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Luke 20:27 (NKJV) says:

Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him,

It says they didn't believe in the resurrection. Is this true?

Is the resurrection taught in the Old Testament?

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4 Answers 4

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Yes, the resurrection was talked about in the Old Testament, but some Jewish sects accepted only 5 of its 39 books as divinely inspired (just as today Roman Catholic Bibles have 46 books in the Old Testament, while Jews and most non-Catholic Christian denominations have only 39 books).

At the time of Jesus, there were several different sects of Judaism, with differing beliefs (just as there are different denominations of Christianity today).

The Encyclopedia Britannica says this (and more) about the Sadducees:

The Sadducees were the party of high priests, aristocratic families, and merchants — the wealthier elements of the population. They came under the influence of Hellenism, tended to have good relations with the Roman rulers of Palestine, and generally represented the conservative view within Judaism. While their rivals, the Pharisees, claimed the authority of piety and learning, the Sadducees claimed that of birth and social and economic position. During the long period of the two parties’ struggle — which lasted until the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE — the Sadducees dominated the Temple and its priesthood.

The Sadducees and Pharisees were in constant conflict with each other, not only over numerous details of ritual and the Law but most importantly over the content and extent of God’s revelation to the Jewish people. The Sadducees refused to go beyond the written Torah (first five books of the Bible) …

Notice that critical last line. For Sadducees, "The Bible" consisted of only the first five books of what we consider The Bible to be today: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The 34 books known as the Prophecies and the Writings, which are today accepted by both Jews and Christians, were accepted by the Pharisees and other sects, but not by the Sadducees.

There are sections of the Torah that Jews today consider to be references to the resurrection. For instance, the Talmud (non-canonical but scholarly studies by rabbis) says:

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: From where is the resurrection of the dead derived from the Torah? It is derived from this verse, as it is stated with regard to teruma of the tithe: “And you shall give the teruma of the Lord to Aaron the priest” (Numbers 18:28). And does Aaron exist forever so that one can fulfill the mitzva by giving him the teruma of the tithe? But is it not so that Aaron did not enter Eretz Yisrael, the only place where the people would give him teruma? Rather, the verse teaches that Aaron is destined to live in the future and the Jewish people will give him teruma. From here it is derived that the resurrection of the dead is from the Torah.
Sanhedrin 90b:2

But that understanding exists only if one already believes in the resurrection as taught in the rest of the Bible, which the Sadducees didn't.

Perhaps the most explicit description of the resurrection, is from Ezekiel 37 (NKJV) - The hand of the LORD:

The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. “I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” ’ ”

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” ’ ” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ “Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. “Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD.’ ”

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The NT doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is taught in many places and based on the OT teaching. Here is a sample.

  • Job 19:25-27 - I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! [Paul alludes to this in I Cor 15:39-49. John also alludes to this in Rev 22:4.]
  • Isa 26:19 - But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise-- let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy-- your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
  • Dan 12:2 - And many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, but others to shame and everlasting contempt. [Jesus alludes to this in John 5:24-28]
  • Dan 12:13 - But as for you, go on your way until the end. You will rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.
  • 1 Sam 2:6 - The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.
  • Job 14:14 - If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.
  • Ps 17:15 - As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. [John alludes to this in Rev 22:4, 1 John 3:2]
  • Ps 49:15 - But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.
  • Hos 13:14 - “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? “I will have no compassion, (Paul quotes/paraphrases this in 1 Cor 15:55).

Thus, NT teaching on the resurrection of the dead is based OT teaching.

APPENDIX - Resurrection

The Bible teaching of bodily resurrection is important enough to the apostle Paul that he devoted a lengthy chapter to it in 1 Cor 15. The Bible teaching on this can be summarized as follows:

  • The source of our eternal life at the resurrection is Jesus and His resurrection. 1 John 5:11, 12, 11:25, Rom 1:4, 6:5, 1 Cor 15:12-21, Phil 3:10, 11, 1 Peter 1:3, 3:21, etc.
  • The resurrection of the dead will occur at the end of time when Jesus returns. Matt 22:30, 31, Mark 12:23, Luke 14:14, 20:33-36, John 11:24, 25, 1 Thess 4:16, 17, 1 Cor 15:21, 22, 46-55.
  • There are two resurrections – one of the righteous and the wicked. Rev 20:5, 6, John 5:28, 29, Dan 12:2, Acts 24:15, Heb 11:35. See also Rev 1:7.
  • People receive their rewards at the resurrection, Luke 14:14, Rev 22:12, 13.
  • The righteous receive real, imperishable bodies at the resurrection, albeit different from what we have now; 1 Cor 15:35-54.
  • People are unconscious “sleeping” in the grave until awakened by the resurrection, Acts 2:29-31, 34, Matt 9:24, Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52, John 11:11, 12, Acts 7:60, 13:36, 1 Cor 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51, 1 Thess 4:13-15, 5:10, 2 Peter 3:4, Ps 17:15, etc.
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There are quite a few references to the resurrection in the Old Testament.

Several prominent examples

Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead (Isaiah 26:19).

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2)

25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God (Job 19:25-26)

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption (Psalm 16:10)

Not that this Psalm is generally understood by Christians--and was understood by Peter (see Acts 2:27-31)--to refer to the resurrection.

And, of course, the prophecy of Ezekiel already quoted by Ray Butterworth, a portion of which is cited below:

5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:6-7)

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Sadducees

Origen of Alexandria reported:

the Samaritans and Sadducees...receive the books of Moses alone (Contra Celsum 1.49)

Others have suggested a more nuanced view--that perhaps the Sadducees gave the books of the Torah preeminence but not exclusivity. On either argument, since none of the passages above are in the Torah, those holding to Torah-exclusivity or Torah-pre-eminence could discount them, especially if they didn't see the principle being taught explicitly in the books of Moses.

Jesus responded to this Sadducean claim by referencing Exodus 3:6, saying:

37 Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

38 For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him (Luke 20:37-38)

Did the Sadducees deny the resurrection?

Yes, this statement is corroborated by all 3 Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 12:18, Mark 22:23, Luke 20:27), and is further supported by Josephus (e.g. Wars 2.8.14, Antiquites 18.1.4).

Particularly relevant is the statement by Matthew, who references the Sadducees more than any other Gospel, was very familiar with Jewish customs in/around Judea, and was writing to an audience that was very familiar with this time & place as well. For a more extensive discussion of the cultural awareness of Matthew & his audience, see my video here.

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Conclusion

Did the Sadducees deny the resurrection? Yes

Does the Old Testament teach the resurrection? Yes

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  • +1 Thanks for bringing up Jesus's argument for the Resurrection from the Torah. It reminds me of the Hebrew writer's argument that Abraham affirmed his belief in God's ability to resurrect when he offered his son Isaac. Certainly quite a bit of inferential reasoning in both cases.
    – Austin
    Mar 13, 2022 at 0:47
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For Christians who accept II Maccabees as part of the Old Testament, there is a very clear reference to the resurrection:

He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought (II Maccabees 12:43-45, NAB).

In the first century, some Jews accepted this book, but the Sadducees did not. As others have noted, the Sadducees only accepted the Torah.

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