White: Sadducees and Pharisees

Ellen White compares two group of Jewish religious leaders at the time of Jesus in Chapter 66 of The Desire of Ages, “Controversy.” While modern scholarship would add to these descriptions, I will just present her short descriptions for today’s reflection. NOTE: these are not to reflect on my Jewish friends today any more than Origen or Constantine should reflect on me today.


Their ideas of God molded their own character. As in their view He had no interest in man, so they had little regard for one another; there was little union among them…. Their natural sympathies were brought within a narrow compass. They believed it possible for all men to secure the comforts and blessings of life; and their hearts were not touched by the wants and sufferings of others. They lived for themselves.

By His words and His works, Christ testified to a divine power that produces supernatural results, to a future life beyond the present, to God as a Father of the children of men, ever watchful of their true interests. He revealed the working of divine power in benevolence and compassion that rebuked the selfish exclusiveness of the Sadducees. He taught that both for man’s temporal and for his eternal good, God moves upon the heart by the Holy Spirit. He showed the error of trusting to human power for that transformation of character which can be wrought only by the Spirit of God. (pp. 604-605)


The Pharisees had exalted the first four commandments, which point out the duty of man to his Maker, as of far greater consequence than the other six, which define man’s duty to his fellow man. As the result, they greatly failed of practical godliness. Jesus had shown the people their great deficiency, and had taught the necessity of good works, declaring that the tree is known by its fruits. For this reason He had been charged with exalting the last six commandments above the first four.

The lawyer approached Jesus with a direct question, “Which is the first commandment of all?” The answer of Christ is direct and forcible: “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” The second is like the first, said Christ; for it flows out of it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The first four of the Ten Commandments are summed up in the one great precept, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” The last six are included in the other, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Both these commandments are an expression of the principle of love. The first cannot be kept and the second broken, nor can the second be kept while the first is broken. When God has His rightful place on the throne of the heart, the right place will be given to our neighbor. We shall love him as ourselves. And only as we love God supremely is it possible to love our neighbor impartially. (pp. 606-607)


  1. God cares about human needs, both temporal and eternal.
  2. Our hearts should be touched by the wants and sufferings of others.
  3. The Spirit of God moves on our hearts to awaken us to the needs of others.
  4. The first four and the final six commandments are equally important.
  5. Love for God and humanity are interwoven.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which set of commandments–first four or last six–does your congregation or denomination tend to favor? What does this look like in your setting?
  2. Which do you tend to emphasize?
  3. What do you think about lesson #5, that love for God and humanity are inextricably connected?
  4. How do you understand lesson #5 in relation to Chapter 70, “The Least of These My Brethren“?

NOTE: For more about the religious groups at the time of Jesus, see The Original Revolution (John Howard Yoder, 2003, pp. 18-31) and “The Christ of the Fifth Way” by Ron Osborn, published in both Should I Fight? (2011, pp. 169-195) and Anarchy and Apocalypse (2010, pp. 20-43).

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