In this article, we will explore the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible. This will help us understand as we read the New Testament.
When you read the Bible, especially the gospels in the New Testament, you would undoubtedly read about the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus often referred to them as bad examples and criticized them.
But you may wonder, what exactly is the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees? I know I have asked that question while reading the gospels. Like who are these people, and when did they show up? Because there is NO mention of Pharisees and Sadducees in the Old Testament.
Although the Pharisees and Sadducees were both groups of Jewish religious leaders, the two groups differed significantly in terms of their beliefs. The Pharisees and Sadducees also differed in their social standing and level of political influence.
Although the Pharisees and Sadducees often disagreed, they united against a common threat. They first joined against John the Baptist, who called them a “…brood of vipers” in Matthew 3:7.
They also united against Jesus and finally in the church’s persecution in the book of Acts. We must examine who they were and their beliefs to understand how they differed.
Table of Contents
The History Of The Pharisees And Sadducees
So, when did Pharisees and Sadducees come to be? Well, Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees became active in the time that lapsed between Judah’s return from Exile in Babylon and the start of the New Testament.
The History Of The Pharisees
The word “Pharisee” in Hebrew is Perushim, meaning “separated on” or “one who is separated.”
The Pharisees were a Jewish religious sect that rose to prominence in Judea around 160 B.C or also known as during the time of the Second Temple. The Pharisees were a party of laymen and scribes that wielded substantial influence among the Jewish people. They were known for their strict adherence to Jewish law and for placing great emphasis on the study and interpretation of scripture.
Despite their reputation for legalism, they were also seen as advocates for the people and significantly influenced the development of Judaism and Orthodox Judaism. However, their conflict with Jesus and His message ultimately led to their decline and eventual disappearance as a distinct group. The Pharisees as a sect ceased to exist around the second century after Christ.
Many of the Pharisees’ teachings are included in modern-day Judaism, and they were the founders of the Jewish Synagogue, which is still the place of Jewish worship today.
History Of The Sadducees
The word “Sadducee” in Hebrew is Tzedoq, plural Tzedoqim, derived from the word zakah, which can mean “clear or pure.” If you dig a little deeper into the root word, it can also mean “righteousness, fairness, or justice.”
As a Jewish religious sect, the Sadducees came into being around the same time as the Pharisees. Many believe them to be named after Zadok, a high priest in the time of King David, whose descendants were appointed by the prophet Ezekiel to control the temple.
The Sadducees were a group of priests and aristocrats, the wealthy elite in Judea at the time. The chief priest was almost always a Sadducee, and like the Zadokites, they were in control of the temple in Jerusalem until its destruction by Rome 70 AD, when the Sadducees ceased to exist. The Sadducees also controlled the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jewish religion at the time.
Even though they are no longer around, their legacy can still be felt today, as their beliefs continue to influence how people practice and interpret Judaism.
The Difference Between Pharisees And Sadducees: Beliefs
It’s Pharisee vs Sadducee time!
When looking at key or big differences between Pharisees and Sadducees, you must look at their core beliefs. Yes, it’s true that the Pharisees and Sadducees had much in common regarding their beliefs. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were Jewish religious sects.
However, despite the similarities in their beliefs, these were two opposing groups due to some significant differences. Let’s take a look at them.
What The Pharisees Believed
The Pharisees believed in one true God, who created the universe, selected Israel as His chosen people, and gave them a set of laws to obey. They believed that God would bless the nation if they kept the law (Torah) but would punish them if they did not. Some beliefs distinguished the Pharisees from the rest of the Jews:
- The Pharisees believed in the spoken law, a series of practices, beliefs, and interpretations of the Torah handed down verbally from one generation to another.
- Seen as the progressive Jewish movement of the time, the Pharisees adapted the written law when they felt that the Torah was no longer applicable or unclear. They set up rules that, when kept, they believed would see the Jews do the will of God.
