The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus. Painter: James Tissot
The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus. Painter: James Tissot

What are the…

Hebrew: פְּרוּשִׁים —transliteration: persahin from parash, “to separate”) —meaning: “the separate ones” or “the separatists”

The Pharisees were a Jewish social movement and a religious school of thought in ancient Israel. They claimed Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish religious law. After the destruction of the Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical, and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisees were probably the successors of the Assideans (i.e., the “pious”), a party that originated in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes in revolt against his heathenizing policy.

The first mention of them is in a description by the historian Josephus of the three sects or schools into which the Jews were divided (B.C. 145). The other two sects were the Essenes and the Sadducees.

In the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, they were the most popular party (John 7:48) and excerted strong control over the synogogues. They tried to be extremely accurate and minute in all matters appertaining to the law of Moses (Matthew 9:14; 23:15; Luke 11:39; 18:12). They believed in God’s judgment and in the resurrection of the dead for reward or punishment based on one’s deeds in Earthly life.

Paul, when brought before the council of Jerusalem, professed himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6-8; 26:4-5).

There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax morality (Matthew 5:20; 15:4, 8; 23:3, 14, 23, 25; John 8:7). On the first notice of them in the New Testament (Matthew 3:7), they are ranked by John the Baptist with the Sadducees as a “generation of vipers.” They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matthew 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11-12).

They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matthew 12:39; 16:1-4).

From the very beginning of His ministry the Pharisees showed themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could not bear his doctrines, and they sought by every means to destroy his influence among the people.

However, there are also several references in the New Testament to a minority of Pharisees who believed in Him, including Nicodemus, who said it is known Jesus is a teacher sent from God, Joseph of Arimathea, who was his disciple, and an unknown number of “those of the party of the Pharisees who believed”, among them the Saul (aka Apostle Paul)—a student of Gamaliel, who warned the Sanhedrin that opposing the disciples of Jesus could prove to be tantamount to opposing God.

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Article Version: February 21, 2023