Sadducees Versus Pharisees –


Who Really Controlled Temple Services in the Time of Christ?



                        When did the Sadducees lose control of the Temple and the

                        religious leadership of the Jews in ancient Judaea?  When did

                        the Pharisees gain control, and keep it, even when the high

                        priest was a Sadducee?  This may not seem like a very impor-

                        tant question -- but on it depends the solution to the problem

                        of on what day should Pentecost be celebrated! Here is historical                                                                                                                                              and Biblical evidence which provides the FINAL SOLUTION

                        to this crucial question!


                                                William F. Dankenbring


            Believe it nor not, the question of when God’s people should observe the Feast of Pentecost is really not all that difficult to answer – if we have sincere, unprejudiced, and open minds, and are willing to seriously consider the historical evidence!


            A number of churches which believe in celebrating God’s Festivals, however, insist that Pentecost – what the Jews call the Festival of “Shavuot” – must be celebrated on a Sunday every year.  They claim that the ancient Jewish sect of the Sadducees were correct in counting the fifty days till Pentecost from the Sunday which falls during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  In some years, however, when the Passover falls on the weekly Sabbath, then churches who follow this reasoning have a serious problem – do they count from that first Sunday, which begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or from the last Sunday, following the weekly Sabbath which occurs as the final day of the Feast?


            Apparently, since there are no Biblical guidelines to answer this question, different churches come to different conclusions on this matter!  Some do it one way, and others the other way, thus celebrating Pentecost a week apart!


            But God says in His Word, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov.14:12).  Surely none of us wants to be mistaken, and pay for our error at the cost of our life!  God’s commandments are SURE – and “in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11).  But in breaking them, there is the penalty of death – the “wages of sin” (Rom.6:23).


            Furthermore, why should we follow the example of the Sadducees?  Just who were they?  Were they really the religious leaders during the time of Christ?  Were Temple services performed according to their beliefs and dictates during that time?  Or were they actually subject to the religious power and authority of the Pharisees, who taught that Pentecost should be counted from the day after the Passover Sabbath – that is, the First Day of Unleavened Bread?


            Jesus Christ – Yeshua the Messiah – on one occasion severely rebuked the Sadducees.  They as a religious body did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.  They tried to trip Christ up in His teaching of the resurrection by presenting a story of a man who married a woman, and then died, having no children.  Then his six brothers married her, and each died in order, from the first to the last, none of them having any children.  So, they asked Him, figuring He was “cornered” – whose wife would she be in the resurrection?


            “You are mistaken,” He said, “not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).  He plainly said of this religious body that they did not KNOW the Scriptures!  That is, they were Biblically IGNORANT!


            Just who were they, anyway, and what did the teach?  What kind of power did they exercise in Jewish religious daily worship? 


Alexander the Great and Hellenisms


            After Alexander the Great conquered the known world in 333 B.C., and spread the teachings of Hellenism throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region, many reformist intellectuals and politically minded Jews and Greek sought to bridge the gap between Judaism and Grecian Hellenism.  The reformers found the Torah or Law of the Jews to be full of “fables” and impossible moral demands and countless prohibitions.  Reformers did not want to abolish all the Law, but to “purge” it of all the elements which prohibited its mergence with Hellenism. 


            Writes Paul Johnson, in A History of the Jews, “To promote their ultimate aim of a world religion, they wanted an immediate marriage between the Greek polis and the Jewish moral God” (A History of the Jews, p.101).  Johnson goes on:


                        “Unfortunately, this was a contradiction in terms.  The Greeks were not mono-

                                theists but polytheists, and in Egypt they learned syncretism, that is the rational-

                                ization of innumerable overlapping deities by hanging them together into synthetic                                             polygods.  One such mutant was Apollo-Helio-Hermes, the sun-god.  They blended                                                their own Dionysiac rites with the Egyptian Isis-cult.  Their god of healing,                                                         Asclepios, was conflated with the Egyptian Imhotep.  Zeus, the senior god, was                                                    the same as the Egyptian Ammon, the Persian Ahura-Mazda and, for all they

                                cared, the Jewish Yahweh.  That, needless to say, was not how the pious Jews                                                     saw it”  (p.102).


            After the death of Alexander the Great, Judea was caught between the struggle for power and conquest between the Syrians and the Egyptians.  Palestine passed from Egyptian to Syrian domination during the reign of Seleucus IV (187-175).  His successor was Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, “whose reckless determination to exterminate Judaism, and in its place to substitute Hellenism, led to the Maccabean uprising,” says Alfred Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, appendix IV, page 667).


            The succession of high priests in Jerusalem is given in Nehemiah 12:10-22, culminating in Johanan and Jaddua, the contemporary of Alexander the Great.  Josephus brings the list of high priests down to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (Antiquities of the Jews, XI, 8, 7).


Antiochus Epiphanes --  the Monster


                Antiochus Epiphanes was in many respects a forerunner of the “Antichrist,” the “Beast” of the book of Revelation.  Says Alfred Edersheim, “cruelty and recklessness of tyranny were as prominently his characteristics as revengefulness and unbounded devotion to superstition” (Life and Times, p.669). 


                The movement into Hellenistic idolatry and syncretism got a big boost in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, in 175 B.C.  He was anxious to speed up the Hellenization of his dominions, and since Judaea was under his control, he replaced the orthodox high priest Onias by the “reform” liberal minded Jason, whose name itself was a Hellenization of the Hebrew Joshua.  Says Paul Johnson:


                        “Jason began the transformation of Jerusalem into a polis, renamed Antiochia,                                                     by constructing a gymnasium at the foot of the Temple Mount.  The Second Book                                    of Maccabees furiously records that the Temple priests ‘ceased to show any interest                                  in the service of the altar; scorning the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they                                        would hurry to take part in the unlawful exercises [in the nude] on the training-                                                     ground’” (p.102).


                In 167 B.C. the conflict came to a head.  A decree was published which in effect abolished the Mosaic Law, replacing it with secular law. 


            Says Alfred Edersheim,


                        “All sacrifices, the service of the Temple, and the observance of the Sabbath and

                                of feast days were prohibited; the Temple at Jerusalem was dedicated     to Jupiter

                                Olympus; the Holy Scriptures were searched for and destroyed; the Jews forced

                                to take part in heathen rites; a small heathen altar was reared on the great altar

                                of burnt offering – in short, every insult was heaped on the religion of the Jews,

                                and its every trace was to be swept away” (Life and Times, p.670).


            The Temple was reduced to an “ecumenical” place of interdenominational worship, and as such, the statue of the pagan god called the Olympian Zeus was placed within its precincts.  This act was probably inspired by Menelaus, who thought a drastic move was needed to end, once and for all, the Jewish Temple worship and Law.  His acts divided the priests, aroused the people, and led to further escalation of conflict.  Opposed to him were the scribes, the orthodox priests, and the most pious Jews or hasidim.  To them, there was no difference between the new “universalism” and the old Baal-worship, condemned in the Scriptures.  They refused to sacrifice in the “new” way and to bow down before the “new” altars, and revolted against the government of Antiochus, leading to civil war. 


            By December 164 B.C. the revolution brought success to the Maccabees, and they drove the Greeks out of Jerusalem and its surroundings, and cleansed the Temple and reinstituted the prescribed sacrifices.  In 152 B.C. the Greeks abandoned their attempt to Hellenize the Jews by force, and recognized Jonathan, son of Matthias Hasmon, as the new high priest.  The Hasmoneans held the office for the next 115 years.  Simon Maccabee succeeded his brother as high priest, and Judaea became independent once again. 


