Doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees.


Frequent reference is made in the New Testament to the great rival sects among the Jews, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and to the peculiar doctrines by which they are respectively characterized. And it is worthy of particular notice that our Saviour admonished his followers to beware of the doctrine of both, when it is notorious that, in nearly every respect, they were the opposites of each other. This he did, as appears from Matt. xvi. 6: Then Jesus said unto them, take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.' Compare Mark viii. 15, and Luke xii. 1. From the 11th and 12th verses in the chapter referred to in Matthew, we learn that by leaven, the Saviour intended the doctrines of those two sects. That opposite opinions cannot both be true, needs no labor to prove to the satisfaction of all reflecting persons; but that both should be false, or, what is the same thing, destructive of the truth, is not so obvious. In order therefore that the propriety of the caution given to the followers of Christ, may be perceived, it will be proper to examine the customs and doctrines maintained respectively by the Pharisees and Sadducees.


I. The Pharisees were the most powerful and by far the most numerous of the Jewish sects, in the time of our Saviour. Both their number and their strength may be inferred from what Prideaux says: But the greatest sect of the Jews was that of the Pharisees. For they had not only the scribes and all the learned men in the law, of their party, but they also drew after them all the bulk of the common people.' 1 And this account is justified by the fact that in an age but little preceding that in which Jesus appeared on earth, they were exceedingly troublesome if not dangerous to their rulers.

They derived their name from a word which signifies to separate; hence a Pharisee means a separatist: a name, that has ever implied extraordinary pretensions to piety and religion. Accordingly we find that one of the distinguishing characteristics of this sect, was their assumption of greater sancti

1 Con. Pt. 2, b. 5, sec. iv.

ty than was claimed by other men. They fasted often, made frequent and long prayers, especially in public, multiplied the ceremonies of an institution already distinguished for its manifold rites, and evinced a most ardent zeal for the propagation of their religious opinions among other nations. The Scripture account of the pretension and ostentation of this sect is fully sustained by Josephus, the historian of the Jews, who, being himself a Pharisee, was in all respects qualified to do them justice. He says, What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses, and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.' 12 Of the supposed derivation of these observances, or traditions, we have an account in Prideaux: 'For they (the Jews) tell us, that at the same time when God gave unto Moses, the law on Mount Sinai, he gave unto him also the interpretation of it, commanding him to commit the former to writing, but to deliver the other only by word of mouth, to be preserved in the memories of men, and to be transmitted down by them from generation to generation by tradition only; and from hence, the former is called the written, and the other the oral law.'3 To these traditions our Saviour frequently refers; and the self-confidence which they inspired is strongly rebuked, where he represents the Pharisee in the temple, assigning the reasons why he is not as other men.' Matt. vi. 1—18. xv. 1—13, and Luke xviii. 10-12.

The Sadducees, as appears from the passage above quoted from Josephus, rejected all the rites and forms prescribed by the elders, as unauthorized, and of course needless. But in doing this, they sacrificed their popularity with the multitude; and though they were respectable, wealthy, and sometimes in power, they never exerted that influence which was sought and maintained by their great opposers, the Pharisees.

II. The Pharisees believed that the soul was immortal. Josephus says, "They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth, there will be rewards and punishments according as they have lived virtuous

Ant. b. 13, chap. 10, sec. vi.

Con, Pt. 1. b. 5, vol. 1, p. 426.



ly or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again. . . . . But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this, that souls die with the bodies.' Again: They (the Pharisees) say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies; but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. . . . They (the Sadducees) also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in hades.' 5 These statements of the Jewish historian, are sustained by the repeated references made to the doctrines of these sects, in the New Testament. And from these allusions it is abundantly evident, that the Pharisees maintained the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, under some form; and that the Sadducees rejected it,-denying the resurrection. See Matt. xxii. 23. Luke xx. 27, 39. John xi. 24. Acts xxiii. S.


