Christian Pharisees

Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

Jesus portrays the Pharisees as impatient with outward, ritual observance of minutiae which made them look acceptable and virtuous outwardly but left the inner person unreformed.

Evangelical Christians are most in danger of becoming Pharisees. The spirit of the Pharisee is dangerous because it is opposed to the Spirit of Christ

One of the common critiques leveled at present-day Christianity is that it’s a religion full of hypocritical people. A 2013 Barna Group study examines the degree to which this perception may be accurate. The survey revealed that 51% of the North American Christians polled all possess attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ. In other words, the attitudes of most Christians were described as self-righteous and hypocritical. According to the study, only 14% of Christians surveyed reflected attitudes and actions that better resembled the attitudes and actions of Christ.

There is benefit to be derived from any criticism received so long as that criticism is offered in a spirit of love and correction. Criticism offered absent the love of Christ is not offered for correction but rather for condemnation. Criticism expressed by someone who views himself as one of the only “truly righteous” is only going to alienate others. These are modern-day Pharisees and the role that they can play for the cause of Christ is minimized simply because of attitude.

Matthew 16:13-20 (KJV)

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

So, who wrote the New Testament? It must have been Peter, right?

There are 27 books in the New Testament, 13 of the books are traditionally ascribed to Paul. Much of the New Testament is made up of his letters to churches. We know for certain that Paul wrote at least thirteen letters that are included in the New Testament. Scholars have debated whether or not Hebrews was written by Paul; if Paul wrote Hebrews, that would make his total contribution to the Bible fourteen books.

Yet, Paul did not know Jesus during his teaching ministry and was never a disciple of Jesus. 

The man known to us as Paul began life as Saul of Tarsus. Paul was likely born between the years of 5 BC and 5 AD. The Book of Acts indicates that Paul was a Roman citizen by birth. He was from a devout Jewish family in the city of Tarsus–one of the largest trade centers on the Mediterranean coast. It had been in existence several hundred years prior to his birth. It was renowned for its university. During the time of Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC, Tarsus was the most influential city in Asia Minor.

Paul referred to himself as being “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; a Pharisee”.

So, Paul was a Roman citizen and a Pharisee. Aren’t these are the same groups that had Jesus crucified and that did the crucifying?

Galatians 2 (KJV)

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel,

I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

Rather than looking to the apostles in Jerusalem for his message or for approval for his ministry, Paul had little contact with them, visiting Jerusalem and the church leaders only twice in 17 years. On these occasions he did not stay long, and he met with only three of the apostles—Peter, James, and John.

Not only did he not seek the approval of the apostles, Paul actually dared to publicly rebuke them when they were inconsistent with the gospel. This is Paul’s last historical proof of his independence as an apostle.

Peter’s custom (at least while he was with these Gentile Christians) was to live like them, rather than to live as a Jew. Such customs were not new to Peter, for that was the way he had been instructed to associate with Cornelius and the other Gentiles who had gathered at his house (Acts 10). A sequence of events was set in motion by Paul’s confrontation of Peter. Peter gradually began to withdraw from the Gentiles and to avoid them.  

A similar change occurred at the dinner table at Antioch. Apparently the party “from James” ate at first by themselves, while the rest, both Jews and Gentiles, ate together. Then these Jewish guests were joined by Peter and eventually by all the other Jewish Christians (except Paul). Finally, there were two groups at meal time, the Jewish party and the Gentile party. If the church at Antioch observed communion with a common meal as we would expect (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34), the problem then was intensified for their worship had become divided. When Paul recognized the seriousness of the situation he confronted Peter personally and publicly (vv. 11, 14). Peter was corrected before all because the Jews had been wrong to follow him, and the Gentiles had been injured by their actions.

After Paul’s rebuke, Peter began to live as a Jew, compelling the Gentile believers to live like him in order to have fellowship with him and the other Jewish believers. Gentile Christians were required to live like the Jews.

We are all aware of the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 18, which instructs us to confront an erring brother privately.

The very root of the problem was the pride which the Judaizers had in their Jewishness that caused them to feel smugly superior to the Gentile Christians. This is seen in the slogan of the Judaizers, mirroring the arrogance which was at the root of the refusal of the men “from James” to eat with the Gentiles: “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles.”

