- Pharisees. The Pharisees are the forerunners of todayâ€™s modern rabbinic Judaism. Mostly composed of intellectuals, Pharisees included teachers of the law, scribes, and other high standing members (Lk 11:52). They were the most prestigous group in Jesusâ€™ time. They accepted the Old Testament doctrines, rigidly adhering to the Mosaic law by emphasizing the laws of outward religiosity and purity. Many Pharisees (we cannot say all) felt they were above the people, being self-righteous and full of pride. Emphasizing outward form, many Pharisees were hypocriticalâ€”laying heavy burdens on the peopleâ€”burdens they themselves would not bear. The Pharisees would eventually plan Jesusâ€™ demise. We donâ€™t want to give the false impression that every Pharisee was evil or hypocritical, yet their portrayal in the New Testament was a sign of the times. The position and social environment of the times naturally led those in positions of power to a â€œholierâ€ and â€œbetter than thouâ€ attitude. The temple system was pretty corrupt by Jesusâ€™ time. Jesus once saw a poor widow put in her whole livelihood for the temple treasury (cf. Mt 23:14), yet the Pharisees came up with rules for their own benefit (Mk 7:11â€“13). Where was the justice there? Christians are often accused by modern Jews of giving the Pharisees a bad reputation, yet the times indicate there was a rampant abuse of power.
- Sadducees. The Sadducees were made up of the high priest and his associates (Acts 5:17). Their doctrines were often opposed to the Pharisees. The Sadducees only upheld the authority of the Torah (or Pentateuch) and the writings. They did not believe in the eternal soul or the resurrection of the dead. They did not believe in angels, demons, or future judgment (Mk 12:18; Acts 23:8). The Sadducees, like the Pharisees, opposed Jesus and his ministry. They, like the Pharisees, plotted to take Jesusâ€™ life.
- Herodians (royal faction). Herodians were a political party. When Judah became a vassal state of Rome, Herod the Great became king. Herod was an Idumean, considered a half-Jew by the Pharisees. Herod would convert to the Jewish religion and be circumcised, which is why he was called a Jew. The Jews, seeking political freedom and independence, hoped their support for Herod would help them expand their power. Thus, the Herodian party was formed (Mt 22:16). In Jesusâ€™ time, Herod Antipas, Herod the Greatâ€™s son, was the Galilean king (Lk 23:6â€“7).
- Zealots. Bible scholars who have read Josephus, a historian of the first century, used to believe there was a longstanding organized group that led the Jewish revolt of 66â€“74 C.E. against Rome. Many scholars now believe the reconstruction of such an organized group is unnecessary based on Josephusâ€™ accounts. Scholars now say zealots were not around sixty years before the revolt of 66â€“74 C.E.; rather, they now believe zealots initially formed when the Jewish revolt began. The zealots, then, were a network of groups with a common goal of overthrowing Rome. Many of the members were bandits. The Sicarii or â€œdagger people,â€ numbered among the zealots, would often just gut people on city streets with their blades. Simon, one of Jesusâ€™ twelve disciples, was called a zealot (Mt 10:4). However, we do not know in what sense the Bible called Simon a zealot. If, as scholars now believe, the zealots were not an organized force at Jesusâ€™ time, then Simon was zealous in some way we do not know about. The Bible does not mention much about the zealot party, so the new consensus that zealots were not around at Jesusâ€™ time carries some weight. However, at this point, we simply do not know much about the history of the zealots.