Birth of the Pharisees and Sadducees


            Says Paul Johnson, the assault against the Law of God was met by a corresponding zeal for the Law.  Henceforth talk of “reform” was denounced as “nothing less than total apostasy and collaboration with the foreign oppression” (p.105).  Pious Jews began to develop a national system of schools where Jewish boys were taught the Torah.  This led to the development and spread of the synagogue, and “the birth of Pharisaism as a movement rooted in popular education, and eventually in the rise of the rabbinate” (A History of the Jews, p.106).  They taught, in addition to the written Law, the Oral Law, “by which learned elders could interpret and supplement the sacred commands.  The practice of the Oral Law made it possible for the Mosaic code to be adapted to changing conditions and administered in a realistic manner” (ibid.). 


            “By contrast,” says Johnson, “the Temple priests, dominated by the Sadducees, or descendants of Zadok . . . insisted that all law must be written and unchanged.  They had their own additional text, called the Book of Decrees, which laid down a system of punishment:  who were to be stoned, who burned, who beheaded, who strangled. . . . The Sadducees soon became identified with Hasmonean rule in a rigid system of Temple administration, in which the hereditary high priest performed the functions of a secular ruler, and a committee of elders, the Sanhedrin, discharged his religious-legal duties” (ibid.). 


Alexander Jannaeus – Enemy of the Pharisees


            Simon’s third son, John Hyrcanus, succeeded him and ruled from 134-104 B.C.  His son, Alexander Jannaeus, ruled from 103-76 B.C., calling himself “Jonathan the king” on the coins produced in his realm.  Says Johnson of  the Hasmoneans, “They began as the avengers of martyrs, they ended as religious oppressors themselves.  They came to power at the head of an eager guerrilla band; they ended surrounded by mercenaries.  Their kingdom, founded on faith, dissolved in impiety” (p.107). 


            Alexander Jannaeus became a “despot and a monster” and persecuted the religious Jews. He was drawn to Greek Hellenism and came to despise the “barbarous” aspects of the Jewish religion, the Torah, and its requirements. 


            As high priest, leading the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, he refused to perform the libation ceremony, according to the custom, and as a result pious Jews pelted him with lemons.  Outraged by their behavior, he proceeded to slay about 6,000 of them, according to the history of Josephus.  As a result, civil war once again erupted, and in the following six years some 50,000 Jews lost their lives.  Says Johnson:


                        “It is from this time we first hear of the Perushim or Pharisees, ‘those who                                                              separated themselves,’ a religious party which repudiated the royal religious                                                           establishment, with its high-priest, Sadducee aristocrats and the Sanhedrin, and                                                                 placed religious observance before Jewish nationalism.


                                “Rabbinic sources record the struggle between the monarch and this group, which                                              was a social and economic as well as a religious clash.  As Josephus noted,                                                                 ‘the Sadducees draw their following only from the rich, and the people do not                                                                 support them, whereas the Pharisees have popular allies’” (p.108).


                This was the low point of the Pharisees.  Their leaders killed, or banished, their influence fell.  The Sadducees reigned supreme, and began to inaugurate their own Temple practices and do things their way.  Pentecost was counted from the Sunday which occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 


            Alexander Jannaeus returned to Jerusalem, victorious over his enemies, and as he feasted with his concubines, he ordered 800 of his enemies to be crucified, and while they yet lived, had their children’s and wives’ throats cut before their very eyes.  But civil war continued to rage, and to seek peace Jannaeus recalled the Pharisees and began a period of reconciliation.  He himself died in 76 B.C. after a bout of hard drinking leading to what Josephus called a “distemper.”


Queen Salome and Pharisee Power


            Before Janneuas died, in his fiftieth year, he bequeathed the throne to his wife Salome.  He told her, “Be not afraid of the Pharisees, nor of those who are not Pharisees, but beware of the painted ones” (that is, the hypocrites who had ulterior motives).  Alexander’s widow, Salome, saw that his policies were leading to disaster, and sought to change matters and restore national unity.  Salome then brought the Pharisees back into the Sanhedrin and made their Oral Law acceptable in royal justice.  She died in 67 B.C.  Says Afred Edersheim of this period of the rule of Salome:


                        “The nine years of Queen Alexandra’s (in Hebrew Salome) reign were the                                                               GOLDEN AGE OF THE PHARISEES, when heaven itself smiled on a land                                                                that was WHOLLY SUBJECT TO THEIR RELIGIOUS SWAY” (Life                                                                  and Times, p.677).


                Edersheim continues:


                        “Queen Salome had appointed her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, a weak prince,                                                              to the Pontificate. But, as Josephus puts it (Ant. XIII, 16, 2), although Salome                                                    had the title, THE PHARISEES HELD THE REAL RULE OF THE COUNTRY,                                            and they administered it with the harshness, insolence and recklessness of a                                                                 fanatical religious party which suddenly obtained unlimited power. . . . First of                                                      all, all who were suspected of Sadduccean leanings were removed by intrigue or                                                   violence from the Sanhedrin.  Next, previous orders DIFFERING FROM PHAR-

                                ISAICAL VIEWS WERE ABROGATED, and others breathing their spirit                                                                substituted.  SO SWEEPING AND THOROUGH WAS THE CHANGE                                                             WROUGHT, THAT THE SADDUCEES NEVER RECOVERED THE BLOW,                                                                 AND WHATEVER THEY MIGHT TEACH, YET THOSE IN OFFICE WERE                                                                 OBLIGED IN ALL TIME COMING TO CONFORM TO PHARISAIC

                                PRACTICE” (ibid., p.678).


                Those are very plain words!  In other words, from the time of Queen Salome, 78-69 B.C., the Pharisees held exclusive religious dominion in ancient Judea!  The Sadducees were compelled to do everything as the ruling and dominant Pharisees told them – all rituals, worship and religious practices and Temple services!


            From that time forward, the PHARISEES exercised religious domination and rule in the land of Palestine!  The Sadducees were forced to be utterly subservient to them, and held their offices only at the pleasure of the Pharisees!


Enter the Herods


            After her death, Salome’s sons fell out fighting over the succession, and Hyrcanus, one of them, had a powerful chief minister, Antipater, who was Idumean.  He brokered a deal with Rome in 63 B.C. and Judaea became a Roman client-state.  His son became Herod the Great, who ruled from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C., when he died.  Herod was a paranoid megalomaniac.  Says Paul Johnson:


                        “His first act on assuming power in Jerusalem in 37 B.C. was to execute forty-                                                        six leading members of the Sanhedrin who, in his own case and others, had                                                               sought to uphold the Mosaic law in secular matters.  Henceforth, it became a                                                         religious court only.  He did not even attempt to become high priest himself and                                                            divorced it from the crown by turning it into an official post, appointing and                                                          dismissing high-priests as acts of his prerogative, and picking them mainly from

                                the Egyptian and Babylonian diaspora” (p.111).


                During his reign, Herod was exceptionally generous to the Temple, which he began rebuilding and restoring.  He built huge supporting walls, filled in the gaps with rubble, doubled the area of the Temple Mount, extending it toward the south, and erected porticos around the vast forecourt.  The platform was 35 acres in size and a mile in circumference, and more than twice the height of the present Temple Mount as seen today.  Some of the building blocks were 110 feet long, 25 feet  high, 15 feet wide.  On top of the platform were the cloisters with hundreds of Corinthian pillars, 27 feet high and so huge that three men extending their arms could hardly reach around them. 


            Nevertheless, Herod down-graded the importance of the high priest, who was usually a hated Sadducee.  In so doing, Paul Johnson points out:


                                “Herod automatically raised in importance his deputy, the segan, a Pharisee, who

                                got control over all the regular Temple functions and ensured that even the Sadducee

                                high-priests performed the liturgy in a Pharisaical manner.  Since Herod was                                                     on reasonable terms with the Pharisees, he avoided conflict between the Temple                                                            and his government, as a rule” (p.118).


