequently in the New Testament, the fact that they did not believe in the resurrection is explicitly stated four times (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8). The Sadducees’ most prominent appearance in the Bible comes when they challenge Jesus with a hypothetical scenario involving one bride for seven brothers (Matthew 22:23-32; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38). In an effort to make resurrection seem ridiculous, they ask Jesus about a widow who married seven brothers sequentially. The fact that the New Testament writers would focus on this aspect of the Sadducees is not surprising as resurrection is obviously foundational to Christian thought. A classic corny preacher joke asks “Why were they called ‘Sadducees’? Because they didn’t believe in the resurrection so they were ‘sad-you-see’”.

Josephus confirms the Sadducees’ denial of the soul, eternal rewards, and the world to come (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews , 18.1.4 [16]; Jewish Wars , 2.8.14 [165]). The Sadducees appear to have denied the supernatural entirely and kept their focus on this world

Do you know any organizations who are defined more by what they are not than what they are? The Sadducees were debating the resurrection before Jesus was raised. When and why does the concept of resurrection register on the theological radar? Why did the Sadducees reject resurrection?

The Sadducees actually rejected the concept of resurrection because they saw it as an affront to God’s sovereignty. John Riches (b. 1939) explains:

Rejection of belief in resurrection again indicates a traditionalist stance. Jews had long believed that so long as Israel obeyed the law then God would rule over them and reward the righteous and punish the wicked in this life. Belief in the resurrection, on the other hand, was linked to beliefs that the present age was in the grip of dark powers, so that in this life the righteous would suffer, although God would ultimately vindicate them. Those who had died would be raised so that they too could receive their due rewards. To reject belief in the resurrection and, indeed, possibly also in demonic powers who controlled this world in the present age, was then also to reject the belief that this present age was radically corrupted; in fact, from the Sadducees' point of view, those who argued the contrary view may have appeared to deny the continued existence of the covenant between God and Israel. (Bruce M. Metzger [1914-2007)] and Michael D. Coogan [b. 1942], The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 272).
The Sadducees are not all that different from modern religious people. They held firm to their tradition and rejected new beliefs like resurrection.

Though the Pharisees are often remembered as Jesus’ primary rivals, Jesus advised his followers to “beware” of the teaching of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matthew 16:6,11, 12).

Who are there modern-day Sadducees? What Sadducean tendencies do you have?

“It is not the brutal skeptic who is the Sadducee, he does not destroy anybody’s shrines, it is the woman with particularly bright conceptions of their own, but who are far more concerned with the visible success of this world than with anything else. You go to them with some insurgent doubt in your mind, and they smile at you, and say, ‘Oh, don’t exercise your mind on those things, it is absurd.’ That is the Sadducee who has done more to deface in modern life what Jesus Christ began to do than all the blackguardism and drunkenness in our modern civilization. The subtle destruction of all that stands for the invisible is what is represented by the Sadducee.” - Oswald Chambers (1874-1917), “The Base Impulse”, The Highest Good,

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for honestly relating your experiences and opinions and good luck to you.
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