The Sadducees of the Jews

Posted in: 2011
By Tom L. Ballinger
Jun 13, 2011 - 2:31:02 PM

Plainer Words since 1968
June 9, 2011
The Sadducees were a prominent Jewish sect, though not as numerous as those who seemed to be their opponent, the Pharisees. The Sadducees were wealthy, and many of them were of priestly descent. Consequently, they had an influence in Israel which fully balanced that of their more popular rivals, the Pharisees. In reality, they were a political party of priestly and aristocratic tendencies. When compared to the Pharisees, there was a striking difference. The Pharisees were more of a more religious and democratic sect. The Pharisees originated the “oral law” which they insisted was verbally transmitted to Joshua, and from Joshua, it was handed-down from generation to generation. The Pharisees’ bogus claim that it was, also, an inspired body of truth, verbally transmitted in order to “explain” and “complete” the written Word. The Pharisees named this oral law, “the tradition of the Elders.” The Elders were the ones who, supposedly, passed-on these doctrines. The Sadducees rejected “the tradition of the Elders.” This, automatically, placed them in direct conflict with the Pharisees.
Most of the reference material seems to agree that the name, “Sadducee,” is a name derived from some person named “Zadok.”  The most prominent Zadok in history was the Davidic High Priest (2 Samuel 8:17, 15:24, and 1 Kings 1:34) from whom all succeeding High Priests claimed to have descended. It is in harmony with this that in the New Testament, the Sadducees are a party to whom the High Priests belonged.
Not a great deal of information is available regarding the Sadducees. Josephus, the Jewish historian, certainly agrees with the New Testament, inasmuch as the Sadducees  denied the resurrection and did not believe in angels and spirits (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). More could be learned from Josephus, but his evidence may be tainted since he was a self-admitted Pharisee. Since the Pharisees and the Sadducees were rivals, he may not be as reliable as we would want.
It appears that when the Pharisee Party arose, Sadducees were the party in power and by self-interest, they were concerned in upholding their policy against the Pharisees. Originally, the Sadducees attempted to establish themselves by the secularization of the Jewish faith. This seems to be true with all liberal-leaning, God-detesting elites of Western civilizations. The Sadducees were pleased to promote Judaism, merely, as just another “a state religion.” As a contrast, the Pharisees, doggedly, held out from allowing the secularization of the Jewish society.
The Sadducees had great respect for the secular interest of the nation, whereas the Pharisees showed more respect for the religious or spiritual side of Judaism. The Sadducees placed more emphasis on the “present life” than the Pharisees. The Sadducees promoted the more secular side of the Jewish faith. Had it not been for the power of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, being the aristocratic elite, would have prostituted the “Jews’ religion” to a far greater extent than the Pharisees.
The Sadducees first came into view, not as any system or school of thought, but rather, as a “class” in a certain social position. They were the historical aristocracy rising from the “Priestly class.” They were men of wealth and accustomed to occupying offices of influences within the community. They were very jealous of their standing and authority within Jewish politics and their “state religion.” As the Elitists, they were, naturally, against all innovation. Their chief characteristic was their aristocratic attitude.
In opposition to the Pharisees, they acknowledged only the obligation to the written Law of Moses and refused to accept the authority of the Scribes and the “tradition of the fathers” (to wit, the “Oral Law”) interpretation of the meaning of the Mosaic Law.
The great divide between the two was the fact that the Sadducees refused to accept the “Jews’ Law,” that being, the unwritten “Law of the Jews”—the Oral Law which is called in Scripture—“Tradition.”  The word is “Paradosis” (# 3862), “transmission, i.e. (concretely) a precept; specifically, the Jewish traditionary law.” In some respects, the Sadducees were more severe in the legal sanctions, or penalties by which they enforced the Law of Moses. They even seemed to surpass the Pharisees in the rigor of ceremonial requirements. In the punishing of crimes, they were even more severe than their rivals, inasmuch as they interpreted God’s Word more literally than the Pharisees. Therefore, they carried the name of “Condemners.”  It was said that the Sadducees were the ones who insisted in the literal application of an “eye for eye,” and “tooth for tooth” (Deuteronomy 19:21). The interesting contrast to the Sadducees’ literal interpretation of Moses was the fact that the Pharisees allowed money compensation instead of the punishment described by Moses.
The Sadducees were supporters of the ancient culture of the Greek-world order, i.e., “Hellenism.” They were a Priestly Party which gradually crystallized into the sect of the Sadducees. As we have pointed out in our previous papers regarding the “Priesthood,” after the return from exile, the High Priest drew to himself all the power, both civil and religious. To the Persian authorities, the High Priest was the King of the Jews. As a result of this, the High Priest and those about him were the persons who had to deal with the supreme powers of the Pagan governments and the Pagan nationals around them. Quite naturally, this association would tend to lessen their religious fervor. Perhaps, this caused a reaction to a large section of the Jewish people who were zealous for the Law and, consequently, the rise of the Pharisees.
The Sadducees were not theological at their beginning. They became theological in order to defend their policy against attacks from the Pharisees.