                                    Who Controlled the Temple Functions?


            Let’s review that last quotation from Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, once again.  Notice!  By the time of Herod, who ruled from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C., the position of high priest -- usually held by one of the aristocratic Sadducees, who was himself appointed to the office at the whim and discretion and pleasure of the king, Herod himself -- was down-graded in importance.  The actual power to rule and regulate and control all the normal Temple functions, including holy day observances, dates, and liturgies, rested with the office of the “segan” -- who was a PHARISEE appointed to “assist” and “ensure” that the Sadducee high priest did everything according to the prescribed manner.  Thus the Pharisees had control over all the Temple functions during the time of king Herod, from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.!


            Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, was himself a priest and a Pharisee.  In his Antiquities of the Jews, he informs us that the Pharisees were the dominant religious party in Judaea during the time of Christ, and says that they controlled the worship services. 


A New Look at the Sadducees and Pharisees


            Josephus himself was a Pharisee, but he did not endorse everything they taught and did.  He wrote very objectively about them, and some of his language was very unflattering.  He declared of them:


                        “For there was a certain sect of men that were Jews, who valued themselves highly

                                upon the exact skill they had in the law of their fathers, and made men believe they

                                were highly favored by God, by whom this set of women were inveigled.  These are

                                those that are called the sect of the Pharisees, who were in a capacity of greatly

                                opposing kings.  A cunning sect they were, and soon elevated to a pitch of open

                                fighting and doing mischief” (Ant., XVII, 2, 4).


                Again, giving further insight into this religious body, Josephus writes:


                        “Now, for the Pharisees, they live meanly, and despise delicacies in diet; and they

                                follow the conduct of reason; and what that prescribes to them as good for them,

                                they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe reason’s dictates

                                for practice.  They also pay a  respect to such as are in years . . . . on account of

                                which doctrines, THEY ARE ABLE TO GREATLY PERSUADE THE BODY

                                OF THE PEOPLE; AND WHATEVER THEY DO ABOUT DIVINE


                                ACCODING TO THEIR DIRECTION . . .” (Ant., XVIII, 1,3).


                What about the Sadducees?   H. H.. Ben-Sasson writes that they “held only the written Torah holy and did not concede to the Pharisee hakhamim authority . . . In many matters that were connected with the Temple service, with legal affairs and with daily life, they differed from the Pharisees.  In matters of faith and philosophy, they believed in free will and rejected many of the popular beliefs of the time, including the resurrection of the dead and the important functions of angels.  Socially, they formed the upper stratum of the Jewish community, the aristocracy and plutocracy and above all the senior priestly families” (p.236, A History of the Jewish People, published by Harvard University Press, 1976; translated from the Hebrew version published by Dvir Publishing House, Tel Aviv, 1969).


            Ben-Sasson points out that the Hasmoneans were natural leaders of those circles influenced by the Pharisees “and, until the last years of John Hyrcanus, Pharisaic halakhah OFFICIALLY DETERMINED the rules of procedure and law that were binding throughout the kingdom.  Under John Hyrcanus the rift between the Hasmonean rulers and the Pharisees became apparent for the first time.  It widened under John’s sons, until the Hasmonean dynasty ONCE AGAIN came to terms with the Pharisees. The latter’s standing improved vastly under Queen Alexandra [Salome]” (p.237).


            How powerful did the Pharisees become?  Says Ben-Sasson, the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin formed a consolidated group which “became increasingly important and influential through the whole-hearted support that it received from the people.  Their opinion usually carried the day.  The chiefs of the priesthood who were of Sadducean persuasion, RARELY DARED take actions against the express wishes of the Pharisaic hakhamim [representatives] in the Sanhedrin” (p.250).


            Ben-Sasson declares that


                        “Because of the decisive influence of their Pharisaic opponents . . . the Sadducees

                                had NO CHOICE, EVEN WHILE THEY HELD THE HIGHEST OFFICES, BUT

                                TO MAKE MANY CONCESSIONS TO THE PHARISEES.  Only on rare occasions

                                did they attempt to enforce their own views in various areas of public life and

                                religious ceremonial” (p.271).


                The Talmud records such an instance, when a Sadducee attempted to circumvent a procedural ruling of the Pharisees concerning the high priest entering the Holy of Holies and offering incense.  The Talmud shows that the Pharisees came to require that a sitting high priest who was a Sadducee give an OATH that he would perform the ceremony according to Pharisaical teaching. 


            Says the Talmud:


                        “And why do they require an oath of him?  Because of the Boethusians [leading

                                family of Sadducees], who said:  let him cense from outside and let him enter

                                from inside.  We are told of one who did so, and when he came out, someone

                                said to his father:  ‘Though ye have taught this all your lives, ye have never done

                                so until this man came and did it.’  The other replied:  ‘Though we  have taught

                                so all our lives, we have done as the hakhamim [Pharisees] willed and I wonder

                                if this man will live long.’  It is said that there were no easy days until he died;

                                and some said that worms came out of  his nose” (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma

                                I, 39a, quoted on page 272).


                In another passage, illustrating the power of the Pharisees over Temple rituals and service, we read in the Mishnah the following rules relating to the function of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement:


                        “1. l. Seven days before the Day of Atonement the High Priest was taken apart

                                from his own house unto the Counsellors’ Chamber . . .


                                “3. They delivered unto him elders from among the elders of the Court, and they

                                read before him out of the [prescribed] rite for the day; and they said to him, ‘My

                                lord High Priest, do thou thyself recite with thine own mouth, lest thou hast

                                forgotten or lest thou hast never learnt’ . . .


                                “5.  The elders of the Court delivered him to the elders of the priesthood and they

                                brought him up to the upper chamber of the House of Abtinas.  They ADJURED

                                him [made him to swear an oath] and took their leave and went away having said

                                to him, ‘My lord High Priest, we are delegates of the Court [Sanhedrin], and

                                thou art OUR delegate and the delegate of the Court.  We ADJURE thee by Him

                                that made His name to dwell in this house that THOU CHANGE NAUGHT OF

                                WHAT WE HAVE SAID UNTO THEE.  He turned aside and wept and they turned

                                aside and wept” (Mishnah, Yoma 1:1-5, pages 162-163, translated by Herbert

                                Danby, Oxford University Press).


                How clear!  Even the High Priest himself was totally under the authority and supervision of the Pharisees and was rigorously taught and trained and required to perform every act of worship according to the dictates of the Pharisees.  This was very important.  The people feared that if the High Priest offended the Most High in any way, while in the Holy of Holies, he might never come out again alive!  Therefore a rope was tied to his ankle, so that just in case something went wrong, and he stayed in the Holy of Holies much too long, they could pull him out with the rope! 


            Writes Alfred Edersheim regarding the High Priest’s duties and training:


                        “Seven days before the Day of Atonement the high priest left his own house in

                                Jerusalem, and took up his abode in his chambers in the Temple. . . During the

                                whole of that week, he had to practice the various priestly rites, such as sprinkling

                                the blood, burning the incense, lighting the lamp, offering the daily sacrifice, etc.

                                For, as already stated, every part of that day’s service devolved on the high priest,

                                and he must not commit any mistake.  Some of the elders of the Sanhedrin were

                                appointed to see it, that the high priest fully understood, and knew the meaning of

                                the service, otherwise they were to instruct him in it.  On the eve of the Day of

                                Atonement the various sacrifices were brought before him, that there might be

                                nothing strange about the services of the morrow.  Finally they bound him with

                                A SOLEMN OATH  not to change anything in the rites of the day.  This was

                                chiefly for fear of the SADDUCEAN NOTION, that the incense should be lighted

                                before the high priest actually entered into the Most Holy Place; while the

                                Pharisees held that this was to be done only within the Most Holy Place itself”

                                (Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, p.245).


