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Matthew 22:28 NLT

So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For she was the wife of all seven of them!"

The Sadducees were well known that they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead yet the went on to ask Christ about the resurrection.

Matthew 22:23 NLT

That same day some Sadducees stepped forward—a group of Jews who say there is no resurrection after death. They posed this question:

Were the Sadducees being sarcastic or they wanted to trap Christ in the issues of the resurrection of the dead?

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  • Couldn't it be both?
    – Michael16
    Feb 19, 2023 at 16:51

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Matthew 22:

23The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,

Let proposition R1 = there is resurrection.

The Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection. They believe ¬R1.

24saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27After them all, the woman died. 28In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

Yet, their question assumes the resurrection.

Are the Sadducees being sarcastic?

Not exactly. In modern logic terminology, they are attempting a proof by contradiction by assuming the negation or opposite of what they are trying to prove.

Assume R1.

Whose wife will she be for they all had her?

Accordingly to their logic, there is no answer to this question. Therefore the assumption R1 is false.

End of Proof so they thought. However, technically speaking, they did not supply a formal contradiction in their proof. They only supply a question that they cannot answer.

Now, it is Jesus' turn. Jesus also uses proof by contradiction (aka indirect proof):

31 as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus believes R1.

Using proof by contradiction. Jesus assumed ¬R1.

But then in Exodus 3:

6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

The LORD is the God of Abraham.

Abraham is dead.

The LORD is the God of the dead = D1.

But in reality, Matthew 22:

32 I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Let proposition L1 = The LORD is the God of the living.

D1 = ¬L1.

Jesus has found a formal contradiction!

Therefore, the opposite of the assumption is true: There is a resurrection of the dead.

End of Proof.

Both the Sadducees and Jesus use the method of proof by contradiction. Because of their difference in beliefs, their initial assumptions are opposite to each other. The Sadducees failed to supply a formal contradiction to complete their proof. Jesus, on the other hand, did.

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The highly contrived story of the seven brothers all marrying one widow was specifically concocted by the Sadducees ("who say there is no resurrection", Matt 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27, Acts 23:8) in an attempt to show that the resurrection from the dead is inconsistent with the sacred teachings of the Torah. Thus, it was an attempt at entrapment, see V15 & 34.

Thus, their logic would have gone something like this:

  • The Torah requires that a widow marries her brother-in-law. This could happen, say, seven times
  • IF there is a resurrection, she will have been married to multiple men and thus, after the resurrection will have multiple husbands
  • Such is not permitted by the Torah
  • Therefore, the doctrine of the resurrection must be wrong

The Latin name for such an argument is "reductio ad absurdum".

Thus, their question was designed to trap Jesus and show that what He was teaching about the resurrection was not consistent with Torah.

APPENDIX - The Four Questions/Riddles of Matt 22

Note that Matt 22 contains a series of question posed by different groups with the sole intention of silencing Jesus by logical entrapment, V15 & 34. Finally Jesus poses a question that silences His attackers.

  • V15-22 - Pharisees ask about paying taxes to Caesar
  • V23-22 - Sadducees ask about marriage after the resurrection
  • V34-40 - Pharisees ask about the greatest commandment
  • V41-46 - Jesus asks about the Christ - Whose Son is He?

Unsurprisingly, Jesus' question was the only one that succeeded in silencing the opponets.

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Yes, definitely! They did not really inquire out of interest, but being convinced in truth of their fallacious doctrine that there is neither afterlife of soul of a deceased man (Acts 23:8 μήτε πνεῦμα), nor the resurrection of bodies (μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν), they wanted to make Christ a laughingstock by their reductio ad absurdum argument intertwined in their conceited and smug rhetorical question.

That they did not have a genuine interest is indicated by the immediately preceding passage about Pharisees trying to trap Him by a question. The same day Sadducees come to Him with their question, thus although it is not said anything about their intentions for questioning, the context indicates that Matthew wanted to show how He was a subject of entrapment by both Pharisees and Sadducees.

Moreover, Christ’s very answer indicates that while asking they were 100% sure that the reductio ad absurdum argument they invented was valid, because Christ introduces a dimension which they aren’t even aware of, namely that the post-resurrection life is qualitatively different from usual life where marriages are happening, for in it men shall be like angels and marriage and sexual intercourses will cease (sorry Muslims!). Since the gist of their argument was that it is impossible for God to allow such an unease and awkwardness for the resurrected brothers who had the same woman as a wife, then it is also impossible for God to resurrect them, because the resurrection would necessarily bring about this very unease and awkwardness. Since they did not have in mind that angelic dimension for human life of which the Lord told them, through which dimension their argument was perfectly demolished, then it is indubitable that they were 100% sure that their argument would be invincible and immune from attack of any counter argument.

Now, if you ask question with a 100% assuredness that your position is immune from being challenged, then your question’s purpose is not a genuine curiosity, but a demonstration of wrongness of a rival position in a form of a question that only feigns curiosity, and since a genuine question should analytically include the aspect of curiosity and ignorance, is not a question at all, but rather a rhetorical devise.

However, when somebody adopts an irony, or its acute form, sarcasm, against any idea or teaching, then this somebody should hold truth, which is the legitimate foundation of the irony and sarcasm. But when you are sarcastic against Truth Himself and His teaching, then, of course you will be crushed and become a laughingstock yourself, as indeed those poor and ill-advised Sadducees became.

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  • I don't see why they could not be sarcastic AND be genuinely interested. Who among us has not used sarcasm as a way of making a serious point? Also, it seems to me they weren't particularly targeting Christ here, but were more interested in ridiculing the teaching of the Pharisees, with whom Jesus agreed on this particular issue. Feb 19, 2023 at 1:02
  • @DanFefferman Thanks for the question! I have included the answer to it in my post. Feb 19, 2023 at 3:04
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Without recognisable mockery or insult we can’t reliably judge sarcasm in a written account; you’d have to be there.

We might equally hypothesise this story is part of the Sadducees’ standard arguments for their position on resurrection.

Not so much an attempt to catch Jesus out, as hoping to use him (willingly or not!) to support their argument against the Pharisees? v34 suggests that the 2 groups are quite aware of each others’ interactions.

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