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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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A famous sect of the Jews who distinguished themselves by their zeal for the traditions of the idlers, which they derived from the same fountain with the written word itself; pretending that both were delivered to Moses from Mount Sinai, and were therefore both of equal authority. From their rigorous observance of these traditions, they looked upon themselves as more holy than other men, and therefore separated themselves from those whom they thought sinners or profane, so as not to eat or drink with them; and hence, from the Hebrew word pharia, which signifies "to separate, " they had the name of Pharisees, or Sepharatists. This sect was one of the most ancient and most considerable among the Jews, but its original is not very well known; however, it was in great repute in the time of our Saviour, and most probably had its original at the same time with the traditions. The extraordinary pretences of the Pharisees to righteousness, drew after them the common people, who held them in the highest esteem and veneration. Our Saviour frequently, however, charges them with hypocrisy, and making the law of God of no effect through their traditions, Matthew 9:12 . Matthew 15:1-39 . Matthew 23:13; Matthew 23:33 . Luke 11:39; Luke 11:52 . Several of these traditions are particularly mentioned in the Gospel; but they had a vast number more, which may be seen in the Talmud, the whole subject whereof is to dictate and explain those traditions which this sect imposed to be believed and observed.

The Pharisees, contrary to the opinion of the Sadducees, held a resurrection from the dead, and the existence of angels and spirits, Acts 23:8 . But, according to Josephus, this resurrection of theirs was no more than a Pythagorean resurrection, that is, of the soul only, by its transmigration into another body, and being born anew with it. From the resurrection they excluded all who were notoriously wicked, being of opinion that the souls of such persons were transmitted into a state of everlasting woe. As to lesser crimes, they held they were punished in the bodies which the souls of those who committed them were next sent into. Josephus, however, either mistook the faith of his countrymen, or, which is more probable, wilfully misrepresented it, to render their opinions more respected by the Roman philosophers, whom he appears to have, on every occasion, been desirous to please. The Pharisees had many Pagan notions respecting the soul; but Bishop Bull, in his Harmonia Apostolica, has clearly proved that they held a resurrection of the body, and that they supposed a certain bone to remain uncorrupted, to furnish the matter of which the resurrection body was to be formed. they did not, however, believe that all mankind were to be raised from the dead. A resurrection was the privilege of the children of Abraham alone, who were all to rise on Mount Zion; their incorruptible bones, wherever they might be buried, being carried to that mountain below the surface of the earth.

The state of future felicity in which the Pharisees believed was very gross: they imagined that men in the next world, as well as in the present, were to eat and drink, and enjoy the pleasures of love, each being re-united to his former wife. Hence the Sadducees, who believed in no resurrection, and supposed our Saviour to teach it as a Pharisee, very shrewdly urged the difficulty of disposing of the woman who had in this world been the wife of seven husbands. Had the resurrection of Christianity been the Pharisaical resurrection, this difficulty would have been insurmountable; and accordingly we find the people, and even some of the Pharisees themselves, struck with the manner in which our Saviour removed it. This sect seems to have had some confused notions, probably derived from the Chaldeans and Persians, respecting the pre-existence of souls; and hence it was that Christ's disciples asked him concerning the blind man, John 9:2 . "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" and when the disciples told Christ that some said he was Elias, Jeremias, or one of the prophets, Matthew 16:14 . the meaning can only be, that they thought he was come into the world with the soul of Elias, Jeremias, or some other of the old prophets transmigrated into him. With the Essenes they held absolute predestination, and with the Sadducees free will; but how they reconciled these seemingly incompatible doctrines is no where sufficiently explained. The sect of the Pharisees was not extinguished by the ruin of the Jewish commonwealth. The greatest part of the modern Jews are still of this sect, being as much devoted to traditions, or the oral law, as their ancestors were.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Pharisees'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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