Jewish Sects (VD: Sadducees- Doctrine and End

Fred A. Shewmaker
Evansville, Indiana

I hesitate to use the word superstitious, but it is probably the best single word that can be used to describe the Pharisaic concept of the providence of God. The Sadducees in no way shared such a view. Josephus wrote, "They take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly."1 They "seemed to have believed that God is not concerned with human affairs."2 They "rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of angels and ministering Spirits."3 With these tenants of their doctrine before us, let us begin an examination of each one separately.

In that all allow that the Sadducees believed the Pentateuch, it becomes very difficult to think that they totally rejected the very idea of angels. In this I do not seek to ignore or reject any of Acts 23. My effort here is to understand this passage in the light of the fact that the Sadducees accepted, yea honored, the Pentateuch. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word translated angel in Acts 23:8 appears over 20 times in the Pentateuch. In article III it was pointed out that the Pharisaic concept of the function of angels and ministering spirits was erroneous. Acts 23 in the light of the reverence the Sadducees had for the Pentateuch appears to be a consideration of the differences that existed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees regarding the function of angels and ministering spirits rather than a statement that one believed that such existed while the other did not believe that such existed. The function attributed to them by the Pharisees is shown to be that of constantly directing the actions of men (verse 9). After much study and consideration I am forced to conclude and cautiously suggest that it was this function which the Pharisees attributed to angels and ministering spirits that Luke had under consideration when he wrote, "The Sadducees say that there is no angel, nor spirit" (Acts 23:8).

It is my firm conviction that angels exist, that they functioned on occasion to direct the actions of certain men (both during the historical period recorded in the Pentateuch and during the life of the apostles), but I am ready to contend with those today who would and sometimes do say, "but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God" (Acts 23:9). It seems entirely possible that this is the position held by the Sadducees in their day even though angels and ministering spirits still functioned occasionally to direct a man's actions. While the Pharisees credited the angels and ministering spirits with too much activity in directing the actions of men, the Sadducees rejected their activity in this area altogether. Thus I cannot accept, without qualifications, the statement of Pfeiffer that the Sadducees "rejected the existence of angels and ministering spirits."

Regarding the resurrection of the body Josephus wrote, "They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades."4 "The doctrine of the Sadducees is this: that souls die with the bodies."5

However, it must be remembered that Josephus was himself a Pharisee and -may have failed to be completely objective in his writings concerning the Sadducees. "It cannot be supposed that if the Sadducees had actually denied the immortality of the soul, so vital a point would be passed over in silence by the Talmudic doctors, when unimportant differences are minutely specified."6 Geikie wrote, "As to world to come, they left it doubtful, maintaining... that it could not be proved from the Books of Moses."7 Jesus took away this contention of the Sadducees when he answered their question about the woman who had been wife to seven husbands -- "In the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the Seven:" (Mau. 22:28).

Jesus answered their question by saying, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage . . ." (Matt. 22:29-30). I do not know where in the Old Testament this information is to be found. Jesus did not actually say that this information was in the scriptures. He merely answered the question that to the minds of the Sadducees posed a dilemma if there is to be a resurrection. With this answer Jesus was telling them that the supposed problem they posed was nonexistent. Thus their question carried no weight as an argument against the resurrection. The error of the Sadducees resulting from their "not knowing the scriptures" related to the fact that the scriptures touch on the matter of the resurrection. Jesus said, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:31-32). This the Sadducees had overlooked with regard to its application to the resurrection. They, no doubt, knew the words recorded in what we call Exodus 3-6 but knowing the words was not the same as knowing the meaning.

When Jesus was tried and crucified, it was the Sadducees who took the lead in opposing him and demanding that he be crucified. During my study for this series of articles I read a statement that the Sadducees were not once mentioned in the gospel of John. It may be just as well that I failed to make a note so that I could document that statement because it is not altogether accurate. It is true that the word Sadducee(s) is not found in John's gospel. However, it was shown in the first article of this series that the term chief priest has reference to those connected with the party of the Sadducees. The party is referred to in John by the designation chief priests 10 times. This designation appears 5 times in chapters 18 and 19 which record the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, our Lord.

The Sadducees were the chief antagonists of the early church (Acts 4 and 5).

With the destruction of the Temple in A.D 70, the activities of the Sadducees ended.


1 F. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, (London: 1842), p. 360 (B. XIII, Ch. X, Sec. 6).

2. Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World, (Grand Rapids: 1966), p. 327.

3. Ibid, p. 326.

4. F. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, (London: 1842), p. 617 (B. 11, Ch. V111, See. 14).

5. F. Josephus, Antiquities, p. 484 (B. XVIII, Ch. 1, See. 4).

6. McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, (Grand Rapids: 1970), Vol. IX, p. 236.

7. Cunniniham Geikie, The Life and Work of Christ, (New York & London: 1920), Vol. 1, p. 213.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 11, pp. 5-7
January 20, 1972