Sadducees [N] [E] [H] [S]

Jewish group mentioned in three different contexts in the Synoptic Gospels ( Mark 12:18 ; [= Matt 22:23-34 ; Luke 20:27] ; Matt 3:7 ; 16:1-12 ) and six in Acts ( 4:1 ; 5:17 ; 23:6-8 ). They always appear as inquisitors or opponents of John the Baptist, Jesus, or the early Christians. Acts 23:8 defines the Sadducees theologically, saying that, in contrast to the Pharisees, they hold there "is no resurrection, and neither angels nor spirits." The Sadducean rejection of the resurrection is the point at issue in mr 12:18 and parallels. Additional information about them, primarily through the Jewish historian, Josephus, and the rabbinic writings, is scanty and hostile. Rabbinic writings sometimes interchange the term "Sadducee" with "Samaritans" (here meaning "opponents") and "Boethuians." The latter is probably from their connection with the house of Boethus, from which came several high priests during the New Testament period.

It should be noted that the "Herodians" ( Matt 22:16 ; Mark 3:6 ; 12:13 ) are sometimes assumed to be Sadducees. Their name identifies them as members of household-court of the Herods or supporters of the dynasty. It may be assumed that the Sadducees generally supported Herod and his reigning descendants (although Herod executed forty-five of them at the beginning of his reign), but there is no evidence for equating the Herodians and Sadducees.

The name "Sadducee" is closely associated with attempts to determine the origin of this group. Suggestions include linking it with an Old Testament priestly family (Zadok), the Hebrew word for "just" or "righteous" (sdq) or "fiscal officials" (Gk. syndikoi). There are problems with etymologies and all other attempts to identify their origin.

Josephus lists the Sadducees as one of the three sects/groups of Jewish "philosophy" (Ant18.1.2 [11]; cf. 13.5.9 [293]). His first historical reference says John Hyrcanus (135-105 b.c.) came under their influence after his break with the Pharisees. Josephus describes them as argumentative (Ant18.1.4 [16]), "boorish" and "rude" to both each other and aliens (War2.9.14 [166]), few in number but including "men of the highest standing" (Ant18.1.4 [17]). They have "the confidence of the wealthy" but not the populace (Ant13.1.4 [298]). When exercising their office the Sadducees were forced by public opinion to follow "the formulas of the Pharisees" (Ant18.1.4 [17]). Evidently they were more severe in administering punishments than Pharisees (Ant13.10.6 [294]). Like the New Testament, Josephus mentions the Sadducean rejection of the resurrection (War2.9.14 [165]); and twice says they rejected "Fate" (predestination) to dissociate God from evil and to assert the human free choice of good or evil (War2.9.14 [165]; Ant18.1.4 [14]).

Josephus says, "The Pharisees had passed on certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses, rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down (in Scripture)" (Ant13.10.6 [297]; cf. Ant18.1.4 [16]). This points toward a major feature of Sadduceanism: rejection of the Pharisaic Oral Law, or "the traditions of the elders." In the centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 b.c.), the Pharisees compiled and transmitted orally a body of traditional interpretations, adaptations, and additions to Scripture that they believed to be of divine origin. These included ways of applying the Law to various situations — expansion and prescriptions regarding a wide range of levitical ceremonies and regulations. These traditions also included certain theological points, such as resurrection and angels and spirits, which, although not particularly emphasized in the Old Testament, were prominent during the intertestamental period. Although the Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic Oral Law they certainly had their own traditions, interpretations, and procedures.

In Acts 5:17 those with the high priest are identified as "the party of the Sadducees." Josephus depicts the Sadducees as closely associated with the priestly Hasmonean rulers. By the time of the New Testament they appear to be the majority in the Sanhedrin, over which the high priest presided.

Religiously, the Sadducees were literal in handling the Old Testament Law and resisted the "new" ideas and traditions of the Pharisees. Politically and socially, they were open to rapprochement with Hellenistic (Greek) culture and the Roman political system. The Sadducees were essentially secularists, a result of their exclusion of God ("Fate") from human affairs and their conviction that humans can expect nothing beyond this life. In general it seems the Sadducees supported those interpretations and procedures that enhanced the prestige, power, and financial benefit of the priestly temple cult and the aristocracy.

Jesus and the early Christians posed a threat to the Sadducees ( John 11:47-50 ). Jesus' proclamation of the reality of the spiritual realm, his denunciation of the Jewish religion as then practiced, and his wide popular support could have endangered the already precarious position of the Sadducees. Furthermore, Jesus and his followers supported some of the positions of the Pharisees. The Sadducees found particularly objectionable the Christian proclamation that in Jesus the resurrection is a present reality ( Acts 4:2 ).

The Sadducees were inseparably bound to the external political, social, and especially the temple-centered institutions of Judaism. With the destruction of the Jewish state and temple in a.d. 70, they passed into the pages of history.

J. Julius Scott, Jr.

See also Pharisees

Bibliography. E. E. Ellis, NTS 10 (1963-64): 274ff.; L. L. Grabbe, Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian; A. J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society; E. Schrer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ; M. Simon, The Jewish Sects at the Time of Jesus; S. Zeitlin, The Sadducees and the Pharisees.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Sadducees'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.