What is a Pharisee?

According to Wikipedia, a Pharisees’ beliefs changed depending on the time. However, they are best understood in relationship to their chief rivals, the Sadducees. For instance,

Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic tenet of an oral Torah, and created new interpretations based on a literal understanding of verses. In their personal lives this often meant an excessively stringent lifestyle from a Jewish perspective, as they did away with the oral tradition, and in turn the Pharisaic Jewish understanding of the Torah. An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of, “an eye for an eye”. The Pharisaic understanding was that the value of an eye was to be sought by the perpetrator rather than actually removing his eye too. In the Sadducees’ view the law was to be taken literally. From the point of view of the Pharisees, the Sadducees wished to change the Jewish understanding of the Torah.

“Pharisees” by Wikipedia

As you can see, the Sadducees were literal in their approach to the Scriptures while the Pharisees were less so. It has also been noted that the Sadducees only accepted the five books of Moses and did not believe in life after death. The Pharisees accepted the Old Testament books but added a liberal interpretation of many passages (as noted above).

In the Scriptures, Jesus was very hard on the religious leaders — especially the Pharisees. One of the best known passage describing them is found in Matthew 15:1-9. The passage records Jesus’ assertion that the Pharisees were hypocrites. They had become so engrossed in their rabbinical traditions that they were no longer obeying the Scriptures. And more importantly, they were no longer pleasing God.

A modern day equivalent would be a person who becomes so engrossed in keeping a church tradition, rule, or code of conduct that he no longer obeys the clear commands of Scripture. This, I believe, is the biggest difference between Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, and biblical Christianity. The first two speak about the Scriptures but seem to be most interested in following the traditions set down by their religious leaders. Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, holds the Bible to be the divinely inspired final authority for life (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

It is good to read the comments of other men and women who have studied the Scriptures and who have had a close relationship with God. But we must not forget Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees. If we neglect the Scriptures for someone else’s teaching or a traditional practice, we could very well be considered a modern day Pharisee.

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