the Second Week of Lent
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Name and General Character
1. Associated at First with Hasmoneans, but Later Abandon Them
2. Change of Name
3. Later Fortunes of the Sect
4. In New Testament Times
5. In Post-apostolic Times
1. Josephus's Statements Colored by Greek Ideas
2. Conditional Reincarnation
3. New Testament Presentation of Pharisaic Doctrines
4. Traditions Added to the Law
5. Traditional Interpretations of the Law by Pharisees (Sabbath, etc.)
6. Close Students of the Text of Scripture
(1) Messianic Hopes
1. Pharisees and People of the Land
2. Arrogance toward Other Jews
3. Regulations for the Chabher
4. The New Testament Account
(1) Their Scrupulosity
(2) Their Hypocrisy
5. Talmudic Classification of the Pharisees
1. Pharisaic Attempts to Gain Christ Over
2. Reasons for Pharisaic Hatred of Christ
3. our Lord's Denunciation of the Pharisees
1. Name and General Character:
A prominent sect of the Jews. The earliest notice of them in Josephus occurs in connection with Jonathan, the high priest. Immediately after the account of the embassy to the Lacedaemonians, there is subjoined (Josephus, Ant. ,
- J osephus - N ew Testament - T almud:
In considering the characteristics and doctrines of the Pharisees we are in some difficulty from the nature of our authorities. The writers of the New Testament assume generally that the character and tenets of the Pharisees are well known to their readers, and only lay stress on the points in which they were in antagonism to our Lord and His followers. The evidence of Josephus, a contemporary and himself a Pharisee, is lessened in value by the fact that he modified his accounts of his people to suit the taste of his Roman masters. The Pharisees, with him, are a philosophic sect, and not an active political party. Their Messianic hopes are not so much as mentioned. Although the Talmud was written, both Mishna and Gemara, by the descendants of the Pharisees, the fact that the Gemara, from which most of our information is derived, is so late renders the evidence deduced from Talmudic statements of little value. Even the Mishna, which came into being only a century after the fall of the Jewish state, shows traces of exaggeration and modification of facts. Still, taking these deficiencies into consideration, we may make a fairly consistent picture of the sect. The name means "separatists," from פּרשׁ ,
I. History of the Sect.
The Assideans (
1. Associated at First with Hasmoneans, but Later Abandon Them:
When Bacchides appeared against Jerusalem with Alcimus in his camp, this feeling against Judas took shape in receiving the treacherous Alcimus into Jerusalem and acknowledging him as high priest, a line of action which soon showed that it was fraught with disaster, as Alcimus murdered many of the people. They had to betake themselves anew to Judas, but this desertion was the beginning of a separating gulf which deepened when he made a treaty with the idolatrous Romans. As is not infrequently the case with religious zealots, their valor was associated with a mystic fanaticism. The very idea of alliance with heathen powers was hateful to them, so when Judas began to treat with Rome they deserted him, and he sustained the crushing defeat of Eleasa. Believing themselves the saints of God and therefore His peculiar treasure, they regarded any association with the heathen as faithlessness to Yahweh. Their attitude was much that of the Fifth Monarchy men in the time of Cromwell, still more that of the Cameronians in Scotland at the Revolution of 1688 who, because William of Orange was not a "covenanted" king, would have none of him. As the later Hasmoneans became more involved in worldly politics, they became more and more alienated from the strict Assideans, yet the successors of Judas Maccabeus retained their connection with the party in a lukewarm fashion, while the Sadducean sect was gaining in influence.
