What’s the difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees?

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The Jewish/Roman historian Flavius Josephus mentioned the three sects that the Jews were divided into in the year 145 B.C. These were the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Essence. The Pharisees and the Sadducees represented the religious ruling class in Israel. They differed in their beliefs, social statuses, and sacred texts.

Theology

The Sadducees asserted a literal interpretation of the text of Scripture whereas the Pharisees, treated their own traditions as having equal authority as the Scriptures (Matthew 9:14; Mark 7:1-23; Luke 11:42). They let their zeal for the law overpower their love for the Lord and for their fellow men. Both groups rejected the Messiah and became His most bitter and deadly opponents (Matthew 27:20-22; Mark 15:13; Luke 23:21). Jesus had more disagreements with the Pharisees than the Sadducees because of their giving preeminence to oral tradition. He said to them “You ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition” (Mark 7:8 also Matthew 9:14; 15:1–9; 23:5, 16, 23, Mark 7:1–23; and Luke 11:42).

The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18–27; Acts 23:8), but the Pharisees believed in an afterlife and the rewards and punishments for people. Paul used this theological difference between the two sects to cause them to reexamine their views (Acts 23:6-9).

The Sadducees rejected the concept of a spirit world and angels. However, Jesus rebuked them saying, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). The Pharisees believed in the existence of angels and demons in the spirit world (Acts 23:8).

Social class

During the time of Christ, the Sadducees were the aristocrats and the elite of society more than the Pharisees. They occupied the majority of the 70 seats of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin. But they submitted to the demands of the Pharisees because the people trusted and respected the latter for representing them and for their zeal to the law.

The Sadducees’ high social status was reinforced by their priestly responsibilities through maintaining the temple and the sacrifices, as mandated in the Torah. According to the historian Josephus, many priests belonged to the Sadducees but not all priests were Sadducees.

Politics

The Sadducees’ center of power was the temple in Jerusalem, whereas the Pharisees were associated with the synagogues. The Sadducees held good relations with Rome and the Hellenistic world more than the Pharisees. And because the Sadducees were often more concerned with politics than religion, they didn’t attack Jesus until they were finally threatened by His work and popularity. At that point, both the Sadducees and Pharisees joined forces and planned Christ’s death (John 11:48–50; Mark 14:53; 15:1).

The Sadducees’ sect is believed to have become extinct sometime after the destruction of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. However, the Pharisees as a sect continued on and they complied the Mishnah, thus, setting the foundation for today’s Judaism.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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