Jesus on Resurrection
Anything Jesus says about
resurrection is, I think, important in the light of the Church's
traditional teaching that he rose from the dead. Perhaps Jesus indicates
somewhere in the gospels what he thinks about resurrection.
In Mark 12.18-27 Jesus appears to accept resurrection as a given. This
text is used by both Matthew (22.23-33) and Luke (20.27-39), each of whom
makes his own minor changes.
As the Roman Catholic scholar J P Meier remarks 
it's "striking ... how carefully structured and balanced" this section is,
a sign that it's been composed rather than reported as an actual happening
in the timeline of history. He finds it
difficult to accept the theory that this [passage] ... grew
haphazardly in stages, with various verses being added by various hands
at various times" as some others suppose. Rather, he says, "One gets the
impression instead of various individual dispute stories ... that Mark
has brought together as best he could ...
Unfortunately, in these passages the overlay of teaching
material introduced by the gospel authors appears to be heavy, however
well the various parts have been welded together.
For example, whenever we come across a so-called "proof
text" taken from the Old Testament (as in Mark 12.26-27) we have to be
suspicious of the material's historicity. The reason is that this sort of
"proof" was (and still is) a normal way of giving extra weight to
Christian teaching. One clear instance of this is how the Book of Isaiah
was used by the Gospel authors, and by Paul and later Christians to
"prove" (in theological terms, that is) that Jesus was the Messiah
. Such "proof" is theology, not history.
This method may seem strange to some. And yet it is more
often used than we realise. Political parties, for example, constantly
affirm their policies and positions by reference back to founding members.
Historians affirm their methods by pointing out that Thucydides (460-400
BCE) was among the first to try for an accurate
rendering of "what really happened".
It turns out, however, that the gospel authors were
asserting something very different. In essence (and putting it very
simply) they claimed that [a] people were recorded in the Hebrew Bible
actually forecasting what would happen later; [b] that they were
being informed by God in so doing; and [c] that the life, death and
resurrection of Jesus were therefore part of God's great plan for
Not even politicians in their moments of most
extravagant hyperbole would claim that because a founding member said or
did something therefore certain current political events had to
happen that way. Nor would an historian claim that because
Thucydides recorded a particular event of the Peloponnesian War,
it is true that World War II followed the course it did.
In the case of Mark 12 the loose rendering of
Deuteronomy 25.5-10 is mixed up with Genesis 38.8 and combined with Exodus
3.6 to lend authority to the author's theological intentions and - to take
the extra step - to demonstrate that this was the way it had to come
On the other hand, we know from 1 Corinthians 15 that
Paul (and no doubt other first-generation Christians) based their hope of
a general resurrection of believers on the historical fact, as they
believed, of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
The author of Mark's Gospel might well have adopted the
same teaching, expressing it through the words of Jesus, a not-unusual
method. We should, after all, always recall that the gospels were written
long after Paul's letters. They were put together at a time when Christian
teachings had already begun to take shape. That is, Paul's is the more
"primitive" form of Christian theology.
Some (including J P Meier) think that for various
technical reasons to do with the apparent coherence and discontinuity of
the text, the way resurrection is dealt with in the gospels is indeed
typically Christian. That is, if an early Christian were to have addressed
the matter they would have done so in terms similar to Paul's in 1
Corinthians rather than by quoting Deuteronomy and Exodus. This may be
because by the time the gospels were written, Christians had been exposed
far more to influences other than the earliest traditions about Jesus.
If that is correct, they argue, then this passage more
likely than not reflects "what Jesus actually said". If so then we can
reasonably suppose that Jesus thought that the dead will rise again.
Traditional theology proposes that "Jesus was God" and could therefore not
be wrong about such things. And if that's the case, then not only is it
possible (even likely) that Jesus did rise from the dead, but we also can
expect to be resurrected.
Many scholars propose that this passage is part of a
more general reference by Jesus to the "last days" or eschaton
- the final judgement which early Christians thought would soon come upon
the world. J P Meier writes in support of this view that
... Jesus spoke at various times, in various ways, and
under various images, of a final judgement on the last day and that,
sometimes overtly or more commonly indirectly, he referred to the
general resurrection of the dead as part of this eschatological event.
It seems to me, however, that the leading edge of modern scholarship is
becoming more and more uncertain that Jesus did in fact address life in
eschatological terms. If we strip away everything except those sayings and
events which are certainly historical, nothing of the eschatological
remains. In other words, the emphasis on the "last things" and on the
general resurrection of every godly person may well have been that of
Christians from the earliest times, rather than that of Jesus himself.
This is the only time the Sadducees are mentioned in
Mark's Gospel. They are mentioned once by Luke's Gospel and nine times in
Matthew's Gospel. This variable degree of attention alerts us to the
possibility that the author of Matthew had a particular theological plan
he wanted to get across to his readers. We ignore at our peril the way the
gospel authors used their sources and invented their own interpolations.
We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Mishnah
(Jewish sayings dating far back, but assembled finally only in 200) that
teachers of the time debated the subject of resurrection. The Sadducees
rejected the new-fangled teachings of other Jews about angels (the Greek
word angelos means simply God's spirit messengers - not the
winged humanoids of popular tradition), about spirits and about life
It seems likely, then, that the Sadducees are probably
portrayed in the gospels as opponents of Jesus because they opposed the
resurrection teachings of the early Church. There would have been nothing
wrong or dishonest in doing this as far as people of the time were
concerned. Their understanding of history and "truth" were very different
My reading of the present consensus is that the
conflict between Jewish tradition and the early Christian communities was
probably intense. The Acts of the Apostles renders some aspects of this
conflict accurately. If so, it is hardly surprising that the gospels
reflect the same conflict in a variety of ways, conflict with the
Sadducees being one. Remember that the gospel authors sought to be
theological, not historical.
J P Meier comments that
One can understand why the Sadducees in particular and
the Jerusalem establishment in general would find the Galilean upstart
difficult to take or tolerate.
He may be correct in this - but it is equally possible,
and somewhat more likely, that the conflict was between the establishment
and the first Christian communities. There is, I think, a mounting
consensus that though Jesus may not have been liked much by his Jewish
contemporaries, he fell victim to Roman rather than Temple powers. One
must keep in mind that the early Christians were Jews and belonged to
Jewish groups, not yet separated from the main body of Judaism.
The debate produced by Mark in this passage is congruent with the concerns
of early Christian communities in conflict with the Jewish establishment.
The upshot is that although we can't isolate the actual words of Jesus
from this close-knit composition, a majority of scholars nevertheless
thinks it likely that Jesus could have said something like this.
 A Marginal Jew, 2001, Volume III
 The Fifth Gospel, J F A Sawyer, CUP, 1996