Once more on the Pharisees

In 1907, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, said, “We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.”

There you have a quintessentially view of a Pharisee, someone who both believes in the Torah and who believes its meaning is determined by its interpretive tradition. On the other hand, a Sadducee would simply say, to use Chief Hughes’ terms, “We are under a Constitution.” We don’t need an interpretive tradition for we need only to seek out the original intent.

Pharisees were judicial activists; Sadducees were judicial conservationists.

Consequently, the Pharisees built up a body of interpretive tradition, which today is called the Mishnah and the Tosefta, with an even larger body of anecdotal reflection in the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. At the time of Jesus this interpretive tradition was merely oral tradition, but it carried the day.

So, this permits us to see the Pharisees as those who both believed in the Torah but who knew it needed interpretation, applications, and it needed to do so along careful lines of thought and procedure.

If you want to use the terms of today, then the Sadducees were the political conservatives and the Pharisees the political liberals — in the legal sense (both were conservative morally).

Jesus agreed with neither? Where would you put him in the first century legal struggle of “how do we live under the Torah?”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5525908 burttd

    “Where would you put him in the first century legal struggle of ‘how do we live under the Torah?’”Where His own words lead – to Him.”You have heard that it was said… but *I* say unto you…” Matthew 5:21-48

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/8111113 Scot McKnight

    Burt,More Pharisee or Sadducee?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5525908 burttd

    What I meant to say was that Jesus was not taking sides in that debate. He was drawing people not to either sides’ interpretation of the Torah, but to Himself as its final interpreter and fulfillment. He didn’t fit or accept either camp, and was thereby declared persona non grata by both camps.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, he agrees with the Qumran community over and over again when it comes to individual issues. He just teaches that the reason for doing them is love of God and each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/9548318 John Frye

    Anonymous, if Jesus agreed most with the Essenes, why didn’t he just withdraw and reject the Temple and the priesthood, etc. rather than go there to teach and interact with the priests? While Jesus and John the Baptist were undoubtedly aware of the Qumran ghetto, they were not proponents of their theology or way of life.

  • Anonymous

    They were not proponents of its withdrawl from the community (that is clear), but they do hold the same views and morals as the Essenes, and their hermeneutic is also parallel. Both taught the raz “mystery/cryptic puzzle” of Scripture and held the same focus on eschatology. Their views of marriage and divorce are the same, baptism is the same, etc.The NT view of the Messiah is radically different in that they held the common Jewish belief that Messiah would physically wipe out the Romans and set up his physical kingdom. They were different on many things like purification rituals, etc.; but if any Jewish group is closest to Christ’s views and the Apostles, it would definitely be the Qumran community.

  • Anonymous

    BTW, the Qumran community did not reject the priesthood. They simply believed the current one was corrupt and had to be supplemented by them (as they argued from the OT).

  • http://lighthousenetwork.blogspot.com Teresa

    I wrote a post on this EXACT this a bit ago, expanded though, but for whatever reason I could not post it. I saw a movie on the life of Paul last night which brought this to the screen and it was very enlightening. I believe that I will just link to your post.


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