The Sadducees came from the affluent sections of society, their members mainly belonging to the priestly class (Acts 4:1; 5:17). It is generally assumed that the title of Tsadokim in Hebrew (Saddukaioi in Greek) indicates a connection with the line of the High Priest Zadok (from the time of King David). As in the case of the Pharisees, their main ideological opponents, the actual origins of the Sadducees remain unclear.
Their doctrines were based exclusively upon the Written Law. Unlike the Pharisees, they did not treat the interpretations of the Oral Law as binding. They denied the resurrection of the dead, immortality of the soul and the world to come (Acts 23:6-8). According to their belief, biblical Scriptures offered no basis for belief in the resurrection of the dead, a matter on which they approached Jesus – “Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to him and asked him” (Luke 20:27 and parallels).
The Sadducees thus differed greatly from the Pharisees, in their way of thinking but equally in their attitude towards the common people. During the final Temple period the Sadducees, who included the chief priests and the elders supervising Temple worship, were identified with the aristocracy and sought to ingratiate themselves with the Roman rulers by collaborating with them in keeping the population quiescent and obedient. They were consequently less popular than the Pharisees with the ordinary people.
The NT records the frictions between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Paul’s imprisonment highlighted the divisions between the two groups: ” ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection – and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.” (Acts 23:6-8). In spite of these differences, John the Baptist confronted both Sadducees and Pharisees by calling them “brood of vipers” and challenged them to “bear fruit”, namely repentance among the people (Matt 3:7-11).
Unlike the Pharisees, who regularly debated important religious issues with Jesus, the Sadducees typically avoided confrontation. Only on one occasion did the Sadducees approach Jesus, together with the Pharisees, to demand a sign from heaven (Matt 16:1).
As the Sadducees were in charge of the Temple they must have been bewildered and alarmed when Jesus said: “not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt 24:2) and “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days” (Matt 26:61). These apparent threats to the Temple could have been among the reasons why the Sadducees, as defenders of public order, wished to have Jesus executed (Matt 26:3-4). After the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the Sadducees disappeared, while the Pharisees continued to represent mainstream Judaism.