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Bible verses about Pharisaism
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 18:20

The word translated “walk” is halakhah in Hebrew. Israel had to walk "in the way."

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 2, reads under "Judaism":

The authoritative Jewish way of life as expressed in moral law and ritual precept. It embraces the whole body of Jewish teaching, legislation, and practices that proceeded from interpretation and reinterpretation of the laws of the Bible. . . . Although legalistic in content, the Halakhah is designed to bring all human occupations into relationship to the service of God and to establish the supremacy of the divine will as the measure of all directions and strivings of human life.

On the surface, this sounds good; we should search and meditate as to how the Scriptures apply to every aspect of life. However, these interpretations were merely human opinions. Some of them were right on, but others were grossly off the mark. The Halakhah was not the Word of God.

Over the centuries, the Jews first gradually elevated these interpretations to be equal with Scripture, and then to be more important than Scripture. Mark 7:3 describes such a tradition that did not come from God's law but from Halakhah. Jesus says that they rejected the commandments of God so that they might keep their own tradition (verse 7). He also said their traditions destroyed the effect of God's Word (Mark 7:13). Halakhah was their tradition—the Jewish way of life.

In addition, not only were they zealous in collecting these interpretations and putting them into books, but in their zeal, they encouraged each other to live rigidly according to these interpretations. They were also zealous in proselytizing. Jesus says in Matthew 23 that they would encompass land and sea in order to gain one proselyte, and then they would make him a child of hell.

It became a major problem for Jesus and the church when the Jews did not have the humility to admit that many of their interpretations were wrong. They did not agree with God's Word, and they viewed Jesus, and then the church, as enemies to be obliterated.

Halakhah, the Jewish way of life that Paul called "the traditions of my fathers" in Galatians 1:14, had been his religion. It was in question in the book of Galatians, not the law of God. It was the Jewish way of life, the Halakhah, with ascetic, demon-driven Gnosticism added to it. This was the yoke of bondage that could not be borne.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)


 

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

We need to be as clear as we can be about what Solomon's paradoxical situation has the potential to produce in a person's life if it goes unrecognized and is allowed full freedom to take over and produce its fruits without resistance. The following is a worst-case scenario. Not everybody will end up this badly, but the potential exists, which is why God gives the warnings about its dangers. It tends to focus the individual entirely upon himself.

Paul writes in Acts 26:4-5:

My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

The key phrase for our purposes here is “the strictest sect of our religion.” The history of the Pharisees shows that they had thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that would fit well under the definition of super-righteousness. In fact, they established and built the Pharisees into what they were at the time of Christ.

Super-righteousness is a beginning step into Pharisaism, and we know well the relationship Jesus had with them, those who “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” Is it wisdom to become like the Pharisees, who, because they thought God was not strict enough, added their traditions to His laws?

The foul fruit of super-righteousness is pride, and that is why Solomon cautions us so strongly in Ecclesiastes 7. Pride destroys relationships, whether with God or man, because the proud person demands attention and submission that can never be satisfied. It is the height of self-centeredness. They are demanding, display various degrees of narcissism, and tend to be standoffish, considering themselves to be better than others.

In the case of the Pharisees, their narcissism drove them to their absolute failure: not to recognize God in the flesh through His teachings. Instead, they, like Satan, actively attacked Him and succeeded in manipulating political and religious pressures to the extent that they, with the help of the Romans and Sadducees, put Him to death.

Jesus' famous castigation of them in Matthew 23 reveals many of their characteristics: They made things hard on others but would not bend to help; they showboated their good works; they expected to be catered to, not to serve; they desired public praise; they loved to receive titles; they looked down on others as inferiors; they taught false doctrines; they heaped greater difficulties on those who already needed help; their sense of judgment was completely skewed; they pursued tiny points of law with great zeal while overlooking truly important things; they were outright hypocrites; they loved to say, “If I were in that position, I would never have done that”; and they were clever deceivers.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion


 

Matthew 5:8

"Blessed are the pure in heart" is a beatitude expressing a standard that is extremely difficult to achieve. Relating strongly to much of what is written in the Old Testament, this standard is something the Pharisees vainly pursued through an obsessive observance of thousands of cultic rules they and others added to God's inspired Word. Their desire to achieve purity before God is commendable, but Jesus clearly demonstrates that they chose to do it the wrong way, leaving their hearts unchanged. In this vein Paul remarks:

Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:1-3)

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart


 

Matthew 5:19-20

Pharisee indicates "separatist," one who is separate from others in the world. About 200 years before Christ, the Pharisees seem to have arisen as a brotherhood with a sincere desire to resist the secularism into which Judaism had drifted. As the years went by, however, they added a great deal to God's written law and rejected counterbalancing commands also given in the Old Covenant—even such commands as those which appear in Leviticus 19, such as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

They then compounded this rejection with a vain sense of self-righteous superiority that in many cases excluded any contact with people of another ethnicity, and they even brought violence against other Jewish people who disagreed—as the apostle Paul's pre-conversion conduct shows. Paul was "a Pharisee of the Pharisees," and he went around throwing people into prison and, indeed, he may have even consented to the martyrdom of Stephen.

