Pharisees and Sadducees Represent Division
Disunity Today Hurts the Cause of Jesus
In our consideration of words that appear only in the New Testament, we come across Pharisees and Sadducees. Two related words are Zealot and Nazarene, along with Essene.
Appearing ninety-nine times in the New Testament, the Pharisees receive the most attention. They were a righteous group of Jews, noted for their meticulous following of the Law of Moses. But they added to the 613 laws recorded in the opening books of the Bible. Attempting to clarify what the rules meant and didn’t mean, they added their own understanding to guide them into best practice. This resulted in more than 20,000 additional rules for them to follow, which aren’t in the Bible. But in their scrupulous attention to detail, they missed the point behind the law. That’s why Jesus often called them hypocrites and reserved his most critical words for them.
Another segment of Judaism during Jesus’s life were the Sadducees. The New Testament mentions them fifteen times. But, instead of adding to the Bible, they dismissed much of it. As a result, they didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead, among other things.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two major groups of Judaism that Jesus talked about. However, there are three more considerations.
The label of Zealot occurs four times in the New Testament. It always refers to Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’s disciples. This identifier distinguishes him from Simon Peter. The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the Zealots, but history does. Though they existed in Jesus’s time, they escape his mention. They opposed the Romans politically and advocated its overthrow. And Jesus had one of its members as a disciple.
Though not found in the Bible, we learn about the Essenes through history. As another sect of Judaism, though not as numerous as the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essenes lived a communal lifestyle, noted for poverty, piety, and celibacy (of its priests). Notably, we can thank the Essenes for the Dead Sea scrolls.
Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, his parents moved to Nazareth shortly thereafter and raised in there. Three times the gospel writers refer to Jesus as a Nazarene. And once Paul’s detractors called him the ringleader of the Nazarene sect (Acts 24:5). This implies that for a time some people viewed Jesus’s followers as a part of Judaism, though that didn’t last long.
Unity Versus Disunity
None of these five labels, especially Pharisees and Sadducees, appear in the Old Testament. This suggests the Old Testament Jews had a degree of unity not found in the New Testament and that division didn’t occur until after the Old Testament narrative wrapped up.We have a long way to go to realize the unity Jesus prayed for and achieve the witness he wanted. Click To Tweet
Today we see the same scenario. We’ve divided the body of Christ into different streams of Christianity—and among the Protestant branch—into 43,000 denominations. That’s a lot of division and disunity.
But Jesus prayed for unity, that we would be one. And that as one, our witness would be stronger (John 17:21). We have a long way to go to realize the unity Jesus prayed for and achieve the witness he wanted.
What can we do to promote unity within Christianity?
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.