The Difference Between Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible

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As you read the different stories of Jesus' life in the New Testament (what we often call the Gospels), you'll quickly notice that many people were opposed to Jesus' teaching and public ministry. These people are often labeled in the Scriptures as the "religious leaders" or the "teachers of the law." When you dig deeper, however, you find that these teachers were divided into two main groups: the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

There were quite a few differences between those two groups. However, we'll need to start with their similarities in order to understand the differences more clearly.

The Similarities

As mentioned above, both the Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders of the Jewish people during Jesus' day. That's important because most of the Jewish people during that time believed their religious practices held sway over every part of their lives. Therefore, the Pharisees and Sadducees each held a lot of power and influence over not just the religious lives of the Jewish people, but their finances, their work habits, their family lives, and more.

Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees were priests. They did not take part in the actual running of the temple, the offering of sacrifices, or the administration of other religious duties. Instead, both the Pharisees and Sadducees were "experts in the law" -- meaning, they were experts on the Jewish Scriptures (also known as the Old Testament today).

Actually, the expertise of the Pharisees and Sadducees went beyond the Scriptures themselves. They were also experts on what it meant to interpret the laws of the Old Testament. As an example, while the Ten Commandments made it clear that God's people should not work on the Sabbath, people began to question what it actually meant to "work." Was it disobeying God's law to buy something on the Sabbath -- was that a business transaction, and thus work? Similarly, was it against God's law to plant a garden on the Sabbath, which could be interpreted as farming?

Given these questions, the Pharisees and Sadducees both made it their business to create hundreds of extra instructions and stipulations based on their interpretations of God's laws.

Of course, both groups didn't always agree on how the Scriptures should be interpreted.

The Differences

The main difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was their differing opinions on the supernatural aspects of religion. To put things simply, the Pharisees believed in the supernatural -- angels, demons, heaven, hell, and so on -- while the Sadducees did not.

In this way, the Sadducees were largely secular in their practice of religion. They denied the idea of being resurrected from the grave after death (see Matthew 22:23). In fact, they denied any notion of an afterlife, which means they rejected the concepts of eternal blessing or eternal punishment; they believed this life is all there is. The Sadducees also scoffed at the idea of spiritual beings such as angels and demons (see Acts 23:8).

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were much more invested in the religious aspects of their religion. They took the Old Testament Scriptures literally, which meant they very much believed in angels and other spiritual beings, and they were completely invested in the promise of an afterlife for God's chosen people.

The other large difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was one of status or standing. Most of the Sadducees were aristocratic. They came from families of noble birth who were very well connected in the political landscape of their day. We might call them "old money" in modern terminology. Because of this, the Sadducees were typically well connected with the ruling authorities among the Roman Government. They held a great deal of political power.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were more closely connected with the common people of the Jewish culture. They were typically merchants or business owners who had become wealthy enough to turn their attention to studying and interpreting the Scriptures -- "new money," in other words. Whereas the Sadducees had a lot of political power because of their connections with Rome, the Pharisees had a lot of power because of their influence over the masses of people in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.

Despite these differences, both the Pharisees and Sadducees were able to join forces against someone they both perceived to be a threat: Jesus Christ. And both were instrumental in working the Romans and the people to push for Jesus' death on the cross.

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Your Citation
O'Neal, Sam. "The Difference Between Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, O'Neal, Sam. (2020, August 26). The Difference Between Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible. Retrieved from O'Neal, Sam. "The Difference Between Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible." Learn Religions. (accessed March 26, 2023).