The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus by James Tissot

After the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with a question about Caesar’s tax, the Sadducees, who do not believe in the body’s resurrection after death, came to him with a question. They asked, “Teacher, Moses says 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 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.

What the story means to us today

Life after death gives us the ability to love everyone equally

As the Pharisees and Herodians had attempted earlier, the Sadducees approach Jesus with a question they feel is unanswerable. But Jesus was sent to Earth for just that purpose – to clarify God’s message for mankind and to correct misunderstanding of the scripture.

Jesus explains that after death, we do not reenter life in the same manner as we passed. Our resurrected lives are not counterparts to the life we led on Earth. Resurrection presents us with an entirely new life. We will be like angels, without fear, pain, or anguish, and with infinite hope and love for everyone past and present.

Additional thoughts and considerations

What “resurrection” were the Sadducees referring to?

Resurrection refers to life after death, a belief confirmed by the Christian “Apostle’s Creed” which states “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”. It was not a new concept when Jesus walked the earth. The belief that the body would rise at the end of time had already become more common in various Jewish sects, such as the Pharisees, even before Christianity exploded in the area. The Israelites based this belief off verses such as Isaiah 26:19, Job 19:25, and Daniel 12:2.

Versailles ceiling angels in heaven mural

The Sadducees however, did not believe in resurrection. They believed the body and soul perished at death.

Jesus tells the Sadducees that they do not understand the Scriptures. He points out that God told Moses in Exodus 3:6, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. God does not say that he *was* their god, but that he *is* their God. Thus, Jesus explains that God’s statement implies they were resurrected and alive. “God is the god of the living, not the dead”.

Were the Sadducees trying to trap Jesus with a trick question?

A Sadducee, illustrated in the 15th-century Nuremberg Chronicle

The Sadducees approached Jesus the same day the Pharisees and Herodians attempted to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. As were the Pharisees, the Sadducees were insincere. We know they did not believe in resurrection even before they presented their question.

The Sadducees must have felt that their question would confound anyone who believed in resurrection. But they assumed we are resurrected in the same form and continue our lives as if we had never died. Jesus expertly evades their trap while at the same time, explaining how they have misconstrued the scripture’s meaning. When we are resurrected, we are like “angels in heaven” and will love everyone the same.

The science and history behind the story

Levirate marriage law

The law the Sadducees were referring to is called levirate marriage. It is described in Deuteronomy 25:5. The brother of a man who died without a son was required to marry his brother’s widow. The law provided for the widow who had no children to take care of her when she grew older.

Bible Text

NIV

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “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. 25 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. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘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.”

33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

22:23 The same day Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to him and asked him, 22:24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and father children for his brother.’ 22:25 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. 22:26 The second did the same, and the third, down to the seventh. 22:27 Last of all, the woman died. 22:28 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.” 22:29 Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 22:31 Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, 22:32 ‘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!” 22:33 When the crowds heard this, they were amazed at his teaching.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

23 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘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.” 33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

      23–28 That same day, Sadducees approached him. This is the party that denies any possibility of resurrection. They asked, “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies childless, his brother is obligated to marry his widow and get her with child. Here’s a case where there were seven brothers. The first brother married and died, leaving no child, and his wife passed to his brother. The second brother also left her childless, then the third—and on and on, all seven. Eventually the wife died. Now here’s our question: At the resurrection, whose wife is she? She was a wife to each of them.”

      29–33 Jesus answered, “You’re off base on two counts: You don’t know your Bibles, and you don’t know how God works. At the resurrection we’re beyond marriage. As with the angels, all our ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. And regarding your speculation on whether the dead are raised or not, don’t you read your Bibles? The grammar is clear: God says, ‘I am—not was—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’ The living God defines himself not as the God of dead men, but of the living.” Hearing this exchange the crowd was much impressed.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

23 The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, 24 Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. 27 And last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. 31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. 33 And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database