- Due to their acceptance of the spoken law, the Pharisees believed that there was life after death and that all bodies would one day be resurrected.
- The Pharisees separated themselves from anyone who did not adhere to their strict purity rules.
- The Pharisees further believed in the existence of spirits, angels, heaven, and hell.
- For the Pharisees, worshipping God wasn’t limited to the temple. They set up Synagogues in towns and cities where the local Jewish people could worship.
- One more belief of the Pharisees was that it was more important to please God through your actions or keeping the law than with sacrifices at the temple.
What The Sadducees Believed
As a Jewish religious sect, the Sadducees, like the Pharisees, believed in the one true God who created the universe and a set of laws. However, they were different from the Pharisees in the following beliefs:
- The Torah was the beginning and the end of the law. The Sadducees did not believe in the spoken law and only accepted the written law.
- Because the Sadducees did not believe in the spoken law, they also did not believe in everlasting life or the resurrection of the dead. They thought that your only life was the here and now and that there would be nothing when you die.
- As there was no reference to it in the Torah, the Sadducees also didn’t believe in spirits, angels, heaven, and hell.
- Worshipping and bringing sacrifices at the temple was a non-negotiable matter for the Sadducees. Since the temple was under their control, they could profit from offerings and thus insisted it was the only way to worship God.
- Due to their wealth and social status, the Sadducees maintained good relations with the Roman government and other persons that would be seen as impure by the Pharisees.
What Did The Pharisees And Sadducees Have in Common?
Despite their differences, the Pharisees and Sadducees had a lot in common:
- The Pharisees and Sadducees were both Jewish religious sects. As such, both groups believed in the one true God and His written law, as seen in the Torah.
- Both these sects existed during the same time in Biblical history, although the Sadducees fell with the temple, while the Pharisees were still active for almost 100 years after.
- Despite the difference in social status, the Pharisees and Sadducees were influential religious leaders of the time.
- The Pharisees and Sadducees found common ground regarding their hatred of Jesus and the church, threatening both groups’ existence.
- John the Baptist and Jesus had equally unflattering things to say about the Pharisees and Sadducees, pointing out their hypocrisy and corruption.
Key Pharisees And Sadducees In The Bible
There are several Pharisees mentioned in the Bible, which includes the following three:
- Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. In John 3:1-15 we read how Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to talk to him.
- Gamaliel was a Pharisee Rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin, who, in Acts 5:34-39, addressed the council and persuaded them not to take harsh steps against the apostles.
- Probably the most famous Pharisee in the Bible was a student of Gamaliel named Saul. Throughout the book of Acts, he first persecuted the church but then met Christ in a vision and converted to become the apostle Paul.
As far as crucial Sadducees are concerned, only Annas the High Prieset and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, are mentioned by name. We read about them in Luke 3:2 and the story of the arrest and trial of Jesus in John 18 and the other gospels.
while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. – Luke 3:2
Annas was the high priest before the birth of Jesus, and Caiaphas was one of his successors. Both played vital roles in Jesus’ trial and death on the cross.
Although both the Pharisees and Sadducees were Jewish religious sects, there were some considerable differences between the two groups.
While the Sadducees were aristocrats, the Pharisees were laymen and scribes.
While the Sadducees believed in the written law of the Torah, The Pharisees also believed in the spoken law and adaptations of the Torah.
They had some key differences, but sadly the one thing they had so much in common was the persecution of Jesus and His followers. The very thing they stood up for was right in front of them, and they were too blind to see it.
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this face-off on the Pharisees vs Saducess! All kidding aside I do hope it helps when you read the New Testament to understand a little bit of who these people were.
If you would like to check out more differences in the Bible then check out these articles:
- The Difference Between an Apostle and a Disciple
- Religion vs Relationship: The Difference Between the Two
- What Is the Difference Between Praise and Worship?
- What Is the Difference Between Dreams and Visions?
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…