STUDY 4 - THE JEWS (2)
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.80-125; R.H.Gundry,
pp.74-80. F.F.Bruce, New Testament History, pp.65-115.
We continue our study of the Jews by looking at sects and
4. THE CHIEF SECTS
Many Jews did not belong to any special group. But we
Generally the name is believed to mean 'separated ones'. The
Pharisees were a strict, religious sect, who served their cause with
zeal, dedication and sacrifice. They were influential, though not
many in number (about 6,000). Their concern was to further the
knowledge and practice of the law. For this reason they were
committed to the work and ministry of the local synagogues. Their
presence was felt in the Sanhedrin, or Council in Jerusalem, which gave
them influence in national affairs. The Pharisees developed an
oral tradition, referred to in the NT as 'the tradition of the elders'
(Mk.7:13), which sought to apply the law to the life situation. For
example, a ruling was made on Ex.16:29 in terms of 'a sabbath day's
journey' (Acts 1:12). Sometimes oral tradition cancelled the moral
force of a divine commandment. Jesus expressed his disapproval of
this and condemned their legalism and self-righteousness
(Mt.5:43ff.;23:23). The Pharisees also formed little groups or
'brotherhoods'. No doubt they started with good intentions as
they sought to keep the Jewish religion pure in the face of Hellenism
and the threat of Rome. They kept away from Gentiles and
Samaritans. Their chief rivals were the Sadducees. Nicodemus and
Paul were Pharisees (see Jn.3:1; Phil.3:5).
F.F.Bruce says of the Sadducees:
"The origin of the Sadducees is even more obscure than that of
the Pharisees. Theologically they differ from the Pharisees in
their rejection of tradition and exclusive acceptance of the written
Law... they refuse the doctrines of bodily resurrection and the
allocation of rewards and punishments in a judgment after death as
innovations from Zoroastrianism, together with the belief in angelic
and demonic hierarchies. As against the predestinarianism of the
Pharisees they insisted on man's freedom of choice to determine the
course of affairs". 
The Sadducees were the priestly party. The high priest,
who presided over the Sanhedrin, was a member of this party. They
were the upper class of society - the establishment. Rome was prepared
to run the internal affairs of Palestine through the priests.
They were involved in the trials of Christ, and were the persecutors of
the NT church in the Acts of the Apostles. This group was smaller
than the Pharisees and unlike them failed to survive after the
destruction of Jerusalem.
The scribes were a professional class - the teachers and interpreters
of the law. Their roots go back to Ezra in the OT. Many scribes
were Pharisees. Teachers were called rabbis.
The Sanhedrin This was the Jewish Council of seventy elders,
presided over by the high priest, making a total of 71. They
administered the internal affairs of the Jewish nation. To keep
the office of high priest docile, the Romans kept his vestments locked
away in the Tower of Antonia. They were only released on special
occasions, like the Day of Atonement or the major feasts. The
high priest represented the Jews to the procurator and Caesar.
Annas and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, are featured in John 18.
Ananias features in Acts 23:1ff. Strict guidelines were handed
down for the running of the Sanhedrin. Some of these rules appear
to be broken in the case of the trial of Jesus! 
This group of nationalists kept the spirit of Judas Maccabaeus
alive. They may be associated with the uprising mentioned in Acts
5:37. They were zealous for the independence of Palestine, and
were prepared to die rather than submit to Roman rule. One of the
disciples of Jesus was a Zealot (Lk.6:15; Acts 1:13). Sometimes
the word 'Sicarii' (dagger) was used of them. The Jewish
historian, Josephus, sometimes used the term of the whole movement,
from those who revolted in the days of Quirinius to the brave defenders
of Masada. "The excavations carried out from 1963 to 1965 at
Masada, where the Zealots held out against the Romans to the end of
A.D. 73, have given us a silent but impressive picture of their courage
and devotion" (F.F.Bruce). 
This was a small and more exclusive sect than the Pharisees,
never numbering more than a thousand. They are not mentioned in
the NT, but the findings in the caves of Qumran have a bearing on NT
studies. The ruins in the Wadi Qumran area indicate a withdrawal
sect: "The withdrawal was a reaction partly against the ruling priestly
class, the Maccabean priesthood, and partly against the unsatisfactory
religious and moral conditions among the Jews" (F.V. Filson).  Some
communities did not marry. Water baptism was practised. An
unknown 'Teacher of Righteousness' led them. Their adherence to the law
was stricter than that of the Pharisees. Isa.40:3 was applied to
their withdrawal into the wilderness. The Essenes were interested
in angels, healing, prophecy and the end of the age. As well as
celebrating ceremonial washings and cleansing, they held communal
Some scholars associate John the Baptist with Qumran. He was
of priestly ancestry, spent years in the wilderness, lived an ascetic
life, apparently never married, and Isaiah 40 was used to justify his
mission. He emphasised repentance and water baptism (Mk.1:2-8).
However, there is no evidence to support this. The Essenes have also
been associated with various NT sects. 'The holy ones' in the
book of Daniel are commonly associated with them (e.g.,
Dan.7:21f.). There is a chapter on them in F.F.Bruce's New
Testament History.  Contrary to what we have said modern research
indicates that not all Essenes were monastic. What they do have in
common is a disagreement with the priestly system that had the temple
as its centre.
These were not strictly a party or sect, but indicates the group of
people who were sympathetic with Herod's rule. The Jews normally
were against him, especially as he associated with the Gentiles.
Some scholars refer to the Herodians as a political party. The
zealous Pharisees were against them, yet they formed an alliance with
them against Jesus (Mt.22:15).
It is common for scholars to identify a less organised, less clearly
definable group of people called the 'quiet of the land'. These
were pious, poor people, who reflect those mentioned in Mal.3:16-18
(e.g., Simeon and Anna in Lk.2:25-38). The Hasidim, or 'godly
people', had a great love for the law and met together in the second
century B.C. The term 'Hasidim' is also used to represent those
who resisted the Hellenisation of the Jewish religion - and may have
been the forerunners of the Pharisees.
The future expectations of the Jewish people found their fullest
expression in the work of the apocalyptists (which literally means
'people who reveal secret things'). The books they wrote are
referred to as 'revelations of secrets' or 'apocalypses'. This
kind of writing was popular in the centuries immediately before the
birth of Jesus.  Apocalyptic literature is characterised by an
emphasis on the spiritual world, dreams and visions, the pseudonymous
use of a great name of the past, and the use of mythical images in
symbolism. Many of the Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha are called
Apocalypses, such as 2 Esdras and l Enoch. The Books of Daniel
and Revelation are often given as examples of apocalyptic literature
(cf., Mt 24-25; Mk.13; Lk.21; 1 Thess.4-5; 2 Thess.2:1-12; 1
As John the Baptist is sometimes compared with the Essenes of Qumran,
so the Lord Jesus is compared with contemporary prophets of an
apocalyptist kind. As R.N.Soulen says, "The moot question in
contemporary NT scholarship is whether, or to what extent, Jesus was an
1. F.F.Bruce, New Testament History, p.69f.
2. See: W.Barclay, Crucified and Crowned, London, SCM, 1961,
3. F.F.Bruce, New Testament History, p.94.
4. F.V.Filson, A New Testament History, p.54.
5. Some scholars have sought to trace the Christian rites of
Water Baptism and the Communion (or Lord's Supper) to this sect.
6. F.F.Bruce, New Testament History, pp.77-87.
7. See J.Drane, An Introduction to the Bible, Oxford, Lion,
8. From my notebook.