The Real Problem of Phariseeism

The Pharisees

Many people recognize the Pharisees as a group of Jews who opposed the ministry of Jesus Christ in the first century. While this is true, sometimes there is confusion as to why these people opposed Jesus, and why Jesus spoke against their false teaching.

The confusion begins with the conflating of religious tradition with the necessary command of God. The Pharisees were known for two different things: rigid adherence to the Law of Moses, and for their creation of literally hundreds of new rules and regulations that they sought to impose upon the Jewish people.

An Important Difference

These two things are very different as one was the command of God and the other the creation and tradition of man. When Jesus challenged the Pharisees, did He challenge them for doing what God commanded or for warping it for their own purposes? The answer to the question is important, because many have misunderstood Jesus’ purpose in challenging these false teachers.

Take for instance Matthew 23:23, where Jesus condemns the Pharisees as hypocrites for neglecting “the weightier provisions of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness” (NASU). This is a powerful challenge to the thinking which focused solely on the “little” things without considering the important elements of godliness.

But did this then mean that the command to tithe, which the Pharisees had become obsessed over to the neglect of the others, was unnecessary? If that were so, why did Jesus finish by saying, “but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others”? The command was valid; what the Pharisees had chosen to do to the command was not.

The Real Problem

This is the real problem of Phariseeism: It is not Phariseetical to hold fast to the commands of God. It is not Phariseetical to insist that God’s people follow the commands of God. What is Phariseetical is to modify what God has given to man because of man’s own opinions and desires. In this case (the modifying of what God has given us), those who accuse Christians who seek to stand with God’s command alone of being “Pharisees” are actually the ones guilty of the accusation.

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