Mark 12:18-27

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 12

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “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. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 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’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

It is astonishing what folks can make the Bible say when they really want to make it say something. Consider this article from a few years ago.

Dental Miracle Reports Draw Criticism

By James A. Beverly in Toronto
May 24, 1999

Is God miraculously transforming dental amalgam fillings into gold? John Arnott, senior pastor at the renowned Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, told ct that “God is up to something new.”

Regular participants at TACF, formerly associated with the Vineyard, say attendance has picked up because of miraculous testimonies. TACF is the congregation where in 1994 the controversial Toronto Blessing began, a revival marked by “holy laughter.” Millions of Christians have visited since.

Several months ago, TACF produced a 30-minute video, Go for the Gold, in which Arnott announces to the crowd: “If you want God to touch your teeth, stand up and touch your face.”

The TACF Web site (www.tacf.org) quotes Psalm 81:10 (“Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it”) and declares that “the excitement here is electric.” TACF’s ministry team now carries flashlights in order to inspect for gold or silver.[1]

Well. It is most doubtful that the psalmists words in Psalm 81:10, “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it,” refers to turning fillings into gold, especially as the context of that psalm is speaking of God providing for Israel’s needs after delivering them out of Egypt. He is going to fill their mouths with food and/or with praise for Him. That is what the psalmist is referring to. But here is the thing: when you really want the Bible to say something or not to say something it really is not that hard to add or remove what you do or do not like in order to make it happen. It has been happening since the beginning of God’s revelation of His word to man and it continues to our day.

In Mark 12:18-27, Jesus encounters a group of men named the Sadducees. It will be important for us to know who the Sadducees were so that we can understand what is happening here. Danny Akin has offered a nice summary of this group.

            A small sect of the priestly families, the Sadducees were wealthy aristocrats with significant political and temple influence. They dominated the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17). They were sympathetic to Hellenism, the Herods, and Rome. They considered only the books of Moses (the Pentateuch) as authoritative. In a sense this made them theological conservatives. They also had a strong doctrine of human free will and did not believe in angels and demons (Acts 23:8). They did not believe in the immortality of the soul or in a future bodily resurrection. Josephus said, “The doctrine of the Sadducees is this: souls dies with bodies”…Because of their truncated Scriptures, they were not looking for a Messiah King from David’s line. With the total destruction of their center of power—Jerusalem and the temple (AD 70)—their political influence came to an end, and they vanished from history.[2]

Furthermore, David Garland writes of the Sadducees:

The Sadducees considered the Mosaic directives alone as binding and rejected what they perceived to be theological innovations. Consequently, they did not believe in a resurrection since it does not appear in the Pentateuch. Their attitude may be captured in the hymn to honor ancestors in Sirach 44:1-23: The only immortality one can hope for is having posterity and being remembered.[3]

So these men were accustomed to making the Bible say what it did not say and making the Bible not say what it did say. Foolishly, they too decide to take a shot at tripping up Jesus, this time using the Bible. Here is what they did:

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “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. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

In short, they were trying to attack Jesus with (a) the Old Testament teaching of levirate marriage (which stated that if a man died and his wife had no child the man’s brother was to take her in as his own wife in the hope that she might have a child by him) and (b) Jesus’ own clear belief in life after death, a belief that the Sadducees rejected. It was, we might say, an ill-advised move on their part!

According to Jesus, the Bible is the standard by which all statements about God must be judged.

The Sadducees asked Jesus a question arising out of their particular interpretation of a particular passage of scripture, Deuteronomy 25.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

This is what is known as levirate marriage. It sounds strange to us but we must recognize that in the radically different cultural context of early Judaism this practice provided family support and continuance for widows who might otherwise be cast out and left destitute. However one understands levirate marriage, it is undeniable that the Sadducees at least appear to be making a biblical argument. This is what makes Jesus’ response so telling.

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?

26 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’?

Over and against their interpretation, Jesus does two things:

  • He tells them they are wrong because they do not know scripture.
  • He tells them they are wrong because they have not rigorously applied a consistent interpretation of scripture.

For our purposes at this point it is enough to say that according to Jesus, the Bible is the standard by which all statements about God must be judged. This must be stressed today because increasingly within Christianity there seems to be an idea that Jesus stands opposed to the authority of scripture. Let us be clear: Jesus stood opposed to false interpretations of scripture, and Jesus stood opposed to fallacious claims of authority based on bad interpretations of scripture, but Jesus not only never opposed the idea of scripture as authoritative He plainly asserts it here and elsewhere.

Jesus asserted His belief in the authority of scripture both in His frequent quotations from scripture and in His repudiation of the Sadducees false claim through an appeal to scripture. Jesus believed that the Bible was God’s Word to man! A belief in the authority of scripture is therefore not some meaningless tenet of a fundamentalist faith. It is rather part and parcel of Jesus’ on belief and practice.

