For among Judeans there are three forms of philosophy.
Now Pharisees are one sect, Sadducees another,
But in fact the third, called Essenes, seems to be the most reverential discipline.
- Josephus, Jewish War 2.119
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.
PHARISEEING IS BELIEVING
Jesus warned people of Pharisees in the Bible, often speaking of them in a negative light. But what was it about them specifically that He found so offensive? He was actually quite clear on the matter:
Luke 18 (King James Version)
1And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
2Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
3And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
4And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
6And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
7And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
8I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
9And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11The 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.
12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13And 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.
14I 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.
Luke 11:37-54 (King James Version)
37And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.
38And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.
39And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness
40Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
41But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.
42But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
43Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.
44Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.
Matthew 23 (King James Version)
1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
4For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
5But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
6And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
7And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
9And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
10Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
11But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
13But 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.
14Woe 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.
15Woe 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.
16Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
17Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
18And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
19Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
20Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
21And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
22And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
23Woe 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.
24Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27Woe 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.
28Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
So while the actual term “Pharisee” merely refers to a Jewish sect, when Jesus spoke of that sect in a negative light what part of being a Pharisee was he talking about? What common discerning features of the Pharisees seemed to really annoy Jesus?
In the first story it is plain that Jesus is pointing out how the Pharisee was too proud and thought himself superior to the lowly Publican. This is made especially clear in the last line: “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
In the second story Jesus openly rants against Pharisee *hypocrisy.* He even uses the exact word, calling them “hypocrites!” with an exclamation point. He also speaks of their egotism throughout.
In the third similar example from Matthew again we see the phrase “12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” But we also have “13But 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.” And many additional cries of “hypocrites!” to be found throughout.
I’m sorry that my “Luke’s” are out of order. I hope it’s not a sin or anything.
So what are our common denominators here? What is it about the Pharisees of His day that Jesus found so personally repellant?
Going by the Bible, the only source available, we would have to conclude that it’s a mixture of hypocrisy, egotism, and pride.
Now, I’ve spoken of the evils of Pride before. How subtle a sin it is. How the proud are never aware that they are the proud, and think of themselves as the humble. They’re even proud of being humble, ironically enough. And excessive pride naturally begets hypocrisy. So they do go rather hand-in-hand, is the point.
In order to really excel at being a modern Pharisee one has only to be proud of their religion, and how righteous belonging to it makes them, how much less sinful than those *other* people they are.
Speaking incessantly (and proudly) of Jesus and His path of love and inclusion and yet living the opposite one of pride and exclusion is in my opinion the defining hypocrisy of the modern Pharisee.
Judging others when you yourself are lacking is another distinctive feature.
To call one’s self a Christian requires nothing. But to actually be a Christian, you have to follow the path of Jesus Christ. And that path is the narrow path of love. Of loving all others, no matter how different they are, no matter what you think of their way of life, no matter how sinful they look to you.
Because it’s not our place to judge.
I’ve never been against the path of Jesus Christ. It’s a good path. One of the very best, in fact. There’s nothing better than all-inclusive love. Jesus is more than just all right by me.
It would seem however that the path of the Pharisee is much more popular nowadays.
The wide, easy path. The one that goes in a spiritual circle.
People are weak. The path of Christ is the difficult path, so it’s no wonder that so few Christians are capable of following it.
I wish they’d at least realize that they’ve strayed from it, but the pride keeps them blind to that forever.
For the ignorant are always ignorant enough not to be able to see that they’re ignorant, and the proud are always proud enough not to be able to see that they’re proud.
Such is the nature of human folly.
So to any Christians reading this: If you’re a proud Christian that feels that people of other faiths (or none at all) are somehow inferior…
Congratulations! You just might be a Pharisee!