First Century
Religious Groups

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A variety of differing religious and secular groups existed during the time of Jesus. Below is a list of some of the most important First Century groups that existed and interacted with not only Christ but also the apostles and early church.

The Herodians

The Herodians were likely a sect supporting the ruling descendants of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas was the ruler appointed by Rome in 4 B.C. to govern the territory of Perea and Galilee.

In the book of Mark the Herodians can be found conspiring with religious leader in order to murder Jesus. They also tried to entrap Christ by asking him what they thought were difficult questions (see Mark 3:6, etc.). In the book of Matthew they align themselves with Pharisees and together try to trick Jesus by asking a question regarding taxes to Rome. (Matthew 22:16).

The Zealots

The Zealots were a group of people who wanted to kick the Roman Empire out of occupying the land of Israel. A disciple of Jesus (called Simon the Canaanite in Mark 3:18 and Matthew 10:4) is also named in Scripture Simon the Zealot (Simon Zelotes). He likely belonged to the Zealots group, hence his name.

The Elders

The elders or older men of a community who formed the ruling elite and were often members of official councils. The Gospels usually portray the elders (often with scribes, priests) as opposed to Christ to such an extent that they conspire to have him murdered. The New Testament also mentions elders as leaders of early Christian communities (1Timothy 5:17-20; 1Peter 5:15). The Book of Revelation gives a prominent role to the twenty-four elders who surround God’s throne (Revelation 4:4-11).

Timeline of the Old Testament

Kings of Ancient Israel and Judah

Map showing location of Old Testament Events

Preservation of the Old Testament Timeline

Map of Palestine at the time of Israel's Judges

The world as known to the Hebrews map

High Priest and Priests

The High Priest, and Priests in general, were Levites (Joshua 18:7; 2 Chronicles 13:9-10) responsible for the overall operation of the temple. They were considered the religious leaders of the Jews. Priests, descendants of Aaron, offered the sacrifices and took care of other offering of sacrifices and ritual concerns in the temple (Mark 1:44; Matthew 12:4-5; Luke 1:5-23; etc.). Levites worked as temple guards, musicians and other temple-related responsibilities. (Luke 10:32; see also Numbers 3). The New Testament Gospels portray the priests, chief priests, and indeed the High Priest, as those who vehemently opposed and even hated Jesus. They were the primary people responsible for having Jesus arrested, tried and put to death by Rome's Empire.

The Pharisees

The Pharisees (or 'separated ones') were a sect of Judaism that began roughly around the 2nd century B.C. They believed and taught strict observance of the fourth commandment, certain rituals of the elders, etc. The Pharisees were longtime religious rivals with another sect of Judaism - the Sadducees. They competed for the trust and influence over the people. They adhered strictly to what the New Testament calls the "traditions of the elders." (Matthew 15:1-20). They oppose Jesus and all he teaches (Mark 8:11, etc.). Some of the toughest criticism Jesus gave were directed against the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 23; John 9). The apostle Paul, when young, was trained to be a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5). Other likely Pharisees are Nicodemus and Gamaliel.

The Sadducees

The Sadducees (meaning 'righteous ones') were another prominent religious group of Jews in Palestine from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D. They were probably a smaller "elite" group, but even more influential than the Pharisees. They also followed the laws of the Torah, but denied that the oral law was a revelation of God to His people and deemed the written law alone as the divine authority to be obligatory on the nation. They are longtime political and religious rivals of the Pharisees, although their influence was more with the wealthy ruling elites. The Sadducees rejected the teachings of the Pharisees, especially their oral traditions and newer innovations. They were also closely associated with the Jerusalem Temple and with the ruling council (Sanhedrin) of the Jews (Acts 4:1; 5:17). The Sadducees, along with the Pharisees, were the biggest religious-related groups against Jesus and his message (Matthew 16:1-12; Mark 18:12-27).

The Scribes

Scribes were specially trained in writing and copying. Because of their job they were considered religious leaders in Judaism. Their duties included composing legal documents and deeds, copying the Old Testament scriptures and so on. Their duty of interpreting God's law earned them the sometimes additional title of lawyers. The New Testament portrays the Scribes, like many other religious leaders in Judaism, as being actively against Christ. The book of Acts also states that they were some of the earliest opponents of the New Testament church (Acts 4:5, etc.).

Additional Study Materials
Important People in the Old Testament
Important People in the New Testament
Timeline of the Old Testament
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