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The Spirit's Illumination and How the Sadducees Missed the Boat

By Elizabethprata @elizabethprata
We know that it is possible to interpret the bible too liberally. We run into that all the time. People put their own spin on things, twist the scriptures, even add tradition or direct revelation to the sacred word. What comes out the other end is a different Jesus and a different Gospel.
But is it possible to interpret the bible too narrowly? To interpret it so strictly or literally that many general concepts are missed, and you wind up with a different gospel just the same as interpreting too liberally? Yes.
One example of a group that exhibited that kind of hermeneutic are the Sadducees.
The Sadducees
The Sadducees were one of the major Jewish religious groups in Israel from the Maccabean period (167 BC) through the destruction of the temple (AD 70). While we do not have any of their writings, the information we do have paints a picture of a rather small group of individuals and families who maintained a strong influence on the leadership of the Jewish people under Roman rule. They were popular with the aristocracy and the wealthy, but they did not enjoy the support of most of the people.
The term Sadducees is likely derived from Zadok, the high priest at the time of David (1 Sam 8:17; 15:24) and Solomon (1 Kgs 1:34; 1 Chr 12:29). The sons of Zadok controlled the Jerusalem temple and high priesthood from the rebuilding of the temple (520–525 BC) through its desecration by Antiochus IV (AD 175–164). In the aftermath of the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmoneans emerged as occupiers of the priesthood. Many descendants of Zadok and other priestly and lay followers believed the appointment of the Hasmoneans was illegitimate and sought to reestablish the dynasty of Zadok from the Davidic age. This opposition party likely grew to become the group called the Sadducees.
The NT mentions the Sadducees several times. In the Synoptic Gospels, they are often paired with the Pharisees in their opposition to Jesus (Matt 16:1) and in receiving Jesus’ condemnation (Mark 3:7; 16:6–12). They are specifically identified as those who challenged Jesus about His teaching on the resurrection and the afterlife (Matt 22:23–33; Mark 12:18–27; Luke 20:27–40). The book of Acts also mentions the Sadducees as members of the Jewish ruling class who were challenging the preaching of the apostles—particularly their teaching on the resurrection (Acts 4:1; 5:17). Acts 23:6–8 recounts an argument between the Pharisees and Sadducees over their views of the resurrection. Luke specifically tells his readers that, “the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” There is no definitive explanation for their disbelief other than their strict adherence to the clear teaching of the Pentateuch alone. Jewish teaching regarding the resurrection, afterlife, and rewards was largely developed during the years following the postexilic prophets.
References to the Sadducees in Josephus and the rabbinic literature portray them in constant conflict with the Pharisees. However, both of these sources were closely aligned with the Pharisees themselves. Although the Sadducees are generally seen as the stricter of the parties, in some instances they were more lenient for the Jewish people when the Pharisaic teachings were seen as extrabiblical and therefore nonbinding. They saw themselves as the “old guard,” who sought to maintain the ancient Jewish traditions and teachings that originated with the Pentateuch and defend them in the face of what they viewed as dangerous innovations introduced by the Pharisees.
There are no references to the Sadducees following the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Perhaps most of them fell during the attack. Since the temple and worship laws associated with it were central to their existence, it is not hard to imagine them being willing to die for their cause. If they did survive, their influence was completely lost after the temple’s destruction. We simply have no record of their demise.
(Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
The Sadducees thought they knew truth. The Pharisees thought they knew truth. Saul certainly thought so, and then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and the newly converted Paul was taught otherwise. So it it ever possible to know that you know the truth? Yes.
Picture the moment when your bicycle training wheels came off, and you were wobbling all over the road as you tried to stay upright. You on your bike swayed toward the left hand sidewalk, then curved dramatically to the right, and wobbled and wiggled all the way down the road.
However you don't always wobble and wiggle all over the road. As your legs got stronger your bike stayed more upright and your path became straighter. Eventually you were flying down the road on the centerline. "Look, Ma! No hands!"
The Spirit's work in our minds as He biblically illuminates truth is just like the kid on the bike. We are on a narrow road. We are on a bike. We wobble here to the left and then wiggle to the right, our handlebars making dramatic swoops and sways. But...we stay ON the road, not going off because we're saved after all, and not swaying too far to the left like the Sadducees nor too far to the right like the Pharisees, because we are on a road that is narrow. And second, and we quickly gain traction and skill, and we soon are submitting to the Spirit's illuminations and staying doctrinally centered. We won't be interpreting the bible too narrowly nor will we be interpreting it too liberally. It will be juuuust right.
S. Lewis Johnson on the doctrine of "Illumination- or Truth Made Clear", 1 Cor 2:6 to 1 Cor 3:4
Now, tonight we are studying Illumination, and that is the work of the spirit in granting understanding to us as we study the inspired revelation, so that illumination has to do with understanding the Bible. In fact, this is the secret to the understanding of the word of God. P. T. Forsyth was a man who was a very famous theologian in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and he once made a statement that we can use as a kind of motto for our study tonight. He said, “The truth that we see depends upon the men that we are.” “The truth that we see depends upon the men that we are.” And I think that we’re going to see that that is taught by the Apostle Paul in the passage to which we shall look in just a moment. To put it in a popular way, the divine side of the understanding of the Bible is illumination. From the human standpoint, looking at it from the standpoint of human effort, we speak of interpretation. So, interpretation is the human effort expended in the understanding of the Bible. Illumination is the divine activity by which the Holy Spirit enables us to understand.
the apostle says the five senses are insufficient in divine truth. He said, “As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” So, divine truth is not attained to by means of the senses. It is something that is revealed in another way. Now, the second thing that he says is that it is known and revealed by the spirit.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit who is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.” Therefore, what Paul is affirming is that it is only through the Holy Spirit that we are able to understand divine truth. I think Phillips has rendered this something like this, “But God has through the spirit let us share his secret.” So illumination then is the means by which we come to understand things that we could not possibly understand about divine truth.
Please go to the link to listen to or read the transcript of this very good sermon on how the Spirit makes truth clear to us.
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:9-13)
Freely given. Freely! We can understand the things of God, by His Spirit, because He knows the mind of God. And it's free. The gracious gifts from our Savior are plentiful and manifold.

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