            The rituals of the Day of Atonement were regarded as of the most serious consequences.  If the High Priest failed to perform every duty properly, He could invoke the wrath of God upon not only himself but the entire nation!  Therefore, it was considered most important that the High Priest be carefully tutored and rehearsed the duties he would be required to perform on that most holy day.  The Pharisees saw to it that he even had to swear before Almighty God that he would change nothing in the established rituals and service.


                Says Ben-Sasson, “The whole Second Temple period was dominated by the leadership of the Pharisees. . . . As a matter of course, the Pharisees were led by the most famous hakhamim of the time.  In the Sanhedrin itself the Pharisees were represented by a united faction of Torah authorities whose influence on Sanhedrin decisions was enormous.  The Pharisaic camp also included many priests, some of whom were from respected families, such as the historian Josephus” (p.272).


Pharisees’ Incredible Religious Authority


            During the time of Christ, the Pharisees were the religious powerhouse in ancient Judea.  Everything in religious matters was done according to their dictates.  The Sadducees, their religious opponents, were completely subservient to them in all religious duties and practices.


            Writes Alfred Edersheim in Sketches of Jewish Social Life,


                        Pharisaism . . . had not only become the leading direction of theological thought,

                                but its principles were solemnly proclaimed, and UNIVERSALLY ACTED UPON –

                                AND THE LATTER, EVEN BY THEIR OPPONENTS THE SADDUCEES.  A Sad-

                                ducee in the Temple or on the seat of judgment would be obliged to act and decide

                                PRECISELY LIKE A PHARISEE.  Not that the party had not attempted to give

                                dominance to their peculiar views.  But they were fairly VANQUISHED, and it

                                is said that they themselves destroyed the book of Sadducean ordinances, which

                                they had at one time drawn up.  And the Pharisees celebrated each dogmatic victory

                                by a feast!” (page 219).


            What does the historian Josephus tell us directly about the Sadducees, and their relationship vis-ŕ-vis the Pharisees? 


            Josephus discusses “the sect of the Sadducees, whose notions are quite contrary to those of the Pharisees” (Antiquities, 13, 10, 6).  He continues:


                        “. . . the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, AND HAVE NOT


                                THE MULTITUDE ON THEIR SIDE” (Ant., 13, 10, 6).


Says Josephus, their doctrine


                                “is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity; but they are

                                able to do almost nothing of themselves; for when they become magistrates,

                                as they are unwilling and by force sometimes obliged to be, THEY


                                because the multitude would not otherwise bear them” (Ant., XVIII, 1, 4).


            So it should be obvious that the real holders of power and religious sway in ancient Judea were the Pharisees – not the Sadducees.  Even the Sadducees had to bow to the authority of the Pharisees in all matters religious.  They performed all religious rites, ceremonies, and rituals according to “the notions of the Pharisees,” and “their direction.”


            What could be plainer than that?


            Writes H. H. Ben-Sasson in A History of the Jewish People, “The Pharisees . . . set their imprint on the entire internal development of Judea and in effect even laid the foundations of Judaism as it was to be after the destruction of the Temple.  In the main, the Pharisees carried on a trend that had its origins in the Persian era and had encompassed the activities of the sopherim [scribes] and interpreters of the Torah in the days of Ezra and thereafter.   Their immediate predecessors were the Hasidim, who chose martyrdom in the persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes.


            “The basic tenet of the Pharisees was an unswerving faithfulness to the Torah and its infusion into all aspects of life” (page 235, Harvard University Press).  Besides the Scriptures, the Torah they taught also included the ‘Oral Torah,’ which was “the entire living tradition of the halakhah [rules] as it had evolved in the course of generations” (ibid.).  These were the “traditions of men” or of the “elders” that Jesus Christ said often conflicted with the true word of God (Matt.15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13). 


            Says Ben-Sasson further, “The Pharisee influence extended far beyond the direct adherents of the sect.  Their followers included the bulk of the nation, who regarded the Pharisees as their natural leaders and Pharisaic halakhah as the self-evident expression of Jewish religion” (p.236).    


            As we have seen, the Sadducees were the aristocratic, Hellenistic party, which only had some of the rich on their side, but the vast multitudes followed the Pharisees, as Josephus himself tells us.  Whatever their own belief, it did not matter so far as the public Temple services were concerned.  The Temple services were controlled by the Pharisees!  The Pharisee SEGAN made sure that the Sadducee high priest did everything correctly, at the appointed time, as the Pharisees taught!


What Does This Have to Do with “Pentecost”?


            In his Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus tells us that Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, therefore, was celebrated fifty days after Passover.  Josephus writes:


                        “But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of                                                            the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that they do                                                             not touch them . . . They also at this participation of the first-fruits of the earth                                                      sacrifice a lamb, as a burnt offering to God. When a WEEK OF WEEKS has

                                passed over after this sacrifice, (which week contains forty and nine days,) on

                                the fiftieth day, which is PENTECOST, they bring to God a loaf, made of                                                                 wheat flour . . .” (Ant., bk.III, chap.X, 5-6).


                The hated Sadducees, however, figured Pentecost by counting fifty days from the Sunday which falls within the days of unleavened bread.  They interpreted the expression “morrow after the Sabbath,” found in Leviticus 23:15, from which date the count to Pentecost is to begin, as being the day after the weekly Sabbath. 


            The Pharisees, as Josephus says, however, claim the “Sabbath” immediately before the “counting” to Pentecost was the Passover annual Sabbath or 1st Day of Unleavened Bread.


The Pentecost Controversy


            Says Alfred Edersheim, in his book The Temple: 


                                “The expression ‘the morrow after the Sabbath,’ has sometimes been mis-

                                understood as implying that the presentation of the so-called ‘first sheaf’

                                was to be always made on the day following the weekly Sabbath of the                                                                   Passover-week.  This view, adopted by the ‘Boethusians’ and the Sadducees

                                in the time of Christ, and by the Karaite Jews and certain modern interpreters,

                                rests on a misinterpretation of the word ‘Sabbath.’  As in analogous allusions

                                to other feasts in the same chapter, it means not the weekly Sabbath, but the day

                                of the festival.  The testimony of Josephus, of Philo, and of Jewish tradition,

                                leaves no room to doubt that in this instance we are to understand by the

                                ‘Sabbath’ the 15th of Nisan, on whatever day of the week it might fall”

                                (The Temple:  Its Ministry and Services, p.257).


                How plain!


            What is there to argue about?  Nevertheless, some modern churches, including United Church of God, International Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God, the so-called “Living” Church of God, and others –  today follow the reckoning of the ignorant, erring, mistaken SADDUCEES!


            Amazing!  But true!  Where did they get this idea?  It was originally one of the errors of Herbert W. Armstrong who founded the “Worldwide Church of God.”  His influence has been pervasive, as today even some Messianic “Jews” follow the error of the Sadducees, which is another reason they are considered pagans by Orthodox Jews and outside the pale of Judaism.


            Modern adherents to the Sadducean theory claim that the Pharisees were wrong, and the Sadducees were right.  They claim that the Sadducees were the high priests of the time of Christ and that they controlled the Temple and its services.  As we have carefully proved, that contention is pure nonsense.  They did no such thing.  They were completely under the domination of the ruling PHARISEES when it came to public worship, Temple services, and religious ceremonies and rulings! 


            But we also have Biblical evidence that the Sadducean teaching was in utter error!

