Whose Wife Will She Be?
Ordinary 32 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 20: 27 — 38
If anything “turns people off” reflecting on spiritual matters, it is sterile debate on speculative ideas which seem irrelevant and rather stupid! This reading would, in some people’s opinion fit that description. The debate does seem ridiculous and a waste of time. We shall see, however, that despite the absurdity of the proposition put by the Sadducees, our Lord makes good use of the occasion to provide His genuinely devout followers with guidelines for the future.
See Appendix 1 for a more detailed introduction and for background to the reading.
Some Reflections on the Text
Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a
resurrection, came forward and put this question to him,
It is safe to say that the only certain thing which we know about the sect of the Sadducees is that they denied there was any such thing as resurrection, or angels, or spirits (Acts 23: 8). It is often quoted that they considered only the first 5 books of the Old Testament as binding them, but some scholars question this.
A group of Sadducees were finding Jesus more than a little disturbing and thought the best way to silence His teaching was to discredit Him in front of his followers, and make Him look incompetent. Knowing by now that Jesus regularly referred to life after death, they tried to engage Him in a debate which He couldn’t win.
Verses 28 — 33
saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s
brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must
take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’
Now there were seven brothers; the first married a
woman but died childless.
Then the second
and the third married her, and likewise all the seven
Finally the woman also died.
Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.”
The Sadducees, giving special emphasis to their interpretations of the first 5 books of the Old Testament, focussed on Deuteronomy 25: 5 and Leviticus 18: 16 (See also Genesis 38: 8). The situation is: A Man dies without any children. His brother is therefore obliged by Divine Law to marry the deceased brother’s wife so as to provide children. This brother dies, still leaving the woman childless, as do the brothers who follow.
The question put to Jesus (allowing for their implied ridicule) is: “You are always going on about life after the resurrection of the dead; well, when that happens, which of the seven will be the woman’s husband, since they all married her before they died?”
See Appendix 2 for a commentary on this absurd question.
Verses 34 — 36
Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming
age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry
nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they
are the children of God because they are the ones who
Our Lord patiently listened to the arrogance of those who would not only try and make a fool of Him, but who would betray their true lack of respect for the Holy Word Of God. When they came to the end of their nonsense, Jesus commenced His reply, which was gracious in its acceptance of their challenge, but far more studious and scholarly than they had expected or could cope with.
The first part of Jesus’ answer (verses 34 — 36) demonstrates the serious basic error in the argument of the Sadducees by distinguishing two ages of existence (according to Eugene LaVerdiere whose commentary we follow here). In the first age, which includes human history in this world, the question of marriage is pertinent. In the second, however, which follows the consummation of history, marriage is to be seen differently. There are thus two modes of human existence. In the first we live according to the conditions of physical birth.
In the second, arising from rebirth in the resurrection, our life and relationships are comparable to those of the angels.
We note our Lord’s indication in verse 35 that one will take part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead only if “deemed worthy”.
The Sadducees must have taken a knock here because Jesus showed how they had completely misrepresented life in the resurrection by assuming it would be a continuation of ordinary earthly life and relationships. In fact Jesus has exposed their lack of scholarship and true authority as well as careless attention to detail. But they were in for a worse shock yet.
Verses 37 and 38
That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the
passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the
God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to
him all are alive.”
The Sadducees held that since Moses, one of the greatest Patriarchs, did not believe in the resurrection, why would anyone? In the second part of his reply, Jesus shatters their ungrounded confidence with stunning simplicity! Since they would take notice only of proofs from the first 5 books of the Old Testament, Jesus gives it to them. He quotes Exodus 3: 6 i.e. “I am the God of your father,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had long died but God did not say “I WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when they were alive”, nor “I AM the God of three dead corpses.” He says “I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.
Our Lord then adds, with simple logic, and utter dependence on the Law of Moses alone, that, therefore:
“He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
This is indeed a challenge for the proud Sadducees who had met more than their match and were out of their depth. The reply of Jesus demonstrated that resurrection cannot be explained as merely the resumption of former historical life; just as it would not be seen merely as an event that would occur sometime in the distant future.
Verses 39 and 40
Some of the scribes said in reply, “Teacher, you have
And they no longer dared to ask him anything.
These two verses are not part of our present Sunday Gospel reading. However they tell us two interesting facts. First, that the Sadducees knew when they were beaten and did not dare to challenge Jesus again.
Secondly, some of the Scribes, associates of the Pharisees, came up to Jesus and congratulated Him without hesitation. “Well spoken Rabbi”, they said, “very well spoken!” It is important for us to see this clear evidence of admiration and acceptance of the Lord by a number of the well educated Jews of the time. Our Lord’s battle was with the minority who had power and authority: they were misleading the common people for personal gain.
Blaiklock has written, “The Sadducees exemplify the perennial fault of man to conclude that there can be no reality outside the competence of his five senses to apprehend.” This has to be one of the key lessons for us today as we come under very strong pressure to conform to contemporary pagan philosophy in which our education system is soaked. But the problem is nothing new. The Pharisees struggled to resist it in Jesus’ time, but while they achieved many good things, they often “got it wrong”. That was not what concerned Jesus so much as the fact that they became obsessed with their own achievements. The Sadducees seemed even harder for our Lord to reach out to. This account is a warning from our Lord that even His own followers could, by pride, and separation from the teaching authority of His Church, come to develop and defend absurd beliefs, and reject truth.
Sadly, evidence of this state of affairs abounds, for it is now not unusual to hear of groups who choose themselves which Scriptures they will declare non-binding and those they would emphasise or quote out of context to support some new belief. Ironically this is following in the steps of the Sadducees. Much modern-day Christian teaching and practice, when examined closely, can be as bizarre and grotesque as was theirs.
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Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Whose Wife Will She Be?
Ordinary 32 Year C St. Luke 20: 27 — 35
1. Our Lord models for us how useless it is to argue over
2. For the Christian, the devout follower of Jesus Messiah, a
3. All Sacred Scripture is about, or points towards Jesus Messiah.
Let us pray for one another that we will keep our focus on Jesus —
Luke 20: 27 — 38
Ordinary 32 Year C
27 Some Sadducees, 7 those who deny that there is a resurrection,
28 8 saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies
29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but
30 Then the second
31 and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless.
32 Finally the woman also died.
33 Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all
34 Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry;
35 but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and
36 They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the
37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage
38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are
7  Sadducees: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 3:7.
8 [28-33] The Sadducees’ question, based on the law of levirate marriage recorded in ⇒ Deut 25:5-10, ridicules the idea of the resurrection. Jesus rejects their naive understanding of the resurrection (⇒ Luke 20:35-36) and then argues on behalf of the resurrection of the dead on the basis of the written law (⇒ Luke 20:37-38) that the Sadducees accept. See also the notes on ⇒ Matthew 22:23-33.
9  Because they are the ones who will rise: literally, “being sons of the resurrection.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
Introduction and Background
St. Luke 20: 27 — 38
According to Jewish ideas, the dead lived on in Sheol, an inert
First our Lord patiently corrects their false ideas on the nature
Our Lord, never content with merely answering an objection
(From The Gospel Story by R Cox)
St. Luke 20: 28 — 33
He had put to silence both the High Priest’s emissaries and the