The Pharisees were the largest and most influential of the Jewish sects.  Their name was derived from the verb parash meaning “to separate”.   The sect originated shortly after the time of the Maccabees and by 136 B.C. they were well-established.

The Pharisees:

  1. Ascribed all things to fate or providence—yet allowed a place for the free will of men (in theory).
  2. Believed in the existence of angels, spirits, and the resurrection of the dead (Acts23:6-8).
  3. Embraced the theory of the transmigration of souls (souls of those who die are moved into other bodies).  Such a belief possibly explains the language of passages like John 9:1-4 and Matt. 16:14.
  4. They contended that God was just in blessing the Jews over all other nations and He would make the Jews part of an earthly kingdom.
  5. While they interpreted the Mosaic Law literally, they often distorted the meaning to favor their philosophical views.
  6. They were reverential to the decrees and traditions of the elders.  Some of Jesus’ sharpest rebukes were directed against the Pharisees regarding such reverence.  For example:
    • The washing of hands before and after a meal (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:3).
    • The purification of the cups, vessels, and couches used in their meals (Mark 7:4).
    • Wearing phylacteries and larger fringes on their clothing (Matt. 23:5).
    • Fasting twice a week and making a big show of it (Matt. 6:16).
    • Read Matt. 23


The Jewish Encyclopedia lists seven types of Pharisees:

  1. The “Shoulder Pharisee” – paraded his good deeds before others like a badge on the shoulder.
  2. The “Wait-a-little Pharisee” – would ask someone to wait for him while he performed a good deed.
  3. The “Blind Pharisee” – bruised himself by walking into a wall because he shut his eyes to avoid seeing a woman.
  4. The “Pestle Pharisee” – walked with a hanging head rather than observe alluring temptations.
  5. The “Ever-reckoning Pharisee” – was always counting his good deeds to see if they offset his failures.
  6. The “God-fearing Pharisee” – was righteous like Job.
  7. The “God-loving Pharisee” – was like Abraham.

The Pharisees accepted the entire canon of Old Testament Scriptures.

The principles of the Pharisees many times led to self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  It is notable, however, that there were good and virtuous people among their number; Saul of Tarsus and Nicodemus for example.