We have the teaching and examples of Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul, which utterly repudiate the Sadducean views!


What Did Jesus Say and Do?


            As additional New Testament proof that the Pharisees were correct, and the Sadducees were “out in left field” by themselves, take note of the following facts:


            When the Sadducees came to Him, trying to trick Him up with a tough question, Jesus Christ Himself rebuked them, saying, “You are mistaken.  You understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).  In the New Testament in Contemporary English, we read Jesus’ words:  “You’re off base on two counts:  You don’t know your Bibles, and you don’t know how God works.”  Says the Jewish New Testament version, “Yeshua answered them, ‘The reason you go astray is that you are ignorant of the Tanakh and of the power of God.”  That is – they were ignorant of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Scriptures, which were comprised of the books of the Old Testament!  So declared the Messiah Himself!


            These Sadducees were so far off base that they even denied the resurrection! (Matt.22:23).  They also denied the existence of angels and spirit beings (Acts 23:1-8).  How incredible it is to me, therefore, that some churches today would validate their “take” on the Pentecost question!  It is simply flabbergasting – makes me incredulous – their minds are like concrete made in a cement mixer – all mixed up, but permanently set!  What will it take to bring them to the truth?  A spiritual “jack-hammer” or the direct voice of God? 


            Of the Pharisees, however, Jesus said in approbation of their teaching concerning the Law:  “The scribes and the Pharisees are occupying Moses’ seat:  therefore do and observe whatever they tell you, but do not behave as they do” (Matt.23:1-2).  This sounds like a ringing endorsement of the authority of the Pharisees, although Jesus rebuked them for their other egregious sins and hypocrisy and attitudes. 


            Take note!  Not ONCE in the four gospels does Jesus Christ EVER take issue with the Pharisees for their calculation or method of counting to Pentecost!  NOT ONCE!


            If they had been doing it incorrectly, and leading the masses of the people astray, don’t you think Christ would have REBUKED them in a stinging indictment for their error?   But He didn’t!  Why not?  Obviously, because on this point they were teaching the law of God correctly!


The Example of Paul


            The apostle Paul himself was a Pharisee, taught at the feet of Gamaliel, a leading Rabban of the Jews of that period.  As a Pharisee, therefore, he had been taught that Pentecost was to be observed normally on Sivan 6, or fifty days after Passover.  He did not endorse the dating of the Sadducees.  


            Did Paul repent of his Pharisaic teaching and background, when he was converted, and begin endorsing the Sadducean concept?  Not at all!  Nowhere in the writings of Paul does he ever suggest that the Pharisees were wrong, and the Sadducees were right!  


            To the contrary, he told the Jews in Jerusalem, “I am a Jew, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city.  At the feet of Gamaliel I have been educated with exacting care in our ancestral Law. . .” (Acts 22:2-3).  Gamaliel was a leading rabbi of the Pharisees.


            Paul later told the Sanhedrin, whom he noted were part of Sadducees and part of Pharisees (Acts 23:6), “‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead I am accused.’  At this saying a dispute arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and there was division in the meeting.  For the Sadducees maintain there is neither resurrection nor angel nor spirit, while the Pharisees confess the one as well as the other.  So the outcry grew deafening.  Some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party got up and argued, ‘We find nothing bad in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him  . . .’ And the discord grew so bitter that the commander, afraid that Paul might be torn to pieces by them, ordered a detachment to march down and snatch him from their midst” (Acts 23:6-10, Berkeley Version).


            As final evidence, consider the fact that in his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that he had been taught the law of God as a Pharisee blamelessly, faultlessly.  This could hardly have been true if they had been all mixed up on the correct date to observe Pentecost! 


            Notice!  Paul wrote, explaining, “If anyone else imagines that he has some basis for confidence in the flesh, I am ahead of him:  circumcised on the eighth day, a native Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as to the Law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to LEGAL RIGHTEOUSNESS WITHOUT BLAME” (Phil.3:4-6).  Says The New Testament in Contemporary English, in these verses:  “You know my pedigree:  a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a STRICT AND DEVOUT ADHERENT TO GOD’S LAW; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; A METICULOUS OBSERVER OF EVERYTHING SET DOWN IN GOD’S LAW BOOK.”


            It should be perfectly clear to any reasonable mind, not blinded by prejudice and hatred of the truth, that Pentecost should be observed on the date ascribed to it by the Pharisees -- and in the manner which they approved of.  Jesus Christ Himself never found fault with them as to the date they observed Pentecost.  He never criticized them on this issue. 


            And, on the other hand, the Pharisees never criticized either Christ or the early Church for departing from their approved date for observing Pentecost.  They never rebuked Him or His disciples for heresy or false teaching in this regard -- which by itself proves that they were in agreement with Him on this issue and point of God’s Law, and He was in agreement with them!


                        Elements of the Jewish and Muhammadan Calendars


            In 1901, the Anglican Bishop Sherrard Beaumont Burnaby, a fellow in the Royal Astronomical Society, published a book entitled Elements of the Jewish and Muhammadan Calendars.  In chapter IX of his book he deals with the “Megillath Ta’anith,” believed by scholars to have been written in the period 67-69 A.D.  The original of this scroll is in Aramaic. 


            Notice what this author has to say about the Pharisees, and their rivalry with the Sadducees:


                        “After the independence of Judaea had been assured there commenced a long

                                series of disputes between the two sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  This

                                was kept up until after the death of Alexander Jannaeus, in B.C. 79.  Graetz says

                                that the bitter rivalry of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, in the days of

                                Rehoboam and Jeroboam, was repeated in the history of the strife between the

                                Pharisees and Sadducees.


                                “Under the reign of Queen Salome Alexandra, B.C. 79-70, who was devoted

                                to the Pharisees, the chief of that sect obtained the ascendancy, and the


                                BEEN ESPECIALLY SUCCESSFUL AGAINST THEIR ADVERSARIES” (p.258).


                                “The unfriendly relations between the Pharisees and the Sadducees did not exist,

                                to any extent, in the time of Hyrcanus.  He made use of both parties according

                                to their capabilities; the Sadducees as soldiers and diplomatists; the Pharisees as

                                teachers of the Law, judges, and functionaries in civil affairs . . . In point of fact

                                Hyrcanus was personally in favour of the Pharisees, but as Prince he could not

                                quarrel with the Sadducees . . . Until he was overtaken by old age Hyrcanus

                                managed to solve the difficult problem of keeping in a state of amity two parties

                                who were always on the verge of quarreling; but in the last years of his life he

                                went quite over to the Sadducees.  He had been bitterly offended by a certain

                                Eleazar ben Poira, who had stated that his mother had been taken prisoner by the

                                Syrians, and that it was not fitting for the son of a prisoner to be a priest -- much

                                less a High Priest.  Hyrcanus then deposed the Pharisees from the various important

                                posts that they had filled; and the offices belonging to the Temple, to the courts

                                of law, and to the High Council were given to the followers of the Sadducees.


                                Hyrcanus died in B.C. 106, a short time only after these events.  He had proclaimed

                                his wife to be Queen, and his eldest son Judah, better known by his Greek name

                                Aristobulus, to be High Priest.  Aristobulus supplanted his mother on the throne, and

                                put her in prison, together with three of his four brothers.  He died after a reign of

                                one year, in B.C. 105.


                                “He was succeeded by his brother Alexander Jannaeus, the third son of Hyrcanus. 

                                He reigned for twenty-seven years.  During his reign the Pharisees were again

                                allowed to appear at Court. . . Ever since the secession of Hyrcanus from Pharisaism

                                the Great Council had been composed entirely of Sadducees, but Jannaeus was

                                disposed to bring about some kind of equality between the two parties by

                                dividing between them the offices of state. . . After a time . . . Jannaeus became

                                an inveterate opponent of the Pharisaic teaching, and made his view public

                                in a most insulting manner. . . .