About this time the change of name seems to have been effected. They began to be called Pharisees,
2. Change of Name:
The Puritans of the 17th century became in the 19th "Non-conformists." The earliest instance of the Pharisees' intervening in history is that referred to in Josephus ( Ant. ,
3. Later Fortunes of the Sect:
The sons of Hyrcanus, especially Alexander Janneus, expressed their hostility in a more active way. Alexander crucified as many as 800 of the Pharisaic party, a proceeding that seems to intimate overt acts of hostility on their part which prompted this action. His whole policy was the aggrandizement of the Jewish state, but his ambition was greater than his military abilities. His repeated failures and defeats confirmed the Pharisees in their opposition to him on religious grounds. He scandalized them by calling himself king, although not of the Davidic line, and further still by adopting the heathen name "Alexander," and having it stamped in Greek characters on his coins. Although a high priest was forbidden to marry a widow, he married the widow of his brother. Still further, he incurred their opposition by abandoning the Pharisaic tradition as to the way in which the libation water was poured out. They retaliated by rousing his people against him and conspiring with the Syrian king. On his deathbed he advised his wife, Alexandra Salome, who succeeded him on the throne, to make peace with the Pharisees. This she did by throwing herself entirely into their hands. On her death a struggle for the possession of the throne and the high-priesthood began between her two sons, John Hyrcanus 2 and Aristobulus II. The latter, the more able and energetic, had the support of the Sadducees; the former, the elder of the two brothers, had that of the Pharisees. In the first phase of the conflict, Hyrcanus was defeated and compelled to make a disadvantageous peace with his brother, but, urged by Antipater, the Idumean, he called in Aretas, who inclined the balance at once to the side of Hyrcanus. The Romans were appealed to and they also, moved partly by the astuteness of Antipater, favored Hyrcanus. All this resulted ultimately in the supremacy of the Herodians, who through their subservience to Rome became inimical to the Pharisees and rivals of the Sadducees.
4. In New Testament Times:
When the New Testament records open, the Pharisees, who have supreme influence among the people, are also strong, though not predominant, in the Sanhedrin. The Herodians and Sadducees, the one by their alliance with the Rom authorities, and the other by their inherited skill in political intrigue, held the reins of government. If we might believe the Talmudic representation, the Pharisees were in the immense majority in the Sanhedrin; the
Recently Buchler ( Das grosse Synedrion in Jerusalem ) has attempted to harmonize these Talmudic fables with the aspect of things appearing in the New Testament and Josephus. He assumes that there were two Sanhedrins, one civil, having to do with matters of government, in which the Sadducees were overwhelmingly predominant, and the other scholastic, in which the Pharisees were equally predominant - the one the Senate of the nation, like the Senate of the United States, the other the Senate of a university, let us say, of Jerusalem. Although followed by Rabbi Lauterbach in the Jewish Encyclopedia , this attempt cannot be regarded as successful. There is no evidence for this dual Sanhedrin either in the New Testament or Josephus, on the one hand, or in the Talmud on the other.
Outside the Sanhedrin the Pharisees are ubiquitous, in Jerusalem, in Galilee, in Peraea and in the Decapolis, always coming in contact with Jesus. The attempts made by certain recent Jewish writers to exonerate them from the guilt of the condemnation of our Lord has no foundation; it is contradicted by the New Testament records, and the attitude of the Talmud to Jesus.
The Pharisees appear in the Book of Acts to be in a latent way favorers of the apostles as against the high-priestly party. The personal influence of Gamaliel, which seems commanding, was exercised in their favor. The anti-Christian zeal of Saul the Tarsian, though a Pharisee, may have been to some extent the result of the personal feelings which led him to perpetuate the relations of the earlier period when the two sects were united in common antagonism to the teaching of Christ. He, a Pharisee, offered himself to be employed by the Sadducean high priest (Acts 9:1 , Acts 9:2 ) to carry on the work of persecution in Damascus. In this action Saul appears to have been in opposition to a large section of the Pharisaic party. The bitter disputes which he and the other younger Pharisees had carried on with Stephen had possibly influenced him.
5. In Post-Apostolic Times:
When Paul, the Christian apostle, was brought before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, the Pharisaic party were numerous in the Council, if they did not even form the majority, and they readily became his defenders against the Sadducees.
From Josephus we learn that with the outbreak of the war with the Romans the Pharisees were thrust into the background by the more fanatical Zealots, Simon ben Gioras and John of Gischala (
