GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 18 NOVEMBER
At the General Audience on Wednesday, 18 November, in the Paul VI
Hall, the Holy Father continued his catechetical series on the theology of
the body, delivering the following address.
1. "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the
power of God" (Mt 22:29), Christ said to the Sadducees, whorejecting
faith in the future resurrection of the bodyhad
proposed to him the following case: "Now there were seven brothers among
us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to
his brother" (according to the Mosaic law of the "levirate"). "So too the
second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In
the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife?" (Mt
Christ answers the Sadducees by stating, at the beginning and at the
end of his reply, that they were greatly mistaken, not knowing either the
Scriptures or the power of God (cf. Mk 12:24; Mt 22:29). Since the
conversation with the Sadducees is reported by all three synoptic Gospels,
let us briefly compare the texts in question.
2. Matthew's version (22:24-30), although it does not refer to the
burning bush, agrees almost completely with that of Mark (12:18-25). Both
versions contain two essential elements: 1) the enunciation about the
future resurrection of the body; 2) the enunciation about the state of the
body of risen man.(1) These two elements are also found in Luke
(20:27-36).(2) Especially in Matthew and Mark, the first element,
concerning the future resurrection of the body, is combined with the words
addressed to the Sadducees, according to which they "know neither the
Scriptures nor the power of God." This statement deserves particular
attention, because in it Christ defined the foundations of faith in the
resurrection, to which he had referred in answering the question posed by
the Sadducees with the concrete example of the Mosaic levirate law.
Admitting the reality of life after death
3. Unquestionably, the Sadducees treated the question of resurrection
as a type of theory or hypothesis which can be disproved.(3) Jesus first
shows them an error of method, that they do not know the Scriptures. Then
he showed them an error of substance, that they do not accept what is
revealed by the Scripturesthey
do not know the power of Godthey
do not believe in him who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush.
It is a significant and very precise answer. Here Christ encounters men
who consider themselves experts and competent interpreters of the
Scriptures. To these menthat
is, to the SadduceesJesus
replies that mere literal knowledge of Scripture is not sufficient. The
Scriptures are above all a means to know the power of the living God who
reveals himself in them, just as he revealed himself to Moses in the bush.
In this revelation he called himself "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac
and the God of Jacob"(4) of those, therefore, who had been Moses'
ancestors in the faith that springs from the revelation of the living God.
They had all been dead for a long time. However, Christ completed the
reference to them with the statement that God "is not God of the dead, but
of the living." This statement, in which Christ interprets the words
addressed to Moses from the burning bush, can be understood only if one
admits the reality of a life which death did not end. Moses' fathers in
faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are living persons for God (cf. Lk 20:38,
"for all live for him"), although according to human criteria, they must
be numbered among the dead. To reread the Scriptures correctly, and in
particular the aforementioned words of God, means to know and accept with
faith the power of the Giver of life, who is not bound by the law of death
which rules man's earthly history.
4. It seems that Christ's answer to the Sadducees about the possibility
of resurrection,(5) according to the version of all three synoptics, is to
be interpreted in this way. The moment would come in which Christ would
give the answer on this matter with his own resurrection. However, for now
he referred to the testimony of the Old Testament, showing how to discover
there the truth about immortality and resurrection. It is necessary to do
so not by dwelling only on the sound of the words, but by going back to
the power of God which is revealed by those words. The reference to
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in that theophany granted to Moses, of which we
read in the Book of Exodus (3:2-6), constitutes a testimony that the
living God gives to those who live "for him"to
those who, thanks to his power, have life, even if according to the
dimensions of history, it would be necessary to include them among those
who have been dead for a long time.
5. The full significance of this testimony, which Jesus referred to in
his conversation with the Sadducees, could be grasped (still only in the
light of the Old Testament) in the following way: He who ishe
who lives and is Lifeis
the inexhaustible source of existence and of life, as is revealed at the
"beginning," in Genesis (cf. Gn 1:3). Due to sin, physical death has
become man's lot (cf. Gn 3:19),(83) and he has been forbidden (cf. Gn
3:22) access to the Tree of Life (the great symbol of the book of
Genesis). Yet the living God, making his covenant with man (Abraham, the
patriarchs, Moses, Israel), continually renews, in this covenant, the
reality of life. He reveals its perspective again and in a certain sense
opens access again to the Tree of Life. Along with the covenant, this
life, whose source is God himself, is communicated to those men who, as a
result of breaking the first covenant, had lost access to the Tree of
Life, and, in the dimensions of their earthly history, had been subject to
Power and testimony of the living God
6. Christ is God's ultimate word on this subject. The covenant, which
with him and for him is established between God and mankind, opens an
infinite perspective of life. Access to the Tree of Lifeaccording
to the original plan of the God of the covenantis
revealed to every man in its definitive fullness. This will be the meaning
of the death and resurrection of Christ. This will be the testimony of the
paschal mystery. However, the conversation with the Sadducees took place
in the pre-paschal phase of Christ's messianic mission. The course of the
conversation according to Matthew (22:24-30), Mark (12:18-27), and Luke
(20:27-36) manifests that Christwho
had spoken several times, especially in talks with his disciples, of the
future resurrection of the Son of Man (cf., e.g., Mt 17:9, 23; 20:19 and
not refer to this matter in the conversation with the Sadducees. The
reasons are obvious and clear. The discussion was with the Sadducees, "who
say that there is no resurrection" (as the evangelist stresses). That is,
they questioned its very possibility. At the same time they considered
themselves experts on the Old Testament Scriptures, and qualified
interpreters of them. That is why Jesus referred to the Old Testament and
showed, on its basis, that they did "not know the power of God."(7)
7. Regarding the possibility of resurrection, Christ referred precisely
to that power which goes hand in hand with the testimony of the living
God, who is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacoband
the God of Moses. God, whom the Sadducees "deprived" of this power, was no
longer the true God of their fathers, but the God of their hypotheses and
interpretations. Christ, on the contrary, had come to bear witness to the
God of life in the whole truth of his power which is unfolded upon human
1. Although the expression "the resurrection of the body" is not known
in the New Testament. (It will appear for the first time in St. Clement: 2
Clem 9:1; and in Justin: Dial 80:5.) which uses the expression
"resurrection of the dead," intending thereby man in his integrity, it is
possible, however, to find in many New Testament texts faith in the
immortality of the soul and its existence also outside the body (cf., for
example, Lk 23:43; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:6-8).