                                “Alexander Jannaeus died from fever, B.C. 79, during his siege of one of the

                                trans-Jordanic fortresses.  On his deathbed, he repented of his cruel persecution

                                of the Pharisees, and gave various directions respecting them to his wife,

                                Salome Alexandra, who succeeded him as Queen. She was a woman of gentle nature,

                                and of sincere piety; she was still devoted to the Pharisees, and entrusted them with

                                the management of affairs without persecuting the opposing party.  The chief post

                                in the Great Council was given up to them.  It was offered in the first place to her

                                brother, Simon ben Shetach, who, however, waived his own claim in favour of

                                Judah ben Tabbai, then in Egypt.  The latter, on his return home, undertook, with

                                the help of Simon, the REORGANIZATION OF THE COUNCIL, AND THE

                                RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES.  These two

                                celebrated reformers have been called ‘REBUILDERS OF THE LAW,’ ‘Restorers

                                 of the glory of the crown (of the Law).’ . . .” (p.259-260).


                The Jewish Calendar gives us then the origin of various Jewish days of observance.  Discussing the time of Queen Salome Alexandra, circa 79 B.C., we read:


                        “Nisan 8-22.  Recalls the ordinance of the Pharisees that the Feast of Weeks –

                                Pentecost – should be celebrated on any day of the week, and not be restricted

                                upon the first day of the week, ‘the morrow after the Sabbath.’ . . . M. Schwab

                                says, ‘It must be believed that for a certain time,  under the Sadducees, the

                                Feast of Pentecost had been celebrated in conformity with their teaching,

                                that is to say, on ‘the morrow after the [weekly] Sabbath.’


                                “The Commentator says that when the Pharisees came into power they changed

                                this day to the fiftieth, counted from the second day of the Passover. 

                                IN REMEMBRANCE OF THEIR TRIUMPH THEY CELEBRATED ALL THE                                                           FIFTEEN DAYS, FROM NISAN 8 TO 23 . . .” (p.263).


                Alfred Edersheim, in his book Sketches of Jewish Social Life, comments on this very document, the “Megillath Taanith,” or “roll of the fasts.”  He declared:


                        “What is perhaps the oldest post-Biblical Hebrew book – the ‘Megillath Taanith,’

                                or roll of fasts – is chiefly a Pharisaic calendar of self-glorification, in which

                                dogmatic victories are made days when fasting, and sometimes even mourning,

                                is prohibited.  Whatever, therefore, the dogmatic views of the Sadducees were,

                                and however they might, where possible, indulge personal bias, YET IN OFFICE

                                BOTH ACTED AS PHARISEES” (p.219).


                As in the case of a Sadducean High Priest performing the rituals of the Day of Atonement, says Edersheim, the Pharisees “took care to bind him by an oath to observe their ritual customs before allowing him to officiate at all” (p.220).


            Any arguments they made in protest were in vain.  Says Edersheim, “They had to submit, and besides, to join in the kind of half holiday which the jubilant majority inscribed in their calendar to perpetuate the memory of the decision.  The Pharisees held, that the time between Easter [that is, Passover] and Pentecost should be counted from the second day of the feast; the Sadducees insisted that it should commence with the literal ‘Sabbath’ after the festive day.  But despite argument, the Sadducees had to JOIN when the solemn procession went on in the afternoon of the feast to cut down the ‘first sheaf,’ and to RECKON PENTECOST AS DID THEIR OPPONENTS” (p.220).

            Obviously, even the Sadducees were compelled to observe the  festival of Pentecost at the same day when the Pharisees did!  Their “private opinions” on the matter didn’t make any difference at all – they were as worthless as diddly-squat!


            Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, writes in appendix V, giving a translation of “Megillath Taanith, or Roll of Fasts.”  For the month of Nisan, we read in this ancient document:


                        “1.  From the first day of the month Nisan, and to the 8th of it, it was settled

                                about the daily sacrifice (that it should be paid out of the Temple-treasury) –

                                mourning is prohibited.


                                “2.  And from the 8th to the end of the Feast (the 27th) THE FEAST OF

                                WEEKS WAS RE-ESTABLISHED – mourning is interdicted” (page 698).


                Edersheim’s appendix apparently has a misprint, as the time involved as we have seen was from the 8th to the 22 or 23rd of the month.  The Feast itself of course was from Nisan 15-21. This whole period of time was considered a time of rejoicing since the Pharisees had regained control of the Temple and religious services in the land.  This occurred during the time of Queen Salome, circa 77 B.C.  This was when Pharisaism gained the supremacy and ascendancy over all religious issues.  This was not, as some falsely claim, a reference to the destruction of the Temple itself in 70 A.D., by the Romans under Titus and Vespacian.  This was not a reference to the total collapse of the Sadducees, who disappeared from history when the Temple itself was burned, and the nation of Judea was sent into exile, banished from the land, and no longer had a political existence. 


                When all the evidence is put together, then, it becomes increasingly clear -- like the shining light of the dawn, rising toward midday -- that the Pharisees were in control of the Temple, and conducted and supervised the Temple services, during the time of Christ and the apostles. 


            It is also clear that Jesus Christ never reprimanded them for observing the incorrect day, even though He remonstrated against them on many other accounts.  It is difficult to imagine that He would not have lashed out at their error, if they were observing Pentecost on the wrong day!  His very silence on this issue, and His pronouncement  that they -- not the Hellenistic Sadducees -- sat in Moses’ seat, and held Mosaic authority in respect to teaching and interpreting the Law (Matt.23:2-3) -- should be conclusive.


            Some believe, however, that the Sadducees controlled the Temple during the time of Christ.  It would appear that this conclusion is based solely upon the fact that the high priest himself was often a Sadducee.  For example, Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Christ to execution, was a Sadducee (Matt.26:3, 57; John 18:13, 14, 19, 28).  However, as we have seen, the high priest himself was subject to the directions of the religious-minded Pharisees as to rituals and observances and ceremonies held at the Temple.  The scroll of the Megillath Ta’anith lists the days Nisan 8-22 as the days the Pharisees celebrated for their gaining control of the counting of Pentecost which they did from the second day of Passover. 


                                                The Sadducean Apostates


            James Hastings, in his authoritative multi-volume Dictionary of the Bible, tells us the real nature of the Sadducees and their true apostasy -- the sect which the Worldwide Church of God and all its present off-shoots follow concerning Pentecost calculations.  Hastings declares:


                        “The Sadducees were the spiritual descendants of the priestly party in Jerusalem,

                                which, towards the close of the Greek period of Israel’s history, was ANXIOUS

                                TO HELLENIZE the Palestinian Jews.  The Maccabean rising, which was caused

                                by the attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to accomplish this by violence, taught

                                these HELLENIZERS the folly of tampering with the national religion . . .

                                Their descendants, however, SPEEDILY ACCOMMODATED THEMSELVES

                                to the new order of things, which was in many respects after their mind . . .


                                “The successors of the Hellenizers . . . were in full sympathy with the secular

                                policy of the Hasmonean princes, and, unlike the Pharisees, took no exception

                                to the illegitimacy of their high priesthood.  They entered the service of the new

                                princes as soldiers and diplomatists, and, drawing around them the leading

                                adherents of the new dynasty, formed the party, to which was given their family

                                name of Zadokites or Sadducees.  Taught by experience, this party made no

                                violent attempts to introduce Greek customs; but they were a PURELY

                                POLITICAL PARTY; their main interest was in the Jewish State as an indepen-

                                dent State, and not, like that of the Pharisees, in the legal purity of the Jews as

                                a religious community. . . .


