Category: Articles-Bible-Smart-Who

Articles on featuring “Who” questions.

Who Were the Sadducees in the Bible?

Scripture: Mark 12:18-27

Picture the busy scene:

The temple at Jerusalem is bustling with action. Devout Jews are streaming in to make sacrifices required by the Law of Moses.

A worshiper arrives with an animal. “No,” says the priest. “That animal is unsuitable for sacrifice. You’ll have to buy this one from me instead. For a fee.” Oops, the worshiper presents the wrong currency, and now must exchange his money for Jewish shekels. For a fee. And finally the unreasonably expensive transaction is made. Moments later, another Jew arrives. “No!” says the priest again. He takes the previously “unsuitable” livestock and forces the new worshiper to buy it—for a fee. And so the cycle repeats itself, day after day, year after year.

Yep, it’s robbery, pure and simple. But that crooked scheme—among others—is how the Sadducees of Jesus’ day funded their lavish lifestyles and kept a tight grip on political power.


In first-century Israel, Sadducees were a religious faction that wielded societal power in nearly every aspect except military—and for that they had the backing of their Roman benefactors. These enemies of Jesus were the Jewish aristocrats of their day, known as much for their wealth and corruption as for their religious devotion. Although we can’t know for certain the origins of their name, a common belief is that it was derived from the name of prominent Old Testament High Priest, Zadok (2 Samuel 15:23-29; 1 Kings 2:35).

In Jesus’ time, Sadducees controlled the two most important institutions of Jewish society: The Jerusalem Temple (known as Herod’s Temple) and the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was the governing body for both religious and legal issues of the Jews. The leader of the Sanhedrin was a High Priest given king-like authority—and was almost always a Sadducee. For instance, Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas are two High Priests named in the New Testament (see Matthew 26:3, and Acts 4:6). Both were Sadducees—and both played critical roles in the execution of Jesus.

Sadducee Theology

Here’s what we know about Sadducee theology:

  • With special emphasis on the first five books of Moses (the Torah), they believed the Bible, our Old Testament, was the only authority on matters of faith and life. Sadducees flatly rejected the Pharisee teaching that oral tradition was equal to Scripture in authority.
  • They believed in unrestrained free will—meaning God had no role in the personal lives of humans. Everyone was master of his or her own destiny.
  • Sadducees rejected entirely the supernatural, refuting belief in angels, demons, heaven, hell, and resurrection. To their way of thinking “souls die with the bodies.” The End.
  • In spite of the previous, they believed strongly in ritual purity as prescribed by Moses. They didn’t want anything to disqualify them from “leading the temple services that generated income.”

In fact, wealth seems to have been the number one “belief” of the Sadducees. Modern archaeologists have uncovered a few ancient Sadducee homes, describing them as “the most opulent discovered to date in Jerusalem.”

The Bible Tells Me So

Sadducees and “chief priests”—which they were—are mentioned in all four gospels and in Acts. None of those mentions are flattering. Consider this sampling:

  • John the Baptist calls Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7)
  • Jesus calls Sadducees a “wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 16:1-5).
  • Jesus sternly warns his disciples against the deceptive teaching of the Sadducees (Matthew 16:1-12)
  • When Sadducees test Jesus with a theological question, they’re easily “silenced” by Christ who lectures them like children, calling them “badly mistaken!” (Matthew 22:23-34; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).
  • A detachment of soldiers and officials is sent by the “chief priests” to arrest Jesus, and later instigate the cry to “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 18:3. 19:6).
  • In the book of Acts, Sadducees frequently arrest—and are miraculously embarrassed by—Peter, John, Paul, and the other apostles (Acts 4:1-22; Acts 5:17-41; Acts 23:1-9)

Reading the New Testament accounts, it seems obvious our gospel writers had little respect for any Sadducee.

Why Were Sadducees Such Bitter Enemies of Jesus?

Why did Sadducees hate Jesus so much? Two obvious reasons apply:

  • Jesus threatened their erroneous belief system; If Christ’s teaching was right then most of what they lived and taught was wrong.
  • Jesus threatened their cozy relationship with Rome and the political and societal benefits that provided.

Still, the most likely reason for such strong Sadducee opposition to Christ appears to be this:

Jesus attacked them first.

Remember that temple sacrifice scheme we talked about? That (among other crimes) had been established by the Sadducee High Priest, Annas, and was enforced by what one theologian describes as “an extensive organized crime network in the temple, not unlike a quasi-religious mafia.” Corruption in the temple was so brazen, it was commonly known as the “Annas Bazaar”—a system through which Sadducee leaders stole fortunes from their helpless countrymen.

