Their Influence

The Pharisees - Jewish Leaders in the First Century AD.

The Influence of the Pharisees

The Pharisees maintained an incredible influence among the people for many generations, so that even Herod the Great, Rome’s puppet, was careful not to offend them. He had no regard for their religious teachings but was well aware of the power they had with the people and the threat they posed to the stability of his kingdom if he were to attack them.

Josephus recorded that there were "above six thousand" strict Pharisees (Josephus, Antiq. XVII. ii. 4) and some believe that nearly 5% of all of the total population could be counted among the Pharisees. They also held an important place in the Sanhedrin through the Maccabean period on into New Testament times. They most likely did not control the Sanhedrin as the Talmud suggests.

In the New Testament, the Pharisees seem to be the main enemies of Jesus, probably because He had won a deeper influence among the people which they formerly possessed. It was the Pharisees who were known as the "experts" in the Law and so they took it upon themselves to scrutinize and ultimately condemn the very words of Jesus, and attributed his miracles to Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.

More than once the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians had joined themselves together to attempt to destroy Jesus (see Matt 22:15f.; Mark 3:6; 12 :13). These passages reveal just how politically powerful the Pharisees really were and the position that they held in the governing body of the Sanhedrin. More than once the politically powerful Sadducees yielded to the opinion of the Pharisees.

According to Josephus, the Sadducees had to repeatedly submit to the dictates of the Pharisees "since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them" (Josephus, Antiq. XVIII. i. 4; remember the Sanhedrin's acceptance of Gamaliel's recommendation in Acts 5: 34ff.).

The Mishnah, compiled by the Patriarch Judah (200 A.D.), which is the final work of Pharisaic rabbis, began a final work in the history of Jewish scholarship. It is a monument of Pharisaic scholarship and a testimony to the final triumph of Pharisaism, which now is compiled into the Talmud which has become synonymous with Judaism.