SPECIAL TOPIC: PHARISEES

I. The term had one of the following possible origins:

A. "To be separate."  This group developed during the Macaabean period (this is the most widely accepted view), and separated themselves from the populace in order to keep the oral traditions of the Mosaic Law (i.e., Hasidim).

B. "To divide."  This is another meaning of the same Hebrew root (BDB 827, BDB 831 I, KB 976); both mean "dividing."  Some scholars say it meant an interpreter (cf. Neh. 8:8; 2 Tim. 2:15).

C. "Persian."  This is another meaning of the same Aramaic root (BDB 828, KB 970).  Some of the doctrines of the Pharisees have much in common with Persian Zoroastrian dualism (see Special Topic: Personal Evil).

II. There have been several theories as to who made up the Pharisees.

A. a theological sect of early Judaism (i.e., Josephus)

B. a political group from the Hasmonean and Herodian periods

C. a scholarly group of Mosaic interpreters helping the common person understand the Mosaic Covenant and the oral traditions that surround it

D. a lay movement of scribes, like Ezra and the Great Synagogue, in competition to the priestly leadership of the temple

They were formed out of conflict with

1. non-Jewish overlords (esp. Antiochus IV)

2. aristocracy versus laity

3. those committed to covenant living versus the common Jew of Palestine

III. Our information about them comes from

A. Josephus, who was a Pharisee

1. Antiquities of the Jews

2. Wars of the Jews

B. the New Testament

C. later Jewish sources

IV. Their major doctrines.

A. Belief in a coming Messiah, which was influenced by interbiblical Jewish apocalyptic literature like I Enoch.

B. Belief that God is active in daily life. This was directly opposite from the Sadducees (cf. Acts 23:8).  Many Pharisaic doctrines were theological counterpoints to the doctrines of the Sadducees.

C. A belief in a physically-oriented afterlife based on earthly life, which involved reward and punishment (cf. Dan. 12:2). 

D. Belief in the authority of the OT as well as the Oral Traditions (Talmud). They were conscious of being obedient to the OT commands of God as they were interpreted and applied by schools of rabbinical scholars (Shammai, the conservative and Hillel, the liberal). The rabbinical interpretation was based on a dialogue between rabbis of two differing philosophies, one conservative and one liberal. These oral discussions over the meaning of Scripture were finally written down in two forms: the Babylonian Talmud and the incomplete Palestinian Talmud.  They believed that Moses had received these oral interpretations on Mt. Sinai.  The historical beginning of these discussions started with Ezra and the men of the "Great Synagogue" (later called the Sanhedrin).

E. Belief in a highly developed angelology.  This involved both good and evil spiritual beings.  This developed from Persian dualism and the interbiblical Jewish literature.

F. Belief in the sovereignty of God, but also the exercise of human free will (yetzers).

V. The strengths of the Pharisaical movement.

A. They loved, respected, trusted God's revelation (i.e., all of it, including Law, Prophets, Writings, and Oral Traditions).

B. They were committed to being righteous followers (i.e., daily faith and life) of God's revelation.  The wanted a "righteous Israel" to fulfil prophetic promises of a new, prosperous day.

C. They advocated an equality with Judaistic society, which included all levels of people.  In a sense, they rejected priestly (i.e., Sadduceean) leadership and theology (cf. Acts 23:8).

D. They championed a valid human component to the Mosaic Covenant.  They fully assserted God's sovereignty, but also held to the need for the exercise of human free will (i.e., the two yetzers).

E. The NT mentions several respected Pharisees (i.e., Nicodemus, Rich Young Ruler, and Joseph of Arimathea).

VI. They were the only sect of first century Judaism to survive the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in a.d. 70.  The became modern Judaism.

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