Difference between Pharisees and Sadducees?

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 9, 2005 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

A church member writes: “In Luke. 18:13 I read about the Pharisee praying his prayer, thanking God that he is not like the other men. Then the tax collector prayed his prayer of humility. Somehow I always thought that the other man was a Sadducee; and I was surprised when I read it again and found it was the tax collector and not the Sadducee. Where did I get the idea that the Sadducee was ‘sad you see’, and that therefore that was how you distinguish one from the other? What is the difference between the Pharisee and the Sadducee? Is there any other place that uses the Pharisee and the Sadducee in a situation that would have made me think that the Sadducee was a humble man?”

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Dear friend,

I think a good way to deal with the confusion on this would be to clarify who these three biblical characters are: the tax collector, the Pharisee, and the Sadducee.

First, let’s consider the tax collector or tax gatherer. The tax collector in the New Testament was a Jewish man who had, basically, become a traitor to his own people. (Some Bible translations refer to a tax collector as a “publican”; as the King James Version.) Sometimes, a tax collector was a wealthy man who contracted with the Roman government for the responsibility to collect taxes from a specific district – often with the backing of the Roman military. Such a man was often called a “chief tax collector”, because others worked under him. An example of such a man was Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). On some occasions, a chief tax collector was a non-Jewish person; but in the case of Zacchaeus, he was a Jewish man. Others, also called tax collectors, were employed by the chief tax collector to do the actual collecting of the tax money from their own towns-people. A good example of that sort of tax collector would probably be Levi – or, as he is also known, Matthew (Mark 2:13-17).

Now, let’s consider who the Pharisee were. The Pharisees was a religious and political party that had its origin in the second century before Christ. During a time when it seemed as if the whole world was embracing Greek culture, the Jewish group known as the Hasidim arose to combat this influence and to preserve Jewish ways. Eventually, one branch of the Hasidim broke off and formed their own community. Others however, who remained a part of regular Jewish life, formed the group that later became known as the Pharisees (“separate ones”). They so esteemed the “letter” of the law of Moses (more so than the “spirit” of the law), and so esteemed the oral traditions that were said to have sprung from the law, that they developed strict applications of the law for everyday life. The most famous Pharisee in all the Bible – although few people realize that that’s what he once had been – is the Apostle Paul (Phil. 3:5).

The reason Jesus compared a Pharisee with a tax collector in the story you mentioned is because there couldn’t have been two greater opposites than a Pharisee and a tax collector. A Pharisee was an esteemed and respected student and defender of the law; and was considered to be a careful seeker of righteousness through the law. A tax collector, however, was considered a reject of the law – the most despised person in the community; a greedy sinner who had become a traitor to his own people, and who collected money from his fellow Jews to give to Roman Gentile oppressors. Jesus used these two persons in His story to show that it’s the humble, repentant sinner who confesses his or her sin that God justifies – rather than the proud, strictly religious, self-righteous man or woman who boasts in good works.

This leads us to who the Sadducees were. As you might have picked up by now, a Sadducee is not at all the same thing as a tax collector. The Sadducees were, like the Pharisees, a political and religious party in Jewish culture. Some scholars believe that they had their roots in a high priest named Zadok who lived in the days of David and Solomon (2 Sam. 15:24; 1 Kings 1:34-35); although this isn’t certain. By Jesus’ day, they were the ruling party in Jewish cultural life. They were generally wealthy men; and they generally tried to get along with the Roman government.

The Sadducees were distinct from the Pharisees in several ways. The Sadducees, for example, rejected the oral traditions that the Pharisees held to. The Sadducees believed that only the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) were authoritative. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, and in angels and spirits; while the Sadducees rejected such beliefs (Acts 23:6-10). (This, by the way, is probably why you’ve heard that little saying about the Pharisees and the Sadducees: The Pharisees believed that they were righteous because of their good works – and thus were “Phar” [fair] “you see?” And because the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or spirits or in the resurrection, they were “Sadd … you see?” This was just a cute way of explaining the differences between them; but had no actual connection to their names. We preachers can come up with the strangest things sometimes, can’t we?)

A perhaps-overly generalized way to think about the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the times of Jesus was to see the Pharisees as Scripturally liberal (because they added oral traditions to its commands), but conservative in politics (because they opposed the Romans); and the Sadducees as Scripturally conservative (because they rejected oral tradition), but liberal in politics (because they sought to fit in with the Romans). Both groups fought against each other for influence over the population; and both groups were in conflict with Jesus (Matthew 22:15-33; and especially verse 34 and following).