Until Jesus came along.

Acting under only His own authority, Jesus single-handedly drove the corrupt stooges of the Sadducees out of the temple, shutting down their crooked operation for at least a day. And if John is correct regarding the timeline recorded in his gospel (I believe he is) Jesus likely drove out the Annas Bazaar twice—once at the beginning of his ministry, and once near the end (see Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-22).

This violent act of Christ was a premeditated, direct attack on Annas, Caiaphas, and the whole Sadducee system. It cost them wealth and put their entire “quasi-religious mafia” at great risk. If one itinerant rabbi could do such damage, what would happen if many rose up? One can easily see why that’d prompt a such a passionate desire to kill God’s one and only Son.

Interestingly enough, the Sadducees disappeared from history within a lifetime after the execution of Jesus. Their power was inextricably tied to the temple in Jerusalem. When it was destroyed by Roman General Titus in AD 70, the Sadducees simply couldn’t survive.


SLU 451; NIB 210, 1007; BIG 222-223; CWDN 1272; JHE 118-119, 137

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Who was Jephthah in the Bible?

Scripture: Hebrews 11:32

In the Bible, Hebrews 11 is a “Hall of Fame of Faith” that name-drops Old Testament rockstars such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samson, David and, um … Jephthah?

Wait a minute. Who was Jephthah, and why does Hebrews 11:32 count this relatively obscure man among the most famous heroic figures of faith?

Let’s find out.

The Prostitute’s Son

Though we can piece together a few general details from the historical time and place in which he lived, just about everything we know of Jephthah (pronounced “JEFF-thuh”) comes from the Old Testament book of Judges, chapters 11-12.

Jephthah (meaning “set free”) was the son of a man named Gilead from a tribal area of ancient Israel that was also called Gilead. This was a stretch of heavily-forested land about 20 miles wide, east of the Jordan River, which today is located in the country of Jordan. Jephthah lived during the 12th Century B.C., and the Bible says without blushing, “his mother was a prostitute” (Judges 11:1 NIV).

Although allowed to grow up in his father’s household, the prostitute’s son was eventually driven out by his half-brothers who didn’t want him to share in their inheritance. Then …

The Outlaw King

Jephthah settled further east, in a place called Tob, on the edge of the desert. There he set up shop as an outlaw prince, and “a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him” (Judges 11:3). His band of brigands earned a reputation as skilled fighters, and Jephthah himself became known as “a mighty warrior” (Judges 11:1 NIV).

Enter the Ammonite armies.

Trying to correct what they saw as a 300-year wrong, the Ammonites invaded Israel to reclaim lands taken from their ancestors by Joshua and the Israelites of the Exodus. That frightened the elders of Gilead enough to come plead for help from their exiled bandit. Suddenly, being a prostitute’s son was no longer such a big deal.

A bargain was struck: Jephthah would lead an Israelite army against the Ammonites. If he came back victorious, he’d be anointed “head”—a king-like position—over the Hebrews in Gilead.

Judges 11:29 (NIV) reveals, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He … advanced against the Ammonites.” Upon seeing the enemy firsthand, Jephthah’s confidence faltered. Uncertain of victory, he followed a custom of the surrounding pagan cultures and proposed a “bargain with God.”

“If you give the Ammonites into my hands,” he vowed, “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31).

Scripture reports, “Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands” (Judges 11:32 NIV). The victory was so decisive that he “devastated” twenty Ammonite towns and “Thus Israel subdued Ammon” (Judges 11:33 NIV).

The conquering king returned to home to glory. And …

The Foolish Father

In Mizpah, Jephthah’s home in Gilead, news of his victory spread like wildfire, and celebration ensued. When his delighted daughter—and only child—heard that her father was outside the door, she came dancing out to greet him.

Judges 11:37 reports that Jephthah’s daughter was young—not yet married, but old enough to be thinking of marriage and family. In the ancient Middle East, girls commonly married in their early to mid-teens, usually becoming engaged after they first started menstruating.[v] So, although we can’t know for sure this girl’s age, we can safely assume she was under 14, probably around 12 years or so.

The girl’s joyful welcome and the happy music of timbrels were quickly silenced when Jephthah saw her. He immediately tore his clothes and started wailing, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break …” (Judges 11:35 NIV).

