The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘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.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
(Matthew 22:23-33 ESV)
After the Pharisees and Herodians had failed to trip up Jesus with their questions the Sadducees give it a go today. The Sadducees were a small sect of Judaism that did not believe in heaven or the afterlife. They believed the only thing to live for was life on this earth. As a result they lived very selfish and indulgent lives, accumulating great wealth and, therefore, political influence.
The Sadducees also only recognized the first five books of the Old Testament (known as the Pentateuch) as the word of God. Since they could not find any proof of an afterlife in these books they denied that life continued after death.
So they concoct a question about heaven with regard to Levirite Marriage. Levirite marriage was instituted by God [Deuteronomy 25:5-6] to protect a childless widow by commanding that the deceased husband’s brother marry her and give her children. The first born son would legally belong to the first husband thereby providing for the woman in her old age. We see examples of this in the Old Testament stories of Onan and Boaz.
Through the use of an absurd example the Sadducees intended to bring the idea of life after death into contempt by questioning Jesus about whose husband this woman would be after the resurrection (in the next life). This question, like the questions of the Pharisees and Herodians, was not asked with sincerity. All these groups were looking to discredit Jesus with the people so they could kill Him [Matthew 12:14, 21:46].
But Jesus points out that they are wrong because they don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. The Greek word translated “are wrong” is πλαναο (pronounced: plan-ah’-o) which means “to go astray; to be deceived”. The Sadducees question was not a valid one because it was based on a faulty premise about heaven and earth.
Most Christians have been put in this situation. A nonbeliever poses a question to us not because they are truly looking for answers but because they want to “prove” the Bible is a hoax. Almost always they’ve formulated their question based on erroneous notions about God.
Often scoffers have an opinion that God should behave a certain way and their question will be formulated around this perception. For example, unbelievers often ask “Why doesn’t God solve the problem of ______?”. But that presupposes that God should behave in a way that they mandate. They have this notion of God that is wrong and hence their question is really pointless.
The best way to respond is just how Jesus does here. Point out that their preexisting opinions about God are wrong, making their question moot. Then go on to correct these facts by referencing the Bible. Only after having a solid factual foundation can anyone arrive at truth.
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