Today’s reading: Mk 12:1-27
Today we read the famous passages were the Sadducees question Jesus about the resurrection. They try to trap Jesus by confronting him with a quirk of Jewish law that says a man must marry his brother’s widow if the brother dies prematurely. They infer would be an awkward situation if a woman who had seven related husbands during her lifetime is resurrected.
The first thing to note is that these are Sadducees. We haven’t heard much about them up until now. Who are they? The Sadducees were a conservative movement within Judaism. They were upper class and opposed the Pharisees, most notably on how to deal with Rome. In particular, they wanted to get along with Rome and thought the Pharisees provocations would lead to trouble. As for their religious views, they denied the majority of the Old Testament canon of Scripture and accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament. Thus, they were in effect “Pentateuch-alone” Jews and they, therefore, denied any doctrine not explicitly taught in the first five books of the Bible. That is why they confront Jesus with this particular question.
Here is when they confront Jesus with the question, notice, in particular, Jesus’ response:
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
Here is Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?
Wow! That’s a scathing indictment. Jesus doesn’t just say they are wrong but that these rabbis, who have spent their lives studying, “don’t know the scriptures”. In addition, it is an indirect criticism of their Pentateuch alone philosophy as it is the other books of the Old Testament that expiate the idea of resurrection more fully. Jesus is in effect saying, “you don’t know the books you study and you don’t what you are talking about because you have rejected part of the bible.” It is also a criticism of how the interpret to books that they do accept.
Here is the rest of Jesus answer:
For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘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. You are quite wrong.”
Notice, Jesus cites to the passage, in Exodus (which is part of the Pentateuch which the Sadducees accept), where God makes himself known to Moses as a proof text for the resurrection. However, the teaching is not explicit in the passage.
The correct way to interpret the passage is by recognizing the implications that are inferred from the events. God said He IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This implies a present condition even though God was speaking to Moses generations after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died. This shows that at the time God was speaking Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead to the world they existed in some other state, a living state.
Jesus shows how to properly interpret scripture. We must make proper, sometimes even dramatic inferences from scripture. Thus, from God’s statement in Exodus, we can infer that the soul survives death and exists in a new state of life and as Jesus says they are then “like angels”. Thus, the dead are not gone but they are alive and if alive resurrection is the logical outcome. Jesus then says because those who have passed are “like angels” in this new state of life that marriage will no longer be necessary. Marriage is no longer necessary for those that have passed into the next life because the purpose of marriage has been fulfilled. The purpose of marriage is to get the spouse to heaven. That has been accomplished. Once in heaven, the purpose of the soul is to worship God and thus they are “like angels”.