The Name

The Pharisees - Jewish Leaders in the First Century AD.

The Title "Pharisee"

"Pharisee" is from a Greek word (pharisaios) taken from the Heb/Aramaic "Perisha" meaning "Separated one." In the time of Jesus the Pharisees were one of the three chief Jewish sects, the others were the Sadducees and the Essenes. Of the three, the Pharisees were the most separated from the ways of the foreign influences that were invading Judaism, and from the ways of the common Jewish people in the land.

There is no doubt that the etymology of the word speaks of a person who was a "separatist," but it is not entirely clear in what sense it is to be understood in its earlier times. Were they separated from the house of the Hasmoneans? Or from the Gentiles and their abominations? Or from the Hellenistic way of life? Or from the common Jews who knew so little about the Law?

Actually the Pharisee lived in separation from all of these, but it is not known which particular aspect historically, if any, was responsible for the designation Pharisee.

Some believe that it originally meant "interpreter" and referred to the exceptional exegetical abilities of these men in the interpretation of Scripture. Others believe that it had Persian origins and that there was a strong resemblance between various doctrines of the Pharisees and doctrines of Zoroastrianism, the religion of Persia, thus they were referred to as "Persianizers."

According to the Mishnah and other Rabbinical literature there were certain men who called themselves Haberim (Aram. habar, "associate"), which was exactly identical with Perushim; a Haber was one who associated himself with the law in order to observe it strictly in opposition to the influences of Hellenism.

Whatever was the original meaning of the term "Pharisee" it is clear that during the time of Jesus it reflected the separatist tendencies of these people.