Who Were the Sadducees
In the New Testament, we come across two religious sects that oppose Jesus: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Who were the Sadducees? The Sadducees are mentioned less often, but this particular Jewish sect actually held a lot of power during the time of Jesus. The Sadducees held control over the Temple and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council) and benefited from Roman rule.
There are many facets to the Sadducees, and we’re going to take a closer look at their history, their appearances in the New Testament, their beliefs, and what happened to this sect.
The Background of the Sadducees
Who were the Sadducees, and where did they come from? The Sadducees were the religious sect of the financial and social elite of Jerusalem. They were a party of the high priests, the aristocrats, and the wealthy merchants. While the Pharisees were usually common people, the Sadducees prided themselves on their status and wealth. The Pharisees had more members, but the Sadducees cemented their importance with their wealth and education.
No one is completely sure where the name “Sadducees” came from, but many believe this sect was also called “Tzedoq” or the plural of “Tzedoqim.” This name was most likely derived from the Old Testament High Priest Zadock. Zadock performed the sacred temple rituals in Jerusalem, and it’s thought that his descendants kept control of the Temple in Jerusalem. It makes sense that the Sadducees came from Zadock as they controlled the Temple during New Testament times.
The first mentions of the Sadducee sect came from the second century BCE as the leaders of the Temple and under the influence of Hellenism. They retained power over the Temple and as the prominent high priests for two centuries. Under Herod, they weren’t chosen as high priests anymore, but they still retained their role in the Temple. But when the Romans came, the Roman governors let the Sadducees control the temple and returned to choosing the high priests from the Sadducees. The leader of the Sanhedrin was also usually a Sadducee. With the leader coming from the Sadducees, that meant this sect controlled the Temple and the Sanhedrin during the New Testament period.
The Sadducees weren’t very popular with the other Jews at the time because of how much they benefited from Roman rule. In addition, the Sadducees were wealthy, and their elitism also made them generally unpopular. The Temple and Sanhedrin were some of the only places where the Sadducees thrived. Because most of the Sadducees’ power was in the Temple, the sect’s existence depended on the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the Sadducees disappeared, and they no longer were a powerful sect in Judaism.
What Did the Sadducees Believe?
The Sadducees’ beliefs distinguished them from other religious sects at the time, including the Pharisees. The Sadducee focus was on the Law of Moses in the written Torah. For the Sadducees, the only Law was what was found in the five books of Moses or the first five books of the Torah and Old Testament. They rejected the prophetic writings and prophets of the Torah and Old Testament that came after Moses. Most likely they believed these writers could have been divinely guided, but ultimately what they wrote wasn’t law. Sadducees also believed that focusing on the laws outside of the Written Law of the Torah detracted from a necessary focus on the Law of Moses.
Another key aspect of the Sadducees’ beliefs on law was that they didn’t believe in an oral law. The Oral Law was a rabbinic tradition that the Pharisees believed in. The rabbis could interpret the Law orally—or even amend it in certain situations—and that held as legitimate law for the Pharisees. But the Sadducees didn’t believe the Law of Moses could be added to or amended in any situation.
Beyond the law, Sadducees also had distinct beliefs about God and spiritual beings. To the Sadducees, God was the creator of the world, but he was now distant from the affairs of living people. Because God didn’t involve himself in the world, Sadducees doubted the existence of spiritual beings like angels. For them, God wouldn’t use angels to visit people or to inspire prophets since he didn’t want to be involved in individual lives.
The belief the Sadducees were most famous for was that they didn’t believe in a resurrection after death, even after Jesus was resurrected. In scriptures like Matthew 22:23, Luke 20:27, and Acts 23: 28, we can see that the Sadducees didn’t believe that the spirit would live on after the physical body died. If a spirit didn’t live on after death, there was no afterlife and ultimately no need for a resurrection. Sadducees held this belief because they didn’t think an afterlife and resurrection were in line with the Written Law of the Torah. Instead of receiving rewards after death, they focused on the rewards they could receive during life, like wealth.
Significant Events Involving the Sadducees
The Sadducees are known for their opposition to Jesus and dislike of his teachings. They interacted with Jesus in the New Testament and often tried to find ways to catch Jesus saying something they believed to be false. Even though they were opposed to the Pharisees, the Pharisees and Sadducees would come together to try and prove Jesus incorrect, like in Matthew 16.
One particularly noteworthy interaction between Jesus and the Sadducees occurred in Matthew 22:23. Some Sadducees came to Jesus and asked him a hypothetical question about a woman who married seven brothers. They asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, whose wife shall she be of the seven?” (Matthew 22:28). Jesus answered them by explaining scripture from the Written Law about the resurrection, which amazed the Sadducees into silence.
The Sadducees also had an active role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Two of the high priests involved in Jesus’s execution were Annas and the son-in-law of Caiaphas. Both of these high priests were Sadducees. In Matthew 26:3 and Acts 4:6, we read about both of these high priests’ involvement in the crucifixion.
Overall, the Sadducees were a religious sect in Jerusalem at the time of Christ, and they actively opposed him, even playing a role in his execution. The Sadducees focused too much on the political power they held and on amassing riches that they missed learning about truth from Jesus. While they had access to witnessing miracles and hearing sermons from Jesus, they instead closed their hearts to him. Today we have the opportunity to make our lives different from the Sadducees’ and instead focus on Jesus and his gospel instead of the wealth and riches of the world.
To learn more about the Sadducees and their relationship with Jesus Christ, download the iOS app or Android app and The Chosen.