Interestingly, it is noted that the Sadducees, at first, regarded the struggle between the Lord Jesus Christ and the Pharisees as a matter for which they had no concern. They did not intervene until the Lord claimed to be the Messiah, and the subsequent excitement of the people proved, likely, to draw the attention to the Roman authorities. They were fearful that Rome would learn that there was a belief, which was wide-spread among many of the Jews, that there was a Jewish king within their midst who was to rule the world. The Sadducees enjoyed their quasi-independence and would not have wanted Rome to take this from them. For, if  Rome did, their influence would be greatly lessened. Therefore, we can understand that only the death of Jesus of Nazareth would satisfy them. After the resurrection of Him, the Pharisees became less hostile to the followers of Christ, but the Sadducees maintained their attitude of suspicion and hatred (Acts 4:1).
Even though Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee, he received letters of authority from the Sadducian High Priest which authorized Saul to arrest and persecute believers of Christ. During the Acts Period, the Sadducees gained complete ascendency in the Sanhedrin, and later, under the leadership of Annas, the High Priest, they put James, the Lord’s brother, to death.
The Sadducees, which were made up of the Priestly Party, laid great stress on the ceremonial sacrifice and rejected the changes introduced by their opponents, the Pharisees, unless these found support in the words of the Law. The most prominent doctrine of the Sadducees was their denial of resurrection and the existence of angels and spirits. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that Moses had delivered these doctrines to the Elders, and they, in turn, handed them on down to their successors. The Sadducees rejected all of these traditions of the Pharisees’ “Oral Law.”
While resurrection and angels are mentioned in the Law of Moses, it is difficult to harmonize the Sadducees’ reverence for the Law of Moses with their denial. Perhaps, the last stage of the Sadducees could be characterized by saying that they paid spiritual religion no homage of hypocrisy, as did the Pharisees. While they were officials of the national religion, they were devoid of its spirit.
The doctrines and practices of the Sadducees were quite alien from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. It should be pointed out that the Lord Jesus Christ did not denounce the Sadducees as frequently as He did the Pharisees. As a matter of fact, He never denounced the Sadducees except along with the Pharisees. More often than not, He denounced Pharisees, alone. Perhaps, this is because of the fact that the Sadducees had influence with the rich, and the Lord Jesus drew most of His adherence from the poor, from whom, also, the Pharisees drew. The Pharisees opposed Jesus Christ all the more of the fact that He was sapping their source of strength. Therefore, He was, continually, defending Himself against them.
The Sadducees were “the blue bloods,” or so they thought, of Israel. They proudly claimed to be the descendants from Zadok, the first High Priest. They were the aristocrats in Israel, along with their “hangers-on.” They were Israel’s elite—the upper crust. In an effort to liken the Sadducees to some group that we, as Americans, might be familiar with, we would liken them to the W.A.S.P.s—White Anglo Saxon Protestants.
This Old Money crowd, the WASP, formed The Council of all Councils—Council On Foreign Relations—the CFR. For almost one-hundred years, the U. S. Government has appointed men to unelected offices of Government from the ranks of the CFR. The members of the CFR convinced the U.S. Government, years ago, that members of the CFR are the “crème de la crème” of America’s intellectuals.
It has only been in the last 15 or 20 years that America has wised up and realized that the record of the members are really records of men who tend to the business of clipping their coupons, or collecting their salaries, managing their graft (a dishonest use of one’s position to gain money), and attending cocktail parties which are attended by those of like background, as well. In this WASP society, intermarriage perpetuates maintaining its influence.
In the beginning, the Sadducees probably regarded the Lord Jesus Christ as a harmless fanatic Who, by His denunciations, was weakening the influence of the Pharisees. Only when His claim to be “the Christ” brought Him within the sphere of practical politics, did the Sadducees desire to intervene. They considered the Pharisees’ antagonism, early-on, to be petty and beneath their dignity.
The Sadducees were the staid, aristocratic, and conservative party. But, the claim of Jesus being the Anointed One caused them to alter their stance. When they decided to get involved in the conflict of the Lord Jesus, they promptly decreed His arrest and death. The arrest was to be a secret; “lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). Note their direct encounter with our Lord in regard to resurrection (Matthew 22:24-32, Mark 12:18-27, and Luke 20:28-38). There is an element of contempt implied in the illustration in which they bring the Lord. It was as if they failed to take Him seriously, almost until the end.
When the Jewish state collapsed, roughly around 70 A.D., so did the party of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were, in the end, as they were in their origin-- merely a political party. They had no hold on the Jewish mind. It is to be found in Jewish History that there is no mention, whatsoever, of them after the fall of Israel. The moment the Jewish State ceased, the Sadducees disappeared and faded from human memory, a circumstance which accounts for the mistaken views that prevailed, for so long, regarding their position and character. Their creed had no hold on any but themselves, and it had no value for themselves, except as vindicating their political position.
The “International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia” says the following regarding their exit from the Jewish stage: “With the outbreak of the Jewish war, the Sadducees with their allies the Herodians were driven into the background by the Zealots, John of Gischala and Simon ben Gioras. Annas and Joshua, also called high priest by Josephus, were both put to death by the Zealots and their Idumaean allies (Josephus, BJ, IV, v, 2). With the destruction of the temple and the fall of the Jewish state the Sadducean party disappeared.”
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