II. Doctrines of the Pharisees.
1. Josephus' Statements Colored by Greek Ideas:
The account given of the doctrines of the Pharisees by Josephus is clearly influenced by his desire to parallel the Jewish sects with the Greek philosophical schools. He directs especial attention to the Pharisaic opinion as to fate and free will, since on this point the Stoic and Epicurean sects differed very emphatically. He regards the Pharisaic position as mid-way between that of the Sadducees, who denied fate altogether and made human freedom absolute, and that of the Essenes that "all things are left in the hand of God." He says "The Pharisees ascribe all things to fate and God, yet allow that to do what is right or the contrary is principally in man's own power, although fate cooperates in every action." It is to be noted that Josephus, in giving this statement of views, identifies "fate" with "God," a process that is more plausible in connection with the Latin fatum , "something decreed," than in relation to the impersonal
2. Conditional Reincarnation:
In connection with this was their doctrine of a future life of rewards and punishments. The phrase which Josephus uses is a peculiar one: "They think that every soul is immortal; only the souls of good men will pass into another body, but the souls of the evil shall suffer everlasting punishment" (
3. New Testament Presentation of Pharisaic Doctrines
Nothing in the Gospels or the Acts at all militates against any part of this representation, but there is much to fill it out. They believed in angels and spirits (Acts 23:8 ). From the connection it is probable that the present activity of such beings was the question in the mind of the writer. In that same sentence belief in the resurrection is ascribed to the Pharisees.
4. Traditions Added to the Law:
Another point is that to the bare letter of the Law they added traditions. While the existence of these traditions is referred to in Gospels, too little is said to enable us to grasp their nature and extent (Matthew 15:2 ff; Matthew 16:5 ff; Mk 7:1-23). The evangelists only recorded these traditional glosses when they conflicted with the teaching of Christ and were therefore denounced by Him. We find them exemplified in the Mishna. The Pharisaic theory of tradition was that these additions to the written law and interpretations of it had been given by Moses to the elders and by them had been transmitted orally down through the ages. The classical passage in the Mishna is to be found in
The related doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and the final judgment with its consequent eternal rewards and punishments formed a portion and a valuable portion of this tradition.
5. Traditional Interpretations of the Law by Pharisees (Sabbath, Etc.):
Less valuable, at times burdensome and hurtful, were the minute refinements they introduced into the Law. Sometimes the ingenuity of the Pharisaic doctors was directed to lighten the burden of the precept as in regard to the Sabbath. Thus a person was permitted to go much farther than a Sabbath day's journey if at some time previous he had deposited, within the legal Sabbath day's journey of the place he wished to reach, bread and water; this point was now to be regarded as the limit of his house, and consequently from this all distances were to be ceremonially reckoned ( Jewish Encyclopedia , under the word "Erub"): The great defect of Pharisaism was that it made sin so purely external. An act was right or wrong according as some external condition was present or absent; thus there was a difference in bestowing alms on the Sabbath whether the beggar put his hand within the door of the donor or the donor stretched his hand beyond his own threshold, as may be seen in the first Mishna in the Tractate
6. Close Students of the Text of Scripture:
Along with these traditions and traditional interpretations, the Pharisees were close students of the sacred text. On the turn of a sentence they suspended many decisions. So much so, that it is said of them later the Text of that they suspended mountains from hairs. This is especially the case with regard to the Sabbath law with its burdensome minutiae. At the same time there was care as to the actual wording of the text of the Law; this has a bearing on textual criticism, even to the present day. A specimen of Pharisaic exegesis which Paul turns against their followers as an argumentum ad hominem may be seen in Galatians 3:16 : "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."
(1) Messianic Hopes.
It is also to be said for them, that they maintained the Messianic hopes of the nation when their rivals were ready to sacrifice everything to the Romans, in order to gain greater political influence for themselves. Their imagination ran riot in the pictures they drew of these future times, but still they aided the faith of the people who were thus in a position to listen to the claims of Christ. They were led by Rabbi Aqiba in the reign of Hadrian to accept Bar-Cochba about a century after they had rejected Jesus. They were fanatical in their obedience to the Law as they understood it, and died under untold tortures rather than transgress.
They elevated almsgiving into an equivalent for righteousness. This gave poverty a very different place from what it had in Greece or among the Romans. Learning was honored, although its possessors might be very poor. The story of the early life of Hillel brings this out. He is represented as being so poor as to be unable sometimes to pay the small daily fee which admitted pupils to the rabbinic school, and when this happened, in his eagerness for the Law, he is reported to have listened on the roof to the words of the teachers. This is probably not historically true, but it exhibits the Pharisaic ideal.
