The Sadducees

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Who were the Sadducees? What did they believe? Why were they not popular with the people? Why were they so hostile to the gospel?

The Sadducees were a prominent New Testament political - religious group composed mostly priests who existed in Palestine from the second century B.C. until the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. They carried out the priestly functions at Jerusalem's temple and maintained the temple itself.

Sadducees were not popular with the masses (like their rivals the Pharisees) as they had a tendency to side with the ruling power. While they received backing from the rich and elite, their rivals the Pharisees were popular with the average person. Josephus confirms the appeal of the two groups, especially of the Sadducees, when he states the following.

"And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious (obedient or giving deference) to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 10)

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Map of Palestine in New Testament
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The Sadducees believed the only source of divine authority was the written Torah (law of God or first five books of the Bible) and rejected the Oral Traditions held by the Pharisees. Their priestly responsibilities included the daily offering of sacrifices at the temple and presiding over the sacrifices during the three great pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Pentecost and Feast of Tabernacles) held in Jerusalem.

The political responsibilities of the Sadducees included administering the Jews in Judea, collecting taxes, equipping and leading the army, and regulating relations with the Roman Empire.

It was the operation of the temple by the Sadducees that Jesus indirectly criticized when, near the beginning of his ministry, he cast out the money changers and those selling goods from the temple's outer court (court of the Gentiles - John 2:13 - 17). Even after he cleansed the temple Jesus had to do it again, three years later, near the end of his ministry (Mark 11:15 - 17, Luke 19:45 - 46, Matthew 21:12 - 13).

While they were critical of Jesus during his ministry, their opposition and hostility toward the gospel seemed to grow and become more vocal after his death. One reason for this marked increase was likely due to their firm belief that there was no resurrection from the dead (Mark 12:18 - 27). This conflicted with the primary message of the early New Testament church, which centered around the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.


Other Beliefs and Practices

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Mark 12:18 - 27) whereas the Pharisees believed one would occur in the future (Acts 23:6 - 8, 18) during the Messianic age. They also did not believe in the existence of angels and spirit beings in general, while the Pharisees did believe and even taught such spirits could communicate with man (Acts 23:8 - 9).

Additionally, according to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees believed humans had complete free will, while the Pharisees adhered to the belief in free will but left room for God to have foreknowledge of mankind's destiny. They rejected the Oral Tradition held by the Pharisees and the doctrines it taught. The believed the only source of divine authority was the written Torah (ibid., Book 13, Chapter 10)

The Sadducees believed in an excessively stringent lifestyle and a very strict literal interpretation of God's written law while the Pharisees used both the written and oral law (or traditions) to decide how to apply God's words to life. They, in general, were conservative, aristocratic monarchists, while the Pharisees were eclectic, popular and more democratic.

The significant difference between the Sadducean and Pharisaic view of God's can best be understood by the following example. The Bible says "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand . . . " (Exodus 21:24). The Pharisaic application was that a monetary compensation of the value of the lost eye (or tooth or hand) should be paid to the injured party. The Sadducees interpretation, however, was that those who caused the loss of an eye (or tooth or hand) should be punished by losing one of their own eyes, teeth or hands!

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