Pharisees: separatists (Heb. persahin, from parash, "to separate"). They
were probably the successors of the Assideans (i.e., the
"pious"), a party that originated in the time of Antiochus
Epiphanes in revolt against his heathenizing policy. The first
mention of them is in a description by Josephus of the three
sects or schools into which the Jews were divided (B.C. 145).
The other two sects were the Essenes and the Sadducees. In the
time of our Lord they were the popular party (John 7:48). They
were extremely accurate and minute in all matters appertaining
to the law of Moses (Matt. 9:14; 23:15; Luke 11:39; 18:12).
Paul, when brought before the council of Jerusalem, professed
himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6-8; 26:4, 5).
There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system
of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax
morality (Matt. 5:20; 15:4, 8; 23:3, 14, 23, 25; John 8:7). On
the first notice of them in the New Testament (Matt. 3:7), they
are ranked by our Lord with the Sadducees as a "generation of
vipers." They were noted for their self-righteousness and their
pride (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11, 12). They were frequently
rebuked by our Lord (Matt. 12:39; 16:1-4).
From the very beginning of his ministry the Pharisees showed
themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could
not bear his doctrines, and they sought by every means to
destroy his influence among the people.