III. Organization of the Pharisaic Party.
We have no distinct account of this organization, either in the Gospels, in Josephus, or in the Talmud. But the close relationship which the members of the sect sustained to each other, their habit of united action as exhibited in the narratives of the New Testament and of Josephus are thus most naturally explained. The Talmudic account of the
One of the elements of their promise has to be noted. The
IV. Character of the Pharisees.
1. Pharisees and People of the Land:
Because the ideal of the Pharisees was high, and because they reverenced learning and character above wealth and civil rank they had a tendency to despise those who did not agree with them. We see traces of this in the Gospels; thus John 7:49 : "This multitude that knoweth not the law are accursed." The distinction between the Pharisees, the Puritans and the
2. Arrogance Toward Other Jews:
Mingled with them were the few Jews that had neither been killed nor deported by the Babylonians, nor carried down into Egypt by Johanan, the son of Kareah. As they had conformed in a large measure to the habits of their heathen neighbors and intermarried with them, the stricter Jews, as Ezra and Nehemiah, regarded them as under the same condemnation as the heathen, and shrank from association with them. During the time of our Lord's life on earth the name was practically restricted to the ignorant Jews whose conformity to the law was on a broader scale than that of the Pharisees. Some have, however, dated the invention of the name later in the days of the Maccabean struggle, when the ceremonial precepts of the Law could with difficulty be observed. Those who were less careful of these were regarded as
3. Regulations for the Chabher:
The distinction as exhibited in the Talmud shows an arrogance on the part of the Pharisaic
4. The New Testament Account;
(1) Their Scrupulosity.
We find traces of this scrupulosity in the Gospels. The special way in which the ceremonial sanctity of the Pharisees exhibited itself was in tithing, hence the reference to their tithing "mint and anise and cummin" (Matthew 23:23 ). In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, one of the things that the Pharisee plumes himself on is that he gives tithes of all he possesses (Luke 18:12 ). He is an example of the Pharisaic arrogance of those "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and set all others at nought." Their claiming the first seats in feasts and synagogues (Matthew 23:6 ) was an evidence of the same spirit.
(2) Their Hypocrisy.
Closely akin to this is the hypocrisy of which the Pharisees were accused by our Lord. When we call them "hypocrites," we must go back to the primary meaning of the word. They were essentially "actors," poseurs . Good men, whose character and spiritual force have impressed themselves on their generation, have often peculiarities of manner and tone which are easily imitated. The very respect in which they are held by their disciples leads those who respect them to adopt unconsciously their mannerisms of voice and deportment. A later generation unconsciously imitates, "acts the part." In a time when religion is persecuted, as in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, or despised as it was in the Hellenizing times which preceded and succeeded, it would be the duty of religious men not to hide their convictions. The tendency to carry on this public manifestation of religious acts after it had ceased to be protest would be necessarily great. The fact that they gained credit by praying at street corners when the hour of prayer came, and would have lost credit with the people had they not done so, was not recognized by them as lessening the moral worth of the action. Those who, having lived in the period of persecution and contempt, survived in that when religion was held in respect would maintain their earlier practice without any arriere-pensee . The succeeding generation, in continuing the practice, consciously "acted." They were poseurs . Their hypocrisy was none the less real that it was reached by unconscious stages. Hypocrisy was a new sin, a sin only possible in a spiritual religion, a religion in which morality and worship were closely related. Heathenism, which lay in sacrifices and ceremonies by which the gods could be bribed, or cajoled into favors, had a purely casual connection with morality; its worship was entirely a thing of externals, of acting, "posing." Consequently, a man did not by the most careful attention to the ceremonies of religion produce any presumption in favor of his trustworthiness. There was thus no sinister motive to prompt to religion. The prophets had denounced the insincerity of worship, but even they did not denounce hypocrisy, i.e. religion used as a cloak to hide treachery or dishonesty. Religion had become more spiritual, the connection between morality and worship more intimate by reason of the persecution of the Seleucids.
