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A group of particularly observant and influential Jews, mainly in Palestine, from the second century BCE to the first century CE. The Jewish historian Josephus calls the Pharisees “a philosophy.” According to Josephus, the Pharisees were the group most influential with the people and were noted for their authoritative interpretations of Jewish law. In the NT, the Pharisees play the role of Jesus’s opponents and are almost always cast in a negative light. The Pharisees are presented as zealous observers of the law who are prominent among the people. Their debates with Jesus are especially concerned with ritual purity and correct observance of Sabbath. The Gospels understand them as learned in the law, and, like Josephus, they contrast the Pharisees with the Sadducees over belief in resurrection (Acts 23:1-8; Mark 11:18-26). When Paul wishes to identify his own relationship to Israel, he describes himself as zealous, observant, and a Pharisee (Phil 3:5; Acts 23:6).

  • Powell, Mark Allan, ed. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Abridged Edition. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.