Bible Study

Pharisees Sadducees and Scribes



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Most Bible readers of the New Testament pick up on the similarity between Scribes and Pharisees. They were both enemies of Jesus. However, many people don’t understand who they really were.

The Pharisees were a subset of Jews who followed a strict adherence to the Law as found in the Torah. That is to say, what we know today as much of the Old Testament. They originated during the Babylonian captivity when most of the Israelites were forcibly moved out of the country.

There they asked themselves why God had let this happen to his chosen people. The answer they landed upon was that the people had not kept the law. Therefore they decided to follow the law as strictly as possible. They developed hundreds of lesser rules to act as a “hedge around the law.” You might break a lesser rule without breaking the law itself. The problem was that most people just could not follow all these rules. Moreover, it created a natural way to self righteous behavior and actually kept people from a close relationship with God.

There was another sect in Israel known as the Sadducees. They were, generally speaking, less strict about the law, more secular in nature, more Hellenized, an accommodating toward the Romans.

Scribes were not so much a sect as a sort of professional group. They might be either Pharisees, or Sadducees. However, they had a profession: scribe. This was as the name suggests. They were the ones who wrote out important documents for business, religion, etc. We find this hard to understand today when most everyone can read and write. However, it was not the case in that time and place.

These three groups became loosely allies in opposition to Jesus because his message was a threat to their sense of security, power and position. Jesus was politically a man of the common people; although he did have any followers among the wealthy. The Sadducees were especially concerned that Jesus would upset the Romans. The Pharisees were upset that he didn’t keep the Sabbath rules. The Scribes might be among either of the other two.

It is easy to distain these groups today. However, we need to be careful of our own judgmental attitudes. It could be very easy to slip into similar self righteous behavior ourselves. It could be easy to look down on more common folk with less education. It would be easy to find ourselves enemies of Jesus.

More about this author: Geoffrey Schmitt

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