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The Pharisees John 8:11

The Pharisees were a prominent religious and political group in ancient Judea, particularly influential from the second century BCE to the first century CE. Their beliefs, practices, and role in Jewish history and in the context of early Christianity have been subjects of significant interest and study. This comprehensive exploration delves into the origins, beliefs, practices, and historical significance of the Pharisees, aiming to provide a detailed and accessible understanding of this influential group.

Origins and Historical Context[]


The Pharisees emerged during the Hellenistic period, a time when Jewish society was grappling with the influence of Greek culture and rule. They likely began as a movement within Judaism that emphasized strict adherence to Jewish law (Torah) and traditions (oral laws).

Name and Identity[]

The term "Pharisee" comes from the Hebrew word "Perushim," meaning "separated ones," reflecting their commitment to religious purity and adherence to Jewish law.

Political Context[]

Their rise coincided with a period of intense political turmoil in Judea, including the Maccabean Revolt and the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty. The Pharisees often found themselves at odds with the ruling authorities, particularly the Sadducees, who were more aligned with the priestly and aristocratic classes.

Beliefs and Practices[]

Adherence to the Torah[]

The Pharisees were known for their strict observance of the Torah, including both the written law (Pentateuch) and oral traditions. They believed that alongside the written law given to Moses, an oral law was also handed down, guiding the interpretation and application of the written word.

The Oral Law[]

The oral law, later written down in the Mishnah and Talmud, was a cornerstone of Pharisaic belief. It included interpretations, traditions, and practical applications of the Torah, which they considered equally authoritative.

Belief in the Afterlife[]

Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and the existence of an afterlife, concepts that were less emphasized in the Hebrew Bible but developed in later Jewish thought.

Emphasis on Purity[]

The Pharisees extended purity laws, originally intended for the Temple and priests, to everyday life for all Jews. This approach aimed to sanctify daily life and make the whole of Israel akin to a "kingdom of priests."

Social and Political Role[]

Relationship with the People[]

The Pharisees were generally more popular among the common people than the Sadducees. Their teachings and interpretations of the law were more accessible and relevant to daily life.

Role in the Sanhedrin[]

Many Pharisees were members of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court and legislative body. This involvement gave them significant influence in religious and legal matters in Jewish society.

Interaction with Roman Rule[]

During the Roman occupation of Judea, the Pharisees navigated a complex relationship with the Roman authorities. While they were not overtly rebellious, they maintained a focus on Jewish autonomy in religious matters.

The Pharisees in the New Testament[]

Interaction with Jesus[]

In the Gospels, the Pharisees are often portrayed in opposition to Jesus, engaging in debates and conflicts over interpretations of the law and Jesus' teachings. These interactions highlight the Pharisees' emphasis on legalistic interpretations of the Torah.

Perspectives on Jesus[]

The New Testament depicts the Pharisees as concerned about Jesus' challenges to their authority and interpretations of Jewish law. However, it is important to note that these accounts reflect the early Christian perspective and may not fully capture the complexity of Pharisaic beliefs and attitudes.

Legacy and Influence[]

Contribution to Rabbinic Judaism[]

After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Pharisaic movement evolved into Rabbinic Judaism. Their emphasis on the oral law and teachings outside the Temple context laid the groundwork for Judaism's adaptation and survival after the Temple's destruction.

Influence on Christian Thought[]

The Pharisees' interactions with Jesus and early Christians significantly influenced Christian theology and the development of early Christian thought, particularly in the context of law, grace, and ethics.

Scholarly Perspectives[]

Modern scholarship has re-evaluated the role and beliefs of the Pharisees, often challenging traditional views and seeking a more nuanced understanding of their place in Jewish and Christian history.


The Pharisees were a crucially influential group in the development of Judaism and the context of early Christianity. Their strict adherence to the Torah, emphasis on oral tradition, and involvement in social and political life in ancient Judea have left a lasting impact on religious thought and practice. Understanding the Pharisees provides critical insights into the religious and cultural dynamics of the time, shedding light on the complex interplay between tradition, law, and societal change in ancient Jewish history.