Jesus, the smartest man to ever live

I think sometimes we fail to see that Jesus was the smartest person to ever walk the earth. One place I see this come up in LDS thought is in relation to Matthew 22:23-33 and Luke 20:27-40. LDS are right to point out that the Sadducees were asking Jesus a trick question. So the assumption goes, he focused His answer on the resurrection and slipped up when it came to expressing the theology of eternal families. I disagree, I think Jesus chose his words quite precisely and with tremendous logical skill. He said every word exactly as he meant it.

A discussion of this can be found in Dallas Willard’s book “The Great Omission”. In his chapter entitled “Jesus the Logician” he says: (Also listen to JP Moreland’s sermon “Loving God With All Your Mind”, go to the 30 minute mark)

Another illustrative case is found in Luke 20:27-40. Here it is the Sadducees, not the Pharisees, who are challenging Jesus, They are famous for rejecting the resurrection (verse 27), and accordingly they propose a situation that, they think is a reduction ad absurdum of resurrection. (Luke 20:28-33), The law of Moses said that if a married man dies without children, the next eldest brother should make the widow his wife, and any children they have will inherit in the line of the older brother, In the “thought experiment” of the Sadducees, the elder of seven sons dies with out children from his wife, the next eldest marries her and also dies without children from her, and the next eldest does the same, and so on through all seven brothers. Then the wife dies (small wonder!). The presumed absurdity in the case was that in the resurrection she would be the wife of all of them, which was assumed to be an impossibility in the nature of marriage.

Jesus’ reply is to point out that those resurrected will not have mortal bodies suited for sexual relations, marriage, and reproduction. They will have bodies like angels do now, bodies of undying stuff. The idea of resurrection must not be taken crudely. Thus he undermines the assumption of the Sadducees that any resurrection must involve the body and its life continuing exactly as it does now. So the supposed impossibility of the woman being in conjugal relations with all seven brothers is not required by resurrection.

Then he proceeds, once again, to develop a teaching about the nature of God, which was always his main concern. Taking a premise that the Sadducees accept, He draws the conclusion that they do not want. That the dead are raised, he says, follows from God’s self-description to Moses at the burning bush. God describes Himself in that incident as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Luke 20:37; see Exodus 3:16) [not coincidentally, one of the Sadducees favorite scriptures]. The Sadducees accept this. But at the time of the burning bush incident, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been long “dead,” as Jesus points out. But God is not the God of the dead. That is, a dead person cannot sustain a relation of devotion and service to God, nor can God keep covenant faith with one who no longer exists. In covenant relationship to God one lives (Luke 20:38). One cannot very well imagine the living God communing with a dead body or a nonexistent person and keeping covenant faithfulness with them.

. . . After the discussion of the resurrection, the Sadducees and the other groups about him no longer have the courage to challenge his powerful thinking (Luke 20:40). He then sets them a puzzle designed to help them understand the Messiah – for whom everyone was looking.

Drawing upon what all understood to be a messianic reference, in Psalm 110, Jesus point out an apparent contradiction; the Messiah is the son of David (admitted by all), and yet David calls the Messiah “Lord” (Luke 20:42-43). How, he ask, can the Messiah be David’s son if David calls him Lord? (Luke 20:44). The resolution intended by Jesus is that they should recognize that the Messiah is not simple the son of David, but also of One higher than David, and that he is therefore king in a more inclusive sense than political head of the Jewish nation (Revelation 1:5). The promises to David therefore reach far beyond David, incorporating him and much more. This reinterpretation of David and the Messiah was a lesson learned and used well by the apostles and early disciples (see Acts 2:25-36; Hebrews 5:6; Philippians 2:9-11).

11 thoughts on “Jesus, the smartest man to ever live

  1. An interesting analysis, but Jesus begins his reply by saying that the err in not knowing scripture or the power of God.

    How does this analysis pertain to which scripture Jesus is referring to?