                                “From their first appearance in history as a distinct party (during the reign

                                of John Hyrcanus, B.C. 135-105), the Sadducees were the devoted adherents

                                of the Hasmonaean princes.  Under Aristobulus I, and Alexander Jannaeus,

                                the immediate successor of John Hyrcanus, their party was supreme.  Under

                                Alexandra Salome the Pharisees were for a short time in possession of power;

                                but when Aristobulus II became king the Sadducees once more came to the front. 

                                They supported him in the conflict with Hyrcanus II, Antipater, and the

                                Romans, and they also stood by him and his two sons, Alexander and Antigonus,

                                in their attempt to restore the Hasmonaean dynasty.  BUT THE DAY OF

                                THEIR POLITICAL POWER WAS NOW PAST.  Their numbers were

                                also considerably reduced.  When Pompey captured Jerusalem (B.C. 63) he

                                executed many of their leaders, as did also Herod (B.C. 37).  Herod

                                further DIMINISHED their influence by appointing and removing high priests

                                according to HIS OWN PLEASURE, and by filling the Sanhedrin with his own

                                creatures  (“Sadducees,” vol.IV, p.349).


                Says Hastings concerning the Pharisees, “But the latter were the REAL POSSESSORS OF POWER, for, in order to render themselves tolerable to the people, the Sadducees were COMPELLED TO ACT IN MOST MATTERS IN ACCORDANCE WITH PHARISAIC PRINCIPLES.  And when Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel ceased to exist as a nation, they speedily disappeared  entirely from history” (ibid.).


            Concerning the differences between the Sadducees and Pharisees, Hastings notes the following:


                        “The Pharisees were, in their own peculiar way, intensely religious [just as

                                the apostle Paul tells us -- Romans 10:1]; their great desire was to mould

                                their fellow countrymen into a ‘holy’ nation by means of the Law; they looked

                                forward to a future, in which their  hopes were sure to be realized, and could

                                therefore meanwhile endure the foreign dominion, provided it allowed them

                                perfect religious freedom.  The SADDUCEES, on the other hand, WERE

                                LARGELY INDIFFERENT TO RELIGION, except in so far as it was a

                                matter of custom; their great care was for the State as a purely secular State;

                                they were satisfied with the present, so far as it permitted them to live in

                                comfort and splendor” (p.350).


                Concerning the matters of the Festivals, the Sadducees differed from the Pharisees on the figuring of Pentecost, as we have noted.  Hastings points out:


                        “As to the Feasts, the two parties differed in the manner of fixing the date of

                                Pentecost.  According to Lev.23:11, 15, seven full weeks had to be counted from

                                ‘the morrow after the sabbath’ upon which the priest waved the sheaf of first-fruits

                                before the Lord.  The PHARISEES followed the TRADITIONAL interpretation

                                (e.g. in the LXX; cf. Ant.3,X,5), that the ‘sabbath’ meant the first day of the feast,

                                and that consequently Pentecost might fall on any day of the week.  The Sadducees

                                (or rather, according to Schurer . . . the Boethusians, a variety of the Sadducees)

                                held that the ‘sabbath’ meant the weekly sabbath, and that therefore Pentecost

                                always fell on the first day of the week” (p.351).


                                                                Witness of the Septuagint


            Hastings mentions the LXX, or Septuagint, as being one of the sources showing that the true, traditional interpretation of the “sabbath” in Leviticus 23:11, 15 refers to the first holy day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread -- that is, the Passover Holy Day, when the Passover was eaten, on Nisan 15.  What is the Septuagint?  It is commonly referred to as LXX, a reference to the “70 Jewish scholars” (there were 6 from each tribe, according to tradition, one from each of the twelve tribes -- thus there may have actually been 72 translators) who translated the Pentateuch from Hebrew into Greek during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, approximately 250 B.C.  This was the official translation of the Sanhedrin and the Jewish Court and the first translation of the Holy Scriptures into a foreign language.  Greek was the language of most of the Mediterranean world at that time, and the Egyptian king desired a copy of the famous Jewish “Law” in his world renowned library at Alexandria, Egypt. 


            This was the OFFICIAL translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) into Greek.  As such, it was used by Jews throughout the Mediterranean, in synagogues everywhere, and even in Palestine. 


            What does the Septuagint say about the calculation of Pentecost?  Notice its clear voice in this English translation:


                        “(4) These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations, which ye shall call

                                in their seasons. (5) In the first month on the fourteenth day of the month,

                                between the evening times [i.e., during the afternoon of Nisan 14, between

                                noon and sunset; Josephus tells us the lambs were actually slain between

                                3-5 o’clock -- see Wars of the Jews, Bk.VI, ch.IX, para.3] is the Lord’s

                                passover.  (6) And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast of unleavened

                                bread to the Lord; seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread.  (7) And the

                                FIRST DAY shall be a holy convocation to you; ye shall do no servile work. 

                                (8) And ye shall offer whole-burnt offerings to the Lord seven days; and the

                                seventh day shall be a holy convocation to you: ye shall do no servile work. 

                                (9) And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, (10) Speak to the children of Israel,

                                and thou shalt say to them, When ye shall enter into the land which I give you,

                                and reap the harvest of it, then shall you bring a SHEAF, THE FIRST-FRUITS

                                of your harvest, to the priest; (11) and he shall lift up the sheaf before the Lord,

                                to be accepted for you.  ON THE MORROW OF THE FIRST DAY THE

                                PRIEST SHALL LIFT IT UP. . . .


                                “(15) And ye shall number to yourselves FROM THE DAY AFTER THE


                                OF THE HEAVE-OFFERING, SEVEN FULL WEEKS:  UNTIL THE

                                MORROW AFTER THE LAST WEEK ye shall number FIFTY DAYS . . .”

                                (The Septuagint with Apocrypha:  Greek and English, Sir  Lancelot C.L.

                                Brenton, Hendrickson Publishers; Lev.23:4-15,  p.159-160).


                What does this passage clearly tell us?  The wave sheaf offering was performed by the priest on the “morrow of the first day” -- and the “first day” was the FIRST DAY OF THE FEAST!  Compare verses 7 and 11, and you will see the truth, plain as day, clear as crystal, and as obvious as the sun on a bright day. 


            Now, what is also interesting, is that Jesus Christ and the apostles of the early New Testament Church often quoted from the Septuagint in their Biblical references to the Old Testament!  Many scholars and commentators have remarked on this amazing and undeniable fact.  It becomes very obvious when comparing Biblical quotations in the New Testament Greek language with the Septuagint, as opposed to the Massoretic text!  Clearly, therefore, Jesus and His disciples used the Septuagint many times, and in so doing must have considered the texts they used from it authoritative and inspired Scripture! 


            There can be no question, therefore, as to the real meaning of Leviticus 23:11, 15.  It refers to the day after the Passover -- or Nisan 16 -- just as the Pharisees themselves taught and practiced!  The Septuagint uses the word “WEEK” in this place.  It says:  “You shall number to yourselves from the day after the sabbath . . . seven FULL WEEKS: UNTIL THE MORROW AFTER THE LAST WEEK ye shall number fifty days.” 


            Notice!  The word the King James translates “sabbaths” in this case ought to be translated, as the Septuagint has it, “WEEKS.”  Many modern translations do so.  The Jewish Tanakh has this passage:  “. . . you shall count off seven weeks.  They must be complete:  you must count until the day after the SEVENTH WEEK.”  The Septuagint, however, makes this passage perfectly plain.  Why do people get mixed up on this?


