Who Were The Pharisees And Sadducees? A Bible Study

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Exactly who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees and what was their purpose in Judea at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry?  Are there present day Pharisees or Sadducees today?

Differences Between the Pharisees and the Sadducees

One of the main differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection (Acts 23:6) but the Sadducees did not (Matt 22:23).  Here is how you can remember which believed in the resurrection and which did not.   The Pharisees believed in the resurrection and so they could see “far you see” but the poor Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection and so they were “sad you see.”  That is why these groups were vehemently opposed to each other.  Their belief systems clashed with one another.  Another thing was that the Pharisees believed in the law but they went much more above and beyond what is written in the Word and created their own traditions. The Sadducees went the opposite way…believing in no laws but the written Word but even in that, they did not do well in keeping them.  They believed that laws were only good for restricting human freedom.  They were arch enemies for these reasons but not these reasons alone and had various conflicts over the years in Judea.  If these groups were nations, they would have gone to war more than once because they were so different from one another. The only thing they had in common was their hatred for Jesus and their passionate desire to kill Him.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the afterlife, rewards after death, in angels, demons, heaven and hell, and believed in eternal life.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the afterlife, rewards after death, in angels, demons, heaven and hell, and believed in eternal life.

The Pharisees

It is hard to blame the Pharisees for their strict adherence to the law for Israel had the cyclical pattern of obedience, disobedience, idolatry, deportation, exile, captivity, repentance, and then back to their land and then they lived in obedience again until they started the whole cycle again.  The Pharisees only wanted to preserve the law of God and that in itself was a good thing but a good thing taken too far.  They had added thousands of rules not found in the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and these man-made rituals and traditions made it impossible for anyone to keep.  One example was that a Jew could not even spit on the ground on the Sabbath because it might make a hole in the ground…even if only a few hundreds of an inch deep.  Because that was considered digging a hole it was thought of as working and thus, breaking the Sabbath.

Paul was the most famous Pharisee of all and like the other Pharisees, he was an expert in the law. That may have been the reason why Paul (formerly Saul) was so fierce in his persecution of the Christians for they claimed to have a relationship with God and have inherited eternal life…all, apart from the works of the law.  Christianity was contrary to Paul’s nature as a Pharisee since the Pharisees considered the oral traditions (man-made) of the law equal to the Word of God which is sin in God’s eyes (Duet 4:22, Mark 7:13).  Saul lived up to his name (destroyer) before God struck him down in his pride and persecution of the church.  God later changed his name to Paul as he was a new man after being saved.  Paul name change reflects his change in nature as Paul means “small, humble.” The Pharisees had more respect and popularity with the population partly because they were not like the wealthy Sadducees who had a disconnect with most of the Jews.  They were regarded more favorably by the common man who considered them as part of the working class.  Even though they had fewer numbers and in council of the Sanhedrin Court (like a Jewish Supreme Court) they still managed to have the most influence.

The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the afterlife, rewards after death, in angels, demons, heaven and hell, and believed in eternal life.

The Sadducees

The Sadducees were like the aristocrats of their day and tended to be richer and held more influential and powerful positions like the chief priests and high priestly positions.  They had the majority of the 70-member council in the Sanhedrin but held less power than the Pharisees.  Despite the Sadducees having the majority, the Pharisees were held in the highest regard by the Jewish population in general and this angered the Sadducees.

The Sadducees upheld the written word but did not keep the written word very well.  They certainly didn’t add any more than what was written, unlike the Pharisees who were, in their opinion, law-heavy to the extreme.  They did not like the oral traditions of the Pharisees and only saw the written words as applicable to them…nothing more, nothing less. To their credit and for our benefit, the Sadducees work tenaciously to preserve the Word of God, particularly the first 5 books of the Bible.

The Sadducees did not believe in angels, demons, the devil, the resurrection, the afterlife, and thought that they soul just went out of existence after death. They were more political than religious and because of this, after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they ceased to exist.

Conclusion

There are still Sadducees today in the sense that they don’t adhere to the written Word very well.  Like some Christians, they rationalize their behavior when held against was is written.  Likewise, there are still Pharisees who try to encumber people under the law and make salvation part of a works-righteousness. They give their own traditions equal billing with the written Word but they added to it.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were set against each other.  The Pharisees believed in the law…to a fault.  The Sadducees believed in no laws above what is written and nearly everything was considered permissible.  This doesn’t mean that they didn’t keep the law because they believed in the written Word but nothing above that.  Since these two groups were polar opposites of each other, it is amazing that they joined together in trying to cause Christ to stumble in order that they might take Him out of the way…which culminated in His death.  Only hate and envy of Jesus’ could unite these two who were nowhere near each other in their beliefs.  That’s what happens when people reject Jesus and after they refuse to repent.  If you still have not repented and trusted in Christ, then God is set against you and you are still an enemy of God.  God’s wrath still abides on you but it doesn’t have to.  Repent today and confess your sinfulness and your need for a Savior and then place your trust in Christ.  There is no other way.

