Who were the Pharisees and Sadducees ?

By Rev. Jack Barr

There are 95 verses in the bible that have the word "Pharisee, and Sadducee, as well as the plural form for each", with an additional 5 verses that has only "Sadducees" in them.

As I would read in the Gospels about the Pharisees, and Sadducees, I assumed that they were the priests that served in the Temple. When I really got into studying them in the Scriptures, and in secular writings, I found out many things that I didn't know about them. I will relate here a condensed list of what the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, believed and practiced.

A truth that we will not cover at this time is that ALL priests were Levites. But not all Levites were priests. This will help in understanding this article for It Is Related.

We have found that although many, if not all, of the priest and Levites were of either the Pharisees Sect, or the Sadducees Sect, at the time of Jesus. And yet, there were many of both Sects that were not either priests or Levites. There were even women who were Pharisees. The Apostle Paul was both a Pharisee, and from the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5)

The information below was gathered from Scripture, Commentaries, and Secular Historical writings.


This is what they believed and how they acted. I hope this will help you to understand Scripture better when you read of them.

The author of this Sect is unknown, that is, we don't know when it started.

The name means "divided," They separated themselves from the people and the manners of the world.

They meddled with the affairs of the government. (Jn. 3:1)

They were dreaded by the Roman government.

They were in great esteem with the people.

Pharisees could be from any tribe of the Israelites.
The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin. (Phil. 3:5)

Many Pharisees were in the ruling class. (Acts 23:6, Jn. 3:1)

Many of the Priests and Levites Scribes were Pharisees.
(But not All of them, some were Sadducees or Herodians) (Acts 23:9) In Acts 5:34, Gamaliel was called a doctor of the law. (This title was interchangeable with the titles of scribes or lawyers.)

There were women Pharisees as well as men.

There were seven types of Pharisees

The "Shechemite Pharisee", who does as Shechem did; is circumcised, not on God's account, or for his glory, or because circumcision is a command of his, but for his own profit and advantage, and that he may get honor from men.

The "Dashing Pharisee", who walks gently, the heel of one foot touching the great toe of the other; and scarce lifts up his feet from the earth, so that he dashes them against the stones, and would be thought thereby to be in deep meditation.

The "Pharisee letting blood", who makes as if he shut his eyes, that he may not look upon women, and so runs and dashes his head against the wall, till the blood gushes out, as though a vein was opened.

The "depressed Pharisee", who went double, or bowed down, or as others render the phrase, "the mortar Pharisee"; either because he wore a garment like a mortar, with the mouth turned downwards; or a hat resembling such a vessel; so that he could not look upward, nor on either side, only downward, or right forward.

The Pharisee, that said, what is my duty and I will do it? The gloss upon it is, teach me what is my duty, and I will do it: Lo! this is his excellence, if he is not expert in the prohibitions and niceties of the commands, and comes to learn; or thus, what is more to be done and I have not done it? So that he shows himself, or would appear as if he had performed all.

The "Pharisee of fear", who does what he does from fear of punishment.

The "Pharisee of love", who does what he does from love; which the gloss explains thus: for the love of the reward of the commandment, and not for the love of the commandment of his Creator; though they say of all these there is none to be beloved, but the Pharisee of love.

They studied the law, and taught it.

They boasted of, and trusted in, their being the seed of Abraham. (Mt. 3:9)

They were legalists - following the letter of the law but not the spirit.

They insisted of being formal.

They didn't care if their legal ceremonies had any spiritual meaning.

They were strict observers of the traditions of the elders. (Mk. 7:3)

They believed in both Fate and Freewill.

They believed in the resurrection of the dead.

They held that every soul is incorruptible or immortal.

They believed in Angels and Spirits.

They believed in and defended the doctrine of rewards and punishments in a future state.

They exposed themselves to public notice. Doing all they could to be seen of men. (Mt. 6:5)

They prayed publicly on the corners of the streets. (Mt. 6:5)

They had a trumpet blown before them when they gave alms. (Mt. 6:2)

They Chose the uppermost rooms at feasts. (Mk. 23:6)

They chose the chief seats in the synagogues. (Lk. 11:42)

They looked for and expected greetings in the markets. (Lk. 11:42)

They wanted to be called "Rabbi" by men. (Mt. 23:7-8)

They made broad their "Phylacteries". (Mt. 23:15)
[this is a pouch that is worn on the forehead while praying. It has four compartments with each holding a scroll with a scripture verse on it. To make it larger that normal was to brag of how much holier they were than others.]

They enlarged the borders of their garments. (Mt. 23:5)
[ These were fringes which they put upon the borders of their garments, and on them a ribbon of blue, to put them in mind of the commandments, to obey them. Num. 15:38, De 22:12. By having larger ones was to appear with a greater air of sanctity and devotion than others.]

They pretended to be more holy than others. (Mt. 23:27)

They believed that they were so good that they needed no repentance. (Lk. 18:11)

They fasted at least twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays) (Mt. 9:14, Lk. 18:12)

They made long prayers to gain the attention of men. (Mt. 23:14)

They believed it was unlawful to have any conversation with anyone they considered to be sinners.
To eat or drink with them. (Mt. 9:10-11, Mk. 2:15-16, Lk. 15:2)
To dwell in the same house. (Lk. 19:7)

They tried to drive out of society those they called sinners.

They call the common people unclean, looking down on them.

They would not eat unless they washed their hands. (Mk. 7:3)

For eating common foods, they washed to the joints of the fingers.
For the eating of offerings, or for banquets, they washed to the elbows.
(Most common people did not wash their hands.)

They stressed the outward observance of the law and tradition, but ignored the moral law.