You asked if there was any story in the Bible that would suggest the idea that a Sadducee was a humble man. I’m afraid I know of none. They are generally presented, along with the Pharisees, as proud and in debate with the Savior. They are both symbolic of religious pride and arrogance in the New Testament. And I’m afraid I would have to admit that, even though I have much in common with a sinful tax collector, I also have a little bit of the Pharisee/Sadducee complex in me at times. May God have mercy on me.

In Christ’s love,
Pastor Greg

(All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)

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Baptized for the dead?

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 3, 2005 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

A church member writes:

I have a question about 1 Corinthians 15:29. In the New International Version, this verse reads, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are to raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” I have been confused in the past by Mormon teaching on this verse; and I still get twisted around by it. It sounds as if this verse is saying that, if people are going to be raised from the dead, then it’s okay to be baptized for the dead. What does this verse really mean?

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Dear friend,

You’re not alone in being confused by this verse. I consulted several different commentaries to see what they had to say about it; and there’s a surprising number of different opinions. (One frustrated commentator said that he knew of over thirty different interpretations, and all of them – according to him – wrong!) Hopefully, I won’t muddle things up too much more by giving mine to you.

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First, let’s understand what Mormons teach from this verse. It’s their belief that the spirits of deceased relatives or friends who rejected Mormonism in life can still become Mormons after death. But because they are spirits and have no body, it’s impossible for them to be baptized into Mormonism. Baptism into Mormonism is essential, in their teaching, to a spirit progressing in the heavenly realms; and so, since they have no body, a living Mormon must be baptized on behalf of someone who died.

In a book by one of the presidents of their church, “Doctrines of Salvation”, it says that “water is an element of this world, and how could spirits be baptized in it, or receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost? The only way it can be done is vicariously, someone who is living acting as a substitute for the dead” (From Doctrines of Salvation, 2:141; cited in Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995], p. 346). This is why Mormons research their genealogies so carefully. It’s because they seek to be baptized for as many of their dead relatives as they can, and do for them what they could not (or would not) do for themselves while still living.

It’s important, however, to be clear on what the Bible teaches about the possibility of salvation after death. The belief that we could be baptized for someone who had died in a way that would bring about their salvation is an idea that is contrary to what it says elsewhere in the Scriptures. The Bible says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:27-28). Each man and woman who has died apart from Christ dies to face judgment – not another chance for salvation. According to the Bible, there is no other opportunity for someone’s salvation apart from a conscious, intelligent faith in Christ while they are still living. Jesus alludes to the permanency of our spiritual state after death in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:24-26). That’s why the Bible makes it clear to those who live and can read its words: “‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2; see also Isa. 49:8). The New Testament gives no evidence that anyone could ever be saved on some “other day”, or in any other way than by a living faith in Jesus Christ. So whatever Paul meant by his words in 1 Cor. 15:29, he was not giving approval to the idea that we could be baptized on behalf of others who have died, and thus bring about their salvation. That would be inconsistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture.

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So then, what did Paul mean? When I read this verse in the original language, I find some interesting facts:

First, I find that, when it speaks of those who are “baptized for the dead”, the verb “baptized” is a participle in the present tense – which indicates an ongoing action. Literally, it reads, “… What will those do who ARE BEING BAPTIZED for the dead?” – that is, as a present, progressive action. In the surrounding context, Paul speaks in the first and second person (I and we); but here in the third person (they). This is important to note, because some folks believe that Paul is using a rhetorical device – pointing to an erroneous practice in the church to help support his argument, even though he didn’t approve of it. Those who hold this view point out that Paul was arguing that the resurrection is a fact; and they say that he was observing that some professing Christians had been baptized for their dead relatives and friends (an erroneous practice). It would be as if he were asking , “If the dead were not raised, then why would those folks bother to engage in such an admittedly erroneous practice? ” But personally, I don’t believe Paul would have bothered used such an erroneous practice to support such a strategic argument; and I doubt very much that, if he did, he would have spoke of it as still going on without pointing out clearly that it was error. (See Romans 3:8 for at lease one example of how he handled erroneous statements in expressing a key argument.)

Second, I notice that his phrase “the dead” is stated in the plural, not in the singular. In other words, whatever he means by “the dead”, he is referring to more than one person. I point this out because some people believe that Paul is referring to Jesus when he speaks of the dead. Their argument would be that he was saying, “If the dead are not raised, then what will those do who have been baptized for Him [i.e., Jesus] who is dead?” But since the meaning is literally “the dead ones” – that is, plural – he couldn’t be speaking of Jesus. He was speaking of more than one person as “the dead”.

