Who are the Pharisees?

The Pharisees were lay leaders, a sect of Judaism that held great influence among Jewish people of Jesus’ day. They were characterized by observance of both the written laws (the Torah or Old Testament teachings) as well as oral tradition. In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead, angels, and demons. In general, the Gospels portray the Pharisees quite negatively, painting them as hypocrites and strict legalists, often in opposition to Jesus. Such a portrait is probably unfairly exaggerated, reflecting polemics between Christians and Jews at the time the Gospels were being written. Although some clearly opposed Jesus, it is fair to assume that others were sympathetic to his teachings and way of life. There is some postulation that Pharisees were the forerunners of Jewish rabbis who became the synagogue leaders after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.