The Pharisees and the Sadducees

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were two of the groups of Jewish leaders that interacted with Jesus in the Gospel stories. This table is a summary of the beliefs of these two groups. Jesus tells these folks that they have got it wrong in various ways. Both groups were focusing on external righteousness whether it was the strict observance of the law or bringing the proper sacrifice. Both groups were missing God in their zeal to be outwardly pure or correct. That is why Jesus called them hypocrites.


Pharisees Sadducees
The name Pharisee derives from the Hebrew root p-r-sh ("to separate"), possibly because Pharisees were distinguished from other Jews by their legal scrupulousness. It is not clear, though, whether they first called themselves "separatists" or whether that name was foisted on them by others. The name "Sadducees" is related to the Hebrew verbal form sadaq (tsahdak), "to be righteous." But exactly how it is related is unclear. One notion is that it is from Zadok (sometimes spelled Sadok) who was a patrilineal descendant of Eleazar the son of Aaron the high priest. Zadok means "Righteous, Justified."
Established as a group during the Hasmonean dynasty. Established as a group during the Hasmonean dynasty.
Laymen; could become rabbis and scribes. Hereditary Priests and aristocrats. Many say that the Hasmoneans were Saducees, they were certainly priestly. Maintaining the hereditary priesthood was important to the Saducees.
Popular with the average person. Favored by the elite. (Herod the Great married the last Hasmonean princess. see Herodian Dynasty.)
Centered in the synagogues.  Centered in the temple and the Sanhedrin.
Main Goal: To obey the Torah and the "traditions of the fathers." Main Goal: To keep Judaism centered on the sacrificial system at the temple.
Accepted all the Hebrew Scriptures including the Torah, Psalms and later writers (TaNaKh). Additionally the Oral Law or the tradition of the fathers". Accepted only the Torah; the books of Moses.
Believed in resurrection, angels and demons. Did not believe in resurrection, angels and demons.

Survived after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The Pharisees were responsible for the compilation of the Mishnah, an important document that underlies much of what is Judaism today. That is why many say the Pharisees laid the groundwork for modern-day Rabbinic Judaism.

Disappeared from history after the destruction of the Temple. Most of what is known about them comes from the writings of others.

Based in large part on Rose Guide to the Gospels: Rose Publishing 2019 8/5/19 


The Scribes and Teachers of the Law are also are mentioned in the gospels but opinion varies as to whether they were groups on their own or part of another. In the table they are lumped in with the Pharisees. The scribes were, of course, those who copied the sacred writings. These were the days before printing and the making of scrolls was an important and precise business. Even today the Torah scrolls are hand writtenby a sofer or scribe.Those engaged in this work became quite familiar with the material that they were copying.

We see the beginnings of the notion of Teachers of the Law in the story of the return from exile contained in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. At that point the people were generally in need of instruction in the law after years of captivity where they were not living under the law. The Rabbis teach that there were two reasons for exile: spiritual and political. For many the measure of the spiritual has to do with the observance of the law and indeed a major theme of Deuteronomy is obedience to the law will ensure that the nation can "live long in the land." Political entrapment is considered the other reason for the captivity. Some of the later kings relied on foreign alliances for security rather than relying on the Lord. On the surface this would seem political, but reliance on the Lord against impossible odds is another theme of the Old Testament. The political, then, can be related back to the spiritual.

Another group mentioned in the Gospels were the Zealots, they were actually more a political movement than a theological one. The Zealots were looking to overthrow Roman rule. Simon, the disciple is called Simon the Zealot. Barabbas was also a zealot. Some of the Zealots were revolutionaries. They were relying on military might to reestablish autonomy for Israel. After New Testament times there were as a series of Jewish-Roman wars that came out of this thinking.

The Essenes were another faction that emerged from the Hasmonean period but they are not mentioned in the Gospels. The Essenes were the bunch who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Interactions with Jesus and the Apostles

In the Bible the nation of Israel goes through times of faithfulness and unfaithfulness. Sometimes this is described as a problem with the general populous and sometimes in terms of the king. Prophets were sent to Israel with messages from God but they were generally not heeded. So when Jesus arrives it should not be a surprise to find that he is not well received by the religious people of the day. After all:

15Again and again the LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to His people through His messengers because He had compassion on them and on His dwelling place. 16But they mocked the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD against His people was stirred up beyond remedy. (II Chronicles 36.15-16)


Reference Quote comment
Matthew 3.7-12

John The Baptist

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

John's point is that it takes more than external righteousness to be acceptable to God. The Pharisees, at least, should have known that because it says in Ecclesiastes:

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7.20)

The purpose of the sacrificial system and the cycle of feasts was to keep in every heart an awareness of their sin. 

The Pharisees focused on obedience to the law, both written and oral. We need to note that the Oral Law builds a fence around the written law so that if you transgress the tradition you do not get near the actual law.

The Sadducees focused on bringing the proper sacrifice. The sacrifices were offering something of value to redeem someone or something else. Pagan sacrifices were offered to placate the gods, Israel's sacrifices were to restore relationship.

The notion that the Jews were the chosen people is also in this passage. This chosenness was not to the exclusion of others as we see through out the story that there are people from outside that do come in. It is not blood relationship that makes the difference but surrender to the will of God. 

Matthew 12.22-26

Jesus and Beelzebul

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

The Jewish leaders did not recognize Jesus authority or his mission. The Son of David is a messianic title and that was the problem for the leadership. That would make Jesus king in some sense and Messiah in another. Their accusation was that Jesus was working with the devil to do his miracles rather than having been sent from God. 
Matthew 16.1-4

Jesus' authority questioned

1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' 3 and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away.

There were, by this point, many signs that Jesus had performed so yet another sign is not the real issue. The comparison of idolatry with adultery is common in the Old Testament.

The Idea that Israel had been chosen out of all the nations of the earth to walk in fellowship with God turned out to be a demonstration project that illustrated the inability of mankind to actually do that. If the Pharisees were worshiping the law above God and the Saducees the power and honor that came with their office. They were failing to recognize their Messiah when he actually did appear.

Matthew 16.5-12

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 "Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, "It is because we didn't bring any bread."

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 22.15-22

Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?"

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, "Whose image is this? And whose inscription?"

21 "Caesar's," they replied.

Then he said to them, "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.


Matthew 22:23-33


Marriage at the Resurrection

29 Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.


Parallel accounts of this are at

Mark 12.18-37

Luke 20:27

Matthew 22:34-39

The Greatest Commandment

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Whose Son Is the Messiah?

Matthew 22.41-45

Who's son is the Messiah

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 "What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?"

"The son of David," they replied.

43 He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says,

44 "'The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet."'

45 If then David calls him 'Lord,' how can he be his son?" 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12.13-37  

Paying Taxes to Caesar

Marriage and the Resurrection

The Greatest commandment

Who's son is the Messiah

watch out for teachers of the law

Luke 20.9-47  

Parable of the Vineyard

Paying Taxes to Caesar

Marriage and the Resurrection

The Greatest commandment

Who's son is the Messiah

watch out for teachers of the law

Acts 4:1 [ Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin ] The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.

Acts 5:17 { The Apostles Persecuted ] Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  
Acts 23:6-8 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead."  8/5/19 8/5/19