Complete Biblical Library Interlinear Bible CD, Greek-English Dictionary, Report Generated 12/27/2012

The Sadducees were a socioreligious party centered in Jerusalem and composed primarily of priests who were part of the Jewish aristocracy in Palestine (cf. Acts 5:17). As priests their primary concerns were for the operation of the temple and the interpretation of the Law. While various theories regarding the origin of the name Sadducees have been offered, “(n)one of the . . . suggested etymologies is entirely satisfactory” (Moulder, “Sadducees,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4:278). The most likely explanation is that it is derived from the Hebrew name “Zadok,” and thus represents the attempt by these priests to identify themselves as legitimate members of the “Zadokite priesthood” (when, in fact, most of them were not of Zadokite lineage [Reicke, New Testament Era, p.153]). Zadok served as priest with Abiathar during David’s reign and was appointed high priest in Abiathar’s stead by Solomon; the descendants of Zadok held a special prominence among the priests (cf. Ezekiel 40:45f.).

The earliest mentions of this Sadducean party come from the Maccabean period (mid-Second Century B.C.), though an exact point of origin has not been isolated. However, the transfer of allegiance from the Pharisees to the Sadducees by John Hyrcanus (134–104 B.C.) established the association between them and the Hasmonean high priests that ensured their prominence. This lasted until the destruction of the temple in the Jewish War of A.D. 70. The Sadducees rejected belief in angels and spirits and promoted “this-worldly” positions both in sociopolitical and religious issues in order to protect their economic interests and to hold theological innovations in check (see Jagersma, A History of Israel from Alexander the Great to Bar Kochba, pp.69,70). Consequently, they opposed apocalyptic and messianic movements in general and not just Christianity in particular.

The little that is known about the Sadducees has been reported by their opponents. Even Josephus, originally a member of the Sadducees by his birth into an aristocratic priestly family, had already joined the rival party of the Pharisees before writing any of his accounts about the group. His portrayal of the Sadducees is clearly biased against them (see Sundberg, “Sadducees,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4:161f.). Likewise, since the Pharisaic rabbis largely controlled the development of Judaism following the destruction of the temple, most references to the Sadducees within rabbinic literature have a decidedly polemical tone.

The close association between the Sadducees and the Pharisees implied by Matthew 3:7 and 16:1-12 was certainly not the normal state of affairs, but it shows how great their opposition to Jesus had become. Deep theological divisions existed between the two groups, as is evidenced by Paul’s use of their differing views regarding the resurrection of the dead to divide the Pharisaic and Sadducean elements within the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-9). It is their lack of belief in the resurrection of the dead or of any type of life after death which is perhaps their most widely attested theological position (cf. Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27, and Antiquities 13.4.6).

The basis for these disagreements seems to lie in the unique authority which the Sadducees ascribed to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. While the Sadducees apparently recognized the Prophets and other writings of the Old Testament, they did not feel these books provided an authoritative interpretation of the Law. Consequently, any doctrine that could not be directly substantiated from the Torah was rejected by them. Since the Pharisees maintained there was an “Oral Torah” that had been handed down in the “traditions of the fathers” that interpreted the “Written Torah,” these two groups were constantly in conflict (cf. Koester, History, Culture and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, p.230).