Thoughts for the Day

Wednesday, 5th June 2024: Mistaken views

Pharisees Angels Mark 12 Marriage Jesus Sadducees

Reading : Verses from Mark, Chapter 12

Jesus and the Sadducees

* Medieval painting of Jesus and the Sadducees.

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither 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. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.’

(Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)


So what do we know about the Sadducees? They were a small group of mostly powerful and wealthy aristocrats whose interest it was to keep the Romans happy, and thus the Pharisees, the traditionalists, opposed them. The Sadducees accepted only the five books of the Pentateuch (that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) rejecting the prophets, the psalms and the later wisdom literature. Perhaps because of this they rejected any notion of life after death, or of angels or spirits, preferring to concentrate on the present day. What is called the "Levirate Law" on marriage was no longer practised. It was intended to protect the family line and inheritance, and here we see the Sadducees using it to ridicule Jesus.

Jesus' answer is strong. He says they are "wrong" and they know neither the scriptures (because they only have some of them), nor God's power. Jesus' view of the resurrection is so vastly different from theirs - for he knows that having children to keep the future of the family in existence is unnecessary in the next world. They make the mistake of assuming that we shall have bodies in heaven. Jesus points out that the dead are more "like angels", which the Sadducees totally deny exist, before using the book of Exodus that they do believe in, to argue the existence of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

Jesus was criticising the Sadducees because of their concentration on the things of this world, on the accumulation of wealth and power, and on their lack of concern for the issues of the day - the injustice suffered by so many, and the plight of the poor and the powerless in the land. Their academic exercise (the equivalent of the theological debate over "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?") was being carried out while others suffered.


Lord Jesus Christ,
may we ever keep our eyes
on Your priorities
and not on our own;
may we concern ourselves
with the plight of those
who need our help;
or with issues to stabilise
climate change;
or to protect wild-life,
and not engage in pointless
and self-serving actions,
that help no-one else.

Follow Up Thoughts

If you want to follow up the academic question put above, have a look at this:

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