Index/Table of Contents
Old Testament and New Testament  
Credits and Copyright


Students will be able to:

  1. Identify and define the religious leaders of the New Testament and
  2.  the institutions that served as their center of activity.

Outline of Lecture:

1. Religious Leaders

A. Pharisees

1. Origin - The Pharisees ("separated ones") were spirited descendants of the Hasidim, those Jews that separated themselves from the corruption of Hellenistic culture. Pharisees originated after the Maccabean Revolt of 168 B.C.

2. Beliefs

a. Accepted both the written law and the oral law. When the oral law was eventually recorded, it was known as Mishnah. This, plus the commentary which was added, comprised the Talmud.

b. Very strict interpreters of the law.

c. Believed in the resurrection of the dead.

They are shown as Jesus' bitter opponents in the New Testament (Matthew 23). They are synonymous with hypocrisy and legalism.

4. Two major groups of Pharisees:

a. Those who were very strict in the law -- led by teachings of Rabbi Shammai.

b. Those who were more liberal in their interpretation -led by the Rabbi Hillel.(2)

B. Sadducees

1. Sadducees means "righteous ones"(3)

2. Origin - heirs of the Intertestamental Hasmoneans (politically minded group who controlled Israel between 142 and 37 B.C.). "The aristocratic and politically minded supporters of the Hasmonean priesthood became the Sadducees." (Gundry, p. 8)

3. Beliefs:

a They practiced a literal reading of the Torah and rejected the oral Law.

b. They did not share the Pharisee's belief in a coming judgment, resurrection, angels, or demons (Mark 12:18, Acts 23:8).

4. Role:

a Priests who officiated Temple ceremonies.

b. According to Josephus, the Sadducees seem to have been the mediators between the Jews and Romans during Roman occupation. They stood to lose the most when dews revolted against Rome..

c. Sadducees dominated the Sanhedrin.

C. Essenes

  1. Origin - The Essenes evolved from the Hasidim (not unlike the Pharisees) who were against the purposes of the Hasmoneans. They believed the Hasmonean priesthood (Sadducees) had defiled the Temple.
  2. Importance - After the Dead Sea Scroll discovery in 1947, scholars began finding parallels between Essenes beliefs and practices and those of early Christianity. Both regarded themselves as the "New Israel."
  1. They refused to accept the priesthood of the Sadducees and substituted their own ritual. Their communal meal of bread and wine perhaps anticipated the Lord's Supper.
  2. Lifestyle Some Essenes lived in towns and raised families. Others lived in desert communities and were monastic. The New Testament is silent on the Essenes. Their absence in Scripture may be because they were no longer an identifiable group during Jesus' day.

D. Zealots

  1. Definition - Those Jews that were known for their passionate commitment to Jewish religious and political freedom
  2. Purpose - They were dedicated to evicting the Romans from Palestine.
  3. Simon, one of Jesus' disciples, was called a zealot (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). Josephus, the Jewish Historian suggested the zealots' blind nationalism forced the Jews on a suicidal mission.

E. Scribes

  1. Definition: Professional teachers/lawyers who preserved and interpreted the Mosaic Law.
  2. Often associated with the Pharisees ~ New Testament writings. Most were probably Pharisees during New Testament times.
  3. Often would quote past Rabbis to lend weight to their interpretations.
  4. Scribes were the theological experts of their day.(4)

2. Institutions

A. Temples

1. Origin - The original Temple was built by King Solomon following plans laid out by David It was destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. A smaller Temple was dedicated following the Babylonian captivity in 516 B.C. This structure was enlarged and renovated by Herod the Great and was the structure referred to in the New Testament.

2. Purpose:

a. Theme Temple represented the very presence of God to the Jewish people. His "glory' resided in the innermost room called the "Holy of Holies".

b. Twice daily sacrifices were offered for the sins of the nation of Israel.

c. Used during Holy Days for ceremonies and sacrifices.

3. Structure:

a Outer court - Court of the Gentiles - Gentiles could not go past this court. Punishment for doing so was death.

b. Court of Women

c. Court of Men

d. Inner Court -- where the altar was located

e. Temple building itself

1. Holy place - housed seven-branched lampstand (Menorah), the table of shewbread, and a small altar.

2 Holy of Holies - contained the Ark of the Covenant. Priest would enter once a year to offer sacrifice on Day of Atonement. Separated from Holy place by a heavy veil.

B. Synagogue (TN6)

1. Origin -- May have originated during the Babylonian Exile since Temple worship was impossible.

2. Structure -- "The typical synagogue consisted of a rectangular auditorium with a raised speaker's platform, behind which rested a portable chest or shrine containing Old Testament scrolls. The congregation sat on stone benches running along two or three walls and on mats and possibly wooden chairs in the center of the room. In front, facing the congregation, sat the ruler and elders of the synagogue." ((Gundry,, p. 38)

3. Purposes:

a Worship services on the Sabbath

b. Education of the children

c. Center of city administration

d Study of Old Testament

4. Organization:

a. At least ten adult males were needed to form a synagogue.

b. Ruler - elected leader of a synagogue

c. Attendant - man who took care of scrolls and furniture, insured proper reading of Scripture, performed other duties of worship not performed by the Ruler.

d. Elders - men who gave spiritual leadership to the congregation.

C. Sanhedrin

1. Origin - Jewish High Court which began about the 3rd Century B.C. to allow the Jews to handle many of their own affairs.

2. Organization:

a. High Priest - presided over the other 70 members of the court.

b. Composed primarily of Sadducees, although some Pharisees were also allowed on the Sanhedrin.

3. The Sanhedrin met daily except on the Sabbath and Holy Days to handle religious matters, matters from local courts, and some civilian matters.


Religious Leaders and Institution of the New Testament

Study the text material covering the canonization of the New Testament.

In what language were the original copies of the New Testament written?

What does "canon" mean?

  1. "Hostility between the church and synagogue climaxed following the Roman destruction of Jer Sal em in 70 C.E. In the years immediately after Jerusalem fell, the Pharisees became the dominant force within Judaism and the chief spokesmen for the position that Jesus of Nazareth was not the expected Jewish Messiah . . . after about 90 C.E. Jewish Christians were expelled from the synagogues and condemned as perverters of the Jewish heritage (John 9). The Gospels preserve the Christian response in their rancorous denunciations of the Pharisees." ((Harris,, The e New Testament p. 42)
  2. 3 Their name (Greek Saddoukaioi, from the Hebrew Zaddukim or Tsaddiqim) means 'righteous ones' end may be descriptive, or it may reflect their claim to be the spiritual heirs of Zadok, the high priest under David end Solomon (I Kings 1:26). Because the prophet Ezekiel had stated that only the 'sons of Zadek' could 'approach Yahweh' in the temple service ((Ezekiel 40:46), the Sadducees, the officiating priests at the Jerusalem sanctuary, emphasized their inherited right to this role . . . The Sadducees dominated the Great Council (Sanhedrin), Judaism's highest court of religious law. ~ ((Harris, The New Testament, p. 41)

TN 5 An overhead of the structure of the Temple might be used to enhance the lecture. (Note diagram at end of this lecture.)


TN 6 An overhead or picture of the synagogue in Capernaum might enhance this presentation. (Gundry,, p. 40)

Updated Thursday, February 24, 2000

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