Jephthah’s little princess was given two months to mourn with her friends “because she would never marry” (Judges 11:38 NIV). Then, in sham service to God, Gilead’s new king lit the flame that gruesomely burned his daughter to ashes in a pagan-style ritual of human sacrifice (Judges 11:39).

The Ignorant Servant

Jephthah’s grief was real, to be sure … but he also had to have known that his vow meant a member of his family would die. That it was his precious daughter instead of some supposed “lesser” household member (such as a slave) does little exonerate him.

The Law of Moses expressly prohibited any Israelite from practicing human sacrifice, emphasizing it as something “the Lord hates” (see Deuteronomy 12:29-31). In light of that, some have suggested hopefully that perhaps the daughter’s life was spared, that she lived into adulthood “in perpetual virginity [as] a fulfillment of the vow.” Unfortunately, the hard truth is that Judges 11 (along with other textual and historical evidence) says otherwise—and says it plainly—whether our modern sensibilities like it or not.

Sadly, while Jephthah was empowered by God’s Spirit and knew something of Moses, he didn’t understand who God was or what God desired. That ignorance cost his innocent daughter her life.

The Final Fate

As one of Israel’s judges, Jephthah certainly earned his place on the honor roll of Jewish history. He did rescue Gilead from Ammonite invaders. And he subsequently defeated a serious threat from Ephraimite armies too (Judges 12:1-6). In spite of that, he’ll always be remembered as the foolish, cruel father who sacrificed his daughter due to an unnecessary vow.

Jephthah ruled Israel for only six years (Judges 12:7). Scripture makes no mention of anyone mourning his death, or of any other children born to him. It seems that when he murdered his daughter, Jephthah also ended his family line. As one theologian explained:

He not only sacrifice[d] his daughter but also himself. In the ancient world people were thought to live on through their children. Accordingly, the worst fate one could experience was to have one’s “seed” cut off and “name” destroyed.

Interestingly, similar to what’s described in Judges 11:40, some Jewish women today still ritually mourn Jephthah’s daughter during the winter solstice—the traditional date ascribed to the little girl’s death.


WWA 127; WWB 196; BKW2 98; ZBO2 180-181; JDL 1

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Who was this rich man that came to Jesus?

Scripture: Matthew 19:16–30

We don’t actually know much about the unnamed man who approached Jesus and asked, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). The few facts we have are gleaned from this passage and parallel accounts in Mark 10:17–31 and Luke 18:18–30.

Matthew observes that this rich man was young, indicating he was at least younger than that disciple—perhaps in his late teens or early twenties. The young man also had many possessions, which in that society likely meant substantial holdings in land and other property. Because of his young-ish age, it’s realistic to assume that he inherited that wealth rather than earned it himself.

Luke tells us the man was “very rich” (Luke 18:23), which would convey the impression that, in addition to his lands, he’d probably inherited a large store of money that was now at his disposal. Luke 18:18 also reveals that he was “a religious leader,” (or “a ruler” in other translations). So perhaps he was now stepping into his predetermined role as a leader in the community and provider for his family. Maybe he saw Jesus as some kind of wise father figure who could give good advice to help him succeed in these new responsibilities.

Mark reinforces the characterizations of Matthew and Luke, adding the detail that the young rich man “knelt down” in front of Jesus (Mark 10:17). This showed he was well trained in the protocols of religious hierarchy.

All these things taken together suggest that this rich man, the young ruler, was possibly an up-and-coming leader among the Sadducees, an influential aristocratic group in Jesus’ day. They were the religious and social elite, holding significant wealth and power in Israel. Still, the gospel writers never specifically call this young man a Sadducee, so that’s only speculation.


SMB 112

“Who was this rich man that came to Jesus?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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Who was Zebedee, and why was it important that he be mentioned in Matthew 4?

Scripture: Matthew 4:18–22

Much has been written about Peter, Andrew, James, and John—but what of Zebedee, the father they left behind to follow Jesus? Here’s what we know:

Zebedee was a successful businessman, running a fishing operation on the Sea of Galilee. He employed his sons, their partners (Peter and Andrew) as well as other hired hands (Mark 1:19–20). He also owned at least one large fishing boat, so he was apparently a man of some financial means.

He was married to a woman named Salome, and after the crucifixion he allowed his wife to use their money to buy burial spices for Jesus (Mark 16:1). Through Salome, his sons, or directly, he may have also supported Jesus’ ministry with monetary contributions from time to time. Some think that, like his sons, he may have been a disciple of John the Baptist first, and then became a follower of Jesus (from a distance) as well.

