Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin

We were discussing these three in my men’s bible study this morning and found that none of us really understood the differences between these 1st century Jews. We knew of them, but were unable to really tell what the differences were. This article is based on my research on the subject. I hope it brings some clarity.

Biblical references

Matthew 3:7 – Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist. He called them both a brood of vipers.

Matthew 16:1 – Pharisees and Sadducees tested Jesus asking Him to show them a sign from heaven.

Matthew 16:5-12 – Jesus said, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27 – Sadducees do not believe in Resurrection

Matthew 22:34 – Jesus silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.

Acts 23:6-8 – Paul pitted the Sadducees and the Pharisees against each other in the Sanhedrin

Matthew 23 – Pharisees as hypocrites


There were at least four major schools of thought within the Jewish religion at the beginning of this century, Pharisees, Sadduces, Essenes, and the revolutionaries (zealots). The Essenes were apolitical and the revolutionaries were specifically to resist the Roman Empire. The Pharisees and the Sadduces were opponents.

Josephus (Jewish-Roman historian in the first century) indicated that the Pharisees received the backing of the common people. The Sadducees were more elite and associated with the ruling class.




Represent the common man Represent the Elite ruling class
Believed in the Rabbinic interpretations as well as the Torah Recognize only the written word, Torah
Eclectic, popular, and democratic Conservative, aristocratic monarchists
Considered the most expert and accuate expositors of the Jewish Law  
Purity laws applied outside the Temple Purity laws only applied within the Temple
Interpret the Torah liberally Interpret the Torah literally
Believe in resurrection of the dead in a future, messianic age and a literal resurrection of the body. Disappeared with the Temple
Believe in free will, but God has foreknowledge of human destiny Believe in free will
Believe in afterlife No afterlife


The religion of ancient Israel was centered on a Temple and served by a caste of priests, who sacrificed offerings to the God of Israel. The priests claimed descent from Aaron of the tribe of Levi. Early on the authority came from the Kings, but after the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity the monarchy was not allowed to be re-established (by authority of the Persians who released the captive Jews). The Jews rebuilt the Temple and its authority was amplified because of the absence of a king. Also during this time a group of people referred to as the scribes and sages developed. They monopolized the study of the Torah. The priests still ran the Temple. The sages developed and maintained an oral tradition alongside the written traditions. A rift developed between the sages and the priests. The Sadducee party developed from the priests and the allied elites. The Essenes may have emerged as a sect of dissident priests. The Pharisees (separatist) party emerged largely out of the sages and scribes.

The political parties gradually developed into religious sects within Judaism. As time passed the different sects fell. The revolutionaries were crushed by the Romans. The Sadducees disappeared when the second Temple fell. The Essenes disappeared, perhaps because their teachings so diverged from the concerns of the times.

Josephus wrote that the Sadducees were a quarrelsome group whose followers were wealthy and powerful, and that he considered them boorish in social interactions.

An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of, “an eye for an eye”. The Pharisaic understanding was that the value of an eye was to be sought by the perpetrator rather than actually removing his eye too. In the Sadducees’ view the law was to be taken literally.

The Sanhedrin was a governing body made up of the chief priest (high priest), a vice chief justice, and 69 general members. It was made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. It is basically the Supreme Court and legislative body of ancient Israel. In Jesus’ time it was mostly made up of Sadducees. Annas and Caiaphas were Sadducees.


24 Responses

  1. Hello Morris,
    thank you for posting this information on your website.
    In my (personal) studies I was interested to know if Caiaphas was a Sadducee as I had read that they had taken on the role of High Priest. Your article answered that and much more.
    Thank you.

    • According to Mathew 27 account of the Crucifixion, many dead people were raised to life at the moment of Jesus’ death. No doubt many a Sadducee, and probably also Pharisees, received a personal visit. My takeis that they would have been terrified, been given a “I told you so” admonishment, and left in a speechless state on Resurrection morning.
      Thanks for helping me understand the two groups.

  2. […] time, the Sanhedrin was dominated by conservative judges from the wealthy elite class who embraced rigid literal interpretations of the Old Testament […]

  3. […] time, the Sanhedrin was dominated by conservative judges from the wealthy elite class who embraced rigid literal interpretations of the Old Testament […]

  4. […] time, the Sanhedrin was dominated by conservative judges from the wealthy elite class who embraced rigid literal interpretations of the Old Testament […]

  5. […] At a time, a Sanhedrin was dominated by regressive judges from a rich chosen category who embraced firm verbatim interpretations of a Old Testament […]

  6. […] — but this claim won’t hold up in any court. The Sanhedrin that convicted Jesus was a conservative court. It was dominated at that time by the conservative Saducees, who represented the elite and wealthy […]

  7. This particular blog post, “Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin Learning to
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  9. […] was a powerful council made up of 71ish members, primarily Pharisees and Saducees. (Here’s a good primer on what those two groups […]

  10. […] The Bible condemns excessive and extortive taxation, where certain elites intervene between God and the individual, rob people of their livelihoods and property, then […]

  11. […] It is feudalism of a Pharisaical kind in our time. I suggest reading about it in “Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin.” And what is that? What does it […]

  12. […] It is feudalism of a Pharisaical kind in our time. I suggest reading about it in “Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin.” And what is that? What does it […]

  13. […] spirit, it is now and it has ever been as it was in the days of Cain and Abel, and the days of Judas Iscariot’s Pharisees and Jesus […]

  14. Great response. Thank you so much it explains a lot.

  15. Thank you for the information given,it is good to know more.

  16. I really appreciate the information you have offered. I have been looking for it and had trouble finding it elsewhere on the internet. The only way you could improve the information you posted is to provide sources for the information you provide.

    • I wrote this so long ago I’m not sure if the sources even exist anymore. Thank you for your flattering comment though. I continue to be surprised by the amount of attention it gets.

  17. Thank you so much for the clarification. I am a lifelong Christian trying to still struggling to understand the ancient ruling body. This was a tremendous help. Thank yoy again. Gods blessings.

  18. This article is very interesting and informative. Thanks

  19. […] a threat to Rome and to the religious  local rulers, the Sanhedrin (which was made up of Sadducees, Pharisees, the Essenes and the Revolutionaries) Daily, there were people following not just the teachings of Christ, But following Him as the […]

  20. In Luke 13:31 the Pharisees seem to help Jesus

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