As Jesus was teaching, on the two mounts, on Tuesday of Holy Week, He had the Sadducees and Pharisees as antagonists and part of the audience. These adversaries challenged Him about doing miracles and His ride into Jerusalem and tried to trick Him so that the Herodians would have a reason to arrest Him. I introduced these groups in the post about Jesus’ audiences. But with all studies, my questions directed me to a deeper study of these two groups. Links to the Jewish Encyclopedia are below.
It seems lately that my studies move and challenge things I thought I knew. These two groups fit into that trend very well. The Sadducees and Pharisees were not the only sects of Judaism at the time of Jesus; I am aware of the Essences and the Zealots. I have gotten the idea that not only were these “denominations” but also “political parties” and together they determined lifestyles. Even though the common people may have been more aligned with the Pharisees and their practices, you just get the feeling that there were cast or definite lines drawn in the populations of Israel. So, it is no surprise that Jesus went to the people and not to the parties.
Specks vs Logs—To compare and contrast Judaism at the time of Jesus and Christian thought would lead to a lot of finger-pointing and other unproductive wastes of time. Jesus went to people because everyone in any party was not lost in the depths of the doctrine. The parables and teaching on Tuesday, on the mount, can be alarming when you realize that most of them focused on the religious of the day (Sadducees and Pharisees) and the end times.
As I read the articles in the Jewish Encyclopedia, it was easy to see the differences between the two groups. That is what I was looking for. The shared beliefs are no less important. Both groups honored the Temple, the Feasts, and the Torah. In reading the Gospels, it is also apparent they could work together when a threat presented itself. John the Baptist and Jesus may have drawn red flags from both sects.
John the Baptist—John wore the traditional garb of a prophet of Israel, skins of sheep, not fine flowing robes with blue trim. He called out the sins of the son of Herod. Those transgressions would have made his father proud. John’s pulpit and platform were the banks of the Jordan and the rocks of the desert, not the stones of the Temple that man had carved. The washing of people in the River was not the cleansings dictated by man, but celebrated the passing through of the Red Sea with Moses, the crossing into the promise with Joshua, and transferring the blessing with Elijah and Elisha. The words he spoke resonated through the land and his message prepared hearts for the kingdom to come. Crowds of common people flocked to John, they believed, repented, and were washed. The Pharisees, wanting approval, listened and did not believe, and John would not baptize them. That is why the Master Teacher answered the first challenge by the Sadducees and Pharisees on the Temple Mount with a question about John the Baptist.
Sadducees—The core of this sect were the children of Levi through his son Aaron, Moses’ brother. They were wealthy. I have heard that the moneychangers and the inspected sacrifice business belonged to them. You could not use common money in the Temple. It had to be Temple money. “Flawless lambs” came from Bethlehem (the Christmas story) and they held sway over all of that. I found little about the Temple tax. There was a provision for taking care of the tent and walls of the sanctuary in the desert. My guess is that was the basis of that tax. The Jewish Encyclopedia says the Sadducees were the stricter of the two sects, being able to use Torah to dictate and interpret laws for their advantage while protecting their income and appearing holy was a win-win situation.
In Matthew 16:11+12 Jesus tells the disciples to beware of the yeast/teachings of the Sadducees and Pharisees. There are, in my opinion, two different yeast that wants to spread into our thinking. To me, the Sadducees used their position to fleece the sheep and become wealthy while downplaying the supernatural world. The Pharisees used their learning to box in their importance and then opposed anybody that was not part of THE sect.
Acts 23:8 explains that the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection or angels or spirits. Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible do not have the terms Sadducee, Pharisee, or resurrection in their pages, but there are angels in the Torah. Elisha (Jesus), who came after John the Baptist (Elijah) raised people from the dead. So, Jesus raising Lazarus in front of witnesses, just before Passover challenged both sects.
When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, the priest, the sons of Aaron, no longer had a platform to wield power from, so they disappeared as a sect of Judaism. Herod the Great used Rome’s power to expand the Second Temple, so it is poetic that they tore it down. As part of his power, grab Herod installed Boethus, a brother-in-law, as Chief Priest. This move shifted power/control to him and revived the Sadducees. This was because of the power of the Pharisees over some things in the Temple.
