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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Restore the Bible

Read Matthew 22:23-33 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the record for most marriages held by a woman belongs to Linda Wolfe. As of 2009, she’d been married 23 times. Her latest marriage was to the man who held the record for the most marriages by a man. Glynn Wolfe had been married 29 times.

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? These people must’ve had a parking place with their name on it at the county office!

CONTEXT – This is the second in a series of three incidents where the religious authorities attempt to trap Jesus in His words. They are eager to put Him to death, but so far have no basis for a charge. They attempted to manipulate Jesus into saying something that they could turn into a formal charge and arrest him. They needed something that would be serious enough to persuade their own governing body, the Sanhedrin, and more importantly, the Roman governor.

Also, we need to understand first century Jewish culture: asking a question in public was always understood to be an aggressive move. It was an insult to the teacher’s honor. Questions were to be asked privately. Therefore, no one witnessing this scene would fail to see the malice in the Sadducees addressing these questions. This was a contest of wits played out in the temple courtyard.

Finally, these three confrontations follow a set of three parables that clearly cast the Jewish religious leaders as the bad guys (21:28-32 = the disobedient son; 21:33-46 = the evil tenant farmers; 22:1-14 = the unworthy wedding guests). Being publicly exposed in this way angered the religious leaders to the point THEY WANTED TO ARREST JESUS, BUT THEY WERE AFRAID OF THE CROWDS, WHO CONSIDERED JESUS TO BE A PROPHET (22:45-46)

I. The trap is set. (23-28)

As Matthew explained, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection of the dead. This was not the only difference in theology between the Sadducees and the rest of the Jews, but it is pertinent to the trap they were setting and therefore receives exclusive mention in the text.

The trap is a goofy “What if?” scenario. This was the Sadducees’ favorite argument against resurrection.

The background behind their “What if?” situation was a practice called “Levirate Marriage.” Genesis 38:6-26 & Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commanded that if a man died childless, the male next of kin was required to marry the widow and to bear children through her. These children were considered heirs to the deceased. This law was designed to do several good things:

- Provide a home for the widow. A childless widow was otherwise destitute; homeless.

- Keep the name of the deceased in memory.

- Provide heirs for the deceased so that branch of the family would continue to exist.

- Keep historic family property in the family.

The Sadducees took that practice, made up a practically impossible situation, then posed a question they thought was convincing proof against the idea of the resurrection. This is an example of a debate tactic called “setting up a straw man.” It’s something you attribute to your opponent and easily knock down, hence a “straw man.” It is not completely truthful or particularly persuasive, especially when the fallacy is exposed.

In this case, the fallacy was the Sadducees’ assumption that marriage was something that continued into eternal life. If that had been the case, seven husbands and one wife would have been a kerfuffle. However, since such a situation could not possibly exist, their argument failed.

II. The trap is sprung and avoided. (29-33)

First, Jesus exposed to their ignorance of Scripture and the power of God as their fallacy. This was a particularly pointed comment because the Sadducees disagreed with all other Jews about which writings were inspired by God. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Bible as inspired. They rejected all the rest. As they studied only the writings of Moses, it is understandable the Sadducees did not believe in life after death or angels as these things cannot be proven using the Pentateuch.

Second, He corrected their theology. To start with, their theology of marriage was wrong. Their “What if?” scenario would never happen because marriage is an institution for this life, not for eternal life. It exists on earth, not in heaven. Eternal life in heaven is not an extension of this life, it is a new way of life. Marriage is not something that will continue in that new way of life: relationships will be so improved; marriage will be redundant. As we become immortal beings to live in heaven, we have no need for marriage, the primary purpose of which is procreation.

Their understanding of God’s nature was also wrong. Jesus’ point is this: if there is no resurrection, then God is the God of the dead, not the living. But long after the three patriarchs died, God identified Himself to Moses as the GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB. He would not identify Himself with the dead, because He is the GOD OF THE LIVING. So then it follows that the patriarchs are living, which is scriptural evidence of the resurrection of the dead. In offering this proof of the resurrection, Jesus did something that no Jewish Bible scholar had ever done: convincingly infer proof of the resurrection of the dead in the Pentateuch.

The text mentions no reply or rebuttal from the Sadducees, so I assume they gave none. They had trotted out their best argument and Jesus tore it up without breaking a sweat! The Sadducees were the “progressive” party of their day. Perhaps they’d relied too much on worldly philosophy, but the real problem was their ignorance of the Scriptures.

The result of this confrontation was the public becoming even more impressed with His teaching. Public questions like this were a challenge that became a matter of honor. It was the crowd, the listeners who decided the winner. If the crowd decided the challenged teacher gave a poor answer, they would offer quick condemnation in the form of

...spitting (Job 17:6)

...mouths agape (Job 16:10)

...wagging heads (Job 16:4; Matthew 27:39)

...raspberries (Proverbs 22:7).

When Matthew notes the crowd’s approval, they had the opposite reaction to Jesus’ teaching. Maybe they hurled their jibes at the Sadducees instead. Getting so thoroughly beaten in a contest of honor would have made the Sadducees even more angry with Jesus, even causing them to work with their rival party, the Pharisees.

The Bible must be accepted as absolutely true – as ultimate truth - or we have to search for less authoritative common ground to have conversation.

As always, Jesus’ words and deeds are an example for us to follow. Here we see Jesus dealing with His opponents by appealing to Scripture. He corrected their theology in a reasonable way. Likewise, we must rely on Scripture first, demonstrating that we’re not merely voicing an opinion, but repeating the words God gave us. The genius of the Scriptures is that we have an objective source of information. We can decide matters of truth and judge between competing positions by looking at the words on the page. The closer to the literal words from the Bible that any teaching is, the truer that position will be.

What if we find teaching or opinions that are contrary to the Bible? What if they reject or ignore the divine origin of the Bible? Our conversations with such persons must be brief. We may be fortunate and appeal to them on the basis of reason (as Paul did in the city of Athens on Mars Hill), but more often we will have no basis for conversation. If all persons involved in a disagreement do not share a view of the Bible as the ultimate revelation of absolute truth we have no authoritative basis for deciding what is true and what is false.


Record marriages information from retrieved on 21 July 22.

The Story of God Bible Commentary, Matthew, 2017, Rodney Reeves.

Zondervan Bible Commentary, One-Volume Illustrated Edition, Luke, 2008, Laurence E. Porter.

The Daily Study Bible Series, Matthew, Vol. 2, 1975, William Barclay.

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