This class will be a study of the Sadducees. Any study of the Sadducees is less than ideal because all the ancient sources available to us were generated by their critics. None of the information about their beliefs, their functions, or their priorities came from them. Thus, unfortunately, much of what is said about them has to be combined with speculation.
Agreement does not exist on the origin of these people, the origin of their name, or their role and function in first century Jewish society. This is noted so you will not be surprised when, in a deeper study of the Sadducees, you encounter disagreements about these people. In today’s study, the Sadducees are regarded (1) to be a group of Jews who existed in (and before) the first century, (2) who were in charge of the temple and the temple mount activities, and (3) who held a position of political prominence in the Jewish world (principally in Jerusalem) in the first century prior to 70 AD (when the Jewish temple was destroyed). As a group, there is little indication they were a prominent “role model” among the common Jewish people. While the Sadducees were prominent among the Jews politically, they were of little prominence to anyone else (with the possible exception of Roman authorities in charge of Jewish affairs).
The following is given to challenge you to think as you study biblical material. From the origin of the Jewish nation, the priests and Levites occupied a powerful, prominent, prosperous role among the Jewish people. The priests were direct descendants of Aaron, and the Levites were all the other descendants of Levi. The Levites were dispersed through the other tribes of Israel, and (originally) received special material consideration. The priests and the Levites were supported through some of the sacrifices the entire nation brought to the temple.
Originally the Levites were divided into three groups to provide care for the portable tabernacle. The Kohathites transported the tabernacle’s furniture. The Gershonites transported the coverings, screens, and hangings. The Merarites carried and erected the tabernacle and its court. The priests prepared the holy objects for travel. The function of the Levites was to represent Israel before God and to be a work force for Aaron and his descendants. (Consider Numbers 8:5-26). The provision of Levitical cities in Canaan is seen in Numbers 35:1-8.
There were some transitions that had a major impact on the Jewish priests and Levites. Begin with a key understanding: national worship of God was to occur only in “the place God chose” (Deuteronomy 12:1-19). Israelites could not offer sacrifices just anywhere—the place of worship had to be chosen by God. It was there the nation was to assemble for worship three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16). A number of such sites were recognized as chosen by God. Usually a place so chosen was indicated by the residence of the Ark of the Covenant. Jerusalem became the permanent place of worship during the period of the United Kingdom under the kingship of David. David requested God (1) accept Jerusalem as that chosen place and (2) accept the temple that Solomon would build there. Though God never requested a permanent Israelite temple (2 Samuel 7:5-7), God accepted Jerusalem as “the place He would cause His name to dwell” (2 Chronicles 6:4-6) and the temple as Israel’s place of worship (2 Chronicles 7:11-16).
There were at least four major transitions that affected the Levites, the priests, or both: (1) The first was the transition from wandering in the wilderness to settling in Canaan. (2) The second was establishing a permanent place of worship (thus combining Israel’s political center and God’s worship center in the same geographic place). (3) The third was the priesthood growing too large to serve at one time. (4) The fourth was the Babylonian captivity of Judah which destroyed the Jewish people’s access to “the place God caused His name to dwell” and the Temple which was the scene of national worship. In this transition the priests lost their place to serve and their role of service. As far as is known, there was no “place God has chosen” in Babylon. If Judaism was to survive that captivity, the Jewish people had to find an acceptable way to approach God that did not include the Temple or the priests.
It is speculated that the result of the Babylonian captivity was the production (probably an evolving process rather than a dramatic occurrence) of the concepts which produced the synagogue and the Jewish parties mentioned in the New Testament. Obviously, the Judaism of the New Testament and the Judaism of the Old Testament are in definite contrast in some matters. Things that existed long enough to be accepted by mainstream Judaism in the New Testament did not even exist in the Old Testament (such as synagogues, Sadducees, etc.)
Probably the two most insightful references to the Sadducees in the New Testament are Matthew 22:23-32 and Acts 23:6-10. In the Matthew reference, the Sadducees tried to discredit Jesus by attacking Jesus’ teachings. The attempt was based on a situation involving levirate marriage. The attack was based on the belief (1) that resurrection does not happen and (2) the concept of resurrection as a continuation of physical existence. Jesus used people from the Pentateuch to declare that (1) death does not end existence and (2) resurrection is not a continuation of physical existence. The Acts reference affirms (1) Sadducees were part of the prominent Jerusalem Sanhedrin and (2) they did not believe in resurrection, angels, or spirits—afterlife entities or benefits.
Before you dismiss their convictions as being without scriptural merit, read Deuteronomy 28. As you read, take note of the physical nature of the blessings and curses. The Sadducees would point to such passages to declare God blessed Israel here and now physically, not in some “imagined” afterlife based on “later views and concepts.” Also, consider the Christians who expect divine blessings to be expressed in physical benefits.
The Sadducees did not survive the fall of Jerusalem. If your faith is in the physical, will it survive if there is physical collapse?
FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
1. Why is any study of the Sadducees less than ideal?
2. What are three views of the Sadducees in this lesson?
3. Distinguish between the priests and the Levites.
4. Name the groups that cared for moving the portable tabernacle. What were their tasks?
5. Discuss “the place God chose for His name to dwell.”
6. Name four times of transition for the priests/Levites.
7. What do Matthew 22:23-32 and Acts 23:6-10 say about the Sadducees?
8. How would Sadducees use scriptures like Deuteronomy 28?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 3
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