Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Beliefs of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes

The Pharisees, like all intertestamental Jewish groups, never questioned the sanctity of the written law. The Pharisees did have their own traditions which were distinct from the Sadducees and Essenes. The Pharisees held to both the written law and oral traditions. These traditions were also known as hedges or fences around the written law. This oral law included their traditional interpretations, applications, and expansions of the written law and was believed to be divinely inspired. Other noteworthy details about the Pharisees are their belief in angels, spirits, other heavenly beings, the resurrection, the respect they showed their elders, and their influence throughout the land of Israel.

Like the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not question the sanctity of the written law. This small group, containing some very influential men, is described by Josephus as boorish, rude, and argumentative to each other and to aliens. The Sadducees had the confidence of the wealthy of their day but lacked such confidence with the larger population. That situation forced the Sadducees to follow the formulas of the Pharisees when exercising their office. The Sadducees did not believe in angels or spirits. They did not believe in life after death or the resurrection. The Sadducees did not believe that the oral law as practiced by the Pharisees was of divine origin though it would seem the Sadducees did have traditions of their own. Scott states that the Sadducees were essentially secularists (pp. 208).

The Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament and appear to have had no marked influence on intertestamental Judaism. From the limited knowledge available about the Essenes, they were known to be communal in their living with all property, goods, money and wages were placed in a central treasury for the use of all in the community. Essenes stressed the observance of the law with an interpretation and practice that were much stricter than other known Jewish groups of the day. The Essenes placed a strong emphasis on maintaining Levitical purity as part of their extremely modest lifestyle. The Essenes did send offerings to the temple but did not sacrifice there nor did they accept the Pharisees’ control of the temple as legitimate.

Each group has beliefs I agree with and disagree with. For example, I agree with the Pharisees belief in angels and spirits. I disagree with the Pharisees belief that they can add their own traditions and expansions to God’s word. I most strongly disagree with calling those additions divinely inspired! Like the Sadducees, I am literalistic with scripture though as such I fail to understand how the Sadducees came to believe that God should be excluded from human affairs. With the current state of affairs in the world today, it is tempting to separate from most of the world like the Essenes and devote more time to the study of God’s word in an environment filled with like-minded people. Alas, how is a lost and dying world to come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ if we lock ourselves away?

Much to the displeasure of the Sadducees, the Pharisees controlled the temple. The Pharisees had the confidence of the populous at-large and were on better terms with the Romans.

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