Some Sadducees and Pharisees Believed

While Acts 2 demonstrates that the Jewish people – assembling in Jerusalem from the Diaspora during the festival of Shavuot – were the first recipients of the New Covenant, what about the Jewish leadership? The Gospels present the Sanhedrin, made up of mostly Sadducees and Pharisees, as engaging in debate with and seemingly opposing Jesus’ ministry… but is that the whole story? Did the Jewish leadership of the 2nd temple era reject Jesus as Messiah in toto? What does the book of Acts tell us?

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7 (ESV)

Acts 6 begins with an early point of conflict among the earliest believers – between the Hellenist, Greek speaking Jews and the Hebrew speaking Jews. The conflict was settled with the appointing of Stephen, Phillip and others to settle the matter at hand. However, this section ends with the description of the rapid growth of believers in Jerusalem and the specific inclusion of priests – who in the 2nd temple period were almost exclusively from the party of the Sadducees. 1Abraham Geiger, Urschrift, pp. 20

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:4-5 (ESV)

Acts 15 presents an in-house debate among the early followers of Jesus – what should we do with all of these Gentiles who are coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah? While the verdict ultimately came down against the Pharisees in the community, this example still shows us that enough Pharisees were in the community of believers that their position was taken into consideration during n early, in-house critical debate.

These two examples are indications that both members of the Sadducees and Pharisees came to faith in Jesus as Messiah, were fully involved in the day-to-day matters of the community, held positions of leadership, and who had voices prominent enough to be recorded in the earliest history of believers. This runs counter to the commonly held belief that the Jewish leadership as a whole rejected Jesus’ messiahship in the period when the majority of believers were Jewish and New Covenant scriptures were being written. It also demonstrates that the earliest believers in Jesus were not merely gathered from what some consider an uneducated portion of the Diaspora.

We must be careful to not villainize the Jewish leadership during the days of the earliest believers, as the text demonstrates that many of them did in fact come to faith.


References   [ + ]

1. Abraham Geiger, Urschrift, pp. 20

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