Matthew‬ ‭22:32‬ ‭ESV‬‬

‘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.”

What does Jesus mean when he refers to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the living?

Are they alive at present? But surely it can't be that the resurrection [of the dead] has happened for them already?

5 Answers 5


The text points out that the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead, and the complete quote from Jesus here reads:

Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘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.

So the teaching here does relate to the resurrection. However, there were numerous Jewish understandings at the time about what this meant. Se the Jewish Encyclopedia on Resurrection for details.

In his debate with the Sadducees, Jesus referred to God as the "God of the living" to refute their pessimistic interpretation of such scriptures as Psalm 115:16-18

The heavens belong to the Lord, but he has given the earth to the children of Adam. The dead do not praise the Lord, not all those go down into silence. It is we who bless the Lord, both now and forever.

Many people of his time considered the dead to dwell in a sleep-like state in Sheol until the day of judgment. However, certain individuals such as Enoch and Elijah were taken into heaven directly. Psalm 49:16 expresses the hope that "God will redeem my life, will take me from the hand of Sheol." Jesus himself spoke of a realm that he called the "Bosom of Abraham" (Luke 16:22) where good people, including the patriarch himself, lived after their physical lives ended.

Conclusion: Given the above, the mostly likely answer is that Jesus thought of the patriarchs as still alive in the spiritual world, but not in Sheol, after their physical death and prior to the resurrection.


A great question.

It is precisely because it was accepted they were dead that Jesus quotes god's statement to Moses regarding them to demonstrate the resurrection.

Another genius Jesus insight.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.

"But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘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.”

Matthew 22:23,31-32 NIV

It was agreed that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob were dead.
Their deaths are recorded in Moses - Genesis 25:7-11, Genesis 35:27-29, Genesis 49:29-33 respectively.

These deaths accepted by christians - Acts 7 and Hebrews 11 but also by the Jews :

"Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

John 8:52-53 NIV

Jesus uses god's proclamation to Moses, of an ongoing relationship with the patriarchs, to demonstrate the eventual resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and thus the resurrection in general.
His reasoning being that the most high does not identify with the eternally dead.
Identifying as the god of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, though at that point decaying in the ground, indicated they would live again, and that was how they were viewed by the most high, their present predicament being but transitory.

I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die."

John 11:25-26 NIV

Abram believed the Lord ...

Genesis 15:6 NIV

And Abraham understood this :

Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead ...

Hebrews 11:19 NIV

An echo of this being found Malachi :

A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not."

Malachi 3:16,17-18 NIV

Calling to mind both the circumstances surrounding Abraham and Isaac and also obviously the most high and his beloved king.

This "scroll of remembrance" being elsewhere referred to as "your book" and "the book of life" :

... the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Phillipians 4:3 NIV

The state of the children of Adam with regard to the most high is wholly dependent on this record and not their returning to the dust.
In this sense they are regarded as being merely "asleep" until the resurrection.
It is in this sense also, that although from every mortal perspective, dead, they live.

And although all the responsible are raised, the just, being found in that remembrance, are to be rewarded, and the unjust not.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12:2 NIV

The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book."

Exodus 32:33 NIV

"May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous."

Psalm 69:28 NIV

As to the eventual resurrection of the just, and the unjust, we are plainly informed :

They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

2 Timothy 2:18 NIV

That is to say, the resurrection is at a future point :

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

1 Corinthians 15:20,23 NIV

This future point being at the return of christ as noted by him and many other writers.

He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return."

Luke 19:12 NIV

"Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll ..."

"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!"

Job 19:23,25-27

An event as yet in the future.

They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.

Revelation 20:4-6 NIV


  • 1
    I would ask that you undo the rollback you made. My edits are to help the visually impaired who are using a screen reader. For more information, please see Standard format for biblical quotations.
    – agarza
    Oct 26, 2023 at 14:29
  • 1
    I see that and note the lack of consensus to the suggestions. The primary issue with screen readers is markup, not content. The use of verse numbering within quotes is largely stylistic, and in these instances unnecessary. Everyone so inclined can pull up the quote for themselves, as they should. As to the citation - before or after - the blockquote should be an acceptable indicator to all. If not, then that's the issue, not the citation, which can go anywhere, or simply be a citation without a blockquote. Again, it's the markup that counts. Reformatting content affects all. Oct 26, 2023 at 16:20

Jesus is posed with an enigma that apparently created a problem for people to explain, and thus defends their view of no resurrection. To respond, Jesus can't appeal to Daniel because the Sadducees only accept the five scrolls of Moses. Showing a resurrection of the dead just from Moses is as hard as it sounds.