                                        Jesus Christ Versus the Sadducees                


                Jesus Christ did not come into conflict with the Sadducees till the close of His ministry, since they were not the religious teachers of the people, but more of a political party concerned mainly with the spoils and patronage of the political system and used the high priesthood for the wealth and opulence it brought to them.  Says James Hastings:


                        “It was only toward the close of His life that our Saviour came into open

                                conflict with them.  They had little influence with the people, ESPECIALLY

                                IN RELIGIOUS MATTERS; His criticism was therefore mainly directed

                                against the Pharisees and scribes, the supreme religious authorities, although,

                                according to Matt.16:6, 11, He also warned His disciples against the leaven

                                of the Sadducees, meaning, probably, their utterly secular spirit.  They, on their

                                part, seem to have ignored Him, until, by driving the money-changers out of the

                                Temple (Matt.21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45), He interfered with the prerogatives

                                of the Sanhedrin.  His acceptance of the Messianic title ‘son of David’ also

                                filled them with indignation against Him (Matt.21:15).  They accordingly

                                joined the scribes and Pharisees in opposition to Him, and sought to destroy

                                Him (Mark 11:18, Luke 19:47), first, however, attempting to discredit Him in

                                the eyes of the people, and to bring down upon Him the vengeance of the

                                Romans, by their questions as to His authority, as to the resurrection, and

                                as to the lawfulness of paying tribute to Caesar (Matt.21:23, 22:23, Mark

                                11:27, 12:18, Luke 20:1, 19, 27).  In the Sanhedrin that tried Him they prob-

                                ably formed the majority, and the ‘chief priests,’ who presided, belonged to

                                their party” (p.351).


                It should be obvious that the Sadducees were not really interested in religion, as such, but rather in politics and temporal, secular power.  All their religious teachings, therefore, ought to make us suspect.  Why the Worldwide Church of God, and all of its modern off-shoot churches, should continue doggedly to follow the Sadducees in their method and doctrine of counting Pentecost, therefore, amazes me no end.  Such spiritual “blindness” is difficult to fathom, comprehend, or believe.  Yet it is a palpable fact, and the more one argues and protests, it seems, the more adamantine and concrete-like they become in their opinions.


            Unger’s Bible Dictionary tells us a little more about this strange, political-religious amalgamation called the Sadducees:


                        “Their political supremacy was, however, of no long duration.  Greatly as the

                                spiritual power of the Pharisees had increased, the Sadducean aristocracy

                                was able to keep at the helm in politics.  The price at which the Sadducees had

                                to secure themselves power at this later period was indeed a high one, for they


                                TO PHARISAIC VIEWS.  With the fall of the Jewish state the Sadducees altogether

                                disappear from history.  Their strong point was politics.  When deprived of this

                                their last hour had struck.  While the Pharisaic party only gained more strength,

                                only obtained more absolute rule over the Jewish people in consequence of the

                                collapse of political affairs, the very ground on which they stood was cut away

                                from the Sadducees” (“Sadducees,” p.954).


                One final witness as to the true position of the Sadducees, and their distinctive lack of real religious authority or power, during the time of Christ, is Emil Schurer, author of the definitive four volume work, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (second division, volume 2).  Dr. Emil Schurer writes:


                        “The stress laid upon religious interests by the Pharisees had won the bulk

                                of the nation to their side.  Hence it is no cause for surprise, that Alexandra for

                                the sake of being at peace with her people ABANDONED THE POWER TO

                                THE PHARISEES.  THEIR VICTORY WAS NOW COMPLETE, the whole

                                conduct of internal affairs was in their hands. All the decrees of the Pharisees

                                done away with by Hyrcanus were RE-INTRODUCED, and they COMPLETELY

                                RULED THE PUBLIC LIFE OF THE NATION.  And this continued in all

                                essentials EVEN DURING SUBSEQUENT AGES.  Among all the changes

                                in government, under Romans and Herodians, the Pharisees maintained their

                                spiritual hegemony.  Consistency and principle was on their side.  And this

                                consistency procured them the spiritual supremacy.


                                “It is true that the Sadducaean high priests were at the head of the Sanhedrin.

                                But in fact the decisive influence upon public affairs was in the hands, not of

                                the Sadducees, but of the Pharisees.  They had the bulk of the nation as their

                                ally, the women especially were in their hands.  They had the greatest influence

                                upon the congregations, so that ALL ACTS OF PUBLIC WORSHIP, PRAYERS,


                                Their sway over the masses was SO ABSOLUTE, that they could obtain a hearing

                                even when they said anything against the king or the high priest, consequently

                                they were the most capable of counteracting the design of the kings. HENCE TOO


                                DEMANDS OF THE PHARISEES, because otherwise the multitude would

                                not have tolerated them” (pages 27-28).


                Modern Judaism traces its descent from the Pharisees, not the Sadducees. The Sadducees were wiped out totally when the nation of Judah collapsed, and was destroyed.  Their whole reason for existence was smashed.  They were annihilated.  God had no reason to preserve them, or their teachings, and they perished from off the pages of history, as a mere “blip” in time, a mere “ripple” on the ocean of life.  Their influence, prestige, and power vanished with them. 


            But God Himself preserved the Pharisees, and the teachings of the Torah, and the Oral Law, and kept His Word alive at the hands of the Jews, the Pharisees, and their descendants, the Talmudists, and Massoretes, and succeeding generations of Rabbis and scribes.  Were it not for them, we would have no holy sacred calendar, today, and we would have no idea of the beginning of the sacred year, according to God’s Calendar, or the annual holy days (compare Rom.3:1-2).  Even though the Pharisees were far from perfect, as the New Testament clearly shows, they were head and shoulders above the Sadducees, and did preserve the Scriptures and preserved the knowledge of the festivals of God (Matt.23:1-3). 


                                                But What Difference Does It Make?


            Jesus Christ said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). 


            The Messiah also said, “Do not suppose that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to abolish but to complete them; for I assure you, while heaven and earth endure not one iota or one projection of a letter will be dropped from the Law until all is accomplished.  Whoever, therefore, abolishes the least significant of these commands and so teaches the people, he shall be of least significance in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever shall observe and teach them shall be prominent in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not at all enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.5:17-20, Berkeley Version).


            Is this “new truth” to you?  Have you been observing “Pentecost” or the “Feast of Weeks” on the wrong day all these years?


            Have you been trying to keep “unholy” time “holy”?  That’s like trying to keep cold water hot, or keep an apple an orange.  You can’t keep cold water hot – it’s already cold; and an apple is an apple, not an orange!


            Herbert Armstrong used to say that it is ten times harder to unlearn error than to learn new truth!  Learning is one thing.  Obeying is another!  It is one hundred times harder to change a practice that is wrong, and to break a bad habit, and to begin to keep a different day than one has kept in the past.  Human nature, which tends to get into a rut of habitual action and practice, doesn’t want to learn new things, and to get up out of the rut, and to force itself to CHANGE!


            The apostle Paul declared, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor.10:12).  Paul also wrote:  “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape IF WE NEGLECT SO GREAT SALVATION . . .?” (Heb.2:1-3).


            Some people will exclaim, “So what?  What difference does it make?”  In the eyes of men, perhaps no difference at all.  But God demands OBEDIENCE to His Law -- and in this End-time, He gives us plenty of evidence and proof so that we can KNOW the Truth -- KNOW the Law! 


            Prior ignorance of the Law is no excuse!  The “wages of sin” – law breaking – is “death” (Rom.6:23).  Going the way that “seems right” also ends in “death” (Prov.14:12; 16:25).  We must prove what’s right and do what’s right!


            Your eternal life could hang in the balance!  


            What indeed are you going to do about it?