Therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.Matthew 23:3
Since my early days as a young believer, the churches I’ve attended taught the common thing, that we should not behave like the pharisees. Scriptural descriptions were used to depict the nature and character of the pharisees, like despised people sitting in high places, with minds only capable of exposing the guilt in others they meet.
And I grew up disliking the biblical pharisees and people that could potentially been seen or regarded as a modern day pharisee. Because the pharisees were themselves firmly associated with the Law and perceived righteousness, the cultivation of such negative attitude against them led many, including myself, to become reserved and hostile towards righteousness; or plainly becoming incapable of understanding the importance of doing what is right before God and the things that pleases Him.
It was only after an event that happened sometime in the year 2013, when my family and I came head-on to terms with an unexpected tragedy and the unwelcome reality of experiencing near death, that caused me to reexamined what I was doing and the principles I adopted in life. I followed most of the precepts of what my church and my pastors taught to me. Therefore, to my thinking, it is not even remotely possible, if I have done whatever that could be mindfully deemed as the acceptable Christian way of life, that I would even arrive to a day, hitting what is seemingly the end of the road, and coming face to face with death.
My journey in searching for the truth took me to and through the worst times of my life, during challenging moments that literally left me incapacitated and powerless to do anything on my own, other than to fall on my knees every day and night, praying to God for mercy and help. It was from this point in time that I began to understand what is meant by fearing God.
And it was also at this point of time in my life, and after undertaking a thorough relook at my supposedly Christian lifestyle, that I knew how mistaken I was and how wrong I had been concerning the Bible, God and His ways. Inside this dark episode, is also when I discovered the misconception of what is commonly and notoriously taught as the despised ways of the pharisees, that eventually led me to investigate what went wrong with my theories that I have been so taught by churches and by church leaders.
A Tainted Reputation
In Matthew 22:35, the Bible gave us the clue that first and foremost, the pharisees in the days of old are like our modern lawyers of today. In the Jewish community, the pharisees and their establishments are like our courtrooms, judges and lawyers. So the job of a pharisee is indeed to read the Law, interpret the Law and to enforce the Law. Jewish people go to the Sanhedrin to settle disputes, which by its own definition, a Sanhedrin is also the SUPREME COUNCIL and TRIBUNAL of the Jews in the yesteryear, headed by a High Priest. And the Sanhedrin possess religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction during their times.
A pharisee is also suppose to be knowledgeable of the Law because that is what their job requires them to know. Just like a criminal lawyer who is expected to be knowledgeable with crime laws and offenses, otherwise no one will hire them to handle cases if they are clueless with what is expected from them.
Then it became thought-provoking, when our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in various parts of the New Testament, began to turn the tables against these pharisees and started calling them hypocrites. And so, here we are today, with our churches and our typical Christian beliefs, having concepts developed from the tainted reputation of the pharisees, and all of us ingrained with the negative impression of this class of people from the past, so much so that anyone who possibly raise the issue about obeying the Law or even talk about the Ten Commandments, is immediately chided and resentfully called a pharisee.
But did we correctly perceive the pharisees for who they are? If Jesus called them hypocrites, therefore how could a pharisee be called a hypocrite if they have indeed obeyed the Law and spoke of it? By definition, isn’t a hypocrite suppose to be a person who say one thing but do another thing? Only after I started taking up the Bible and seriously putting myself into reading it, that I discovered how wrong I was all these years, concerning the perception I have of the pharisees and what I have been taught inside churches.
The Real Pharisees Of The Bible
Let’s examine several examples from verses in the Bible that describes the characteristics of a pharisee.
In Matthew 23:3, Jesus depicts the pharisees as people who tell others to obey the Law, but by their own deeds, they themselves do not do according to what they tell others to do; Jesus said, for they say, and do not do. In short, Jesus described the pharisees like this; while they practice the Law, but in reality they themselves are the lawbreakers.
Jesus also said in Luke 18:9, the pharisee is a person who trusted in what he himself do, i.e. calling what is unrighteous as righteousness. Now, take note that in the Bible, Jesus never once said the pharisees were righteous, but despite their unrighteousness, they thought they were righteous. By definition, this would probably fit the meaning of self-righteousness; that is, by themselves they took what is unrighteous and calls it righteous or they broke the Law and say this is abiding by the Law. Now that’s what clearly a hypocrite is.
