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The term “Pharisee” in Hebrew means “separate” or “detach.” This group distinguished themselves through their strict religious observances and opposition to Hellenistic influences, striving to maintain purity according to the written laws and oral traditions. The Pharisees emerged during the post-exilic period; a time marked by a fervent desire to preserve Judaism’s purity. They developed interpretations and applications of the Mosaic Law, emphasizing traditional rituals handed down by the elders and claiming divine origin for these practices.

Pharisees and Jesus

The relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees was often contentious. Here are key reasons for their objections against Jesus:

1. Teaching Differences: Jesus’ teachings often clashed with those of the Pharisees. He had a unique perspective on Sabbath observance and religious rituals. For instance, He healed the sick on the Sabbath (Lk 14:1-6) and allowed His disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath (Mt 12:1-8), actions that the Pharisees considered violations of the Sabbath law.

2. Criticism of Hypocrisy: Jesus openly criticized the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites (Mt 23:13-36). He condemned their actions publicly and warned the people not to follow their example (Mt 23:1-7).

3. Forgiveness of Sins: Jesus forgave sins and presented Himself as the Son of God, a claim the Pharisees rejected, accusing Him of blasphemy (Lk 5:21).

4. Association with Sinners: Jesus associated with sinners (Mk 2:16), helped Gentiles (Mt 8:28-34), and visited Samaritan cities (Jn 4:40-42). He depicted a Samaritan as a model of virtue in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37) and criticized the Pharisees in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14).

5. Jealousy: The Pharisees were envious of Jesus’ popularity due to the miracles He performed. They felt threatened as they were losing their influence over the Jews (Jn 12:19).

Pharisees and Sadducees

The Pharisees and Sadducees were prominent religious rulers during Jesus’ ministry. Both groups were part of the Sanhedrin, the seventy-member supreme court that sentenced Jesus. While the Sadducees held the majority in the Sanhedrin and included the chief priests and high priest, the Pharisees wielded more influence due to their popular support and control over the synagogues. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees opposed Hellenism and Roman rule. After the Temple’s destruction in 70 A.D., the Sadducees ceased to exist, but the Pharisees endured, laying the foundation for contemporary Rabbinic Judaism.

The Pharisees’ commitment to Jewish laws and traditions was commendable. However, their focus on ritual purity led them to neglect the more profound aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus emphasized these values, advocating for a more human-centered approach rather than mere ritual observance. The Pharisees, despite their elite status, failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, thus missing the opportunity to welcome the Savior and becoming His persecutors instead.


As Christians, we must learn from the Pharisees’ mistakes. While it is essential to uphold religious practices and traditions, we must not let them overshadow the core teachings of love, mercy, and service. Jesus exemplified a life of compassion and care for the marginalized. We are called to do the same, balancing our religious observance with genuine concern for others.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Let us strive to be charitable and service-oriented while maintaining our faith and religious practices, ensuring that our devotion to God is reflected in our love for our neighbors. By doing so, we honor the essence of Jesus’ teachings and embody the true spirit of Christianity.

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