Pharisees—I learned a lot from doing this study. Like the Sadducees, the Pharisees started after the Babylonian exile. Of the two sects, they were not as stern as the Sadducees and they were the progressives. The article below has several verses that may give a “priesthood” responsibility to every man in Israel, especially to teach his sons how to read. They did side with the people and became favored by them. The Pharisees introduced many of the customs we see Jesus taking part in.
Once the Temple was destroyed, the synagogue took over as the focus of the spiritual life of the Jewish people. The Pharisees had started these community-centered places of worship.
The 1905 Jewish Encyclopedia, on the Pharisees, the article has a section about hypocrisy. They assert that the first text of many New Testament books had the word Sadducee replaced with the word Pharisee and that pro-Paul people did it. No, I have not checked that statement, but a few lines on these sects from the New Testament are in order.
- Paul seemed to be proud of his Pharisee up bring-Philippians 3:5 and Acts 26.
- Matthew, Mark, and John also were influenced by Pharisees.
- Jesus, as the Christ, had problems with how their great learning had clouded their thoughts and attitudes.
- The Pharisees and Sadducees had a problem with Jesus because He was not one of them.
- Not all Pharisees opposed Jesus-John 3:1 Nicodemus, Acts 5 Gamaliel, Luke 7:36-one had invited Jesus to dinner, but did not offer water to wash with.
- The Pharisees and Sadducees both had their own teachers of the law. (Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30) On some things they held to different views of the law. I had thought that the “teachers” would have been all Sadducees.
- Matthew has eight times that he used Sadducee and Pharisee together in the same verse. Matthew and Luke talk the most about these two sects.
- John the Baptist and his washings are referred to several times in the New Testament regarding these two sects. John 1:24 and Matthew 3:7 talk about them coming to John to be washed and John denied them. I have a feeling this was due to what John preached-repent, for the kingdom is near. In Luke 7:29-30, the common people received Jesus’ words because John had baptized them. The Pharisees and the experts (or lawyers, or scribes) who were not baptized did not accept Jesus.
- The combinations of names and titles are interesting. Besides Pharisees and Sadducees, there are Herodians, chief priest, teachers of the law, and lawyers or scribes. These may vary because of your favorite translation. There are several times the combinations make little sense to me. The Herodians doing anything with the Pharisees (Mark 3:6 and 12:13) seem out of place. The chief priest agreeing with the Pharisees (John 11:47, 18:3) is also a question mark. Both sects had their own scribes or experts of the Law, and both had their own teachers of the Law. I will bet the meetings of the Sanhedrin were noisy affairs.
- The seven woes in Matthew 23, now, are not so cut and dry who Jesus was talking about. At first, I thought the teachers of the law were a code for Sadducee. Really, I still lean in that direction, but given the combinations that are in the Gospels that are now hazed over some.
Signs and Common Sense—The interaction of Jesus with religious leaders outside of Jerusalem frequently involved the law and why Jesus was not keeping it the way they thought it should be done. The signs and healings probably got delegations from both sects into the countryside to check on this traveling rabbi. So, in Matthew 16, when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus to perform a sign from heaven, that was overkill. Do you think they came with their own cartload of sick people? Casting out demons, feeding thousands, and healing people for years should have been enough. No, they wanted on-demand miracles. I am glad Jesus came to give life; if it was me, I may have thought of something else to do to them. This episode led to the teaching about the yeast they want to spread in the Church.
Post Jesus Interactions—The Pharisees who became believers by the time of Acts 15:5 just knew that Gentiles had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. Why? Because that is what they had always done, and their fathers, and their fathers. How could anybody be blessed if you don’t do it with formula and my way?
Paul—He is the penultimate picture of grace and a symbol of two men acting as one body. A Pharisee asked and got permission from a Sadducee (chief priest) to kill Jews and then preaches Jesus to Gentiles and helps turn the Roman world on its ear. Philippians 3:5, Acts 9; 23:6-9; and 26:5.
The sermons on both mounts could be looked at as Jesus cleaning out the yeast before Passover.