The Sadducees

Caution must be exercised when we examine the Jewish sect of the Sadducees, because we possess no writings penned by the Sadducees themselves. In other words, all of our evidence regarding the attitudes, practices and beliefs of the Sadducees has come down to us through the hands of outsiders, many times these being their opponents. This is not to say that the testimonies are of no value, but their historical objectivity and thus reliability is always open to question.

The origins of what may be rightly called “the primary opponents to Jesus” have been postulated by two difference traditions: (1) An ancient rabbinic writing, The Fathers According to Rabbi Natan attributes the origin to the disciples of Antigonus of Sokho. He had taught, “Be not like slaves that serve their master for the sake of compensation; be rather like slaves who serve their master with no through of compensation, and let the fear of heaven be upon you” (ARN V). His disciples (Zadok and Boethus) later interpreted this saying to imply that they were not to seek compensation, because there would be no world to come with compensatory judgment. Thus, it continues, they withdrew from Torah (study and expounding of the Oral Law)” and they used silver vessels and gold vessels all their lives.” However, another view (2) sees the Sadducees as descendants of Zadok, the high priest (II Sam. 8.17; 15.24), from the days of King David and Solomon (1 Kings 1.34ff). Ezekiel entrusted the family with control of the Temple (Ezek. 40.46; 43.19; 44.10-16).

The Sadducees were strict literalists in their understanding of Scripture and stood in opposition to the Pharisees (cf. Antiquities XVIII.16ff; Wars II. 164ff). The primary difference between the two philosophies was their attitude to Scripture and revelation. The Sadducees accepted only the five books of Moses as authoritative. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in the continuing revelation of God through the mouths of the prophets, the other writings of Holy Scripture and the subsequent teachings of the Law. Thus, we find that the Sadducees did not accept the doctrine of angels (Acts 23.8), the resurrection of the body (Luke 20.27; Acts 23.8) and the immortality of the soul (Josephus Wars 2.162f; Ant. 18.16), which are developed in writings and teachings subsequent to the Mosaic Law. They also took a very literal and thus strict view regarding the legal statutes given in the five books of Moses.

John the Baptist’s condemnation intimates that they were lax and represented a “worldly minded” aristocracy (Mt. 3.7ff.) Through the centuries of wielding power at the center of Jewish religious life, the Temple, they had developed a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (Jn. 11.47-50). Jesus challenged this complacency (Lk. 19.45-20.8). In addition, because many of his teachings resembled the views of the Pharisees, the Sadducees would have viewed him with disdain (Lk. 20.27-40). We should understand the Sadducees and those affiliated with them to have been the primary opponents to Jesus (Lk. 19.47; 20.19; 22.2, 52, 66-71; 23;13). The early church also received much opposition from them in early days (Acts 4.1ff; 5.17).

History tells us that the Sadducees came under much influence from Hellenism. They also enjoyed good standing through their cooperation with the Roman Empire. It fell to the Sadducees to control the population under the yoke of Roman rule. Thus, they did not share the popularity among the common people which the Pharisees did (Antiquities XVIIII.17), who opposed the presence of a foreign power ruling God’s people. Since the Sadducees; power base was located in the Temple, soon after it was destroyed in 70 A.D. at the hands of the Romans, they disappeared from the scene of history.

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