In Matthew 22:15, it was recorded that the Pharisees plotted how they could trap Jesus in His words. And in Matthew 22:18, Jesus knew their wickedness and called them out, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?” Thus, the pharisee is not only a lawbreaker and an unrighteous person, but he is also a wicked man who deliberately plot things to trap others in their words. This in essence is in violation of the commandment, that we are not to bear false witnessing against one another.
And I can go on and on until the cow comes home. So, let me summarize by stating this; I found nowhere in the Bible that Jesus illustrated the despised pharisees as anyone righteous, but rather the opposite is true about them and their unrighteousness. By their deeds, the pharisees are sinners, and they use their power and position to disguise their falsehood with perceived righteousness that they paint and cultivate in the minds of people around them.
Calling Someone A Pharisee
Jesus did not call out the pharisees just because they were pharisees. By their stature, position and power, these are not the elements that broke any commandments or riled Jesus up so much so that He had to call them hypocrites in public. But it is the factual nature of dualism in these people, who did not practice what they preached, that landed them in trouble with God.
A despised pharisee is therefore a person who does not live by the Law but yet he tells people to obey them. They do not do what is right themselves but yet they teach others how to be righteous. In other words, they are unrighteous people who made people think they are righteous. They are people who pass the guilty verdict on those under their authority, but they’re themselves similarly guilty of the same sins. A despised pharisee is a deceiver, a liar and a hypocrite.
Therefore, if you wish to call someone a pharisee today, look for these traits; hypocrisy, lying tongues, deception, unrighteousness, lawbreakers, recalcitrant sinners who thought they are righteous, plotters of evil, wicked minded and etc. And the most shocking personality description of a pharisee is found in Matthew 12:24 – they are blasphemers of the Holy Spirit and they call what is Holy as demons. First it was “theology”. And now with this thing called “stop being a pharisee”. What else could therefore be coming next from these persistent blasphemers? Bring it on and allow me to tear their lies and inconsistencies into pieces for all to see what dark secrets they keep inside of them.
With the wholesome truth of the Bible, it would be effortless, not needing to even lift a finger, to expose all or any of the lies and hypocrisy in the hearts of man. And by their sorcery and deception, they led so many into believing their false gospel, that as if with Jesus Christ, God suddenly changed His mind or He suddenly became okay and agreed to coexist with our sins, as in how church leaders lied about the pharisees. Only fools would believe that a God of righteousness, who had to do the unthinkable of dying to put an end to sins’ power, would even desire to have anything to do with any forms unrighteousness that compelled Him to die in the first place.
But if someone who is not in the wrong, comes to you and tell you not to sin, he is not a pharisee but he is doing what is right. And the best material to use to start understanding what is right, what is wrong and what’s in the heart of the Lord,, is none other than to read the Bible and to keep reading it until it is written all over us.
Turning to unscrupulous individuals who dish out careless opinions on social media concerning what they thought is biblical Christianity, especially those who write or speak pleasant quotes that are fitting only to itching ears, done without any reference to proper Bible authority, would probably be the last thing I would even think of doing.
They are like blind guides with powers only to turn those already blind and making them even more blind. The ball is now in your court; show me where in the Bible it says that any person who tells another person that to sin is not right; is being or behaving like a pharisee. Do the honor, and please show it to me.
Our Righteousness Must Exceed The Pharisees’
Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is not a suggestion, this is a statement of fact by Jesus concerning the qualification to enter heaven. This is the minimum entry requirements set by the Father and explained to us in humanly terms by Christ Jesus Himself. Technically, to surpass the righteousness of the pharisees, would have been relatively straightforward; just obey the Law, say what we do and do what we say. But the modern man’s church took the instructions from Christ, but went backwards instead.
Rather than training God’s people to keep the Law, they proclaim that Jesus ended the requirements for man to fulfill God’s Law and taught them how to inadvertently brag about their unrighteousness by claiming everything has been made right under the Name of Jesus. But they probably do not even realize; while Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins, the Bible never said He came to make what is wrong to appear as Holy or even come close at all to suggest making any forms of unrighteousness acceptable before God.