Bible historian Ronald Brownrigg also speculates that Zebedee had been contracted to supply fish for the high priest’s palace in Jerusalem. That would explain, the thinking goes, why his son John was known and welcomed into the high priest’s courtyard during the trial of Jesus (John 18:15–16).

As for why he was mentioned here in Matthew’s gospel? The most likely reason is that Matthew knew him, and in that paternal society, it was simply natural to mention his name when talking about his sons.


WWB 444–445

“Who was Zebedee, and why was it important that he be mentioned in Matthew 4?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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I don’t know anything about Zerubbabel—who was he?

Scripture: Ezra 3-4

What happens when a nation is conquered, burned to the ground, and left in rubble? When its wealthiest and most prominent citizens are carried off as slaves and dispersed into a powerful foreign country?

Well, if the experience of the Jewish people is any indication, those left behind cobble together an impoverished existence, surviving despite the odds, rebuilding lives as best they can. This is what happened when mighty Babylon razed Jerusalem in 587 B.C., destroying its Temple, stealing its wealth, and leaving behind only ruins and “some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields” (2 Kings 25:12 NIV). For nearly 50 years, until 538 B.C., Jerusalem survived as a dung heap of the nations, peopled by poor settlers of mixed nationalities, yet finding some measure of normalcy in the decades after the devastating war.

Then Zerubbabel came marching into town.

Where Did Zerubbabel Come From?

Zerubbabel was an aristocrat born in captivity after his parents had been exiled into Babylon. The son of Shealtiel, he was also the grandson of Jehoiachin—the last king of Judah before the Babylonian conquest. Although Jehoiachin was imprisoned at first, Scripture indicates that in his later years he was shown uncommon favor from a new king: “So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table” (2 Kings 2:29 NIV).

It’s likely, then, that the boy Zerubbabel benefited from his grandfather’s favored status, growing up in Babylon’s royal court and being educated in politics and military as well as in strong roots of Jewish faith. When Persia overthrew the supposedly-invincible Babylon around 539 B.C,. he apparently found new favor from the conquering king, Cyrus II. Under orders from the victorious Persian ruler, Zerubbabel was appointed “governor” over Judah and sent back to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. to lead the effort to rebuild God’s Temple there (Ezra 2:1-2 ; Haggai 1:1).

Welcome to Jerusalem—Now Go Home

You’d think that, when Zerubbabel arrived triumphantly in Jerusalem, he would’ve been met with a king’s welcome … but that wasn’t the case. One Bible historian describes it this way:

The actual return was a crushing disappointment. The returning exiles found Judah a wilderness and the Holy City a wasteland. Corruption was everywhere, even among the priesthood. The descendants of those who had escaped captivity were hostile to the newcomers, fearing that their Babylonian brethren might try to recover their former family properties.”

The distrust ran deep. Who was this foreigner with a Babylonian name—one that literally translated, “seed of Babylon”? What right did he have to claim to be the Persian “Governor” over their land?

Zerubbabel didn’t help his cause much with the locals either. At one point, “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you build’” (Ezra 4:1-2 NIV). Then Zerubbabel bluntly refused them, insulting them as he said, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord” (Ezra 4:3 NIV).

After that, the locals in Jerusalem did everything they could to frustrate Zerubbabel and keep the Temple from being built—and they succeeded (see Ezra 4:4-5). The returning exiles were only able to lay the foundation for the Temple, but nothing else. It wasn’t until about 15 years later, in 520 B.C., that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were able to convince Zerubbabel to resume construction in earnest. The Temple was finally completed around 516 B.C.

The Final Mysteries of Zerubbabel

There are three interesting footnotes to the life of Zerubbabel:

  1. The functioning Temple he built in Jerusalem, though modest in scope, stood for centuries—even longer than the Temples of Solomon and Herod the Great combined.
  2. Though the driving force behind the building of this Temple, Zerubbabel is not mentioned at its completion and dedication in Ezra 6:13-18, meaning he likely was not there. This has led some scholars to speculate that before the Temple was finished, Zerubbabel might have been “executed for leading a messianic movement that would have crowned him king of an independent Jewish nation.”
  3. Regardless of whether or not Zerubbabel tried to lead a messianic movement for himself, he was involved with the coming of Christ. Both Matthew and Luke list this Babylonian-born, Persian-appointed governor of Judah as a forefather of Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus (see Matthew 1:12-13 and Luke 3:27).


WWD 436; GPB 274; IBD3 1682; WWA 378

“I don’t know anything about Zerubbabel—who was he?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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