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Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.

Matthew 22:29

The Sadducees were a religious sect in Israel that believed that there is no life after death and therefore no resurrection of the dead. They sought to discredit Jesus with a question about the resurrection. They posed a situation in which a woman was widowed seven times by seven brothers. Their question was, “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” With this question they sought to demonstrate the absurdity of belief in the resurrection. In the process they sought to discredit Jesus before the people.

In His response to the Sadducees Jesus pointed out that they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. There is neither marriage nor giving in marriage in the resurrection. The very fact that Jehovah revealed Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob indicates that these Patriarchs continued to live after they died and therefore would one day participate in the resurrection of the body.

Our concern is with Jesus’ observation that the Sadducees erred, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.

The Sadducees have not been the only ones that have erred, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. The history of the church reveals that many, sometimes the majority, have done the same.

We must avoid the errors of history and of our present day by knowing the Scriptures and the power of God.

We emphasize this in connection with the beginning of school, catechism, and the Bible society season. If we will know the Scriptures and the power of God we must maintain our Christian schools, maintain a strong catechism program, and be busy in the study of Scripture, also with each other in our Bible study groups.

Jesus speaks here of the Scriptures and the power of God.

The Scriptures (writings) to which Jesus referred were the 39 books of the Old Testament. These Scriptures reveal God as the Creator, the Ruler, and especially the Savior of His people. They spoke mainly of the salvation that was to come.

And so more Scriptures followed, 27 books in number, which we know as the New Testament. These were written during the days of the apostles. These reveal especially how the salvation promised in the Old Testament has come to pass through the work of Jesus Christ.

We receive these Scriptures as the infallibly inspired Word of God in which God has revealed to us all that we need to know for salvation. Jesus speaks of the power of God that these Scriptures reveal.

The word “power” is often used to describe the power to do miracles, as it does also here. The power of God is the power of God to do miracles. When we think of miracles, what comes to mind are the many miracles that God performed through the Old Testament prophets and especially through Jesus and the apostles. However, all these miracles were only signs of a greater miracle that God has performed and is performing in His great power—the miracle of salvation. What a great miracle is the work of salvation. It includes the miracle of the incarnation, the miracle of the atonement, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, the miracle of the new birth, the miracle of life after death as our soul is taken to the Father’s house of many mansions, and the miracle of the bodily resurrection, which is the culmination of the miracle of salvation.

This power of God is revealed in Scripture.

Jesus speaks of knowing the Scriptures and the great power of God.

In generations past, many, even in society generally, knew much of the Scriptures, because the Scriptures were a part of society’s life. No longer is that true. Many do not have this knowledge. And, sadly, there is the same appalling lack of Bible knowledge in the church world of our day.

Nor is this a new thing. We find the same ignorance repeatedly in Israel of the Old Testament. After the death of Joshua, we read, “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Jud. 2:10). Later on, God indicated through the prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6).

And now Jesus indicates that the Sadducees did not know the Scriptures.

This is interesting in light of the fact that the Sadducees were the religious leaders of the people. They filled the ranks of the priesthood. As priests, they were called to instruct the people in the Scriptures. And so the Sadducees were for the most part well-schooled in the Scriptures. Yet Jesus indicated that they did not know the Scriptures.

So we must understand the emphasis of the word “know.” It is a word that means to have penetrating insight into something so as to understand it. This kind of knowledge the Sadducees did not have. For all the factual knowledge they had of the Scriptures, they did not discern the great truths of Scripture, including life after death and the resurrection of the dead.

The problem was not a lack of clarity in Scripture. The teachings of Scripture concerning the power of God to save sinful man are clear. The problem was a lack of faith. Scripture’s teachings are contrary to man’s pride and sinful desires. Sinful man finds Scripture’s teachings to be offensive. Consequently, sinful man will either deny the truths of Scripture or twist them to suit his pleasure. This is what the Sadducees did. And so Jesus concluded that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

We must know the Scriptures, and know them with the knowledge of faith. We must not be content to be ignorant of what the Scriptures teach. We must know what the Scriptures teach. This means we must know the doctrines (teachings) of the Scriptures concerning the power of God in salvation. We must also know the history of Scripture, which is inseparably connected to the doctrines of the Scripture. But we must also know the Scriptures in faith, so that we submit to its clear teachings and embrace them with all our heart, even though these teachings are contrary to our natural inclinations.

Those who do not know the Scriptures will err.

The Sadducees erred. That does not mean simply that they made a mistake, but that they had strayed far away from God. To err has the basic idea of straying or being led astray from the right way. This word is used of sheep straying from the fold in Matthew 18:12: “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” The same word is used in I Peter 2:25 to describe those that stray spiritually, “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” The Sadducees had certainly erred. They had strayed far from God. They had strayed from God by denying many important truths of Scripture. They denied the existence of angels. They denied life after death, teaching that at death the soul dies with the body. And so they also denied the resurrection. In addition, they had strayed by patterning their lifestyle after the world of Greek, pagan culture. Not surprisingly, they were also the enemies of Jesus Christ.

And it was because they knew not the Scriptures or the power of God.

The same thing is happening today. Apostasy abounds in the church world. Many embrace false teachings concerning God and the way of salvation. These false doctrines all have in common that they deny the power of God in salvation. Along with this widespread false doctrine, many worldly, sinful practices have been introduced into, and flourish in, the church. And the reason for it all is that many do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Sometimes this is even true of believers, who in the weakness of faith are content to remain ignorant of the teachings of Scriptures, and are therefore deceived and led astray by every wind of doctrine. Often, too, it is true of those who know the Bible well, but do not know it in faith, and therefore bring into the Bible that which they want and distort its true meaning.

We must avoid this at all costs. We must know the Scriptures and the power of God. We must know from Scripture what God has revealed about Himself and His mighty work of salvation. And we must by faith embrace the Scriptures with all our hearts, so that we embrace also the God of Scripture as our God and embrace His Son Jesus Christ, who is the power of God in salvation.

This knowledge comes only through hard work and faithful labor.

The church must be faithful to preach the Scriptures and the power of God in salvation. It is especially through the preaching that God brings His people to the saving knowledge of faith and sustains them in that knowledge. Let the church be faithful in its calling to preach, and the people faithful in their calling to hear the Word. Then they will know the Scriptures and the power of God to salvation.

But the people of God must also be diligent to study and reflect on the Word of God daily. Let them study the Bible in the home. Let them study the Bible in the broader context of the church, so that they instruct and encourage each other from the Word. Then they will know the Scriptures and the power of God to salvation.

And don’t forget the children. They also belong to the church and covenant of God. Without them the church has no future. They also must be taught. They must be taught the Scriptures by their parents in the home. They must be taught the Scriptures by the church in catechism. And the light of Scripture must be shed on every subject of study in school. Let there be good Christian schools in which parents have their children instructed according to Scripture. Then the children will also know the Scriptures and the power of God to salvation.

This requires hard, diligent labor!

But the reward is great!

God forbid that Jesus must say to us and our children, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”