John Piper and D.A. Carson have written:

…God revealed himself to the church through the centuries in a book. He did not have to give the church a book. He could have done it another way. He could have just given daily dreams to his people. He could have caused dramatizations to appear in the sky. He could have communicated to a select few with secret knowledge and made them memorize everything and pass it on to another select few in each generation. He could have communicated to us any way he wanted to. And he did it in a book.[4]

Again, we hasten to draw a distinction between the authority of scripture and the authority of interpretations that allege to be based on scripture, but a rejection of the latter must not lead to a rejection of the former. On the contrary, it is because we believe scripture to be authoritative that we reject words about scripture that claim to be authoritative but are not!

According to Jesus, it is possible to allow your pet theological issue to blind you to what the Bible is actually saying.

But the Sadducees do indeed attempt a biblical argument. How, then could they be so very wrong?

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 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’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

If you look closely at what Jesus is saying here you will notice that He is arguing that they have allowed their pet theological issue that there is no resurrection of the dead to blind them to the biblical teaching that there is. He does this by pointing them to God’s words to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

In other words, Jesus is saying that one can become so fixated on an idea that one not only sees it in the Bible where it is not but also does not see those passages that contradict it!

Richard John Neuhaus has outlined some of the agenda-driven alterations to the Bible that appear in the Good as New translation. Here are some quotes from Neuhaus’ piece:

  • Good as New, refers to demonic possession as “mental illness”
  • references to the “Son of Man” become “the Complete Person.”
  • Mark 1 in the Revised Standard Version (RSV): “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” Good as New: “As he was climbing up the bank again, the sun shone through a gap in the clouds. At the same time a pigeon flew down and perched on him. Jesus took this as a sign that God’s spirit was with him. A voice from overhead was heard saying, ‘That’s my boy! You’re doing fine!’”
  • In 1 Corinthians 7, St. Paul says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” That was then, this is now. The same text, so to speak, in Good as New: “Some of you think the best way to cope with sex is for men and women to keep right away from each other. That is more likely to lead to sexual offenses. My advice is for everyone to have a regular partner.”
  • Later in the chapter, the RSV has this: “To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Good as New: “If you know you have strong needs, get yourself a partner. Better than being frustrated.”[5]

These are startling, of course, but we are all capable of imposing our own agendas on the Bible if we are not careful. It is a reasonable question to ask what exactly it is we want the Bible to say and what agendas, theological or otherwise, we might be tempted to impose on the text. For the Sadducees, it was the absence of life after death. For others today it might be a feminist agenda or a gay agenda or a liberal agenda. But we have our own agendas on the right, do we not? What of times when the teachings of scripture seem to threaten the idols of our own political proclivities?

One way to know that you might be doing this is when you reach the point where the Bible is no longer challenging you in any way, when the Bible just happens to conform to all of your opinions. In most cases would this not mean that we have simply shaped the Bible to our agenda?

Agendas blind. Jesus demonstrated that with the Sadducees. They were so obsessed with the idea that there was no life after death that they could not even see evidence of the resurrection in God’s words to Moses at the burning bush. When God said He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob He was not saying that He was their God when they happened to be alive on the earth. No, He was saying that He was still their God for they still lived. God is the God of the living, not the dead.

According to Jesus, it is possible to allow our theological assumptions to grow so big that they blind us to the reality of who God actually is.

Yet this is not all that our agendas do. It is not only that they blind us to the meaning of the scriptures upon which we impose our agendas, it is also that they blind us to the reality of who God actually is.

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 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’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

Jesus indicts the Sadducees for not knowing “the power of God” (v.24) and for missing the true nature of God (v.27). In other words, in becoming blinded to the scriptures they had become blinded to God Himself. To say this is not to say that the Bible is God. That would be an utterly blasphemous statement. The Bible is not God, but it shows us the nature and character of God. Thus, when we impose our personal assumptions and agendas on the text, the result is not merely misunderstanding the Bible but also misunderstanding the God to whom the Bible points and the God about Whom the Bible speaks.

We must understand: much is at stake in how we read the Bible. According to Jesus, we miss the truth about God when we distort what the Bible says about God. In perverting His word we pervert the picture of Him found in His word. Thus, what we gain in terms of ego advancement in reading our own views into the Bible we lose in the area that matters most: truth.

It is an imposing thought and, indeed, a chilling one. We must read the book God gave us rightly! We must read the book God gave us honestly! We must refuse to make of the Bible a mirror which simply reflects back to us our own images. It is not a mirror, it is a window.

Have you fallen into the fallacy of the Sadducees? Are you approaching the Bible knowing beforehand what you want it to say? Are you shaping it into your image? Do you, do we, have the courage to let the word speak in its own voice?

Much is at stake.

Let the word be the word! Let the voice of God speak!

Let us view the scriptures as Jesus viewed them: true and reliable and able to communicate truth about the Father. We can do no other.

 

[1] http://www.ctlibrary.com/2310

[2] Daniel L. Akin, Mark. Christ-Centered Exposition. (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), p.281.

[3] David E. Garland, “Mark.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.275.

[4] John Piper and D.A. Carson, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry. Kindle Edition. Loc.689-693.

[5] RJN, “While We’re At It,” First Things. October 2004.

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