The Sadducees came to Jesus with a plan to trick Him. Since they firmly believed that this physical life here was all that men would experience, they denied that there would be a resurrection. Jesus had been teaching about the resurrection, and masses of people in Judea were following him. So this group of priests and scribes concocted a plan to use Scripture to prove their belief. They combed through the writings of Moses for an idea and seized upon the law of levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:4-9 to fit the occasion. This law was to protect family inheritances of land after Joshua divided up the promised land by families.
Who Were the Sadducees?
The Sadducees were the elite, wealthy aristocracy of the Jewish community in the first century. The name “Sadducees” is related to the Hebrew verbal form of sadaq (tsahdak),which means “to be righteous.” The plural saddiqimwould mean “righteous ones”—some commentaries note that apparently this is the title they wanted to be called by. Along the same lines, the early title for the group that became the Pharisees was hasidim—meaning “the pious ones.” Even the name Perushim, which is translated as “Pharisees,” means “separated ones.”
How would you like to attend a church where one group called themselves “The Righteous Ones” and another group “The Pious Ones”?
The Sadducees controlled the Temple area. The high priest during the time of Jesus Christ was a Sadducee named Annas (Luke 3:2). According to Josephus and other sources, between A.D. 18 and 36 Annas and his five sons each held the position of high priest for one year at a time. When Christ was arrested on the Passover night, he was first taken to the home of Annas, then to Annas’ son, Caiaphus, who was high priest for that year (see John 18:13 and Matthew 26:3). Annas and Caiaphus are considered the main organizers of Jesus’ arrest and illegal trial, not to mention coaxing the Romans to crucify Jesus.
The Sadducees were known for dishonesty and making money from the temple sacrifices. They charged common people high prices for approved sacrificial animals. They also exchanged unapproved money for approved currency for a huge profit to themselves.
Noted historian Alfred Edersheim states: “The Temple Mount…belonged to the High-Priestly family of Ananias…where such profitable trade was driven by those who were…worthy successors of the sons of Eli. In the court of the Gentiles(or on its porches) sat the official money-changers, who for a fixed discount changed all foreign coins into those of the sanctuary. Here also was that great mart for sacrificial animals…” (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993 edition, book 2, ch. 1, para.113, p. 81). When Christ overturned the tables of the money changers, He was directly confronting these Sadducees.
Beliefs of the Sadducees
From Acts 23:8 we learn that the Sadducees believed in neither angel nor spirit. According to early church historians Hippolytus, Origen and Jerome, the Sadducees believed that the Books of Moses—the Pentateuch—were the only canonical books (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, article “Sadducees.”) While they considered the rest of the Old Testament good reading and advice, they considered only Genesis through Deuteronomy as having God’s authority. As a result, whenever Jesus answered their questions, He did so using only those five books. The Pharisees, by contrast, believed in the authority of all of the Old Testament. That is why when Jesus debated them he quoted from the Psalms and Isaiah in addition to the Torah.
So after getting organized, this group of Sadducees came to Jesus ready to quote Scripture. “Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: ‘Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring.And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife” (Mark 12:18-23).
Consider the craftiness of this approach. The Sadducees were using a scripture to try to prove a false doctrine. This wasn’t new then, and it isn’t new today. People often sound convincing when they twistthe Scriptures. There are people who feel like they can get whatever they want to out of Scripture. All you have to do is lift a verse or two out of context, then ignore other verses on that topic.
There were self-appointed “Bible experts” in the first century, just like now. They had pet ideas that they were “experts” in, and clever reasoning to support those ideas. It’s interesting that this chapter includes the approach of the Sanhedrin about the two inevitables of life: death and taxes. They tried to trip up Jesus on each one, but lost on both accounts.
Jesus answered them: “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (verses 24-25).
So he taught them that in the resurrection, people will be spirit, not physical.
Next, he used a verse out of the book of Genesis, one that they recognized as being the Word of God, to prove that they were wrong: “But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’?” (verse 26).
Jesus answered in the present tense. He was teaching them here that God told Moses “I am”—not “I was”—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—showing that, as far as God was concerned, they still had life.Jesus then made sure they understood: “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken” ( verse 27).
The Greatly Mistaken!
What a label for Jesus Christ to put on these “scribes and teachers of the law!” He called them “greatly mistaken” in front of the Judeans, who had thought they were learned scholars and teachers. But why were they greatly mistaken? The answer is simple: They did not understand the scriptures or the power of God. The two go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other.
