What Are Pharisees in the Bible?


The Bible is a rich treasure trove of stories, history, and wisdom that has shaped the lives of countless individuals throughout the centuries. One intriguing aspect of the Bible is the various characters and groups that emerge throughout its pages, each playing a specific role in the unfolding narrative. Among these groups, the Pharisees hold a unique place, often coming into conflict with Jesus and His teachings. This blog post will explore the origins, beliefs, and actions of the Pharisees in the Bible, with a specific focus on the New King James Version (NKJV).

The Pharisees were a prominent religious group in the time of Jesus, known for their strict adherence to Jewish law and tradition. As a result, they often found themselves at odds with Jesus, who challenged their legalistic interpretations of the scriptures and sought to reveal the heart of God’s commands. While the Pharisees are frequently depicted in a negative light in the Gospels, it is essential to recognize that they were not inherently evil; rather, they were misguided in their pursuit of holiness. This post will delve into the complexities of the Pharisees and their interactions with Jesus, providing valuable insights into their role in the biblical narrative.

By examining the Pharisees in the Bible, we can gain a deeper understanding of the obstacles Jesus faced during His ministry, as well as the pitfalls of legalism and self-righteousness. As believers, it is crucial to learn from these biblical examples so that we may avoid the errors of the Pharisees and embrace the grace, mercy, and love of God as demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

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pharisees in the Bible

Origins of the Pharisees

The Pharisees emerged during the Second Temple period of Jewish history, around the 2nd century BCE. They were one of several Jewish sects at the time, alongside the Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. The Pharisees were primarily composed of laypeople and scholars who sought to preserve and interpret the Jewish law and traditions. Their name, “Pharisee,” likely derives from the Hebrew word “perushim,” which means “separated ones.” This title reflects their dedication to maintaining the purity of the Jewish faith in the midst of a Hellenized world.

Beliefs and Practices

The Pharisees were distinguished by their strict observance of the written Torah, as well as the oral traditions handed down through generations. They believed that the interpretation of these traditions was crucial for understanding and applying the Torah’s commands to daily life (Matthew 15:1-9). Moreover, the Pharisees were known for their emphasis on the importance of ritual purity and the practice of tithing (Luke 11:42).

In addition to their rigorous adherence to Jewish law, the Pharisees also held several theological beliefs that set them apart from other Jewish sects. For instance, they believed in the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels, and divine providence (Acts 23:6-9). These beliefs contrasted sharply with the views of the Sadducees, who denied the existence of an afterlife and angels.

Encounters with Jesus

The Gospels record several instances where Jesus interacted with the Pharisees, often leading to confrontations and heated debates. One significant example is found in Matthew 12:1-14, where Jesus and His disciples are accused of breaking the Sabbath by plucking grain and healing a man with a withered hand. In response, Jesus challenges the Pharisees’ understanding of the Sabbath, stating, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7, NKJV).

Another notable encounter occurs in John 8:1-11, where the Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. They attempt to trap Him by asking whether the woman should be stoned according to the law of Moses. Jesus, in His wisdom, responds, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7, NKJV). Convicted by their own consciences, the Pharisees leave, and Jesus forgives the woman, demonstrating the grace and mercy of God.

The Pharisees and Jesus’ Crucifixion

The Pharisees, along with other religious leaders, played a significant role in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. They were instrumental in plotting against Jesus (Matthew 12:14) and sought false witnesses to testify against Him during His trial (Matthew 26:59). Despite their rigid adherence to the law, the Pharisees failed to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, and their opposition ultimately contributed to His death on the cross.

The Pitfalls of Legalism and Self-Righteousness

The Pharisees serve as a cautionary example of the dangers of legalism and self-righteousness. Despite their strict observance of the law, they neglected the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). Jesus denounced their hypocrisy, stating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25, NKJV). The Pharisees’ focus on external appearances and adherence to rituals blinded them to the true meaning of God’s commandments and the grace offered through Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, it is crucial to remember the lessons that the Pharisees’ actions teach us. While adherence to God’s commandments is essential, it must be accompanied by a genuine relationship with Him and a heart transformed by His grace. Legalism and self-righteousness can hinder our ability to extend love, mercy, and forgiveness to others, as demonstrated by the Pharisees’ interactions with Jesus.


In conclusion, the Pharisees in the Bible serve as a powerful reminder of the potential pitfalls of legalism and self-righteousness. As believers, we must strive to learn from their mistakes and pursue a genuine, humble relationship with God. It is through this relationship that we can truly embrace the grace, mercy, and love of God as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. By doing so, we can avoid the errors of the Pharisees and, instead, become instruments of God’s love and compassion in a world that desperately needs it.

While the Pharisees may not have fully understood the heart of God’s commandments, their story in the Bible offers valuable insights for believers today. By examining the Pharisees’ origins, beliefs, and encounters with Jesus, we can gain a deeper understanding of the importance of approaching our faith with humility, grace, and a heart transformed by the love of God. In doing so, we can better reflect the image of Christ in our own lives and extend His love and mercy to those around us.

Let us, therefore, strive to learn from the Pharisees’ story and draw closer to Jesus, who demonstrated the true meaning of love, mercy, and forgiveness through His life, death, and resurrection. In this way, we can become beacons of hope and healing in a world that often values outward appearances and self-righteousness over the transformative power of God’s grace.

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