I hate trick questions. We’ve all had someone ask a seemingly innocent question only to realize they were making a point, not inquiring about what we think. “With all of the religions in the world, how can you believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven?” “Why would a loving God send people to Hell?” Sometimes questions like these aren’t real questions; they’re statements proving a point. So, how do we respond to these tricky questions? Jesus to the rescue.
In Matthew 22:24–28, the Sadducees ask Jesus a trick question:
Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.
On the surface, this question seems to be about marriage in Heaven, but it isn’t. The Sadducees had some strange beliefs. Acts 23:8 says, “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, said the Sadducees taught that “souls die with the bodies.” The Sadducees weren’t asking Jesus a genuine question about the afterlife. They didn’t believe there is an afterlife or resurrection. So, what were they asking?
Their question is more of a statement than an actual question. They’re arguing for why there is no afterlife. According to Deuteronomy 25:5–10, if a man dies and leaves his wife a widow, it is the duty of the dead man’s brother to marry the widow and perpetuate his brother’s lineage. The Sadducees are pointing out that if this woman follows the law, as God commanded, then in the afterlife she will be a polygamist married to seven brothers. This obviously goes against God’s design for marriage, therefore there is no afterlife. Tricky. How did Jesus respond?
Jesus was prepared in three different ways to answer this argument.
First, Jesus knew what the Sadducees believed. Look at his response: “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:29–30). Did you catch that? Jesus mentions that angels are real. He is pointing out that not only are the Sadducees mistaken about the resurrection, but they’re also mistaken in denying the existence of angels. Clever Jesus.
Second, Jesus knew their argument was based on bad reasoning. The Sadducees’ argument is an informal logical fallacy called a false dilemma. It’s based on a premise that limits the options to only two possibilities: Either the widowed woman is a polygamist in the afterlife, or the afterlife doesn’t exist. Jesus sees through this and points out there’s a third option: There’s no marriage in Heaven.
Third, Jesus knew how to defend his beliefs. Another strange belief the Sadducees held was that only the books of Moses were Scripture. Jesus knew this, and he used their Scriptures to disprove their beliefs. He tells them they don’t know the Scriptures and proceeds to point out what they don’t know: “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matt. 22:31–32). Jesus quotes Moses—specifically, Exodus 3:6. The Sadducees wanted to talk about what Moses wrote, so Jesus essentially says, “Okay, let’s talk about what Moses wrote.”
This passage from Exodus 3:6 would have been important to the Sadducees because it’s where Moses meets God at the burning bush. Jesus uses this important passage to show the Sadducees they don’t know their stuff. He correctly exegetes this verse for them and proves there must be an afterlife.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all died around 400 years before Moses was born. Yet, God indicates the present tense when talking about these patriarchs to Moses. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus’ point is that if there is no afterlife, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ceased to exist after their physical death, then the text should say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus makes his point by saying, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Jesus believed tense is important when exegeting Scripture.
After Jesus made his point, the people listening in “were astonished at his teaching.”
We can learn from Jesus’ example how to answer trick questions that are objections to our beliefs. We need to know what our objector believes, recognize bad reasoning, and know how to defend our beliefs. This takes time, effort, and practice, but it is well worth it. People around us are watching how we respond, and we need to represent the truth well.