Who were the Sadducees?

The Sadducees were a sect of Jews active in Judea during the Second Temple period, starting from the second century BC. Their sect is believed to have become extinct sometime after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The name “Sadducees” is related to the Hebrew verbal form sadaq (tsahdak), “to be righteous.” The Sadducees were described by Josephus, in Antiquities, as opposed to the Pharisees and the Essenes. These groups differed in their beliefs, social statuses, and sacred texts.

During the time of Christ and the New Testament era, this group were aristocrats. They occupied the majority of the 70 seats of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin. Although they held more of the leadership positions, they submitted to the demands of the Pharisees because the people trusted the Pharisees for their zeal to the law. This sect did not relate well to the common individual because they were accommodating to Rome and were the wealthy upper class. According to the historian Josephus, many priests belonged to the Sadducees but not all priests were Sadducees. The religious responsibilities of the Sadducees included the maintenance of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Priests were responsible for performing sacrifices at the Temple. Their high social status was reinforced by their priestly responsibilities, as mandated in the Torah. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Law as proposed by the Pharisees. Rather, they saw the Torah as the sole source of divine authority.

The Sadducees held the following beliefs: there is no Resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18-27; Acts 23:8), there is no after life, no rewards, or penalties after death, there is no existence of a spiritual world including angels and demons (Acts 23:8), and they relied on their own self-righteousness for salvation. Clearly, these beliefs are contradictory to the scriptures and for that Jesus rebuked them saying, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

Because the Sadducees were more concerned with politics than religion, they were unconcerned with Jesus until they feared He might bring unwanted Roman interference. So, the Sadducees joined forces with the Pharisees and planned to put Jesus to death (John 11:48-50; Mark 14:53; 15:1).

Additional reference to this sect is found in Acts 4:1 and Acts 5:17, and they were involved in the death of James as referred by Josephus (Acts 12:1-2). Though the Sadducees produced no literary works themselves, their attributes can be seen in other texts, as the New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and later, the Mishnah and Talmud.

In His service,

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