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God’s Word for You

Luke 20:27 the Sadducees, who speak against the resurrection

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 11, 2019

27 Some of the Sadducees, who speak against the resurrection (saying that there is none), came to him to ask a question.

The reader may feel that the translation here is a little awkward. That’s because Luke employs a double negative here which Matthew and Mark avoid in the phrase, “who say there is no resurrection.” I have supplied an additional verb of speaking in order to make the second negative statement a parenthetical aside. The manuscript evidence for Luke’s unexpected verb antilegontes (ἀντιλέγοντες) is overwhelming except among certain Egyptian witnesses who have a reputation for trying to smooth over the text, and the Lectionaries which prefer the reading to be similar to that of Matthew and Mark.

The issue, of course, is that the religious sect known as the Sadducees had a peculiar view of the afterlife. They didn’t think there was one. The Sadducees took their name from Zadok, one of the priests who served at the time of David (2 Samuel 15:24-29). The group seems to have grown out of the Maccabean rebellion. In the second century BC, the priests of Judea became Hellenized (adapted to the Greek language and certain Greek customs). This was during the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 BC). After the Maccabees led by Judas Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan overthrew Antiochus IV, a soldier named Trypho, who had served under Alexander the Great, seized power in Israel after the death of Judas, and he murdered Jonathan. However, another brother in the Maccabean family, Simon, stepped in and united the Jews against Trypho, giving his full support to a Roman opponent (Demetrius II) and also making an alliance with Sparta (who he believed had a distant kinship with the Jews through Keturah, the second wife of Abraham). When the alliance brought peace to Israel, the people made him their high priest (1 Maccabees 14:35, 41).

It was out of this conflict that different parties of Jews appeared, some of which are described in the New Testament. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes all seem to have had their beginnings in those days. Each group had a different idea of what it meant to be a Jew and to be faithful to God. These divisions were a foreshadowing of the divisions that happened among Christians later. Divisions and splinters in the church of God always take place when someone tries to force unity in the church that is not based on a commonly held faith. Today among the Reformed churches (that is, Protestants who are not Lutherans) there is a motto: “Doctrine divides but service unites,” which is proof that the relationship between commonly held doctrine and unity is still not understood by the vast majority of Christian theologians.

The doctrines of the Sadducees, as far as we can determine, included these:

1, They accepted only the Five Books of Moses as Scripture.

2, They were more lenient than the Pharisees in the matter of false witness; only insisting on stoning a false witness if his testimony had resulted in the death of the accused (upholding Deuteronomy 19:18-19).

3, They were less lenient than the Pharisees in the matter of damages, holding an owner responsible for damage done by either slave or animal, whereas the Pharisees distinguished between ‘reasoning and unreasoning’ beings.

4, They rejected some of the Pharisees’ rules concerning Sabbath day restrictions.

5, They rejected the idea of reward in the afterlife, and their denial of the bodily resurrection was part of this idea. Some Sadducees may have believed that the soul could be taken to heaven without the body, but Josephus and the Church Father Hippolytus state that the Sadducees believed that the soul perishes along with the body at death (Hipp. Refutation of Heresies 9:29).

6, They rejected the idea of fate of any kind (Josephus Antiquities 13,5,9).

7, They rejected any teaching which they could not prove from the Books of Moses, and some which are there anyway, such as the existence of angels and other spirits (Acts 23:8).

A serious question and a paradox rise from knowing that the Sadducees denied the resurrection. Why have a faith in God if there is no Judgment Day and no heaven? Most Christians are at a loss, since those good Christians cling so tightly to the promise of Jesus and the resurrection. “These are they who keep coming out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple” (Revelation 7:14-15). Yet there seem to be theologians, especially those who call themselves scholars, who for the most part have no real faith or hope in the resurrection but try to “hedge their bet” by putting in a little show of Christianity just in case. Their faith is worthless. Paul and Barnabas cry out: “Turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). And Zechariah warns: “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock!” (Zechariah 11:17). And Paul says more directly to everyone who speaks out like the Sadducees against the resurrection: “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).

Yet the belief that there is no physical resurrection is still found today throughout the pastors of the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is the largest and also most liberal Lutheran church body in North America. In “Confessions of a Former Liberal LCA pastor,” Dr. J. Kincaid Smith (no relation to the undersigned) says this:

“Lay-people… are not aware of hearing much or any of this from their pastors. You have to understand a very peculiar thing which has happened. As this change, the metamorphosis [i.e., toward liberalism], has taken place over the years the language was revamped. When I got out of the Sem[inary] we used the same words as our conservative counterparts, but we meant something quite different by them. This I might speak of the ‘empty tomb’ on Easter but I would not have meant that I believed Jesus actually, physically rose from the dead. If you would have specifically asked me, something lay-people are extremely reticent to do, what I meant by ‘empty tomb,’ I would have squirmed.” (reprinted in What’s Going on Among the Lutherans? by Leppien and Smith, NPH, 1992, page 119).

This language of double-talk has caused all meaning in the Bible and even the forgiveness of sins itself to depart from the theology of the ELCA. In Christian Dogmatics, the primary doctrinal textbook used in all ELCA seminaries, the author says: “The meaning of the historical cross was transmitted in the suprahistorical language of mythological symbolism. The cross is not a fact of history that interprets itself.” (Vol I, p. 547). “The question has become acute in modern theology whether in the resurrection we are dealing only with a myth or with a…historical account” (Vol. I, p. 549).

We take comfort in the words of Scripture, which are certainly not veiled in the language of mythology, that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resurrection, as will be ours. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). The gospel message of the Easter angel rings in our ears and ends all questions about whether the body of Jesus rose or not: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). Just as Jesus rose, we too shall rise, alive and well and glorified in our physical bodies on the Last Day, to live with him forever in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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