• Pharisees- Greek 'Pharisaioi' is 'separate ones.' In Hebrew means "separatists." According to Josephus, there were three major sects within Judaism at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. There were also the "Zealots, and probably many lesser sects. Even though they tolerated each other's existence, each saw itself as the most authentic expression of Jewish identity" (MacCulloch, p.72).
They helped to develop an elaborate system of oral laws to apply to the written law of Moses to Jewish life after the destruction of the temple and the Roman conquest of Israel. Thus, they were known for devotion to the law, written and oral. The law was rigorously applied to everyday life. Scribes, experts in the law, belonged predominantly to this group. Many people, having lost respect for priesthood due to corruption, looked to the scribes, who were often pious and disciplined (Lockyear, p.830). While relatively small in number (due to their exclusivity), they nevertheless enjoyed prestige and respect of the people and could affect both popular opinion and national policy at times.
"If they [Pharisees] despised the Herods and the Romans, they hated Jesus' doctrine of equality and claims of messiahship with equal fervor" (Green, p.475). Other sources say that while the Pharisees were not always unfriendly to Jesus (and Mark has them taking no part in his death), Jesus criticized them severely precisely because their religious leadership was so serious. Originally helping to save Judaism (a noble thing), it had degenerated over time and become too rigid/exclusive.
• Sadducees- Greek 'Saddoukaioi' means 'followers of Zadak,' perhaps 'righteous.' According to Josephus, there were three major sects within Judaism at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. There were also the "Zealots, and probably many lesser sects. Even though they tolerated each other's existence, each saw itself as the most authentic expression of Jewish identity" (MacCulloch, p.72).
Priestly, wealthy, aristocratic class, centered in Jerusalem. "They enjoyed privileged positions in society and managed to get along well under Roman rule" (Lockyear, p.936). They were the most flexible/allowing in regards to relations with outsiders. In contrast to the Pharisees (in Mark), as the priestly party connected with the Temple, the Sadducees are more directly involved in the death of Jesus, probably due to the fact that they were much more politically minded. Despite their central role in Jesus' death, they did not enjoy the influence among the people that the Pharisees did.
"They accepted as scripture only the first five books of the Old Testament, followed only the letter of the law, rejected the oral legal traditions, and were opposed to teaching not found in the Pentateuch, such as the resurrection of the dead." (Senior et al., Matthew 3:7).