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Why was the religious establishment usually at odds with Jesus? (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, we focused on the Pharisees. This group, although relatively small in numbers, was very influential. We saw that they rejected Jesus Christ and God’s commandments so that they could uphold their own traditions.

Another important influential religious group at the time of Jesus was the Sadducees.

Young’s Analytical Concordance has this to say about the Sadducees: “A sect of the Jews, denying the resurrection and the existence of angels and spirits, who derived their origin from Sadok, a follower of Antigonus of Socho B.C.250, a President of the Sanhedrin.”

A review of the Sadducees will give us some insight into the sort of religious environment that Jesus was born into and with what He had to endure during His ministry.

The website of “difference between” points out the following:

“While the Sadducees believed in the authority of the Torah, they were also more supportive of prevailing rulers… This is because they understood that they could benefit, in a political and economic sense, from maintaining peaceful relations with the ruling government.

“The Sadducees… were exposed to a more secular education than the Pharisees, and even acknowledged Hellenism (Hellenism is the term used to describe the influence of Greek culture on the peoples the Greek and Roman Empires conquered or interacted with). The main difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees concerned the understanding of the function of the Torah in Jewish society. Most of the Sadducees operated as priests and were members of the Sanhedrin… The Sadducees maintained that the first five books of the Bible, otherwise known as the Torah, were the greatest authority on God’s will for the Jews. For the Sadducees, all other laws or texts outside the sacred Torah could not be counted as part of the Law…

“The Sadducees did not believe that man would experience resurrection after physical death… They endeavored to preserve their priestly caste, and actively took part in political discourse to maintain their influence over their fellow Jews… The Sadducees held political power and religious clout as an integral part of temple government…

“Their founder, Tzadok (or sometimes spelled Zadok, in Hebrew meaning ‘Righteous’), was a priest descended from Eleazar the son of Aaron, who aided King David during the revolt of his son Absalom, and was consequently instrumental in bringing King Solomon to the throne.

“After Solomon’s building of The First Temple in Jerusalem, Zadok was the first High Priest to serve there. In any event, the name Tzadok could be indicative of their aristocratic status in society in the beginning of their existence due to their close relationship with the monarchy and King Solomon. The Sadducees derive their name from the Hebrew name of Tzadok, the ‘Tz’ is pronounced with an ‘s’ sound. Sadducees would then roughly mean, ‘The righteous ones of Tzadok’…”

According to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, the Sadducees were a hereditary and ancient priestly class. They constituted the nobility of the Jewish people and thus we find many high priests coming from the Sadducean party. Annas was a Sadducee.

The website of “difference between” continues:

“The Sadducees believed that the souls of men died with their bodies. They did not believe in the resurrection of the body nor retribution in a future life. Neither did they believe in predestination, but ‘that good and evil are the choice of man who can do one or the other at his discretion’ and consequently that God exercises ‘no influence upon human actions, and that man is therefore the cause of his own prosperity and adversity.’”

Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People, confirming the foregoing, states the following:

“In addition to the doctrinal differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees over the immortality of the soul, there was a fundamental difference over what constituted the law of the Jews. The Sadducees acknowledged only the written Torah as binding and rejected the entire traditional interpretation as well as the further development that the law had undergone during the course of centuries at the hands of the scribes.”

James C. McRuer, The Trial of Jesus, writes this:

“It is not unfair to say that the Sadducees were really more concerned with the political power that their ecclesiastical offices gave them than with the spiritual affairs of the people. To make themselves secure in this power during the Herodian-Roman period, it was necessary for them to accommodate their views to those of the Pharisees.”

There are just 13 verses where the Sadducees are mentioned, as opposed to around 84 for the Pharisees, and only five of the verses mention just the Sadducees which are as follows:

Matthew 22:23: “The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him…”

Mark 12:18: “some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him…”

Luke 20:27: “Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him…”

It is interesting that the three Scriptures quoted above are about the resurrection which they denied, and these are the only ones in the four gospel accounts where only the Sadducees were noted as those asking the question.

In addition, the following two verses refer to the Sadducees in conjunction with the high priest:

Acts 4:1: “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them…”

Acts 5:17: “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation…”

These last two references show the concern that they had about the message that the apostles were preaching, and arrests and imprisonment were the outcome.

In the remaining eight verses, the Pharisees are also mentioned as well as the Sadducees.

The first of these verses is in Matthew 3:7: “But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’”

In spite of the Pharisees being mentioned much more often than the Sadducees, they were both reprimanded in no uncertain terms. In this regard, note the following four passages:

Matthew 16:1: “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.”

Matthew 16:6: “Then Jesus said to them [His disciples], ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’”

Matthew 16:12: “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Matthew 22:34: “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.”

