New Testament Jewish Parties
(Here is an interesting bit of history from the Holman Bible Dictionary.)
Judaism in New Testament times was diverse. We read of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians.
One man is called a Zealot. From other sources, we learn of Essenes.
Pharisees: The Pharisees constituted the most important group. They appear in the Gospels as the opponents of
Yahshua. Paul claimed that he was a Pharisee before becoming a Believer (Phil. 3:5). They were the most numerous
of the groups, although Josephus stated that they numbered only about six thousand. They controlled the synagogues
and exercised great control over the general population.
No surviving writing gives us information about the origin of the Pharisees. The earliest reference to them is
dated in the time of Jonathan (160-143 BCE), where Josephus refers to Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Their
good relations with the rulers ended in the time of John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE). They came to power again when
Salome Alexandra became queen (76 BCE).
The name "Pharisee" means "the separated ones." It may mean that they separated themselves
from the masses of the people or that they separated themselves to the study and interpretation of the law. It
is usually assumed that they were the spiritual descendants of the Hasidim, the loyal fighters for religious freedom
in the time of Judas Maccabeus. They appear to be responsible for the transformation of Judaism from a religion
of sacrifice to one of law. They were the developers of the oral tradition, the t4achers of the two-fold law:
written and oral. They saw the way to (Yahweh) as being through obedience to the law. They were the progressives
of the day, willing to adopt new ideas and adapt the law to new situations.
The Pharisees were strongly monotheistic. They accepted all the Old Testament as authoritative. They affirmed
the reality of angels and demons. They had a firm belief in life beyond the grave and a resurrection of the body.
They were missionary, seeking the conversion of Gentiles (Matt. 23:15). They saw (Yahweh) as concerned with the
life of a person without denying that the individual was responsible for how he or she lived. They had little
interest in politics. The Pharisees opposed Yahshua because He refused to accept the teachings of the oral law.
Sadducees: The Sadducees were the aristocrats of the time. They were the party of the rich and the high priestly
families. They were in charge of the Temple and its services. They claimed to be descendants of Zadok, high priest
in the time of Solomon. However, the true derivation of their name is unknown. In all our literature, they stand
in opposition to the Pharisees. They sought to conserve the beliefs and practices of the past. They opposed the
oral law, accepting the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, as the ultimate authority. The
Sadducees were materialistic in their outlook. They did not believe in life after death or any reward or punishment
beyond this life. They denied the existence of angels and demons. They did not believe that (Yahweh) was concerned
with what people did. Rather people were totally free. They were politically oriented, supporters of ruling powers,
whether Seleucids or Romans. They wanted nothing to threaten their position and wealth, so they strongly opposed
Zealots: The Zealots receive only brief mention in the New Testament. Simon, one of the disciples, is called Zealot
(Luke 6:15). John 18:40 uses a word for Barabbas that Josephus used for Zealot. Josephus states that the Zealots
began with Judas the Galilean seeking to lead a revolt over a census for taxation purposes (CE 6). He did not
use the name Zealot until referring to events in CE 66, the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Rome. The Zealots
were the extreme wing of the Pharisees. In contrast with the Pharisees, they believed that only (Yahweh) had the
right to rule over the Jews. They were willing to fight and die for that belief. For them patriotism and religion
Herodians: The Herodians are mentioned in only three places in the New Testament (Matt. 22:16; Mark 3:6; 12:13).
In the earliest reference in Mark, they joined with the Pharisees in a plot to kill Yahshua. The other two passages
refer to the sending of Pharisees and Herodians to ask Yahshua about paying taxes to Caesar. It is assumed that
they were Jews who supported Herod Antipas or sought to have a descendant of Herod the Great given authority over
Palestine. At this time Judea and Samaria were under Roman governors.
Essenes: We know of the Essenes through the writings of Josephus and Philo, a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria,
Egypt. They are not mentioned in the New Testament. More information about the Essenes has come to light since
1947 with the discovery of the manuscripts from the caves above the Dead Sea, commonly called the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It is generally believed that the people of the Scrolls were closely related to the Essenes. They may have begun
at about the same time as the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Essenes were an ascetic group, many of whom lived in
the desert region of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. They took vows of celibacy and perpetuated their community by
adopting male children. However, some Essenes did marry. When one joined the Essenes, he gave all his possessions
to the community. A three-year period of probation was required before full membership was granted. The Essenes
devoted themselves to the study of the law. They went beyond the Pharisees in their rigid understanding of it.
There is no evidence that either Yahshua or John the Baptist had ever had any relation to Qumran. Yahshua would
have strongly opposed their understanding of the law.
The vast majority of the people were not a member of any of these parties, although they would have been most influenced
by the Pharisees. ~Clayton Harrop