After the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, some Sadducees ask Jesus a theological question about the resurrection.
The Sadducees are known in the New Testament as the group that denied the resurrection, afterlife, and angels. The believed that when the body died, so did the soul. As a result, they were more interested in the present time, and were the group that seized political power in Jerusalem. One of the reasons that they could deny the resurrection is that they held the Pentateuch to be the Scripture, almost to the point of denying the rest of scripture authority. In the five books of Moses, there is little teaching concerning the resurrection
The Question: A woman had seven husbands who died, so who is her husband in the resurrection? The question is based on the practice of Levirate marriage in the Law (Deut 25:5-10). A man who had a brother die childless (without a male heir) to marry the widow.
The point was to keep the property within the family and to carry on the family name. This was practiced before the Law (Judah’s son in Gen 38). Boaz acts as a kinsmen redeemer for Ruth. The question assumes this woman was a childless widow who married each of seven brothers, all dying before providing an heir.
This unfortunate situation is fictional, although perhaps based on Tobit 3:7-9.
Tobit 3:7–9 (NRSV) On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by one of her father’s maids. 8 For she had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her as is customary for wives. So the maid said to her, “You are the one who kills your husbands! See, you have already been married to seven husbands and have not borne the name of a single one of them. 9 Why do you beat us? Because your husbands are dead? Go with them! May we never see a son or daughter of yours!”
Like a parable, the details of the story do not matter as much as the application the Sadducees want to make to the resurrection of the dead. The Law requires these extra marriages, but does that not make for a messy situation if all these husbands are raised from the dead?
If a woman marries seven times in this life, who is her husband in the afterlife? This is an argument which reduces the opponent’s position to an absurdity. If the situation is absurd, then the argument is dismissed
Jesus’s answer dismisses the Sadducees. They do not understand God’s power. They are wrong (ESV), translating πλανάω. “You are deceived,” Jesus says, because you do not know the Scripture. A Sadducee claims to know the scripture, but because they limit their practice to the Pentateuch, they rejected the resurrection as taught by the Pharisees.
Since the key verse in the Hebrew Bible is Daniel 12:2, It is likely the Sadducees rejected Daniel as authoritative for doctrine and practice. Jesus says if the Sadducees accepted the whole Old Testament, they would not have a problem with the resurrection of the dead. Robert Gundry suggested, “the Sadducees denied the existence of angels lends sarcasm to Jesus’ comparing the absence of marriage in the society of the resurrected with the absence of marriage among angels” (Matthew 446).
But the bigger problem is limiting the power of God. They do not accept resurrection because they do not believe God can/will raise corruptible flesh into incorruptible. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “we shall be changed” into something different than what we are like now.
Jesus’s answer to their absurd situation is to state that in the resurrection, we will be different. Jesus does not say here that we will be changed into angels, only that with regards to reproduction, we will be like the angels, who do not marry. The idea that people would reproduce in eternity is ridiculous, immortal beings reproducing is almost a logical contraction.
m.Ber. 17A F A pearl in the mouth of Rab: “The world to come is not like this world. In the world to come there is neither eating nor drinking nor procreating nor give and take nor envy nor hatred nor competition. But the righteous are enthroned with their crowns on their heads, enjoying the splendor of the Presence of God. For it is said, ‘And they beheld God and [it was that that they] ate and drank’ (Ex. 24:11).”
Does this mean that we will not have feelings toward our spouses in heaven? We can’t tell from this passage, the meaning of marriage in this life will not be there in the afterlife, we will not live lives like we are living now. All the definitions we have for things will be tossed, and a new life, altogether different will be lived.
The second half of his answer is to prove the resurrection from the Pentateuch, the scripture held authoritative by the Sadducees. The scripture Jesus uses is from Exodus 3:6, God declares that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is the God of these men, then they must be alive since he is the God of the living. This argument seems thin, but the idea that God would declare himself the God of dead people is silly, he is the God of those who are alive, and those men he mentioned are alive with him.
Matthew 22:34 says Jesus silenced the Sadducees. The verb (φιμόω) means they were unable to answer him, as if they were muzzled. This is the same word Matthew used for the unprepared guest at the wedding banquet when he was questioned by the king (22:12).