A numerous and dominant sect of the Jews, agreeing on some main points of doctrine and practice, but divided into different parties or schools on minor points; as for instance, the schools or followers of Hillel and Shammai, who were celebrated rabbins or teachers. The name is commonly derived from the Hebrew purash, to separate, as though they were distinguished form the rest of the nation by their superior wisdom and sanctity. They first appeared as a sect after the return of the Jews from captivity. In respect to their tenets, although they esteemed the written books of the old Testament as the sources of the Jewish religion, yet they also attributed great and equal authority to traditional precepts relating principally to external rites: as ablutions, fasting, long prayers, the distribution of alms, the avoiding of all intercourse with Gentiles and publicans, etc. See Matthew 6:5 9:11 23:5 Mark 7:4 Luke 18:12. In superstitious and self-righteous formalism they strongly resembled the Romish church.
They were rigid interpreters of the letter of the Mosaic law, but not infrequently violated the spirit of it by their traditional and philosophical interpretations. See Matthew 5:31,43 12:2 19:3 23:23. Their professed sanctity and close adherence to all the external forms of piety gave them great favor and influence with the common people, and especially among the female part of the community. They believed with the Stoics, that all things and events were controlled by fate yet not so absolutely as entirely to destroy the liberty of the human will. They considered the soul as immortal, and held the doctrine of a future resurrection of the body, Acts 23:8. It is also supposed by some that they admitted the doctrine of metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls; but no allusion is made to this in the New Testament, nor does Josephus assert it. In numerous cases Christ denounced the Pharisees for their pride and covetousness, their ostentation in prayers, alms, tithes, and facts, Matthew 6:2,5 Luke 18:9, and their hypocrisy in employing the garb of religion to cover the profligacy of their dispositions and conduct; as Matthew 23:1-39 Luke 16:14 John 7:48,49 8:9. By his faithful reproofs he early incurred their hatred, Matthew 12:14; they eagerly sought to destroy him, and his blood was upon them and their children. On the other hand, there appear to have been among them individuals of probity, and even of genuine piety; as in the case of Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the aged Simeon, etc., Matthew 27:57 Luke 2:25 John 3:1. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee of the strictest sect, Acts 26:5 Galatians 1:14. The essential features of their character are still common in Christian lands, and are no less odious to Christ than of old.