6 “Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” (Acts 23:6–8 (ESV)
One of the distinguishing features of the Jewish council known as the Sanhedrin was that half was comprised of the Sadducees while the other half were the Pharisees. Each group had 35 members. The 71st member of the council was the current high priest.
The origin of the Sadducees cannot definitely be traced. The first time they are mentioned is in connection with John the Baptist’s ministry. They came out to him on the banks of the Jordan, and he said to them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7.) The next time they are spoken of they are presented as coming to our Lord tempting him. He calls them “hypocrites” and “a wicked and adulterous generation” (Matt. 16:1–4; 22:23). The only reference to them in the Gospels of Mark (12:18–27) and Luke (20:27–38) is when they attempted to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection, which they denied, as they also denied the existence of angels. They are never mentioned in the Gospel of John.
The Sadducees showed their hatred of Jesus in taking part in His condemnation (Matt. 16:21; 26:1–3, 59; Mark 8:31; 15:1; Luke 9:22; 22:66). They endeavored to prohibit the apostles from preaching the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:24, 31, 32; 4:1, 2; 5:17, 24–28). They were the deists or sceptics of that age.
The origin of the Pharisees is also unknown. They held to a strict adherence to the Mosaic Law. There was much that was sound in their creeds, yet their system of religion was religious formality and nothing more. They had 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 also 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). The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection and the existence of angels.
As we shall see, Paul used the fundamental differences between these two groups in order to play one against the other. More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!