National Association of Christian Ministers Summary Series: Theology

In the Bible, the Pharisees were a prominent religious group during the time of Jesus. They were one of several Jewish sects or parties that existed in the first century AD. The Pharisees were known for their commitment to the interpretation and observance of Jewish law, particularly the oral traditions and additional regulations that they believed were necessary for righteous living.

The name “Pharisee” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated ones” or “separatists.” They sought to maintain a strict adherence to religious practices and often distinguished themselves from other Jews who did not meet their standards. The Pharisees believed in the:

resurrection of the dead, the

existence of angels, and the

importance of oral tradition alongside the written law.

They placed a strong emphasis on ethical behavior and personal piety.

Throughout the New Testament, the Pharisees are frequently portrayed as opponents of Jesus. They were critical of his teachings and actions, often questioning his authority to test him. Jesus, in turn, challenged the hypocrisy and legalistic tendencies of some Pharisees, condemning their outward displays of piety while neglecting matters of justice, mercy, and genuine devotion to God.

It’s important to note that while the New Testament portrays the Pharisees in a generally negative light, not all Pharisees held the same views or opposed Jesus. Some Pharisees, such as Nicodemus and the Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul), are shown in a more positive light. The depiction of the Pharisees in the New Testament should be understood within the specific context of Jesus’ interactions with particular individuals and groups during his ministry.