Greatly mistaken people filter the Bible by what they already believe. In truth, what we believe should always be filtered by the Word of God. Remember what Paul was inspired to write about the authority of scripture: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God’s Word is the source of truth, and reproves and corrects those who are “greatly mistaken.” If ideas of men are wrong when compared to God’s Word, then they are wrong. How strongly a person believes them does not matter.
When we believe and obey God’s truth, He gives us some of His power. Paul declared, “…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power” (Ephesians 1:19). The Sadducees did not understand the Scriptures and, as a result, did not experience or understand the power of God.
There is no power in man-made beliefs, even if people use Scripture to justify them. Remember, the “greatly mistaken” people question scriptures that do not fit their pre-determined beliefs, but constantly quote the few verses that do. Almost every heresy begins with a verse from the Bible.
There are other examples of “greatly mistaken” people in the time of the early Church. A primary example is the Pharisees—who could not accept that the gentiles could be called or saved. They rejected that truth and the Messiah who brought forgiveness to all mankind (Acts 18:6). Other mistaken ideas soon followed. After the Church was about 30 years old, the idea that some people had “special knowledge,” known as gnosticism, became widespread. Paul warned Timothy about these teachers: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). The Greek for the words “falsely called knowledge” is pseudo gnosis.
A Warning for Us
Predicting the times in which we live, the apostle Paul warned, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 2:3). Are we living in a time in which many people are not enduring sound doctrine? Yes we are. Are we living in a time when many Bible teachers are, in truth, “greatly mistaken?” Just look around. Yes again!
How do we “endure sound doctrine?” Jesus told us how: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). The word used for “keep” here means to protect, to build a fence or wall around. Our understanding of God’s truth is the pearl of great price. We are to build a wall around it and protect precious truth in our minds and hearts.
How do we endure sound doctrine? Next, consider and respect the power of God’s inspired words. The prophet Jeremiah did, and here is how he related that power to us: “‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the Lord, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” (Jeremiah 23:29).
What were the “rocks” that God’s Word breaks in pieces? The words of false teachers who steal and twist what God has said!
“‘Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who steal My words every one from his neighbor. Behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, “He says’” (Jeremiah 23:30-31).
Just like today, some prophets in Jeremiah’s day claimed to be speaking truth from God. They were deceivers and false teachers. We should know God’s Word and the true doctrines well enough to recognize heresy and reject it outright!
“So when these people or the prophet or the priest ask you, saying, ‘What is the oracle of the Lord?’ you shall then say to them, ‘What oracle?’ I will even forsake you, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:33). We are to learn to discern the spirits—and false teaching.
Satan is very good at recycling ones that worked well in the past. There are ideas circulating today that have been making the rounds for a long time. Here are a few examples:
Modalism—An idea that God is one being with various “modes” of existence.
Arianism—Teaching of the Greek Christian theologian Arius (A.D. 250-336), which asserted that Jesus was a created being raised by the Father to the dignity of Son of God. There are various forms of this teaching that deny the plain teaching of John 1:1.
Unitarianism—The “one god” theory, which usually denies Jesus’ absolute divinity as part of the Godhead.
Judaistic ideas—Calendar controversies, New Moon worship and sacred name controversies fall into this category. Some of these ideas cause division and confusion, neither of which is God the author of.
Antinomianism—This teaching centers around the concept that Jesus Christ did away with the commandments, and the apostle Paul was used to reinstitute nine of them. It’s also called “Pauline Theology.” Adherents have often replaced God’s law with their own—Easter, Sunday worship, etc. Jesus warned about this lawless teaching in Matthew 7:23: “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
These ideas and others are out there and circulating today, taught by the greatly mistaken.
Final Warning From Peter
The final words of the apostle Peter are similar to those of Paul. In the last chapter of his final letter, Peter wrote a warning about those who were twisting the words of the Bible in his day. “This is just as our beloved brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of Scripture—and the result is disaster for them” (2 Peter 3:15-16, New Living Translation).
Not even 40 years after the Church of God was established on the Day of Pentecost, greatly mistaken teachers were twisting the entire Old Testament andPaul’s letters, which Peter stated were Scripture. Many people were deceived and lost what truth they knew.
Make a commitment now to protect the truth and hold fast to your calling. Do not trust your eternal life to any pet opinions. Remember, true doctrines are not a matter of private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20).
Sadly, the Sadducees who confronted Jesus Christ admitted that he had answered them well (Luke 20:40), but they did not change their beliefs. Some months later the same men held on to their pet ideas and disagreed that there would be a resurrection (Acts 4:12, 23: 1-10).
They remained greatly mistaken.
We live in trying times. The political world appears to be coming apart, the great tribulation is on the horizon, and Satan knows that he has but a short time. Difficult challenges are ahead.
Are you going to endure sound doctrine?