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Pharisaism

During Jesus’ ministry, there were three main sects of the Jews that influenced Jewish politics and culture. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.

Interestingly, the Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament writings. Perhaps their tendencies toward asceticism and monasticism separated them from the common Jew, and limited their influence upon Jewish culture. (Note: It is believed that it was an Essene community, Qumran, that was responsible for the penning of the Dead Sea Scrolls).

The Sadducees were characteristically liberal and secular in their outlook. They were political animals, often affluent, and held the highest political offices among the Jews. “They were a political party, of priestly and aristocratic tendency, as against the more religious and democratic Pharisees” (ISBE, Vol. IV, pg. 2659).

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Who Are the Pharisees?

The Law of the Lord is Good!

Pharisees (1): Who Were They Then?The word “Pharisee” or a form of it is used 101 times in the New Testament. That those references are overwhelmingly negative is not news to anyone remotely familiar with the Bible. Our purpose in this study is to identify why the Pharisees were the repeated object of our Lord’s condemnation. To understand that, we must not turn to secular history to give us the answer, but to the Bible.

The most detailed statement from Jesus showing the reason for His condemnation of the Pharisees is found in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Since Mark 7 explains the background more fully, let us see what it says:

And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place, except they bathe themselves, they eat not; and many other things there are, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels.) And the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands? And he said unto them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men. And he said unto them, Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do (Mark 7:1-13).

This passage makes it clear that Jesus condemned the Pharisees because of their failure to adhere to the pattern of Scripture, instead substituting “the tradition of the elders” as being on a par with God’s word. The process by which they did so is made plain. Continue reading » Who Are the Pharisees?