Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who were the Pharisees? What about the Sadducees? I read about these people a lot in the New Testament...who are they?

Jesus life and ministry is predominately associated with the region of Judea (modern day Israel). The Jewish people populated this area as did Gentiles (non-Jews). “Jew” or “Hebrew” was a nationality while “Judaism” is in reference to the belief system of the Jews (as founded in the teachings of Moses in the Old Testament). 

During the time known as the “Maccabean Period” (400 B.C - 0 A.D) Judaism became very fragmented. Six different groups or Jewish sects arose to popularity during this time. Five of these groups are mentioned in the New Testament. 

The Pharisees
The Pharisees were a very powerful and influential group. They were able to dictate public opinion. The Pharisees were also the chief interpreters of the Law. They were strict literalists. They held to the entire Old Testament (Pentateuch, Writings and Prophets) as binding.

Although the Pharisees were strict law-keepers, they also bound Rabbinical tradition as “Oral Law”. Often you will find the Pharisees rebuked by Jesus or one of the Apostles for their binding of tradition. In (Mark 7:9) Jesus says: 
“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”.
The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee before he became a follower of Christ (Phil. 3:4-7). Unlike some of the other groups in Judaism, the Pharisees DID believe in a coming judgement and the resurrection of the dead.

The Scribes
Often associated with the Pharisees you have another group known as “the Scribes”. A Scribe’s job was to copy the Old Testament. They did this by hand. Because of their occupation they were viewed as authorities of the Law. Like the Pharisees, they were sternly rebuked often in Scripture. Jesus once said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).
The Herodians
This was more of a political movement. These Jews supported Herod (Antipas). There is not much said of them in Scripture, although you do find them working with the Pharisees in conspiring against Jesus.
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:6).
The Zealots
The Zealots were a “zealous” patriotic group that wanted to overthrow the Romans. They were looking for a warrior Messiah. One of the Disciples named Simon was a Zealot. Dr. Denny Petrillo writes concerning the Zealots in his class notes on Matthew and Mark: 
“In 66 A.D., (the Zealots) organized a revolt against Rome. This was suicide for the Jewish nation, because they provoked the Romans to destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Even after Jerusalem had been captured they shut themselves in the Temple and forced the Romans to destroy it (Petrillo 19, emp mine).
The Sadducees
This was another powerful sect in Judaism. The Sadducees were usually wealthy, they controlled the temple, the Priesthood and the Sanhedrin. They are said to have adopted more Hellenistic (Roman) customs. 

Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch (First five books of the Bible) as law. They are recorded in the Bible as rejecting the belief of a resurrection.  They also denied the existence of spiritual beings and the final judgment.

Petrillo writes: 
“Their close association with the Temple spelled their doom. When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. they were reduced to insignificance. (The Pharisees became the founders of Judaism) (ibid).
The Essenes
The Essenes are not mentioned in Scripture, however, they are still well-known. They inhabited the region around the Dead Sea in an area called Qumran. They were strict ascetics and monastics and lived with other Essenes in a desert commune. They meditated and copied the Scriptures. The famous “Dead Sea Scrolls” are some of these copies that are still preserved to this day. They practiced ritual washings (ie. baptisms), they believed and trained for the coming of the Messiah who they called “The Teacher of Righteousness” (ibid). 

Once can be sure than not every Jew belonged to one of these subgroups in Judaism, however many of these groups prove to be an ongoing problem for Jesus and the Apostles. Thus, a great deal of Scripture is spent rebuking them and their false ways. 

By Cliff Sabroe - Citations from ESV Bible and Petrillo Class Notes on Matthew and Mark provided in syllabi at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver.