The synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ discussion with Sadducees about resurrection (cf. Matt 22:23-33; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40). The Sadducees denied resurrection because their sole theological authority was the Torah, in which they did not find reference to the dead being raised. Thus, it is fitting that Jesus supports his view of resurrection with words from the Torah. Yet, in order to understand Jesus’ proof-text, we need to attend not only to the broader context of his citation, but also to texts beyond the Book of Moses. Jesus’ single sentence from the Torah conjures language from the Psalms that highlights God’s ability to raise the dead.

Jesus asks the Sadducees, “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’ [Exodus 3:6]? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mk 12:26-27). At first glance, Yeshua’s quotation of Exodus seems odd since, by his day, the patriarchs from Genesis were no longer living — they had all been dead for hundreds of years! In order to appreciate Jesus’ exegetical logic, we need the context of Exodus 3:6: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…. I have come down to deliver (נצל; natsal) [my people]… and to bring them up (עלה; ‘alah) out of that land [of Egypt]…. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… is my name forever, and this is my memorial (זכר; zeker) for all generations.” (Exodus 3:6, 8, 15). Since being “delivered” and “brought up” from Egypt as a lasting “memorial” sounds like “resurrection” language, other biblical writers draw on this scene at the burning bush to describe how God saves them from death and renews their lives.

In the Psalms, the same language in Exodus is reapplied as an expression of God’s power to save one’s life from certain death. For instance, Psalm 97 reads, “The Lord… preserves the lives of his holy ones; he delivers (נצל; natsal) them out of the hand of the wicked…. Give thanks for the memorial (זכר; zeker) of his holiness” (97:10-12). Similarly, Psalm 30 declares, “Lord, you have brought up (עלה; ‘alah) my life from the grave…. Give thanks to the memorial (זכר; zeker) of his holiness” (30:3-4). In choosing the passage about the burning bush, Jesus knew that Exodus 3 contains specific liberative terms that other biblical authors use to describe God bringing new life out of death. Thus, with a single verse about “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” Jesus provides the Sadducees with testimonies to God’s resurrection power throughout Scripture.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. The “resurrection” language you quote is a rather liberal interpretation. Not incorrect. Just beyond the “plain meaning” of the text. Which is not a surprise, given bodily resurrection was not and never has been a mainstream Jewish belief. There’s evidence it was an Eastern import.

    • Thanks for these comments, John. I agree that the original intent of Exodus and Psalms was not to describe literal resurrection from the dead, but it was standard rabbinic practice to “find” resurrection in the Torah, and Jesus is an early attestation to this exegetical tendency. While resurrection may not have been part of the earlier iterations of Israelite religion, it was a fundamental tenet of late Second Temple Judaism — the Sadducees were outliers in their rejection of it.

  2. So when are you writing a book on “Revelation, Resurrection & Redirection: A Better Way to Read the Bible”, Dr. Nicholas!? 😂 Not meaning to inflate the ego, but my goodness you have some zingers haha

    You’re fast becoming part of my dream team of bible scholars who I’d love to collaborate on a study bible haha I have a decent collection of them, but none contain the blaring brain busters which re-write my interpretative lens like Tim Mackie, Shane Willard, N.T Wright and the Team at Israel Bible Centre.

    If I ever find a study bible connecting Psalm 23 with the Wadi Qelt, maybe I’ll be onto a winner 😂

  3. I am at a loss to understand the special place given by Christians to Jews, actually they are no different to the Muslims and have done more damage to Christianity and to Jesus himself, I sometimes wonder why as Christians we blindly support Israel ?

    • Shirley, the New Testament (on which later “Christianity” is based) is a compilation of Jewish texts that are, themselves, indebted to the Hebrew Bible — what Christianity traditionally calls the Old Testament. More, Jesus himself was a Jew, as were his disciples and Paul. That is, the religion reflected in the Christian sacred texts is actually Judaism; or, more precisely, a particular strand of early messianic Jewish thought and praxis. Historically, it has been “Christianity” that has done the damage to Jews, not the other way around.

  4. What an eye opening. What does the Bible say about our bodies after the resurrection, for time being is it spiritual in the paradise until Revelation 22, and then blood and flesh again?

  5. Thanks, always understood this passage to mean that the patriarchs were alive in God’s presence. The Sadducees also denied the existence of the soul I believe?

  6. Nothing futher is needed. Jesus asks the Sadducees, “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’ [Exodus 3:6]? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mk 12:26-27).

  7. Where are the dead now? The breath returns to the Maker and the body sleeps, in fact decomposes, or may be no more. BUT just as Yeshua was truly dead and truly made alive; we will be resurrected at the last trump. A blessed hope for believers!

  8. I don’t think this is the crux of the argument, it is with verb tenses, saying “I am” (present tense) The God of Abraham, indicates that Abraham is in the present, although dead physically, he must be in existence in some form (i.e. in spirit), proving life-after-death

  9. Shalom. I think to spirit is in Paradise or Sheol whichever you wish to call it until Judgement Day.
    Shirley Tissera, we owe everything to the Jews. Without the Jews there would be no Christianity. In fact what many call the first Christians was a Jewish Sect.

  10. This is a well to drink, a hidden place in God’s Tabernacle, where God’s riches for His chosen ones are displayed. Believe me all this are revealed by the Spirit and are not human discovery. I am blessed

  11. Dr Nicholas, I read an apocalypse, forgotten which and its whereabouts about the other thief who was crucified with Christ Jesus went to ‘paradise’. As it is not part of the Bible I could not read it properly, please help with some articles if you have so I can delve in

  12. Jesus Cleanses the Temple
    …19Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20“This temple took forty-six years to build,” the people replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?” 21But Jesus was speaking about the temple of His body.…
    Dr. Eli
    I took the word Jews out of this verse.
    Why did Linda take the word Jews out?
    It is time for peace among the people of Mother Earth.

  13. It would seem that the emphasis on the physical resurrection was a later development of Christianity, since 1 John seems to reference the Shroud of Turin as proof of the resurrection. The destruction of the Temple also seems to have more to do with Christians than Jews, do you agree?

    • Thanks for your questions, William. The physical resurrection of the dead predates Christianity. It can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ commentary on Ezekiel 37, “the Valley of the Dry Bones.” I’m not sure what you’re asking in your second question; if you clarify, I can respond more thoroughly. Thanks again.

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