5. Talmudic Classification of the Pharisees:
The Talmud to some extent confirms the representation of the Gospels. There were said to be seven classes of Pharisees: (1) the "shoulder" Pharisee, who wears his good deeds on his shoulders and obeys the precept of the Law, not from principle, but from expediency; (2) the "wait-a-little" Pharisee, who begs for time in order to perform a meritorious action; (3) the "bleeding" Pharisee, who in his eagerness to avoid looking on a woman shuts his eyes and so bruises himself to bleeding by stumbling against a wall; (4) the "painted" Pharisee, who advertises his holiness lest any one should touch him so that he should be defiled; (5) the "reckoning" Pharisee, who is always saying "What duty must I do to balance any unpalatable duty which I have neglected?"; (6) the "fearing" Pharisee, whose relation to God is one merely of trembling awe; (7) the Pharisee from "love." In all but the last there was an element of "acting," of hypocrisy. It is to be noted that the Talmud denounces ostentation; but unconsciously that root of the error lies in the externality of their righteousness; it commands an avoidance of ostentation which involves equal "posing."
V. Our Lord's Relationship to the Pharisees.
1. Pharisaic Attempts to Gain Christ over:
The attitude of the Pharisees to Jesus, to begin with, was, as had been their attitude to John, critical. They sent representatives to watch His doings and His sayings and report. They seem to have regarded it as possible that He might unite Himself with them, although, as we think, His affinities rather lay with the Essenes. Gradually their criticism became opposition. This opposition grew in intensity as He disregarded their interpretations of the Sabbatic law, ridiculed their refinements of the law of tithes and the distinctions they introduced into the validity of oaths, and denounced their insincere posing. At first there seems to have been an effort to cajole Him into compliance with their plans. If some of the Pharisees tempted Him to use language which would compromise Him with the people or with the Rom authorities, others invited Him to their tables, which was going far upon the part of a Pharisee toward one not a
2. Reasons for Pharisaic Hatred of Christ:
The opposition of the Pharisees to Jesus was intensified by another reason. They were the democratic party; their whole power lay in the reputation they had with the people for piety. our Lord denounced them as hypocrites; moreover He had secured a deeper popularity than theirs. At length when cajolery failed to win Him and astute questioning failed to destroy His popularity, they combined with their opponents, the Sadducees, against Him as against a common enemy.
3. Our Lord's Denunciation of the Pharisees:
On the other hand, Jesus denounced the Pharisees more than He denounced any other class of the people. This seems strange when we remember that the main body of the religious people, those who looked for the Messiah, belonged to the Pharisees, and His teaching and theirs had a strong external resemblance. It was this external resemblance, united as it was with a profound spiritual difference, which made it incumbent on Jesus to mark Himself off from them. All righteousness with them was external, it lay in meats and drinks and divers washings, in tithing of mint, anise and cummin. He placed religion on a different footing, removed it into another region. With Him it was the heart that must be right with God, not merely the external actions; not only the outside of the cup and platter was to be cleansed, but the inside first of all. It is to be noted that, as observed above, the Pharisees were less antagonistic to the apostles when their Lord had left them. The after-history of Pharisaism has justified Our Lord's condemnation.
Histories of Israel:
Ewald, V, 365 ff, English translation; Herzfeld, III, 354 ff; Jost, I, 197 ff; Gratz, V, 91 ff; Derenbourg, 75-78,117-44,452-54; Holtzmann, II, 124 ff; Renan, V, 42 ff; Stanley, III, 376 ff; Cornill, 145 ff, English translation; Schurer, II, ii, 4 ff, English translation (
Life and Times of Christ:
Hausrath, I, 135 ff, English translation; Edersheim, I, 310 ff; Lange, I, 302 ff, English translation; Farrar, II. 494 ff; Geikie, II, 223. ff; Keim, I, 250 ff; Thomson. Books Which Influenced our Lord , 50 ff; Weiss. I, 285 ff. English translation; de Pressense, 116 ff.
Articles in Encyclopedias, Bible Dictionaries, Lexicons, Etc.:
Ersch and Gruber, Allg. Eric (Daniel); Winer, Realworterbuch ; Herzog, RE, edition 1 (Reuss), editions 2,3 (Sieffert); Hamburger, Realenic .; Smith's
Wellhausen, Montet, Geiger, Baneth, Muller, Hanne, Davaine, Herford; Weber, System der altsynagogen Palestinischen Theologie , 10 ff, 44 ff; Keil, Biblical Archaeology , II, 1680; Ryle and James, Psalms of Solomon . 44 ff; Nicolas. Doctrines religieuses des juifs , 48 ff.
These files are public domain and were generously provided by the folks at WordSearch Software.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Pharisees'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​p/pharisees.html. 1915.