Pharisees and Sadducees

Josephus refers to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes as "schools of thought," something of a mix between a religious faction and a political affiliation.

1. The name Pharisee is probably derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic perusim, the separated ones, alluding to both their origin and their characteristic practices. They tended to be politically conservative and religiously liberal and held the minority membership on the Sanhedrin:

o They held to the supreme place of Torah, with a rigorous scribal interpretation of it.
o Their most pronounced characteristic was their adherence to the oral tradition, which they obeyed rigorously as an attempt to make the written law relevant to daily life.
o They had a well-developed belief in angelic beings.
o They had concrete messianic hopes, as they looked for the coming Davidic messianic kingdom. The Messiah would overthrow the Gentiles and restore the fortunes of israel with Jerusalem as capital.
o They believed in the resurrection of the righteous when the messianic kingdom arrived, with the accompanying punishment of the wicked.
o They viewed Rome as an illegitimate force that was preventing Israel from experiencing its divinely ordained role in the outworking of the covenants.
o They held strongly to divine providence, yet viewed humans as having freedom of choice, which ensures their responsibility.
o As a lay fellowship or brotherhood connected with local synagogues, the Pharisees were popular with the common people.

2. The Sadducees were a small group with aristocratic and priestly influence, who derived their authority from the activities of the temple. They tended to be politically liberal and religiously conservative and held the majority membership on the Sanhedrin:

o They held a conservative attitude toward the Scriptures, accepting nothing as authoritative except the written word, literally interpreted.
o They accepted only Torah (the five books of Moses) as authoritative, rejecting any beliefs not found there.
o For that reason they denied the resurrection from the dead, the reality of angels, and spirit life.
o They produced no literature of which we are aware.
o They had no expressed messianic expectation, which tended to make them satisfied with their wealth and political power.
o They were open to aspects of Hellenism and often collaborated with the Romans.
o They tended to be removed from the common people by economic and political status.

Quoted from Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 1, p. 25.

Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page