All this made these "separatists" very unattractive witnesses; they were in reality an embodiment of a rejection of God's intention of what a witness should be. Our witness does not have to bring about the conversion of others to be effective, because conversion is in God's hands anyway. However, it still has to be right, and being right in this requires personal sacrifices.

Being right—in addition to keeping God's commands—means being humble, modest, kindhearted, concerned, sympathetic, empathetic, helpful, warmhearted, friendly, gracious, serving, giving, charitable, open, hospitable, cordial, thoughtful, considerate, sensitive, cooperative, and on and on. One must do all of these things, while knowing full well that there is a line of separation across which we cannot allow ourselves to wander in our relationships with those as yet uncalled.

This is quite a plateful, but these are qualities that make God's way engaging and an attractive witness. God's involvement in our lives should give us freedom, as well as security against our fears of living and being this way. When combined with the keeping of God's commandments, it will produce quite a witness and go a long way toward keeping us clean—because we will be using God's Word as He intends.

John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part 2)


 

Matthew 16:6

The key to understanding the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, 11-12) does not hinge on their zeal in keeping the law, but on their zeal in finding loopholes to twist it to their own ends. Their motto could have been, "How close can we get to the edge without going over?" We could refer to this practice as brinkmanship (pushing a situation to the limit to force a desired result) or marginalism (taking an extreme position on an issue).

A former homiletics teacher, also an avid skier, conveyed to his class an analogy of the Ten Commandments as the boundary markers along the ski trail. Every year, when contemplating the boundary markers at Vail or Aspen, he reflected that only an idiot would ski as close to the edge as he could. Yet this describes many practices of the scribes and Pharisees!

The legalist and the lawbreaker both have a morbid curiosity about those boundaries rather than concentrate upon the vast latitude of choices between those markers. This is reminiscent of our parents Adam and Eve developing a morbid curiosity about the one tree that God forbade, ignoring the thousands upon thousands of varieties that He did not forbid (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6). This behavior dwells on the negative and ignores the positive.

These examples point out that the spirits of legalism and lawlessness are twin siblings. When we place the critical points of the law/grace and legalism/lawlessness issue in proper perspective, law and grace are powerful allies opposing legalism and lawlessness. They give Christians great freedom to do good for others while also doing what is right.

David F. Maas
Righteousness from Inside-Out


 

Matthew 23:2-4

The person who sat in Moses' seat had a measure of authority, and Jesus said it was to be respected. Apparently, the majority of those seats were occupied by Pharisees and scribes. However, Jesus took great exception as to how they used their authority. They said, and they did not. It is clear they used their authority to abuse, to elevate themselves and put others down, and to burden the people in ways Jesus did not agree with.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)


 

Matthew 23:23

The Pharisees made their first major error in this area of judgment. They had abandoned the proper yardstick for their basis of judgment. As Matthew 15:1-9 shows, they had developed their own traditions that transgressed the law of God (verse 3). Their worship had become vain - worthless - as they substituted the doctrines of men for the doctrines of God (verse 9).

The Pharisees had lost touch with God's instructions, His mind. They leaned on carnal reasoning, which always decided in their favor. Situation ethics ruled, rather than the precepts of God. They became very harsh in their dealings with the "little people," taking advantage of them simply because they could (Micah 2:1-2).

"A just weight and balance are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are His work. It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness" (Proverbs 16:11-12). Though the Pharisee's "additions" to the law seemed innocent enough at their inception, over time they became increasingly partial to those who made the additions. This destroyed godly standards, and wickedness reigned. Since the leaders' righteousness had been destroyed, their leadership was void of justice. Significantly, the Bible's final warning is not to add to or subtract from God's Word (Revelation 22:18-19), for our own judgments do not have the purity and objectivity of God's.

This problem never seems to go away. Christ excoriated the Pharisees for it. James addressed the church about it because some were showing partiality to the wealthy in the congregations (James 2:1-12). Decision-making, judging, discerning, and evaluating fruits often become subjective. We base them on how they may affect our own well-being rather than render them impartially and objectively in the light of God's Word purified seven times (Psalm 12:6). Is it any wonder God gives us an average of 70 years to learn to make right judgments?

Staff
The Weightier Matters (Part 2): Judgment


 

Romans 10:1-3

Recall what Jesus says about the Jews/Pharisees: "All too well you reject the commandments of God, that you might keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9). Paul is saying the same thing, only in more detail and later in time. However, he adds something to it: ". . . they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." This summarizes their zealous attitude and its result. Despite their learning, they were ignorant and established their own righteousness.

With a great deal of zeal, they went about thinking and saying they were serving God, but all they did was produce their own set of standards. Their zeal was probably their greatest barrier to the truth. The apostle Paul is a prime example. Before conversion, he was a zealous Pharisee! He was so zealous that it was notorious to the first-century church; it was afraid of him!

If he is an example of Pharisaism, then we see that his zeal for Judaism drove him to consider Jesus and the church as traitors to his way of life. Simultaneously, it prevented him from objectively examining what was being taught. His mind was blinded by his zeal. It took him getting knocked down on the Damascus Road to convince him otherwise. It is a good example of the miracle that takes place in our minds, though ours is not as dramatic as his. Once converted, Paul could effectively examine the Jews' problem.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)


 

 




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