Where did the Pharisees come from?

The name Pharisee is not found anywhere in the Old Testament, yet by the beginning of the New Testament, they have supreme influence among the people, hold the majority vote in the Sanhedrin and are politically powerful holding the reins of government, and ones who claimed to hold to the law of God.

Well at one point, there was a group who called themselves the Assideans which name means, “Godly men or Saints.” This name is made evident in 1 and 2 Maccabees in which they were mighty men of Israel who voluntarily devoted themselves to the law. (1 Maccabees 2:42) In addition, these Assideans were the first among the children of Israel to seek peace during the time of the religious freedom revolution lead by Judas Maccabees around 145 BC, yet, they had deceived others by nourishing the war and were seditious by which they brought no peace and many Jews were slain. (1 Maccabees 7:13-17; 2 Maccabees 14:6)

Now earlier around 444 BC, just shortly after the Babylonian captivity, the priesthood formed the center of the new religious life by which they showed reverence toward Deity again and began to practice the commands of the Lord conducted by the tribe of Levi. These priest kept themselves pure from intermarriages with heathen nations and from unclean foods, but also added temple taxes because of the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31, 32) and the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacle festivals (Neh. 6, 8, 10). So, because of these changes, Nehemiah recorded, “the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.” (Neh. 9:2-3). Therefore, these priest became known as the separated ones because they had separated themselves for the service of God and continued to be conservators of their ancestral religion.

Now, looking forward to these “separated ones” in 158 BC, the high priest Alexander could not restrain himself in his commitment to God, defiled himself and willfully mingled sexually with the Gentiles (2 Maccabees 14:3). He attempted to liberate the traditions of the priest which brought about a split in the “separatists” and a new priestly party name came forth known as the Sadducees, who assumed a haughty position, stood upon their priestly dignity, cared little for the real spiritual and temporal wants of the people, but only sought their own elevation of wealth and preservation, allying themselves for this purpose with foreign nations, and embracing anti-national opinions and feelings such is that of the Roman Province because at that time, it was not an empire.

Therefore, this change in the priesthood, brought about a smaller group of united people, who stood firmly, independently of these priest, who desired to keep the law and to practice their ancestral customs; and it is this party whom the opposite section the Sadducees continued to call by name, the “Separated.” Well, the group labeled the, “Separated or Separatists,” had the appearance of piety and thorough knowledge of the law, yet, they knew very well how to affect the people and secure the popular favor (Lk. 11:43) by using women to acquire considerable political influence, which became very manifest even during the history of the Jewish dynasty. This group of separatists became known as the Pharisees which is what the name Pharisee means.

So, their was two religious groups: the Pharisees and the Sadducees (rivals), which shortly after, the Essenes, a very small group broke away making 3 schools of religion which ranged from being more moderate to more strict in their observances. But, it was the Pharisees whose influence greatly increased over the whole land (Lk. 5:17) by which they later controlled the majority of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34, 23:6).

Thus, the Pharisees, who were noted for their self righteousness and pride (Matt. 9:11), showed their bitterness and became very dangerous to the church and persecuted it. But while, it was the aim of Jesus to call men to the law of God itself as the supreme guide of life, the Pharisees, upon the false appearance of maintaining it intact, multiplied the littlest of their rules and discrimination to such an extent, that they hemmed in the whole life of Israel and lost sight of the original traditions. This is why Jesus called them a generation of vipers (Matt. 3:7) and were frequently rebuked by him (Matt. 12:39). The Pharisees became persistent enemies of our Lord and bitter and they could not bear his doctrine and influence among the people. And this is how the Pharisees came to be.

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