<<religious leaders at the time of Christ>>

This Jewish religious group did not rigidly follow the OT laws, but adapted them and developed their own traditions as well, yet believed in the immortality of the soul, in resurrection to a life after death, a future judgement day and the coming of a Messiah. They were very legalistic in the keeping of these laws, as they interpreted them, but failed to see the principles governing them.  As the largest of the

Don’t let tradition blind you to the truth

Jewish sects, they were noted for their self-conceit, long prayers and regular fasting; they associated with the Scribes, who copied and preserved the OT manuscripts, and were intense scholars and teachers of the law, acting like lawyers in its administration. Jesus said a person’s righteousness had to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if they were to enter into heaven (Mt 5:20). They were zealous and had many good beliefs, however, entrance into heaven is by faith in God’s promised deliverance through atonement, based on the blood of Jesus, not on works or legal obedience. Because they considered their own good works would save them they didn’t see the need to relate to Jesus as the Saviour (Lk 18:9-14). They were trusting in their own righteousness and treated others with contempt and did everything to be noticed by others (Mt 23:5). Gamaliel, an influential Pharisee advised a ‘wait and see’ approach when dealing with the early church perpetrators (Act 5:17-41).

The Scribes were a distinct group who were adept at writing, recording and interpreting the law, besides being familiar with legal knowledge. They are often mentioned with the Pharisees who imposed the laws over the Jews.

The Sadducees (although a smaller group yet more influential than the Pharisees) were the other major religious group in Israel at the time of Christ, and both clashed with His lifestyle and teachings. The Sadducees put a different interpretation on the OT writings, not believing in the resurrection, angels or spirits (Act 23:8). A Pharisee might become a Christian without ceasing to be a Pharisee, as Paul and some of the believers were, because of the similar doctrinal beliefs, but a Sadducee could not become a Christian and remain a Sadducee (Act 15:5, 23:6).

Both groups, although disliking each other, united in their endeavours to get rid of Jesus because He exposed their false teachings, was weakening their authority over the people and their insincere motives were being shown up. Their lives were not in harmony with the doctrines they taught (Mt 23:2-4, 23-28). Jesus warned His followers to be on their guard against the erroneous teachings of these  hypocrites who did things to receive human praise (Mt 6:1-18, 16:12; 23:5-7). They had a form of godliness but denied its power (2 Tim 3:5). In comparison Jesus, because of the reality of His vital relationship with God, spoke the truth with authority, which was backed up with compassion and actions that positively affected those in need (Mt 7:29; Act 10:38).

The Sanhedrin or supreme ruling council comprised of 70 members drawn from the Sadducees and Pharisees plus the high priest (Act 5:17,21,27,34). This, the highest Jewish authority, had control in most of the matters relating to their own race, but were not permitted to execute one of their own so pressured the occupying Roman governing powers for the death of Christ. Initially these men were very sincere in their obedience to God, however over succeeding generations they reverted into legalism and added to the Law of Moses, which they originally set out to uphold. By the time of Christ, they were so spiritually blind that they failed to recognise Him as the Messiah. In spite of seeing the miracles and hearing His teachings they were so opposed to Him they arranged His killing because He truthfully claimed He was the Son of God.

See also: hypocrite, ritual, rules, Sadducees, sect, self-righteousness, super-spiritual, tradition.