Related Reading: Who Are The Gentiles? A Bible Study

Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack H December 9, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Hello Pastor Jack! As usual, a top-notch article! 😀 I like the detail you went into there. I’m guessing you had to dig DEEP into the Bible to retreive all that. One thing though, how do you know the Pharisees illegitamately made THOUSANDS of man-made rules? How are you sure of the number? Not meaning to get bogged down in non-essentials, of course.

Thanks, Jack H, from England 🙂

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Jack Wellman December 9, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Thanks Jack from across the Big Pond. I appreciate your hunger to know more. One of the factors that distinguished the Pharisees from other groups prior to the destruction of the Temple was their belief that all Jews had to observe the purity laws (which applied to the Temple service) outside the Temple. “Outside” of the Temple meant that these were laws that they added to the Mosaic Law and were not from God but from man and Jesus told them that (in Mark 7:8) “For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” and in Mark 7:4 “When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other [added] traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.” In fact “They worship me [Jesus]in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” (Mark 7:7). One of my sources are secular and trusted historians such as the Jewish Historian, Josephus and one major difference was the continued adherence of the Pharisees to the laws and traditions of the Jewish people in the face of assimilation. As Josephus noted, the Pharisees were considered the most expert and accurate expositors of Jewish law.

Pharisaic views were non-creedal and non-dogmatic, and heterogeneous. No single tractate of the key Rabbinic texts, the Mishnah and the Talmud, is devoted to theological issues; these texts are concerned primarily with interpretations of Jewish law and these interpretations were not from God but hundreds of Pharisee-created laws but they also added anecdotes about the sages and their values. Only one chapter of the Mishnah deals with theological issues; it asserts that three kinds of people will have no share in “the world to come:” those who deny the resurrection of the dead, those who deny the divinity of the Torah, and Epicureans (who deny divine supervision of human affairs). Another passage suggests a different set of core principles: normally, a Jew may violate any law to save a life, but in Sanhedrin 74a, a ruling orders Jews to accept martyrdom rather than violate the laws against idolatry, murder, or adultery. (Judah haNasi, however, said that Jews must “be meticulous in small religious duties as well as large ones, because you do not know what sort of reward is coming for any of the religious duties,” suggesting that all laws are of equal importance). In comparison with Christianity, the Rabbis were not especially concerned with the messiah or claims about the messiah or ranking the laws in importance.

A corpus {or body] of laws derived from a close reading of sacred texts which were not in the Torah (1st 5 books of the Bible written by Moses]. This belief entailed both a commitment to relate religion to ordinary concerns and daily life, and a commitment to study and scholarly debate. These dealing with daily life and ordinary concerns were that you couldn’t even tie a string on the Sabbath, start a fire, and hundreds just dealing with one day of the week (Saturday) alone. Others were consisting of the corpus of oral laws and traditions transmitted by God to Moses orally, and then memorized and passed down by Moses and his successors over the generations. The Oral Torah functioned to elaborate and explicate what was written, and the Pharisees asserted that the sacred scriptures were not complete on their own terms and could therefore not be understood. The Pharisees were also innovators in that they enacted specific laws as they saw necessary according to the needs of the time. Much of the legal system is based on what the sages constructed via logical reasoning and from established practice.

Other laws with Mosaic authority that cannot be derived from the Biblical text (these include measurements (e.g. what amount of an non-kosher food must one eat to be liable), the amount and order of the scrolls to be placed in the phylacteries, etc.).

So you can see why I couldn’t go into too much detail because of the enormity of the laws they had. Did this answer your question Jack? Thank you brother.

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NICHOLAS December 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Ever heard that the Sadducees by not believing in resurrection were called that because they were sad – you – see , LOL , I have heard the pubilcan , and another name given in another book of the Bible to the person who was the humble one , where the Pharisee was praying with his face to the sky , about all his good works and all while the other his head bowed and was humble , another joke a man was given an award for humility , but it was taken away when he wore it to church for all to see ……..

