The Early Outreach of Jesus Christ
Quarter 1, Lesson 4

Lesson Four

The Sadducees

As with the Pharisees, differing views exist regarding the origin of the Sadducees. The Babylonian captivity of the kingdom of Judah [Old Testament], produced a major transition in Judaism. The kingdom of Judah maintained a basic loyalty to the Temple. They also maintained at least the semblance of God's priesthood. Prior to the Babylonian captivity, that priesthood was Israel's religious authority. They (a) conducted sacrificial worship and (b) interpreted and declared the Law. Seemingly, these rights were unquestioned.

Judah's Babylonian captivity threatened their continued existence as a distinct people. It threatened their identity in a unique manner. The Law was specific: sacrificial worship could occur at a single, designated place (see Deuteronomy 12:5,11,13,14). Prior to King David's reign in Jerusalem, that correct place was determined by the tabernacle's location. Sacrificial worship occurred at the tabernacle's site. When David located the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 6), the proper site became Jerusalem. When Solomon built and dedicated the temple, Jerusalem became the permanent site for sacrificial worship (see 1 Kings 8).

The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and they exiled Judah's people to Babylon. That produced a critical religious crisis. Judah could not engage in sacrificial worship in Babylon. Being in Babylon made this form of worship impossible. The crisis increased. The priests had no place to function, no daily sacrifices to offer. Without sacrificial worship and a functioning priesthood, how could these Israelites maintain their identity? How could they return to a proper relationship with God? What were the priests to do?

Obviously, good decisions were made. Because of these good decisions, Israel maintained its identity. The common conclusion is this: the Jewish synagogue evolved in Judah's Babylonian experience. The synagogue did not exist to replace or [later] rival the temple. Its purpose was [and is] distinct from the purpose and function of the temple.

The synagogue served two purposes. (a) Since the temple was unavailable to Judah, the synagogue functioned as a place of prayer. Prayer was not substituted for sacrifice, but prayer sustained Judah because acceptable sacrifice was impossible. Certainly, Israelites prayed before the Babylonian captivity. The synagogue coordinated and intensified their prayer activity as Judah survived in a foreign environment and culture.

(b) Since the priesthood could not function as they did prior to the captivity, the synagogue became the place for teaching Israelites on a weekly basis. It was a place of prayer and a place of learning. Since it was not restricted to a single location, any Jewish community could maintain a synagogue. More than anything else, the synagogue provided the Israelite people with a "vehicle" to preserve their identity and educate each generation in God's laws.

That background is provided to make this point. Many think the Sadducees had their roots in the evolution of the synagogue system. In Jesus' day, commonly the priests were Sadducees. The Sadducees controlled the temple's area and functions. From the period prior to Jesus' birth continuing through Jesus' life, a Sadducee was commonly the high priest.

Sadducees were the aristocrats of Jerusalem. They exercised considerable power in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, Israel's most powerful court. They accepted laws and teachings only from the first five books of the Old Testament. They were not popular as a religious party. After the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, they ceased to exist.

Most references to the Sadducees are found in Matthew [the gospel written for Jewish readers] and Acts [with a focus on their opposition to Christianity]. Mark and Luke mention them once [the same incident].

Read Acts 23:6-8. Background: Paul was on trial in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. He knew the verdict was determined before the trial. He deliberately divided this powerful court.

  1. Seeing Pharisees and Sadducees composed the court, what did Paul shout (verse 6)?

  2. How did Paul's statement affect the court (verse 7)?

  3. Why did his statement have that effect (verse 8)?

Read Acts 4:1-3. Background: Peter healed a lame man in the temple area (chapter 3). This healing created a teaching opportunity. He taught about the resurrected Jesus. The Sadducees, the priests, and the temple guard heard what Paul said.

  1. Why did Peter's lesson disturb the Sadducees, priests, and temple guard (4:1,2)?

  2. What did they do to Peter and John (verse 3)?

Read Acts 5:17-32. Background: the apostles continued preaching Jesus' resurrection after the court placed an injunction on Peter and John to cease preaching about Jesus. All of the apostles were arrested and placed on trial.

  1. What was the current relationship between the high priest and the Sadducees (verse 17)?

Read Matthew 3:7-10. Background: John, Jesus' forerunner, taught in the wilderness and baptized repenting people for the forgiveness of sins (see Mark 1:4). Multitudes came to hear John and to be baptized. The crowds included Pharisees and Sadducees.

  1. For what purpose did the Pharisees and Sadducees come (verse 7)?

  2. Did John compliment their coming and desire (verse 8-10)? Explain your answer.

  3. What did John's response indicate about their motives for baptism?

Read Matthew 16:1-12. Jesus cautioned against the Pharisees and Sadducees' leaven.

  1. What was that leaven (verse 12)?

Read Matthew 22:23-33. Background: In the last week of Jesus' earthly life, Jerusalem's religious leaders were determined to discredit him and his teachings.

  1. Explain the Sadducees attempt to prove resurrection was undesirable and could not occur.

  2. Why did Jesus say their conclusion about the resurrection was mistaken (verse 29)?

  3. In rejecting their conclusion, what fact did Jesus use from the first five books of the Old Testament (verse 32)?

Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 4

Copyright © 2001
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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