What the Bible says about
Tradition of Pharisees
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The second curse spoken from Mount Ebal revolves around the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12). Exodus 21:17 mandates death for any person cursing either of his parents. It is noteworthy that disobedience to parents is usually not secret, but overt, often blatant. The word here, though, is not “disobey” but “dishonor.” Dishonor can be a disguised response to parents. The hypocrite can feign honor to parents, all the while secretly loathing them.
Along this line, Mark 7:1-13, where hypocrisy is a significant theme, becomes instructive. Some scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem traveled north to ask Christ why His disciples do not follow the oral tradition. They are referring to the halakha, which Peter, addressing the apostles at the Jerusalem Council years later, calls “a yoke . . . that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus calls His inquisitors hypocrites, honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. They worship God in vain, He avers, since they have abandoned “the commandment of God [and hold in its place] the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The sin of the Jewish leadership is hidden—not obvious to the populous, which frequently considered the Pharisees and scribes to be pious. Nevertheless, their sin remains one of grave consequence. Christ concludes in verse 13: “Thus [you make] void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”
Significant here is the fact that Christ cites the fifth commandment as His example in this discussion (verses 10-12), namely, the tradition that a man is released from the obligation of caring for his aged parents if he dedicates the funds to the Temple. Christ says that doing so is hypocritical and tantamount to dishonoring parents and to violating God's law.
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)
It is essential that we look at the Old Testament as a Christian book that was purposely written with the Christian in mind.
It is easy for us to think of the Old Testament as the book of Judaism, and that Christianity's roots are in Judaism. In fact, this idea is readily accepted in the "Christian world," but it is not true—not true in the least, except that there are some shared beliefs. If it were true, its modern corollary would be that Christianity's roots are also in paganism, because some of the concepts that pagans have are also shared with Christianity. That, incidentally, is what one large church has claimed in its writings about the holy days—that they actually derive from paganism.
The truth is that Judaism is a corruption of the religion God gave to Moses. It, too, was syncretic: part pagan, part truth, bound together by their own reasoning. In many places, Jesus corrected and railed against the Sadducees, the scribes, and the Pharisees. He said directly that they had rejected God's commandments in order to keep their own traditions. God's commandments are in the Old Testament; the Jews' traditions are not, and they are what the Jews lived by. Therefore, how can we say that Judaism came out of the Old Testament? God called the people out of Judaism to bring them into Christianity, just as today God is calling people out of a syncretic Christianity in order to bring them into true, biblical Christianity.
If Judaism really were God's religion, why did He not fix it from within? The period between the Testaments—between Malachi and Matthew—covered roughly 400 years in which a great deal took place. The record of Judaism during that time, particularly the history of the high priests, is much like that of the Papacy during the Middle Ages.
True Christianity's roots are in the truth of God—not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New. Judaism, though, rejects the New Testament, claiming the Old Testament as their book exclusively, and that perception is very strong to all. This world's Christianity claims the New Testament as its exclusive domain and virtually—and practically—ignores the Old Testament.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Sixteen)
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?
The Weightier Matters (Part 2): Judgment
Mark 7:14-23 (and its parallel account in Matthew 15:1-20) is another set of scriptures that some believe state that nothing entering into a man can defile him, therefore eating whatever one wishes is perfectly all right. Can this be correct?
Those who believe this fail to understand the subject of the chapter, which is Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees for their rejection of God's commandments in favor of their own traditions (verse 8). Verse 2 introduces the context: "Now when [the Pharisees] saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault." The dispute was over ceremonial cleanliness - eating without first washing one's hands - which is not even an Old Testament law but a "tradition of the elders" (verse 5), which the Pharisees had themselves proclaimed authoritative.
In addition, beyond this fact, note that the kind of food the apostles were eating is "bread," not meat. Jesus' later comments speak generally of "foods" and "whatever enters the mouth," not specifically meat. Mark 7 is not about clean and unclean meats at all!
Verse 19 contains the phrase "thus purifying all foods," and many have jumped to the conclusion that Jesus declared all foods clean (as many marginal references state). The context, again - the very sentence in which it appears - proves this false: "Do you [disciples] not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, thus purifying all foods?"
First, "thus" is not in the Greek text but has been supplied by the translators. Without it, the sentence plainly states that the stomach "purifies" any kind of food put in it, not that Jesus had somehow declared all foods to be purified. Second, purified is the Greek word katharízoon, which means "to cleanse," "to purify," "to free from filth." In relation to the stomach's or the digestive tract's ability to "purify" food, the sense of katharízoon in this verse is "to purge of waste." This is brought out clearly in the parallel statement in Matthew 15:17: "Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?"
