Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 20:28-33 Now there were seven brothers…

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 12, 2019

28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.  29 Now there were seven brothers; the first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second married this woman, and he, too, died childless.*  31 Then the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman died, too. 33 Now then, in the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven married her.”

* 20:30 Some Egyptian witnesses end this verse at “The second.”

This is an important moment in the Bible and in all of theology. Jesus is attacked by men who have waged a successful war against the truth of Scripture by setting up an argument that they feel uses one part of the Bible to negate another part. Remember that they were opponents to the doctrine of the physical resurrection. Today such teachers are delighted to pretend there is “some sort of resurrection,” perhaps of the spirit, but who cower at the Bible’s thunderous witness that the tomb of Christ was empty on Easter Sunday (“they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus,” Luke 24:3).

To mock the resurrection, the Sadducees hauled out the Levirate law of Moses, which said: “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. The husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

This practice was ancient (note the story of Onan, Genesis 38:1-10) and widespread. It was practiced among the Assyrians, Hittites, and in India, parts of Africa, and it is known to have been practiced in South America. The Assyrians even extended the law to apply to a man who died while still only engaged or betrothed.

The Sadducees could have used just two brothers to state their case, but they use seven to make the very idea of heaven seem absurd. The first brother in line marries his dead brother’s widow, but he dies without producing any children.  A third brother also dies. “In the same way all seven died childless.” Their story carries a tragicomic aspect; one can imagine the fifth, sixth, and seventh brothers standing one after the other at the altar as the “black widow” walks slowly up the aisle of the chapel with her little bouquet of flowers, the boys’ knees knocking in terror, knowing their turn at marriage and the inevitable death has come… One wonders whether the Sadducees were laughing out loud by this point, slapping each other on the back, because this story had silenced so many Pharisees in the past, and perhaps Essenes and other Jews as well. No one could stand up to their stinging logic!

“Finally, the woman died, too.” Who would be her husband in the resurrection, if there could possibly be a resurrection? Would she be the wife of the first man, the one she truly loved? Or the second, the brother who started the obligation? Or perhaps the sixth—the last one to die before the final brother died. Or certainly the seventh, the one to whom she was married before she became a widow the last time? And what about brothers three, four, and five? Is there no wife for them in heaven? What would make one brother more qualified to have her for eternity over the others? Or—here is a truly pagan thought—would they share her? “All seven married her!”

Before we turn to the Lord’s response, we should look at the way this question is used today. The details are all different, but a great many people use this model to try to negate one thing the Bible says by making it seem to contradict something else. For example, doesn’t Jesus tell us to love one another? It does. Jesus says this in John 13:34-35, and it is repeated by Paul (Romans 13:8), Peter (1 Peter 1:22) and John (1 John 3:11; 2 John 5). Therefore, the modern argument runs, shouldn’t people be free to love whomever they want? Shouldn’t we throw away the church’s prohibitions against homosexuality, for example? But the Scripture is clear: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV 2011). In Christian love, should I allow my brother in Christ to commit idolatry? Shouldn’t I warn him, in love, that this is a sin against the First Commandment? If my sister in Christ is a thief, shouldn’t I warn her, out of love, that this is a sin against the Seventh Commandment? If my neighbor is greedy, or abuses alcohol, or slanders people, or swindles people, shouldn’t I, out of love, warn my neighbor that these are sins against the Ninth, Fifth, Eighth, and Seventh (or Tenth) Commandments? If love doesn’t keep me from warning someone on the path to ruin and eternal damnation through these sins, then surely I must warn someone violating the Sixth Commandment, too, whether it’s someone indulging in pornography, or an affair outside of marriage, or homosexuality, or someone who just wants to break up someone else’s marriage. The sin of the Sadducees was in trying to pit one part of the Bible against another to have everything their own way. This is a pitfall that anyone can stumble into. What we must remember is to let Scripture stand as the Word of God. When the Bible speaks to us, in context, about a topic, a subject, or a sin, then a single passage can and does establish a doctrine. Why? “You accepted it, not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Also, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored” (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

When we stand before God on Judgment Day, he will not ask anyone whether or not they were successful in changing the doctrines of the church, causing the word of God to evolve into a new, modern sense, or anything like that. He will judge us as to whether we put our faith in Jesus alone and not in our own arrogant opinions, our own animal urges, or our own sinful desires. We trust in Jesus, and follow him right into paradise.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



Browse Devotion Archive