Having come back to reading the Bible, and spending most of my time in the gospels, I have been reading a lot about Jesus’ encounters with the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. The problem is, I don’t really know what they are, and the distinctions between them. Instead of continue to wonder about it, I took some time to do a little research into what they are. Here is what I found (if you have more to add, or anything to correct, please comment and let me know):
Scribes – Their main purpose is to hand copy the scriptures, primarily focusing on the Law and the details of it. Because they spent a lot of time in the Law, they naturally would become authoritative in their recollections of it, and their understanding of it, thus often becoming teachers and leaders of the Law. Some say that they were the religious lawyers of the time. They were zealous about preserving Judaism and the Law, and therefore were clearly large opponents of Jesus and his ministry and his claiming to be the Christ. It seems that the Scribes, though having a unique purpose, were a part of the Pharisees.
Pharisees – These were a political/social group within Judaism. They identified more with the common people of Israel. The word “Pharisee” in Hebrew means “the separated ones”. While originally meaning to obey God, they became more devoted to legalism within the Law, and chose to focus only on limited parts of the Law. They were very big on oral tradition, and esteemed tradition as highly as the Law. Being a part of the Sanhedrin, they always have a minority of the seats. As is clearly seen in the gospels, the Pharisees loved the public eye, and sought the praise of men rather than seeking righteousness from God.
Sadducees – Another political/social group that held powerful positions, which included high priests and chief priests. This group was generally very wealthy, and they identified with the wealthy and the powerful. They seemed to regard politics as more important than religion. They were not well esteemed by the middle-class. The Sadducees and the Pharisees disagreed on many things, but they often had to side with the Pharisees due to the Pharisees’ position with the middle-class. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not hold oral tradition to be of importance, and focused only on the written Law. Being also a part of the Sanhedrin, they always held the majority of the seats. They had some interesting beliefs such as denial of any afterlife, and any consequences/rewards for the life you lived.