The subject of Gentiles and the Torah was also debated among the rabbis as recorded in the Talmud. This resulted in the doctrine of the Seven Laws of Noah, to be followed by gentiles, as well as the determination that “gentiles may not be taught the Torah.” The 18th-century Rabbi Jacob Emden was of the opinion that Jesus’ original objective, and especially Paul’s, was only to convert Gentiles to the Seven Laws of Noah while allowing Jews to follow full Mosaic Law.

A key contested issue is the historicity of the depiction of Paul in Acts. According to the majority viewpoint, Acts described Paul differently from how Paul describes himself, both factually and theologically. Acts differed with Paul’s letters on important issues, such as the Law, Paul’s own apostleship, and his relation to the Jerusalem church.

It has been claimed that the writer of Acts used the writings of Josephus (specifically “Antiquities of the Jews”), as a historical source. Several scholars have criticised the writer’s use of his source materials. For example, Richard Heard has written that: ‘in his narrative in the early part of Acts he seems to be stringing together, as best he may, a number of different stories and narratives, some of which appear, by the time they reached him, to have been seriously distorted in the telling.’

1 Corinthians 9 (KJV)

Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

According to writings in the New Testament, Paul was dedicated to the persecution of the early disciples of Jesus in the area of Jerusalem.

In the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus on a mission to “bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem” when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him in a great light. He was struck blind but, after three days, his sight was restored by Ananias of Damascus, and Paul began to preach that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God. Approximately half of the book of Acts deals with Paul’s life and works.

Fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament have traditionally been attributed to Paul. Seven of the epistles are undisputed by scholars as being authentic, with varying degrees of argument about the remainder. Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews is not asserted in the Epistle itself and was already doubted in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was almost unquestioningly accepted from the 5th to the 16th centuries that Paul was the author of Hebrews. The other six are believed by some scholars to have come from followers writing in his name, using material from Paul’s surviving letters and letters written by him that no longer survive. Other scholars argue that the idea of a pseudonymous author for the disputed epistles raises many problems.

Paul’s epistles continue to be vital roots of the theology, worship, and pastoral life in the Catholic and Protestant traditions of the West, and the Orthodox traditions of the East.

Paul’s influence on Christian thought and practice has been characterized as being as “profound as it is pervasive”.

Acts 7 (KJV)

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 

And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 

And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 

Acts 8 (KJV)

And Saul was consenting unto his death.

And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

Acts 22 (KJV)

Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

Acts 9 (KJV)

And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? 

Who were the Pharisees during the time of Christ?

The origin of the word “Pharisee” comes from “Pharisaios (far-is-ah’-yos)” meaning a separatist, i.e. exclusively religious; a Pharisean, i.e. Jewish sectary. According to Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the Pharisees were a religious and political party in Palestine in New Testament times. They were especially known for insisting that the law of God be observed as the scribes interpreted it and for their special commitment to keeping the laws of tithing and ritual purity (Matt 23:23-26; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 11:37-42; 18:12). One distinctive feature of the Pharisees was their strong commitment to observing the law of God as it was interpreted and applied by the scribes. According to the New Testament, the Pharisees were concerned about strictly interpreting and keeping the law on all matters (Acts 26:5), including the Sabbath (Mark 2:24), divorce (Mark 10:2), oaths (Matt 23:16-22), the wearing of Phylacteries and Fringes (Matt 23:5), and other matters. Since Pharisees found that other Jews were not careful enough about keeping the laws of tithing and ritual purity, they felt it was necessary to place limits on their contacts with other Jews as well as with Gentiles. For example, they could not eat in the home of a non-Pharisee, since they could not be sure that the food had been properly tithed and kept ritually pure.

Luke 11:37-54 (KJV)

And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.

Matthew 23:1-39 (KJV)

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.  Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Mark 12:35-40 (KJV)

And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly. And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Luke 20:45-47 (KJV)

Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.

The woes mostly criticise the Pharisees for hypocrisy and perjury. They illustrate the differences between inner and outer moral states.

The woes do not occur in the same point of the narrative in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Matthew they occur shortly before Jesus returns to Jerusalem for his last few days before being crucified, while in Luke they occur shortly after the Lord’s prayer is given and the disciples are first sent out over the land. Before introducing the woes themselves, Matthew states that Jesus criticized them for taking the place of honor at banquets, for wearing ostentatious clothing, for encouraging people to call them Rabbi.

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