How can a bible verse be so short, yet so complicated? This is one of the most difficult verses to understand and put into practice in a meaningful way in our lives. This verse has several different, although somewhat similar, translations. The International Standard Version reads, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, because he considers all people to be alive to him," Today we shall share in some biblical history and research and compare and contrast theologians’ commentaries.
Clark’s Commentary on the Bible helps us put this into historical setting and context: All live unto him. There is a remarkable passage in Josephus's account of the Maccabees, chap. xvi, which proves that the best informed Jews believed that the souls of righteous men were in the presence of God in a state of happiness. "They who lose their lives for the sake of God, Live unto God, as do Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the rest of the patriarchs." And one not less remarkable in Shemoth Rabba, fol. 159. "Rabbi Abbin saith, The Lord said unto Moses, Find me out ten righteous persons among the people, and I will not destroy thy people. Then said Moses, Behold, here am I, Aaron, Eleazar, Ithamar, Phineas, Caleb, and Joshua; but God said, Here are but seven, where are the other three? When Moses knew not what to do, he said, O Eternal God, do those live that are dead! Yes, saith God. Then said Moses, If those that are dead do live, remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." So the resurrection of the dead, and the immortality and immateriality of the soul, was not strange or unknown doctrines among the Jews.
Gill’s Exposition of the Bible explains this verse a bit differently, but basically similarly: “For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living” See Gill on Matthew 22:32. The Persic version, reads, "all these live unto him"; namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for though they are dead to men, they are not to God; their souls live with him, and their bodies will be raised by him: he reckons of them, as if they were now alive, for he quickens the dead, and calls things that are not, as though they were; and this is the case of all the saints that are dead, as well as of those patriarchs. The Ethiopic reads, "all live with him"; as the souls of all departed saints do; the Arabic version reads, all live in him; so all do now, Acts 17:28.
And Wesley’s Notes gives us even more insight by explaining: 20:38 He is not a God of the dead, or, there is no God of the dead - That is, the term God implies such a relation, as cannot possibly subsist between him and the dead; who in the Sadducees' sense are extinguished spirits; who could neither worship him, nor receive good from him. So that all live to him - all who have him for their God, live to and enjoy him. This sentence is not an argument for what went before; but the proposition which was to be proved. And the consequence is apparently just. For as all the faithful are the children of Abraham, and the Divine promise of being a God to him and his seed is entailed upon them, it implies their continued existence and happiness in a future state as much as Abraham's. And as the body is an essential part of man, it implies both his resurrection and theirs; and so overthrows the entire scheme of the Sadducean doctrine.
Regardless of our understanding, one thing is eminently clear, and that is the fact that God is the God of the living. In Him, all are living and no one is dead. In the kingdom of God, there is no death. There is timeless, eternal, everlasting life. Glory be to His holy name and to His Son, Jesus Christ!
References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The MacArthur Bible Commentary by John MacArthur, and Concise Bible Commentary, David S. Dockery, General Editor
You might also like to read:
- Broad Brook Bible Study Examiner, Grace Dooley
- Evangelical Examiner, Jake Jones
- Atlanta Christian Living Examiner, Taylor Powell
- Atlanta Bible Study Examiner, Donna Sundblad
- Kentucky Bible Study Examiner, Timothy Edwards
- Bible Verse of the Day
- Daily Bible Guide
- Growing in Christ
- Bible Study Tools Online
- The Jesus Walk Bible Study Series
If you enjoyed this article, you can find more at Sharon's Columbia Biblical Studies Examiner homepage.