2. Luke's text contains some new elements which are an object of
discussion among exegetes.
3. As is known, in the Judaism of that period there was no clearly
formulated doctrine concerning the resurrection; there existed only the
various theories launched by the individual schools.
The Pharisees, who cultivated theological speculation, greatly developed
the doctrine on the resurrection, seeing allusions to it in all the Old
Testament books. They understood the future resurrection, however, in an
earthly and primitive way, announcing, for example, an enormous increase
of crops and of fertility in life after the resurrection.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, polemicized with such a conception,
starting from the premise that the Pentateuch does not speak of
eschatology. It must also be kept in mind that in the first century the
canon of the Old Testament books had not yet been established.
The case presented by the Sadducees directly attacks the Pharisaic concept
of the resurrection. In fact, the Sadducees were of the opinion that
Christ was one of their followers.
Christ's answer equally corrects the conceptions of the Pharisees and
those of the Sadducees.
4. This expression does not mean: "God who was honored by Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob," but: "God who took care of the patriarchs and liberated
This formula returns in Ex 3:6; 3:15, 16; 4:5, always in the context of
the promised liberation of Israel. The name of the God of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob is a token and guarantee of this liberation.
The God of X is synonymous with help, support and shelter for Israel. A
similar sense is found in Gn 49:24: "God of Jacobthe
Shepherd and Rock of Israel, the God of your Fathers who will help you"
(cf. Gn 49:24-25; cf. also Gn 24:27; 26:24; 28:13; 32:10; 46:3).
Cf. F. Dreyfus, O.P., "L'argument scripturaire de Jesus en faveur de la rιsurrection
des morts (Mk 12:26-27)," Revue Biblique, Vol. 66 (1959), p. 218.
In Judaic exegesis in Jesus' time, the formula: "God of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob," in which all three names of the patriarchs are mentioned,
indicated God's relationship with the people of the covenant as a
Cf. E. Ellis, "Jesus, the Sadducees and Qumran," New Testament Studies,
Vol. 10 (1963-64), p. 275.
5. In our modern way of understanding this Gospel text, the reasoning
of Jesus concerns only immortality; if in fact the patriarchs still now
live after their death, before the eschatological resurrection of the
body, then the statement of Jesus concerns the immortality of the soul and
does not speak of the resurrection of the body.
But the reasoning of Jesus was addressed to the Sadducees who did not know
the dualism of body and soul, accepting only the biblical psycho-physical
unity of man who is "the body and the breath of life." Therefore,
according to them the soul dies with the body. The affirmation of Jesus,
according to which the patriarchs are alive, could mean for the Sadducees
only resurrection with the body.
6. We will not dwell here on the concept of death in the purely Old
Testament sense, but consider theological anthropology as a whole.
7. This is the determinant argument that proves the authenticity of the
discussion with the Sadducees.
If the passage were "a post-paschal addition of the Christian community"
(as R. Bultmann thought, for example), faith in the resurrection of the
body would be supported by the fact of the resurrection of Christ, which
imposed itself as an irresistible force, as St. Paul, for example, has us
understand (cf. 1 Cor 15:12).
Cf. J. Jeremias, Neutestamentliche Theologie, I Teil (Gutersloh:
Mohn, 1971); cf. besides I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke
(Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978), p. 738.
The reference to the Pentateuchwhile
in the Old Testament there were texts which dealt directly with
resurrection (as, for example, Is 26:19 or Dt 12:2)bears
witness that the conversation really took place with the Sadducees, who
considered the Pentateuch the only decisive authority.
The structure of the controversy shows that this was a rabbinic
discussion, according to the classical models in use in the academies of
Cf. J. Le Moyne, OSB, Les Sadducιens
(Paris: Gabalda, 1972), pp. 124f.; E. Lohmeyer, Das Evangelium des
1959), p. 257; D. Daube, New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism
(London: 1956), pp. 158-163; J. Radamakers, SJ, La bonne nouvelle de Jιsus
selon St. Marc (Bruxelles: Institut d'Etudes Thιologiques,
1974), p. 313.