Pharisees vs. Sadducees: How are they different?

As a born-again Christian, most of the Biblical teachings and lessons I know of were taught by Jesus in the New Testament. However, not everyone believed that all of Jesus’ teachings were correct. In many instances, we see Jesus being constantly confronted and opposed, especially by the Pharisees and Sadducees. The rejection of Jesus’ teachings by these groups made me curious to learn about them and their beliefs. So, Pharisees vs. Sadducees, how do they compare, why did they constantly question Jesus, and what did Jesus say about them?

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were a group of ruling-class Jews that constantly questioned Jesus in an attempt to get Him to say the wrong things. Although they had different beliefs, we see them testing Jesus on many occasions and, in some instances, demanding signs from Him (Matthew 12:38). They also played a role in putting Jesus to death, as we see in Matthew 11:45-50.

I invite you to join me in this article as I delve into these two groups. I will be discussing the differences in their beliefs as well as any similarities. I will also emphasize more on what Jesus said about them. Keep reading on to find out more.

Pharisees vs. Sadducees: Difference in the definition

During the time of Jesus, Pharisees were quite an influential religious group in Judaism. The word Pharisee in Hebrew translates to “separated.” This group of people was highly known for emphasizing on personal piety. They accepted both the written law and oral traditions, and they taught that all Jews should adhere to the 600+ laws of the Torah, including ceremonial purification rituals.

On the other hand, Sadducees, which translates to “righteous one” in Hebrew, were a religiopolitical group and held substantial power among the Jews and were mainly responsible for the maintenance of the Temple. They denied God’s involvement in everyday life and occasionally confronted Jesus. They rejected the oral Torah and believed that the literal interpretation of the written Torah was the source of divine authority.

What are the differences between Pharisees and Sadducees?

Pharisees vs. Sadducees
Pharisees and Sadducees. Image source: Pinterest

Societal status

A more significant percentage of Pharisees comprised of middle class men and often taught in the Temple and synagogues (a few Pharisees were wealthy). On the other hand, the Sadducees comprised of wealthy men who mainly served in the Temple as upper-class priests. Furthermore, Pharisees were more political, while the Sadducees preferred to be conservative. Additionally, the Pharisees resisted Hellenization, whereas the Sadducees welcomed it.


The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, whereas the Sadducees rejected the belief of resurrection. This is proved in Mark 12:18-23 where we are told the story of the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection and were questioning Jesus on whose wife a woman would be after resurrection if she married seven brothers and they all died. The Sadducees also rejected the concept of an afterlife, while the Pharisees believed that there is an afterlife and that the appropriate punishment or reward was on an individual basis.

The Sadducees did not believe in the existence of angels and spirits, while the Pharisees believed in the presence of a spiritual realm. Acts 23:8. Additionally, the Pharisees believed that God is in control of all things, but an individual’s decision also affects the path of life. In contrast, the Sadducees denied the involvement of God in everyday life.

Interpretation of the scripture.

The Sadducees insisted on the literal explanation of the scripture. They strictly followed the Law of Moses written in the Torah, and if a command was not found in the Tanakh, it would be dismissed as manmade. In contrast, the Pharisees treated the word of God with the same authority and their oral traditions with equal authority.

Are there any similarities between Pharisees and Sadducees?

Though Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed on various things, they also agreed on some key aspects of the Jewish faith. These two groups comprised of the Jewish ruling class in Israel, and both had a certain political power to them. The two groups also were members of Sanhedrin, which was a supreme court in ancient Israel.

Additionally, both the Sadducees and Pharisees observed the Law of Moses. Although the Sadducees rejected the oral Torah, they both preserved the authority of the written Torah.

What did Jesus say about the Pharisees and the Sadducees?

Pharisees vs. Sadducees - How are they different?
What did Jesus say about the Pharisees and the Sadducees? Image source: Pinterest

All through his teachings in the New Testament, Jesus considered the Pharisees as hypocrites. In the book of Mathew 23:13-37, Jesus warns us not to do as the Pharisees do because they are hypocrites, preaching the word yet not following what it says. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for giving tithes to the church but yet neglecting what is more critical; faithfulness, mercy, and justice. However, Christ is keen to note that they should practice both and not neglect any. Generally, the Pharisees were in constant conflict with Jesus. Jesus states that they are full of greed. He even goes ahead and refers to them as a “brood of vipers.” Therefore, this is a clear indicator that though the Pharisees claimed to observe the law, they were self-righteous and full of themselves, something the son of God despised.

However, it is also crucial to note that not all Pharisees were Jesus’ “enemies.” A Pharisee like Nicodemus honestly sought to have a relationship with God through Jesus and even referred to Jesus as a teacher sent by God (John 3:1-2).

Jesus also cautioned us to be on guard of the teachings of the Pharisees and the Sadducees in Matthew 16:5-12. He did this by comparing their teachings to yeast. Additionally, in Matthew 3:7-9, Jesus calls the Pharisees and the Sadducees a brood of vipers when they go to where he is after seeing Him baptizing people. He warns them against fleeing from the coming punishment from God and tells them to do things that will show they have turned away from sin.

What was the conflict between Sadducees and Pharisees?

In Acts 23:6-10, during Paul’s trial, we are told that he stood and said that he was a Pharisee and stood on trial because of the hope of resurrection. He said this knowing that some people in the crowd were Pharisees and others were Sadducees. When he said this, a conflict broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees and divided the assembly. This was because they had different beliefs in resurrection and the spiritual realm. While the Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection of the dead, the Pharisees believed in resurrection and argued that they found nothing wrong with Paul as they thought that maybe an angel or a spirit had spoken to him.

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