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MODERN DAY PHARISEES

 

                                                                        By John R. Funk

 

 

During the life of Christ, the religious hierarchy consisted of the Pharisees and the Sadducees along with the scribes or lawyers of the day.  The primary difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that the Sadducees denied the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.  However, in many of Christ’s encounters with the various religious leaders of His day, He specifically addresses the Pharisees and scribes.  When He does so, it is usually to condemn them for their religious practices. 

 

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 (See Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, NT:5330).  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.

 

Although most people believe that the Pharisaical sect which dominated the religious scene of the first century eventually died out, they might be surprised to find that this particular group has survived to the present day.  This survival has not been as a result of propagation and blood line but rather as a belief system.  Occasionally, we now have modern day Pharisees who attempt to dominate the church with their belief systems and therefore, exercise control and authority.  The words of Jesus are just as applicable today as they were when He walked this earth.

 

Matthew 23:13-15, 23-28

**American Standard Version

King James Version

13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter.  14(Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, even while for a pretence ye make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive greater condemnation.) 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.  23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone.

24 Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel! 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

13 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.

14 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. 15 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. * * * 23 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. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye ake clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter,  that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 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. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

 

Broken down by verse, Jesus heaps criticism upon these religious leaders for (1) denying the kingdom of God to others because of their burdensome rules and regulations while professing that they will enter God’s kingdom when in fact, they would not; (2) stealing from the poor while making a great spectacle of themselves by offering long prayers in public; (3) going to great lengths to convert someone to their beliefs only to make them as bad as they were; (4) observing the smallest matters of the law while ignoring the more important ones, i.e. following the letter of the law while ignoring the intent of the law; (5) professing to be the spiritual guides, shepherds or leaders of their time and yet failing to do so; (6) failing to recognize their own spiritual blindness; and, (7) making sure that they were outwardly righteous and presentable while being inwardly filthy to the point that they were dead spiritually.

 

The Pharisees of that time were primarily interested in position, power and authority.  They were not concerned with their relationship with God.  In fact, they had deluded themselves to the point that they actually believed that they were the only ones right with God.  However, as Jesus taught, righteousness was not attained through works but rather through humility and repentance.

 

Luke 18:9-14

**American Standard Version

King James Version

Luke 18:9-14

9 And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. 13 But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner.

14 I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

 

Luke 18:9-14

9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

 

 

You may be thinking to yourself that all of these things are fine and good but what do they have to do with the world today?  We don’t have religious leaders who burden others by unnecessary rules and regulations thus ensuring their positions of power and authority.  Surely, there aren’t those who make public spectacles of their religiosity for the sole purpose of calling attention to themselves.  Unfortunately, these very things happen in the modern church and for the same reasons in the time of Christ.

 

I receive a number of e-mails from people who read my material and many of those communications are very positive.  A few offer constructive criticism and I am extremely grateful for any constructive criticism that I receive.  And then, there are a few that take extreme exception with what I have to say.  All of the messages received are taken very seriously, especially those offering some gentle rebuke, constructive criticism or pointed comment, and every effort is made to respond to each and every one.  The ones that are extremely critical are the ones that receive the most attention because only God is perfect and as a mortal man, I am subject to misstatements and error.  If a mistake is made, it needs to be corrected as quickly as possible.  In point of fact, one article cited 1 Cor. 8:18 when it should have been 1 Cor. 6:18.  Since there is no 1 Cor. 8:18, this error was brought to my attention by one of the readers and this mistake was quickly remedied.  I am grateful for those who take the time to read with a certain degree of circumspection and who make the effort to let me know when a mistake has been made. 

 

On the other hand, I grow concerned about the reader who criticizes without substantiation.  Although no comment is taken personally (that comes from having the thick skin that they issue you upon graduation from law school), I am uneasy when an e-mail from someone who purports to be a Christian expresses contempt for the body of believers.  Recently, an e-mail came my way that stated (without correction):  

 

attending "church" and fellowshipping with other believers is two different things.

 This is a typical, poorly written, shallow article that has been posted on rapture whatever.  Most "churches" today are secular, pagan worshipping, compromising, purpose driven, emerging "churches" that Jesus condemns in Revelation chapters 1-3 as well as filled with the people He condemns in Matthew 7 when they claim Jesus as Lord yet He tells them to depart from Him.

 

I fellowship with True believers yet I will not go to any of the ritualistic godless churches in this area.  They are filled with pagan compromising tares with extremely little wheat - and lead by wolf pastors.  I prefer fellowshipping with those who TRULY know the Lord.

Your article is as luke warm and shallow as the american church is.  weak theology and teaching like this is why there is very little TRUE Christianity in the united states.

 


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.

 

We were commanded to go forth into a dying world to seek the lost, spread the Gospel and make disciples by the One who gave His life for those who did not deserve such a gift (See Matthew 28:18-20).  If we are ever tempted to compare ourselves with others, we need to keep in mind the example of Jesus Christ who was criticized by the scribes and Pharisees of His day for dining with “sinners and tax collectors” such as Matthew.   

 

Matthew 9:10-13

** American Standard Version

King James Version

10 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Teacher with the publicans and sinners?

12 But when he heard it, he said, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what (this) meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

 

10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

 

 

We must keep in mind that we are who Jesus Christ came to save – the lost.  We are vile, filthy and undeserving.  We have absolutely no ability to stand before God Almighty on our own.  However, because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross at Calvary, I am now covered with His precious blood and solely because of that, I am now worthy to be called a child of God.  So anytime the urge hits me to compare myself with others or to criticize them in a spirit of condemnation and not correction, I need to keep the words of Jesus Christ in mind:

 

 

Matthew 7:1-5

** American Standard Version

King James Version

7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

 

7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but onsiderest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

 

 

Ouch!  Pardon me while I go get a pair of pliers; I think I have something in my eye.

 

 


** A modern language quote is provided for readability, but every effort should be made to understand the accompanying KJV version believed by many to be a more accurate representation of the original scripture.

 

*As a side note, the next time you are tempted to tell a lawyer joke, keep in mind that Christ is described as our “advocate”, i.e. attorney, before the throne of God.  How cool is that!

 

Comments or questions may be directed to the author at jrhett58@yahoo.com.