The views entertained by the Pharisees of the nature of the resurrection-in what it consists, do not fully appear from the foregoing quotations. These we are necessitated to draw from other sources of information; but they are so derived as to leave no doubt of their correctness. From Josephus, we learn, that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies.' This implies a species of transmigration, whatever might have been understood by the phrase 'other bodies,' as it cannot be supposed to mean bodies which were properly their own. And so it was understood by Prideaux, who says respecting this subject, 'But according to Josephus, this resurrection of theirs was no more than a Pythagorean resurrection; that is, a resurrection of the soul only, by its transmigration into another body, and being born anew with it.' That this was certainly the opinion of many of the Jews, in the days of our Lord's personal ministry, admits of no question, and this is the particular point of time in which we are interested to know their doctrine. Thus when the Jews sent to John the Baptist, to know who, or what he was,-after ascertaining that he was not the Christ, they ask-Art thou Elias?' a question which clearly implies their belief, that the soul of that prophet might again animate, if it had not already entered, another body. So again, when Jesus put the question to his disciples, Whom do

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4 Ant. b. 13, chap. 1, sec. 3.

Jewish war, b. 2, ch. 8, sec. xiv. • Con. Pt. 2, b. 5, sec. iv.

men say, that I the Son of man am?' they answered, 'Some say, John the Baptist, some Elias, and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets,' Matt. xvi. 14. Compare Mark viii. 28, and Luke ix. 19. This answer expresses with great clearness, the views entertained by the mass of the nation. And that this was all that was understood by the resurrection, appears from the passage in the gospel of Luke, to which reference is made above. And as it is, perhaps, the most decisive on that subject, of any part of the New Testament, it will be proper to insert it: 'others say that one of the old prophets is risen again.' Here the soul of one of the prophets was actually supposed to have entered into a new body, and this renovated existence is called a resurrection.


Little captivating or desirable as this resurrection was, it was thought of sufficient importance to be reserved for the good alone. Prideaux says, But from this resurrection they excluded all that were notoriously wicked; for of such their notion was, that their souls, as soon as separated from their bodies, were transmitted into a state of everlasting woe, there to suffer the punishment of their sins to all eternity.'? They did not call all sinners, wicked, in the sense by which they were exposed to endless punishment. For they certainly admitted some transgressors to the honors and privileges of transmigration. They were of course considered among the good. And when it is recollected, that they supposed all Jews, or descendants of Abraham, would be favored with life, and all the Gentiles destined to everlasting woe; it is readily seen why they used the terms good and bad in such an enlarged sense. Hence Prideaux adds, 'But as to lesser crimes, their opinion was, that they were punished in the bodies, which the souls of them that committed them were next sent into.' The New Testament distinctly states a case, in which the transmigration of the soul of a Jewish sinner, was supposed, even by the disciples, to have probably taken place, under such circumstances as in their apprehension to imply punishment. John ix. 1, 2. 'And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" Presuming as they did, that all personal misfortunes, diseases and accidents were the result of sin, and doubting whether it was, in the case before them, the application of the legal denunciation, that the sins of the fathers

7 Con. Pt. 2, b. 5, sec. iv.

should be visited upon the children; or whether it was the punishment of the vices of a pre-existent state, the disciples very naturally sought information and certainty from one who they were assured, could give them satisfaction.8

The doctrine of demoniacal possession is intimately connected with this subject, at least so far as the Jews are concerned. For demons (devils, in the public version of the New Testa ment) were supposed to be the spirits of dead men. And those which possessed and tormented the living, were considered the souls of the wicked dead. And it is probable, they were supposed to have been sent back for the purpose of punishing, in this world, the sins committed either in a pre-existent state, or in the present. How far the truth of the doctrine of possession may be affected, by its affinity to the Pharisaic notion of the transmigration of souls, belongs not to our present subject to show; but as the one seems to have produced the other, it is natural to infer, that they must stand or fall together.

III. From the preceding facts it will be seen that the doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees, comprise the following particulars: 1. The Pharisees received and observed the traditions prescribed by the elders. 2. They maintained the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls. 3. They believed that all the benefits of the resurrection were confined to Hebrews. 4. They asserted the endless misery of the wicked, that is, of all the Gentiles. 5. The Sadducees denied the resurrection, and maintained that the whole man perished at death. These particulars require consideration.

1. The first particular in the character of the Pharisees, is, their show of religion, their excessive formality, and their officious zeal. Respecting these, the Saviour did much more than merely admonish his disciples to beware of them-he expostulated with, and severely rebuked the Pharisees themselves, and held up their example to public detestation, Their ostentations, frequent and long prayers, received his special notice and reprehension. Matt. vi. 5, 6. And there can be little. doubt, that he represents the Pharisee in the temple, with an attitude of great confidence, and expressing himself with unbecoming assurance, for the purpose of rendering his services as odious to men, as they were offensive to piety. His own

Jahn's Bib. Arch. sec. 318.

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