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NICHOLAS December 18, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I HOPE ALL WRITERS AND READERS HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS , SAFE AND ALL GOOD THINGS !!!!!!!!! NICHOLAS

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NICHOLAS December 19, 2013 at 2:21 am

Pastor Jack , is there one of the past writings or something you may suggest that I could copy and give to my step daughter , I think I have spoken about this before but there is a real problem I never would have known about without knowing my step daughter and her husband . It seems older people get pharmacy drugs for pain , nervous problems , and such and they think to make ends meet – pay their rent and all that they need to hurt and sell some if not all their pills , younger folks stealing and telling lies of needs for money so they can buy these pills and take them , they stack them up and call them catchy names like totem poles and roxy’s and stupid stuff like that — hate the sin not the sinner , but this makes me very ill , the step daughter has lost her 2 boys to other family members who are actually taking them to church every time the doors are open thank GOD , but in the mean time the parents seem to have not a care in the world about paying their child support , take every penny and spend it on drugs , etc. , it makes you see that a mark of the beast will come about because of fraud , things like this , identity theft , etc. as another way the government will try and solve all our problems like affordable health care they’ve done such a good job on — sure , I just can’t stomach what is going on with this situation , and it seems they will never grow up or if they do it will be too late or they will suffer maybe even be killed or die because of their ignorant decisions . I’m by no means thinking I was a perfect child or young person , but I do think I had better since than this , even if I’m not sure which spelling to spell since , maybe I should say better brains than this . I pray , i ask others to pray , I pray for them out loud in front of them , I tell them I pray for them . They make it a point to come see my wife , her mother when I am not there and they double team her coming in and running from room to room where she can’t watch them to the point she want even let them in the house anymore , it is such a shame . I feel inadequate to even know how to deal with such . You have to have things picked up in your car , put in a locking mail box , put chains on your gates , lock your out buildings , and so many things to keep your own kin from stealing from you , tell your neighbors to watch your home and if they see your daughter to call you right away , truly this is the life you live with a problem like this . I will stop here but I just wanted to write this so you and other readers would see what things you go through or they may even experience the same or know of some ways to help , the most help I can think of of course is GOD’s help , only HE can solve this I think , they will tell you they have changed and steal and lie at the same time they are saying it , i don’t know if they really mean they want to change or if it is just another trick either way it would take them years of doing better to settle my mind at all .

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Jack Wellman December 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

Amen Nicholas to your statement that this is something that ultimately God can solve but will He? Only time will tell. I pray they repent for if they don’t, falling into the hands of the Living God is going to be a fearful thing for them someday (Rev 20:11-15) and that is so terrible I can’t even describe it. We can pray for God the Holy Spirit to come at the Father’s direction and that they repent, confess their sins, see the sinfulness of their actions (sins) and trust in Christ for there is no other hope for them. We just have to rest in the fact that God has said that all will have to give an account for all they do and say someday and that is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Keep praying and so will I my brother.

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DocReits December 19, 2013 at 10:34 am

Nicholas,

I know your post was directed to Pastor Jack but please allow me to comment as I believe this is such an important post you wrote and needs a different perspective than perhaps you were after.

I had such a child as you described with your step-daughter. Four of my five were model children then there was my son, Elliott(not his real name). Elliot had a stealing problem. I took him to the courts as a child and showed him what would happen to him if he continued to steal, once an adult.

He was in with bad company and continued to steal. A neighbor had a child who did the same. He hid his child in his basement for over a year as their was a warrant out for the son’s arrest.

I told my son that if I caught him with evidence of stealing I would call the police and have him sent to jail. He pulled grand theft shortly after his 18th birthday, in spite of all of this, using my personal car…Great, right?

I found the evidence of the stores deposit bag and receipts in his room. After the shock and phone calls to find out that the store had been hit, I called the police, had them come to my house, read Elliott his rights, cuff him, and take him to jail.

I will not bore you with the sleepless nights, tears and prayers and the pain and recrimination I received for being this terrible parent for ratting out my own dear son.

The result was that he became a model citizen, who now castigates any who would think of breaking the law…thank you Lord! He is my only child still fighting salvation, so I continue to pray. Our relationship is good and he understands why I was the one who sent him to jail(actually he sent himself to jail, but you get my point).

My main thought for you is that you need to try, with God’s help, to put an end to your child’s lawlessness. If this includes turning this matter over to the police….so be it. Warn her, in love, and give her the ultimatum, that you will turn her in to the police if you discover any evidence of her stealing or drug abuse or any other evidence of her breaking the law. Turn her over so that by God’s grace she may be saved, in this case… from herself.

I pray for you and your step-daughter.

DocReits

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