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.


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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