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Biblical Pharisees and Sadducees Provide a Unique Look into Political Thought

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Published on: September 9, 2017

The complexities of theology, philosophy, and politics can be simplified into two fundamental worldviews.

Either there is a God, or God doesn’t exist.

It is this dialectic that all philosophical and political reasoning is built upon, people typically approach the world from one of these two standpoints.

In like fashion bodies of politics form along these two perspectives naturally.

The Essence of Political Bodies

The best way to explain this dynamic is to look at the contest between the Biblical Pharisees and the Sadducees, two main sects that represented the bulk of council positions in the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was a Jewish council of 23+ learned men who would preside over all issues within their provinces.

Likewise, the Great Sanhedrin that met in the Halls of Hewn Stones in Jerusalem was an overarching body that met daily, except on Feast Days and also the Sabbath during the time of the 2nd Temple.

It is the Great Sanhedrin that initiated the false trials of Jesus Christ, and also sent the satellite councils against the Apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts.

Jesus often referenced the Pharisees and Sadducees, in fact in Matthew 16:6 he warned his disciples to “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”

Now take note in these passages, he plainly makes it clear that both the Pharisees and the Sadducees both represent grievous errors in doctrine.

The Pharisees had failed doctrine and also the Sadducees had theirs, the important point is they were coming from two different places on the political spectrum.

Jesus was very much aware of the political and spiritual differences within the two sects.

The Pharisees were religious purists, they worked out a legal/spiritual/political system based on both the Written Law of Moses and also the Oral Law and Traditions.

From these works, they formed their ideological and political worldviews.

These views consisted of beliefs prescribing the act of creation to God, that there was an afterlife, and that by rigorously applying their traditions to their lives they could obtain the favor of God and the afterlife.

They also believed that the prophets, including Moses, pointed to a coming Messiah.

This is why the Gospel narratives reported so many confrontations with Jesus, they were concerned with anyone claiming messianic authority.

Feeling only they could be the judge of who was the Messiah, seeing they controlled the institutions that were learned in such things.

The Sadducees really could care less outside of how it could impact their relationship with the Romans and were absent many times as a result.

The Pharisees built their political ideas off of these concepts, through this system they determined what they felt was right and wrong.

It was the idea of God that shaped their thinking in much the same way that today the Conservative right in the U.S. and other nations shape their philosophical ideologies around the concept of God.

That what we do in this life is accountable to an almighty Creator God. Without question, this concept when accepted will have a tremendous impact on one’s thinking and living.

The Sadducees represent the political left. They were the upper echelons and rich of Jesus’ day.

They are recorded multiple times in the Bible as those who don’t believe in the ‘Resurrection of the Dead’, literally meaning they didn’t believe in an afterlife, much in the same way atheists believe there to be just darkness after they die. This doctrine came from the concept and word Sheol in the Bible. They also believed that Sheol is the destination of all souls righteous and unrighteous, and that there was no final judgment after death.

The ironic thing was the Sadducees were associated with the priest class and were very much responsible for the priestly duties of the temple.

It is this association and responsibility in the Temple that gave them such a high standing within Jewish society.

You would think this would give them a mind for God and the afterlife, but it didn’t.

Much like Jews today, they were atheist in thought despite this rich heritage and worship of God that had been handed down to them by their ancestors.

The reason for this was the Hellenization of Israel.

In simple terms, this was the spread of Greek culture throughout the conquered territories following the campaigns of Alexander the Great 300+ years prior.

The Greek language was considered the empires language making it very widespread and in use during the time of Christ.

With this Hellenization came the influences of Greek Culture that had a dramatic effect on the minds of Jews, those caught up in its influence became much more secular and sensual in behavior.

They preferred the Greeks mentality of “live for today” rather than the Pharisees’ obsession with purity and the Laws.

The Apostle Paul even addressed this Sadducee influence in the church at Corinth. He said,

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 1 Corinthians 15: 12-19

It wasn’t just the Pharisees that were trying to affect the doctrine of Christians all throughout the mid east as read about in the book of Acts, it was also the Sadducees as seen in the above passage.

This is important to note because this debate is still raging today, and truly forms the basis of all political ideologies.

There is either a God and we must conform ourselves to his desires for our lives (conservatives), or there isn’t and we only have this life to live (liberals).


Paul later in the same chapter of 1 Corinthians boils it down for us, speaking about the constant jeopardy his life was in due to the persistent threat of punishment and persecution by those in the Sanhedrin, both Pharisees and Sadducees, he said,

If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15: 32-34

In the simplest of terms, he is saying if there is no God and no resurrection, what the heck am I doing out here risking my life for any of you in Corinth?  If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then he might as well as join them, and eat, drink and be Merry for tomorrow we die echoing the attitude of the Sadducee followers in the Church.

We have to realize as Christians that Paul and Jesus himself rebuked both of these spirits found in the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

They both form the basis of false teachings, and both can be found in today’s churches.

While some churches and denominations are filled with legalism and judgementalism like the Pharisees, according to Christ they error, and other churches are ear tickling, live for fun, music and merriment type churches, again error. Christians today are so caught up in the political war drums they don’t even realize they are taking on political ideologies that originated in ancient times.

Ideologies that Jesus thoroughly and completely rebuked.

The cross of Christ represents something entirely different than these two political spectrums of ideas.

Christ did the work for us, he is God in the flesh, he took upon Himself the sins of this world and only by believing in Him will we ever resolve this conflict between these two worldviews.

It is the resurrection of Christ Jesus that gives us purpose.

Losing oneself in legalism or pursuing fleshly desires is a fool’s errand, this is what Jesus meant by “Beware the Leven of the Pharisees AND Sadducees” He is saying reject both of these political ideologies and follow Him.

That is what I intend to do, and I hope that those reading this follow after Christ in the same way, by giving your heart to him and not getting side tracked by failed political ideas.

Article posted with permission from Wake The Church

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