Both sects wanted to see a sign but Jesus warned His disciples of their leaven, meaning their doctrine.

Note also the last three verses:

Acts 23:6: “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’”

Acts 23:7: “And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.”

Acts 23:8: “Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.”

Again, in these three verses, the difference in doctrine is clear with the Pharisees believing in the resurrection and the existence of angels and demons, and the Sadducees denying all of it.

It is obvious from the foregoing that Jesus would have to clash with the viewpoints of the Sadducees on numerous occasions. He upheld God’s Word which teaches the resurrection from the dead and the existence of holy and fallen angels, and He emphasized that the entire Old Testament was godly inspired… not only the first five books of Moses or the Torah.  But even then, He refuted their argument that there is no resurrection from the dead, when quoting from the Torah.

In our Q&A on Matthew 22:23-30, we say the following:

“As the Sadducees did not believe in the inspiration of the Old Testament apart from the first five books of Moses, Jesus quoted, as proof for a resurrection, from the first five books of Moses, mentioning the burning bush episode, as recorded in the book of Exodus. He continued to say that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that God was not the God of the dead, but of the living.

“Some commentaries erroneously conclude that Jesus was saying here that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were ALIVE when Jesus spoke these words–and that Jesus was therefore upholding the concept of the immortal soul which teaches that the immortal soul goes to heaven when man dies–a teaching which the Sadducees rejected.

“However, Jesus did not believe in the false concept of the immortal soul. He taught that death was a sleep out of which man must be awakened (compare John 11:11-14, 43-44). He said to the Sadducees that God is a God of the living, because He will awaken Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out of their sleep of death through a resurrection from the dead. Remember, Jesus answered the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. He proved that there is a resurrection from the dead by saying that God is the God of the living.

“The dead will live because God WILL RAISE them up in the resurrection (compare John 5:25, 28-29)–and God looks at future events, which are certain, as if they had already occurred. (Compare Romans 4:17, in the Living Bible: ‘That is what the Scriptures mean when they say that God made Abraham the father of many nations. God will accept all people in every nation who trust God as Abraham did. And this promise is from God himself, who makes the dead alive again and speaks of future events with as much certainty as though they were already past.’)”

On the other hand, Jesus recognized that the Sadducees were in charge of the Temple service, and that they were correct in their understanding as to when to sacrifice the Passover lamb. While they did so at the beginning of the 14th of Nisan, the Pharisees sacrificed it one day too late, at the end of the 14th or the beginning of the 15th of Nisan. Most Jews follow today the wrong lead of the Pharisees and keep the Passover one day too late, by confusing it with the Night to Be Much Observed.

Please note our Q&A discussing the correct time as to when the Passover lamb had to be slain, with the title: “Why does the Church of God keep the annual Passover one day earlier than the Jews?” 

The Sadducees also determined correctly when to keep Pentecost, while the Pharisees kept Pentecost many times on the wrong day. Many Jews today follow the wrong Pharisaic thought and keep Pentecost often on the wrong day as well.

In our Q&A about how to count Pentecost, we stated the following:

“There was a controversy, according to the Jewish historian Josephus of the first century, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. While the Sadducees counted the 50 days correctly from the Sunday which falls within the Days of Unleavened Bread and which follows the WEEKLY Sabbath, the Pharisees counted it from the day after the ANNUAL Sabbath—the first day of Unleavened Bread. But we should note… that the Temple service was entrusted to the Sadducees, not the Pharisees. Their determination as to when to celebrate Pentecost was conclusive and decisive for the public celebration, as long as the Second Temple existed.

“However, modern Judaism has adopted the view of the Pharisees, thereby celebrating Pentecost ALWAYS on the SIXTH DAY OF SIVAN (which could fall on any day of the week).  In passing, we should notice as well that most modern Jews have also adopted the view of the Pharisees (contrary to the view of the Sadducees) that one must observe Passover on the 15th of Nisan, which is the wrong day and one day too late, erroneously claiming that the Passover lamb was sacrificed at the end of the 14th day of Nisan, while it was actually sacrificed at the beginning of the 14th day of Nisan, ‘between the two evenings’—the time span between sunset and nightfall.”

got questions.org summarizes nicely as to why Jesus would be at odds with the religious establishment, including the Sadducees:

“Jesus had more run-ins with the Pharisees than with the Sadducees, probably because of the former’s giving pre-eminence to oral tradition. ‘You ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition,’ Jesus told them. Because the Sadducees were often more concerned with politics than religion, they ignored Jesus until they began to fear He might bring unwanted Roman attention and upset the status quo. It was at that point that the Sadducees and Pharisees set aside their differences, united, and conspired to put Christ to death (John 11:48-50; Mark 14:53; 15:1).”

(To be Continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link