Do these scriptures do away with the law concerning clean and unclean meats? Not at all!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?
In Luke 13:10-17, Christ heals another chronically ill person on the Sabbath. This time, though, He did not wait for anyone to ask Him questions. The episode plainly discloses the redeeming and liberating intention of God's Sabbath. When Jesus says, "You are loosed," the ruler of the synagogue reacts immediately because to him the Sabbath meant rules to obey rather than people to love.
Jesus replies in verses 15-16 by emphasizing the Sabbath principle:
The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?"
Christ makes a play on words here. He uses the same verb, "loose," to describe the ox and donkey as He does the woman being "loosed" from Satan through healing.
Jesus acts against the tradition of the Pharisees, but no where challenges the binding obligation of keeping the Sabbath. Rather, His example shows that we should make merciful evaluations to help others cast off their heavy burdens. He argues for living the true values.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath
The speaker is James, our Savior's brother. "They" is the Jews, and "you" is the apostle Paul.
Verse 25 is a quotation taken from the conference in Acts 15, and the subject, according to verse 21, is the customs. The controversy did not involve the civil laws or the Ten Commandments. Instead, it involved the ceremonial additions, as is clearly shown in context by what Paul did.
The context shows what these customs were. Paul made the offerings required at the conclusion of a vow. It is clear that the passage is speaking about the ceremonies. It is also entirely possible that the controversy over these customs also involved the oral traditions of the Pharisees, which they were so devoted to.
There is no evidence that Paul ever taught any Jew to forsake Moses. To do so, he would have to preach against God. There is no evidence that Paul ever told them, "Do not circumcise your children." He certainly preached that keeping the law could not justify a person before God. His writings clearly state that we are justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).
Plainly, Paul's own actions in Acts 21 testify that, though salvation or justification could not be won through keeping these things, keeping them was not destructive unless one depended upon them for justification or salvation. In addition, there was no hesitation on Paul's part to do them. Scripture gives no indication that he argued with James; in fact, we see a unity of mind between them. There is no indication of reluctance either, that somehow it would destroy Paul's faith in Jesus Christ, or that it would compromise him in the eyes of any Christian, Jew or Gentile, who might witness it.
This teaches that first-century Christians understood this issue. They clearly understood what we seem to have such a difficult time understanding nineteen centuries later. Nothing this God of love that we worship requires of us is bad for us. Sometimes what He requires may be difficult to bear, but it is not destructive to His purpose or thoughtless in any way. It is always intended to strengthen us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eighteen)
The Pharisees were strict, but wrong in their interpretation of the Scriptures. They were wrong primarily because their strictness was in the area of ritual purity and morality than true spirituality and ethics. Both by Jesus' and Paul's testimony, they were not living according to God's commandments as a way of life. Paul states clearly: "For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh" (Galatians 6:13).
A number of years earlier, Jesus said virtually the same thing, recorded in a couple of places:
"And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men - the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. (Mark 7:7-8)
Mark 7:1 verifies that He was speaking to the Pharisees. They were zealously and religiously adhering to Halakah, which was an interpretation of both the written law, given at Mt. Sinai, and a collection of verbal or oral laws that had been passed from one generation to the next for centuries. This law they elevated to divine status. In so doing, they rejected the commandments of God.
When some in the Jewish faith merged their zealous practice of Halakah with Gnostic concepts, they became a persuasive and persistent enemy of the church. Gnosticism played a significant, background role in what Paul wrote in the book of Galatians.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Six)
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 Twenty-Five)
The Pharisees are a prime example of Israelites "seeking to establish their own righteousness." In the same way the Pharisees approached God's law, first-century Jews dealt with prophecy. We can see this in their reactions to the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
A major theme of the Old Testament is the coming of the Messiah. From Genesis 3:15 through Malachi 4:2, prophecies of the coming of the Savior fill God's Word. The gospel writers show time and again how Jesus fulfilled the prophets' predictions in His actions or in the actions of those around Him. Matthew, especially, makes a conscious point to highlight many Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus' life.
Thus, the Jews had the prophecies of God's Word, as well as the life and words of Jesus—their God, Yahweh—to give unassailable proof that prophetic events were happening before their eyes. What more did they need? Did they even use the knowledge available to them? No! Paul says they avoid submitting to God's knowledge, and instead, they establish their own!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
No Private Interpretation
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