Third, I find that, in saying that some were being baptized “for” the dead, he uses a preposition that indeed, grammatically, can be translated “in the place of the dead” (as if in order to save them). Those who argue that Paul is speaking of the practice of being baptized on behalf of those who had died point to this possible translation of the preposition as support for their argument. But the fact is that this same preposition can also be translated “over the dead” – as if believers were being baptized over the graves of those who had died. The word can also be translated “because of the dead” – as if to looking back at all those who gave their lives for the faith. The variety of ways this preposition can be translated means that we must look to the context to understand which interpretation is the right one.

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So now, let’s look at the context. I believe that doing so will help you understand my interpretation of this verse.

Paul, in chapter 15, is arguing that the resurrection is a fact. He was doing so, because some were saying that there is no resurrection from the dead (v. 12). Paul argued, in verses 1-11, that Jesus truly did rise from the dead and was seen by many eye-witnesses – including Paul himself. Then, he makes the argument that, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, then Christianity itself is a lie and we’re all wasting our time believing it. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith also is empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead to not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (vv. 13-17). The whole point of all that Paul is saying, then, is that if there is no resurrection, then the whole enterprise of Christianity is a dreadful lie and a waste of everyone’s time.

What Paul says next is, I believe, very important to understanding the verse you’re asking about. He says, “Then also those who have fallen asleep [Paul's phrase for those who have died in Christ] have perished. If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (vv. 18-19). He is saying that, if there is no resurrection, then those who died in Christ have perished – without any hope of being raised again. They died and they are gone forever. (In verses 20-28, I think he just couldn’t stand it anymore – he HAD to burst forth and proclaim with great joy that Jesus DID rise; and that He IS the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep!)

Verses 20-28 is a break in Paul’s argument. And so, when we get to verse 29, I believe he has taken up again were he left off in verse 19 – about how, if we have hope in this life only, we are most pitiable. Look very carefully at what he says in verses 29-32 about the danger he and the others who spread the gospel constantly faced. After having stressed the hopeless prospect we’re left with if we believe that those who have died in Christ stay dead, he then says, “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead are not raised at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’”

Given the context, then, I believe Paul is speaking in verse 29 of those who were believers before us who have died in Christ; and he’s asking, “Why then, if the dead are not raised, should we keep on preaching the gospel and keep on baptizing those who believe – why should we keep on filling the ranks of those who wish to follow on in this whole useless enterprise called the Church if there is no resurrection? What will they do – what prospect will they have – who are even now being baptized in the footsteps of those who have died before them – if the dead to not rise at all? Why then should they keep on being baptized in the place of those who are perished – who are dead and gone, and will never again to rise? Why even bother doing that if the dead are not raised? Why keep running off the cliff like a bunch of lemmings, after we can clearly see that all the others have died and stay dead?” That, I believe, is what Paul is basically saying in verse 29.

The best illustration of this that I could find was the one offered by the great preacher Harry Ironside. He compared the matter to a regiment of soldiers – say seventy-five in number. If, in battle, seventy-five fall, then another seventy-five must be recruited. Those seventy-five new soldiers step into the place of the old to carry on the battle; but if they are fighting a losing battle, and if there’s no possibility of winning, then it’s a waste of time to keep recruiting new soldiers to replace the others. Dr. Ironside said, “Think of Christian people as a mighty army. Down through the centuries … the Church has been in conflict with the powers of sin and death and hell, and throughout the ages one generation of Christians has fallen and another has taken its place, and the public way of manifesting the fact that they have thus enlisted in the army of the Lord is through baptism. But what a foolish thing if Christ be not risen and the dead rise not! What are they gaining by being baptized in place of the dead? Would it not have been better to have wound up the history of Christianity in the first centuries and said, ‘The whole movement is a failure, there is no risen Christ, there is no possibility for salvation here in this life?’” (Addresses on The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Loizeaux Brothers Bible Truth Depot, 1943], pp. 449-500).

So far, that’s the most theologically sensible, most grammatically supportable, and most contextually satisfying explanation I have yet found of what Paul means by those words: “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” There is absolutely no need to introduce into those words any idea of a practice of living Christians being baptized for the salvation of those who have died. It wouldn’t even make sense to do so, given the whole context of what Paul is saying. He’s talking about living people who now believe, who are baptized, and who now fill the ranks of those departed saints who have gone on to glory.

Praise God that, because Jesus lives, His kingdom of the redeemed continues to grow!

Love in Christ,
Pastor Greg

(All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)

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