Why the Sadducees didn’t believe in the Resurrection … and how Jesus set them straight!

The Resurrection: Sistine Chapel

Fundamentally, they rejected the resurrection due to the fact that they accepted only the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Now this is somewhat debated among scholars but for our purposes we can surely say that if something was not explicitly in the Law of Moses, they were unlikely to accept it. All the other Old Testament books such as the prophets, the historical books, the psalms, and the wisdom tradition were set aside by them as authoritative sources. They further claimed that, in these first five books, the resurrection of the dead was not taught. Most other Jews of Jesus’ time did accept the complete Old Testament, and teachings such as the resurrection of the dead which are set forth there, but the Sadducees simply did not. They were a small party within Judaism (Josephus said they were able to persuade none but the rich). Nevertheless they were influential due especially to their wealth and to the fact that they predominated among the Temple leadership. You can read more of them here: Sadducees

Hence the Sadducees arrive to poke fun at Jesus and all others who held that the dead would rise. They are no match for Jesus who easily dispatches their arguments. And Jesus uses the Book of Exodus, a book they accept to do it. In effect Jesus argument proceeds as such:

You accept Moses, do you not?
(To which they would surely reply yes)

But Moses teaches that the dead will rise.
(Jesus must have gotten puzzled looks but he presses on).

You accept that God is a God of the living and not the dead?
(To which they would surely reply yes).

Then why does God in Exodus identify himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom have been dead (for hundreds of) years? How can he call himself their God if they are dead?
Obviously they are alive, for he could not call himself their God, for he is not a God of the dead but of the living.

So they are alive to God. They are not dead.

Hence Jesus dispatches their view. For us the point is to see how forcefully and clearly Jesus upholds the fact that the dead are alive in the Lord. He powerfully asserts an essential doctrine of the Church and we should rejoice at how firmly Jesus rebukes their disbelief in the resurrection of the dead. Rejoice! For your loved ones are alive before God . To this world they may seem dead, but Jesus tells us firmly and clearly today, they live. Likewise we too, who will face physical death will also live on. Let the world ridicule this, but hear what Jesus says and how he easily dispatches them. Though ridiculed, the resurrection is real.

Editor’s note: There are many living today who do not believe in the resurrection of the body, let alone that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. The Catholic Church, along with 2000 years of systematic Catholic scholarship and superb theology, and the most successful philosophy of life that the world has ever known, remains the living the eye-witness to the truth of the Gospels, until Jesus comes again.

Those who, for whatever reason, fail to participate fully in all of the work, worship, sacraments and devotions of the Catholic Church have a lot in common with the Sadducees. And that’s just … sad!