As we begin to explore the New Testament there are few groups that come up as many time as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Typically they are working in opposition to Jesus and his followers. Who are these groups and what where they about?
First, the Pharisees. They were the largest and most influential Jewish religious group during the New Testament. It is believed that they had a significant following with the common people. They attempted to follow the Law of Moses but they allowed room for interpretation to help the law apply to new and different situations. Interestingly, they believed that the Law came in two forms. The written law of Moses and the oral law that was the traditions passed down through the generations. Taking this use of oral tradition and the willingness to interpret the Law into account, much of what the Pharisees did was an attempt to make it easier for people to follow the Law. This noble goal may have gone off track as the Pharisees began to believe that they were following the Law perfectly and began to feel self-righteous and miss some of the larger points of the Law. While the common view of Pharisees in the Church is as hypocrites, many, even most where probably righteous individuals dedicated to helping others live righteous lives. ( Of course there were hypocrites in their movement, as in every other movement.) The Pharisees believed in resurrection, judgment in the next world, angels, and Divine Providence. In fact some of their beliefs where very close to the teachings of Jesus and the early Church. In Mark 12:34 Jesus even commends a Pharisee. While in most the Gospels they are the main opponent of Jesus their attitude is considerably different to the church after the Resurrection The Sadducees are the primary opponents of the new Christian movement and it is a Pharisee named Gamaliel who defends the Apostles in front of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34-40).
The Sadducees are quite different than the Pharisees. One of the major differences is that they believe that only the written Law is binding. They believe that the Pharisees are wrong to give the oral traditions the same status as the written Law. They also do not believe in the resurrection and thought that souls died with the body. If that was not enough, they did not believe in divine providence. Instead, they thought that if you did good then you were rewarded and if you did bad you were punished. So we can see that in any of their beliefs they differed sharply from the Pharisees. Also, where the Pharisees appealed to common people the Saducees were made up of the high priestly families and others at the top of the social ladder. The Saducees were seen as more likely to compromise with Gentiles. Also, during the period of Roman occupation the Roman choose the High Priest, often picking a member of the Saducees. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD the Sadducees disappear fairly quickly.