One hermeneutic I apply when reading the gospels is that by examining the progressive changes made by each author, which sheds light on the motivation of each author. John does not contain this narrative, so I'll just proceed with the assumption that Mark's version was first, then Matthew, then Luke.

In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus explains that if they really understood the passage about levirate marriage, they would understand that death ends a marriage. I mean, they accept that this is Moses talking here, but if marriage does not end at death, then Moses was allowing these brothers to bigamy.

I'm assuming that this enigma was the Sadducees' favorite argument, so for Jesus to make it appear foolish is considered a mic drop. But it didn't address the idea of a resurrection to begin with, so Jesus continues, "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again..." which both Mark and Matthew have Jesus respond:

"He is not the God of the dead, but of the living;

There is no significant difference between Mark and Matthew, but Luke seems to consider Mark's version to be weak or unclear on all points and modifies it. This leaves the reader with a dilemma. Which version is more authentic, valuable, authoritative, etc.? The first or the last? Can we count on Luke's version to "correct" Mark and Matthew?

I find the argument extremely flimsy. Apparently, so did Luke, because he adds "All live to him." I still find that unconvincing.

Mark's version:

Mark 12:18-27 NASB95

18 [Some] Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection) came to Jesus, and [began] questioning Him, saying, 19 "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN'S BROTHER DIES and leaves behind a wife AND LEAVES NO CHILD, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. 20 "There were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, and died leaving no children. 21 "The second one married her, and died leaving behind no children; and the third likewise; 22 and [so] all seven left no children. Last of all the woman died also. 23 "In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one's wife will she be? For all seven had married her." 24 Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 "For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the [passage] about [the burning] bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? 27 "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken."

Matthew follows Mark almost word for word. He just adds, which provides an incluso:

Matthew 22:33 NASB95

When the crowds heard [this,] they were astonished at His teaching.

So in both Mark and Matthew

But Luke, while quoting Mark word for word as far as the question posed, gives a different answer, or at least highly modified:

Luke 20:34-38 NASB95

34 Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, **35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 "But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the [passage about the burning] bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB. 38 "Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him."

Personally, I don't think he was able to create a convincing argument from Moses, even with the pleonasm, "for all live to Him." That isn't an argument that would convince me. That is simply an unfounded philosophic/religious assertion.

For a discussion of the varying views of the Synoptics with regard to the resurrection, please see Did Jesus's body decay while in the grave? (Acts 13:34)


The article "'He Is the God . . . of the Living'" in the Watchtower, February 1, 2013, gives us the explanation:

Jesus explained: “He [Jehovah] is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.” Think for a moment about the implication of those words. If there were no resurrection, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would remain forever in the clutches of death. If that were so, Jehovah would be the God of corpses. That, in turn, would mean that death is stronger than Jehovah​—as if he were too weak to free his faithful servants from the grip of death.

What, then, may we conclude about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all faithful servants of Jehovah who have died? Jesus made this forceful statement: “They are all living to him.” (Luke 20:38) Indeed, Jehovah’s purpose to resurrect his faithful servants who have died is so sure of fulfillment that he thinks of them as living. (Romans 4:16, 17) Jehovah will keep all such ones in his limitless memory until his due time to restore them to life. [bold mine]

So, what Jesus is saying is not that the resurrection [of the dead] has already happened, but that Jehovah's promise of the resurrection is so assured that, for Jehovah, his faithful ones of ancient times are as if still alive.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]


Life means Righteousness

The phrase does not intend to say that they are still living, but the contrast of dead vs living denotes unrighteousness vs righteous. The Saducees are corrupt religious fools who deny the power and promise of God. Jesus is taunting them that God is the God of Abraham who represent the righteous, not them who are dead, as they don't belong to God. The reason the righteous group of the Church such as Jesus make the resurrection a central issue of religion is that it represent the contrast with the worldly fleshly things, as the afterlife pertains to spirit; and he who focus his mind on spirit lives spiritually. For the spirit is life, but flesh is death. Spirituality is the crux of the faith. The questions and thoughts of the dead focus on vain fleshly matters and worries of the life. He is called the living God because of being the source of righteousness. Righteousness is synonymous with life. (Romans 8, Galatians 5)

(ESVGSB) Matthew 23:27: ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

Revelation 3:1: ““And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

(NCB'19) John 6:63: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh can achieve nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

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