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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Who Were the Pharisees?

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Don Stewart

The word Pharisee is derived from an Aramaic word meaning, "separated." They were a group that held to the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, and punishment in future life. They believed that punishment was based upon how one behaved in this life. The souls of the wicked would be in prison forever under the earth. Those who were righteous would live again.

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all (Acts 23:8).

In Jesus' day the Pharisees practiced righteousness externally - they were more concerned with the outward appearance than the inward feeling.

They Added Tradition To Scripture

The Pharisees also added an enormous amount of traditional material that was passed down from one generation to the next.

"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And he answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition (Matthew 15:2,3,6).

They were the worst persecutors of Jesus and the objects of His strongest criticism.

They Appeared At John's Baptism

We find them at the baptism of John where they were met with stern words from John.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (Matthew 3:7).

The Pharisees Accused Jesus Of Demonic Practice

The Pharisees accused Jesus of demonic practices.

But the Pharisees said, "It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons" (Matthew 9:34)

The Pharisees Plotted Jesus' Death

The Pharisees plotted the death of Jesus over His breaking of the Sabbath.

But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus (Matthew 12:14).

We also read.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap him in what he said (Matthew 22:15).

Jesus Condemned The Pharisees In The Strongest Of Terms

Jesus' strongest words of condemnation were aimed at the Pharisees.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to (Matthew 23:13).


The Pharisees were the religious conservatives. They were at odds with the Sadducees and the Herodians however they all joined together against their common enemy - Jesus. The Pharisees were Jesus' chief persecutors. They rejected His claims to be the Messiah and were the ones who plotted to have Him killed. Jesus' strongest words of condemnation were aimed at them. Jesus aimed his strongest words of condemnation at them. They continued to persecute Jesus' disciples after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension.

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