  2. Because he’s saying they don’t understand their own favorite scripture. His argument on the existence of the resurrection rest on the verb tense found in Exodus 3:16. The didn’t know scripture well enough to catch the subtle but profound implication of that difference in tense. Jesus is also running some smack on the Sadducees by telling them they don’t know scripture (the cultural authority on scripture).

    If you haven’t listened to the segment of the sermon I linked, I would highly recommend it (I highly recommend the whole thing if you have time). He explains the same basic idea but hearing is sometimes easier than reading.

  3. I have a couple of rather large concerns about the analysis in the audio. First, he adds in a whole lot of his own thoughts on how the discussion went down and what was the intent behind the words.
    He says that Jesus acknowledges that they gave him 2 choices, adultry or polygamy. That is this man’s understanding, not what the scripture says at all. Plus, polygamy was clearly allowed in OT times as the father of the covenant of Isreal was a polygamist. Not to mention that Leviticus enumerates the proper rules governing polygamy for Israel.

    So if that were his only two options, polygamy is no problem.

    Also, the Exodus scripture is discussed to support the tense of the God of the prophets. It is not related to the answer to the marriage. Where is the OT verse that says all in the resurrection are only as angels?

    So in context of that discussion, it would be a non-reply if that were the case. He would have just been pulling the marriage in the resurrection answer out of thin air.

    There actually is a reference of this exact story in OT writings and it is far more likely this is what Jesus is referring to. It is from the book of Tobit. And though it is now considered apochryphal, they would surely have known about it, and it seems quite clear that this is the exact story they are using as an example. An interesting note is that they only speak of the first seven who died, yet it was the 8th who survived. That 8th was told by the angel that this woman was determined for him by God, “from eternity”.

    So even though the first 7 “had her”, they had no eternal claim on her. As a consequence “they” (the first 7) will be as angels, neither getting married, nor giving in marriage during the resurrection.

    It is also interesting to note that the tense of the text indicate the actions will not take place. If they have already been sealed together by God, then that would not seem to apply to this qualification.

    It is perhaps further significant that the exact argument Jesus then uses is specifically about tense. In the context of this conversation, that cannot have gone unnoticed.

  4. Dando said: “I think sometimes we fail to see that Jesus was the smartest person to ever walk the earth. One place I see this come up in LDS thought is in relation to Matthew 22:23-33 and Luke 20:27-40. LDS are right to point out that the Sadducees were asking Jesus a trick question. So the assumption goes, he focused His answer on the resurrection and slipped up when it came to expressing the theology of eternal families.”

    Excuse me… I just wish to point out that LDS teaching is NOT that Jesus ‘slipped up.’ I really don’t know where you come up with these supposed LDS teachings…

    I don’t know any LDS person who doesn’t think Jesus was the smartest man to ever walk the earth. I don’t even know what to say to you that you would imply we think there was ever anyone smarter to walk this earth… lol

    cJohn71 – Excellent reply.

  5. Joy, I don’t think I said that it was LDS teaching that taught that Jesus slipped up. I said it was LDS thought, as in, the thought of many LDS that I have spoken to about this.

    Notice I didn’t exlude myself when I said that sometimes “WE” fail to see Jesus as the smartest person to ever walk the earth.

    CJohn, does the OT give instruction for how a woman can have more than one husband? Is polyandy allowed? I think Dr. Moreland chose the wrong word. The Sadducees were saying that either the woman would be committing polyandry or adultery if the resurrection were true.

    As far as Jesus saying that in the resurrection we will be like Angels. He was using his own personal knowledge, he wasn’t quoting scripture.

    I don’t think your solution for “they” (the dead brothers) being like angels holds up when compared to scripture. He says that the children of the resurrection will be like angels. This really seems to me that he is referring to all of those who are resurrected.

    Luke 20:
    34Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

  6. Also, I concede that the Sadducees are likely getting this situation from Tobit. I had heard that is was an extrapolation from the story of Tamar, but Tobit makes sense as well. But I do not think that this shows that Tobit should be considered scriptural. We get our modern Old Testament canon from the Jewish scholars of Jesus’ era. The Septuagint. It was considered outside of scripture at that time as well.

