Who Were the Pharisees?
The Pharisees in the Bible were members of a religious group or party that frequently clashed with Jesus Christ over his interpretation of the Law. The Pharisees probably got their start under the Maccabees, about BC 160, emerging as a scholarly class dedicated to the teaching of both the written and oral law and stressing the internal side of Judaism. They were the conservative class of Jews, whereas the Sadducees were more liberal in their views, much like the modern Democrats and Republicans in the United States.
“The Pharisees formed the largest and most influential religious-political party in New Testament times. They are consistently depicted in the Gospels as antagonists or opponents of Jesus Christ and the early Christians.
The name “Pharisee” means “separated one.” The Pharisees separated themselves from society to study and teach the law, but they also separated themselves from the common people because they considered them religiously unclean.”“Pharisees.” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
The historian Flavius Josephus numbered them at about 6,000 in Israel at their peak. He described the Pharisees as maintaining a simple lifestyle, affectionate and harmonious in their dealings with others, respectful of elders, and influential throughout Israel.
Why Didn’t Jesus Like the Pharisees?
The Pharisees were extremely accurate and detail-oriented in all matters pertaining to the law of Moses (Matt. 9:14; Matt. 23:15; Luke 11:39; Luke 18:12). While they were sound in their professions and creeds, their system of religion was more about outward form than genuine faith. As middle-class businessmen and tradesmen, the Pharisees built and controlled the synagogues, those Jewish meeting places that served for both local worship and education. They also put great importance on oral tradition, making it equal to the laws written in the Old Testament. Pharisees gradually changed Judaism from a religion of trustful obedience in God to one of keeping the religious commandments not instituted by God (legalism). – The Jews grew more focused on pleasing the religious leaders than God.
In spite of their education and actions, their hearts became separated from God. To the prophet Ezekiel, God declared,
“And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them”Ezekiel 33:31-33
Apparently, the hearts of people had changed little from the time of Ezekiel to the time of Christ. Jesus stated, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:7-9). The Pharisees honored God with their lips but not with their lives (Matt. 23:3; Luke 6:46). Although they gathered at the temple and made offerings and said prayers, their hearts were miles away.
Obviously, the diligent observer in modern religious affairs can see the parallels to the Pharisees’ behavior today. Too many people come to worship God conditionally on their own terms. They may see numerous verses that blatantly teach baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16; 2 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38) but refuse to worship and fellowship with people who teach baptism saves the alien sinner. The modern Christians seems to have grown more focused on following religious leaders and churches than God.
People want to worship an all-tolerant-loving God who would never send anyone to hell who worships Him. How many false images and idols of God have people built to cover the words in the Bible? People build up a God in their minds that will judge them positively if they never offend others, if they never do anything that popular Christianity forbids, if they attend church services regularly, etc… People will follow and use the Bible until they find a passage that does not support what they have been told by their pastors or what they have believed their whole lives, and then they will overlook the Word of God.
They justify ignoring passages by saying, “As long as I get the basic ideas, then it will be fine.” “God will not condemn me for something so small and insignificant.” “At least I am better than this person.” However, Christ said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” If a person refuses to believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, then such a person will die in their sins. James wrote, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). If a person disregards even one “point” of God’s Word (including 2 Peter 3:21: “…baptism doth also now save us…”), then they are guilty of violating “all” the law.
True Phariseeism/legalism is not focusing too much on the details of Scripture, as some consider the term to mean, but rather holding to religious creeds of church leaders over the Law of Christ. A true legalist will hold to the interpretation of religious leaders over a simple reading of Scripture. – Trust in God’s Word over the teachings of “your” church. Simply do what God commands in the Law of Christ without trying to put a personal spin on it or make it modern. Just do what God commands in worship and simply sing from the heart and stop trying to add light shows, bands, mechanical instruments, flashy uniforms, etc… (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16-17; John 4:23-24, Rev. 22:18-19). Take the Law of Christ as it is and trust in the original teachings of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11-12; John 8:32; Prov. 3:5).