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Who were the Pharisees and why did Jesus oppose them?

Jesus rarely had any nice words for the religious group.

A person does not have to read very far into the New Testament to understand Jesus’ disappointment with the Pharisees. He repeats it several times and even goes on a long discourse where he points out all their faults.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. (Matthew 23:13)

Others have described them as an overly zealous religious political party who were threatened by society and sought to cut themselves off from everyone else, especially those they deemed “unholy.” Whatever the historical reality was, Jesus did not paint them in a favorable light.

Furthermore, corruption gradually seeped into the leaders of the Pharisees and some became hypocrites, dictating laws for the people to follow but not practicing what they preached.

While some Pharisees became the loudest enemies of Jesus, the Gospel of John speaks about Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to Jesus to hear his teachings and later helped Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of Jesus. Historically Pharisees had many holy men in their midst, as well as many who succumbed to the temptations of the time.

One of the most famous Pharisees was St. Paul, whose conversion set him on a path to become a pillar of Christianity and a strong force in spreading it throughout the region.