  7. To be honest, I haven’t really looked into polyandry in the OT. I think he did use the wrong word, but I don’t think that matters. It sounds very much like he was trying to butten up the issue in a way that his audiance would appreciate.

    I don’t see that the Sadducees were necessarily offering any specific options. Just a seeming paradox. As we are aware, this is a question about resurrection, not marriage. If there were a resurrection, then which one would she belong to when she dies?

    But even so, the question comes down to the scope of Jesus’ answer. The problem with saying that this applies to all who are resurrected is that all will be resurrected, the just and the unjust. So it seems to me the key is in verse 35.

    The key destination is “That world”, or “That age” (coming from aion which to me seems more accurately summed up in “existance” being eternity or perpetuity of time)

    If we agree that the story of Tobit is a likely source for this story, then there would be an understanding of the position of the 7. They were married in this world, but what state were they “worthy” of in the next life?

    They were all, aparently worthy (judged to be deserving) of a similar reward. That state, or that world or that age is their reward after resurrection and it includes that they will not be married or given in marriage and be as angels…

    Then in 36 he sums up that class of worthyness. “They can not longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection”

    Again, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the 8th. If Christ really wanted to discuss marriage, it seems he would have discussed the 8th husband which God determined was to be her husband from eternity.

    So in dealing with the state of resurrection for the 7 in question, they were worthy, or judged deserving of, a specific state of resurrection. That is what Christ discussed because that is the topic of concern. Hence he answers that concern with what seems to be one of the Sadducees favorite verses.

  8. Interesting response. I think that you are taking more interest in the 7 than the text would dictate. In genearl I think the discussion is about the resurrection of the woman and her dilemna upon entering eternity, not the state of her 7 grooms.

    I think you should look into OT polyandry and see what a problem it would have been for her if things were the way the Sadducees percieved them to be. If the story was in fact from Tobit, I think we both would need to concede that the Pharisses and the Sadducees knew far more about it than both of us, and the Pharisees were not able to wiggle out of her perdicament by saying that she was eternally sealed to the 8th. Otherwise, the question has no interest to anyone, and they never would have bothered trying to stump Jesus with it. (I concede that I’m speculating about the intelligence of the Pharisees, but historical record seems to indicate that they would have known these text well enough to percieve that “out”). If that was the answer, Jesus would have said “you don’t understand scripture, go read Tobit, she’s sealed to the 8th.” Instead he said “you don’t know scripture, there is no marriage in eternity, now go read Exodus to learn about the resurrection.” (never mind none of them considered Tobit to be scripture). This wasn’t a toss out question that was made up on the spot, this was a doozy that caused them all to stop asking him questions all together.

    In an attempt to understand your response better, I read through D&C 132. Your responses are much more rested in that than Tobit (which is totally fine, I recognize that you see that as scripture).

  9. I’ll have to admit, I am unclear on where this exchange happens between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. What reference are you using for this predicament with the Pharisees?

    And the question was about which of the 7 would be her husband because all of the 7 had her. There is no indication that this was identified as her problem.

    I realize it was not canonized, but they brought up the referance, not Jesus. Perhaps that is one of the reasons they chose to use that example. I don’t know. Good thought.

    How much more of a simple “out” is it to just say, “Oh, none of them, there is no marriage”?

    It could not have been a doozy if there weren’t some understanding that Jesus would suppose that there would be an issue here. There had to be some hook for them to think that asking about a marriage situation after death would be a good trap. And his answer must have had a precedence or it would have held no weight.

  10. Pingback: Does God Have Sex? « Mormon and Evangelical Conversations

  11. Jesus is not the smartest man whoever lived. I would have to say Isaac Newton was the smartest. He developed core understanding of calculus, practically made physics, and made a bunch of other discoveries as well. Too bad he had a mental breakdown. That man could have probably came up with Einstein’s theory about gravity given enough time and technology. Jesus doesn’t even rank in the top ten.

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