Many used the pretence of holiness as a cloak for sin.

They were covetous. (Lovers of money) (Lk. 16:14) Devouring widow's houses. (Mt. 23:14) (cheating, or robbing the widows out of their homes, etc. as payment for the pretence of praying for them and their dead husbands.)

They hated the Sadducees.

They practiced baptism of their Proselytes (converts), and circumcision of the men.

They controlled the Synagogues. (Jn. 12:42)

The Pharisees sided with the Herodians. (Mk. 3:6, Mk. 12:13)

They sat on the Sanhedrim. (Acts 23:6)
The High priest was usually a Pharisee because they had a rule that a Saddusee could not be a High Priest. However that was not always true as there were times when there were no Pharisees on the Sanhedrim.

The doctrines taught by them were: the commandments and inventions of men, freewill, justification by the works of the law.

They were very particular and precise about what sort of leaven could be used to cause bread to rise.
There were several different leavenings which could be used, but they had a formula they insisted must be used as the only one. This throws a light on Mt. 16:6-11, Mk. 8:14-17. It has been suggested in "John Gill's Expositor" that the Apostles could have misunderstood Jesus in first thinking that Jesus was referring to the leaven that the Pharisees claimed was the leaven that must be used to cause the bread to rise.

The Pharisees came the closest to the truth of doctrine than any other sect, but they represented Hypocritical Superstition.

Jesus called them Hypocrites, Vipers, Serpents, (Mt. 12:34, 23:33). They were pretty to look at as was a snake but like the snake they were filled with deadly venom.


The Sadducees started from "Sadok or Saduk", a disciple of Antigonus of Socho.

Antigonus taught "Be not as Servants who serve their master for the sake of reward; but be ye as servants that serve their master not for the sake of reward, and let the fear of God be upon you"

Sadok and a fellow scholar, who's name was "Baithos or Baithus", heard, but didn't understand him. They concluded that there were no future state of rewards and punishments.

Their followers became known as Sadducees.

They held to the scriptures only.

They rejected the traditions of the Elders.

They denied fate.

They believed in free will only.

They claimed there was no resurrection of the dead. (Mt. 22:23, Mk. 12:18)

They believed that the soul dies with the body.

That there is no after life. (Mk. 12:23,26)

And there are no Angels or Spirits. (Acts 23:8)

They hated the Pharisees, yet joined with the Pharisees to kill Jesus.

They were closely connected with the best priestly families. (Acts. 5:17)

They were generally Herodians
( those who took Herod to be the Messiah, or were on his party, or for his government. Most of the Herodians were Sadducees.

They had little or no following with the masses, but rather found favor with the ruling class.

They were Rationalist.

They were selfish.

They represented Carnal unbelief.

They were the scornful infidels of that time and country.

They sat on the Sanhedrim. (Acts 23:6)

Sometimes the high priest was of this sect, as Ananias probably was. (Acts 5:17)
From "John Gill's Expositor for Acts 5:17,"; Great care indeed was taken of an high priest, that he should not be a Sadducee; on the eve of the day of atonement they always swore the high priest, lest he should be a Sadducee, that he would make no innovation in what was ordered him; and particularly that he would not put the incense upon the fire without, and then carry it in a censor into the most holy place, as the Sadducees understood Le. 16:3. But not withstanding all their care, sometimes they had a Sadducee, and sometimes a Sanhedrim consisted only of Sadducees. And in Acts 5:17, this is the kind that it was.

Jesus condemned them just as He did the Pharisees.
Jesus compared them to Leaven because, those men, when they believed the doctrine of the Sadducees became: Sour; Morbid; Rigid; Ill-natured; and Swelled and Puffed up with Pride and Vanity.

They were filled with blind zeal. (Acts 5:17)

They started the persecution of Peter and John. (Acts 4:1)

May the Lord help us. When we look out there today and see entire church bodies that fit the description of the Pharisees or Sadducees. May each one of us look at ourselves to see how many of these descriptions of both the Pharisees and Sadducees applies to us. Remember, They thought they were right with God, when in truth they were far from Him.

Since the above article was printed in a newsletter that had limited space, I did not print everything that I found, nor did I give a reference list of the books searched.

There were many kinds of Scribes. The Rulers, Kings, etc. Used them long before there was an Israelite nation. Each group or sect had it's own set of Scribes. There were Pharisees who were scribes. There were Sadducees who were scribes, The Priests used the Levites as scribes. (One of their duties in serving the priests).

In each place where it is said "Scribes and Pharisees", it can be read as "Scribes of the Pharisees"

It can be seen in the scriptures that different groups of Scribes and Pharisees came to accuse Jesus and John the Baptist, depending on where they were. Some were polite, some were nasty. Sometimes two different groups of Scribes and Pharisees came from different places on the same day. One thing they all had in common was their hate for Jesus.

As stated above, the Priest and Levites usually belonged to either the Pharisees or the Sadducees. Some of them did approach Jesus, but most of the Pharisees that attacked Jesus were not either Priest or Levites.

There are a few places where the word "Nethinims" is used. These were the Temple Slaves. They were not Jews, but were Gentiles. They were not allowed into the Temple any further than "the porch of the Gentiles". They were the "Gibeonites" who tricked Joshua into making a pact with them that he would not attack them. When Joshua found out the truth, he made them and all of their descendants Slaves to the Temple and the Israelite people. They were set to cut wood and to carry water for the Temple and the Israelite people. They were not, nor could they ever be a priest.

The Priest were of, and could only be, Aaron and his sons and their descendants forever. Aaron was from the tribe of Levi. All of the rest of the Levites and their descendants were assigned to be helpers to the Priests. Now that is another whole study.

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