Resurrection: Sadducees

resurrection-of-christ-icon27 Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to him, 28 saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. 30 Then the second 31 and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; 35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.  37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” 39 Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have answered well.” 40 And they no longer dared to ask him anything.

In the opening verse Luke introduced the Sadducees and that they did not believe in the resurrection. Both of these ideas need some background

Sadducees and Resurrection. The Sadducees are mentioned here only in this Gospel. None of the Sadducee writings has survived so our information about them is fragmentary and we see the sect only through the eyes of its opponents. The name appears to be derived from Zadok (cf. 1 Kgs 1:8; 2:35), so that they were ‘Zadokites’. They were the conservative, aristocratic, high-priestly party, worldly-minded and very ready to cooperate with the Romans, which, of course, enabled them to maintain their privileged position. Patriotic nationalists and pious people alike opposed them. They are often said to have acknowledged as sacred Scripture only the Pentateuch, but no evidence is cited for this. The Septuagint (LXX) is evidence that before New Testament times the canon of the Old Testament was practically fixed and there seems no reason why any major Jewish party should have rejected most of it. What is attested is that the Sadducees rejected the oral tradition that meant so much to the Pharisees; they accepted only written Scripture (Josephus, Antiquities xiii.297). They denied the whole doctrine of the afterlife and of rewards and punishments beyond the grave (Josephus, Antiquities xviii.16; Jewish War, ii.165; cf. Acts 23:8). Scholars have speculated that the Sadducees must have thought of the resurrection as a new idea brought in from Persia after the Old Testament period.

Indeed, there is little explicit mention of “resurrection” in the OT; this notion does not appear except in texts that are rare, obscure with regard to their precise meaning, and late. On the whole, resurrection—which could simply express Israel’s restoration—concerns the dead in only one or two passages, and only Dan 12:2–3, within the apocalyptic context of the 2d century B.C., clearly proclaims that the dead will be snatched from death to experience either “eternal life” or “eternal damnation.”

It is in this vacuum that some scholars declare that that the notion of resurrection is a foreign body within the OT; it was the result of external influences that came into play in various ways over the course of the history of Israel. Robert Martin-Achard (Anchor Bible Dictionary) shows that upon examination, the extent of the contribution from outside Israel, without being denied, needs to be qualified, and one could say that, when some Jews declared that the dead (of their God) would revive, they did so by basing their arguments on biblical principles. It is in the tradition itself that are to be found the roots of faith in the resurrection: the OT proclaimed YHWH’s power, one which no force could hold in check; God masters death as God masters life (1 Sam 2:6; Deut 32:39; cf. Isa 25:8a). God has created and thus can re-create (2 Maccabees 7). God’s justice, affirmed everywhere in the OT, sooner or later had to become manifest, and the resurrection allowed this very thing to happen, as we have seen. Finally, the victory over death, that in the first instance concerned the faithful Israelites, gave Israel’s God an occasion to demonstrate his ḥesed, “faithfulness, loyalty, solidarity,” toward his own and, in this way, to answer the question already raised by the psalmists about the definitive future of those bonds which actually united God to his ḥāsı̂d (Psalms 6; 16; 22; etc.). Thus, belief in the resurrection of the dead is based on God’s power, on his justice, and on his love, as these have been revealed in the course of the history of Israel; in the 2d century b.c.e., at the high point of the Maccabean crisis, the ḥăsı̂dı̂m drew out the ultimate consequences from the experiences that Israel had lived through over centuries.

The Canaanite or Near Eastern world could have furnished themes and a language. Much later on, Persian teachings may have served as stimulants to the Jewish visions of the afterlife, but in the end, resurrection is seen as always been indicated in the OT Scripture, but only fully understood later in Israel’s history.

What is clear is that first century Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead, while the Sadducees were the exception to that belief.


  • N. Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)
    Robert Martin-Achard, Resurrection, 5:680-91 (tr. Terrence Prendergast)

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