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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Pharisees (2)

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PHARISEES

I. Origin and Development

1. Outline of history.—The Pharisees present the most characteristic manifestation of Palestinian Judaism in the time of Christ, and His work cannot be understood without a knowledge of them; for ‘later Judaism is through and through Pharisaism and nothing but Pharisaism’ (Bousset, Jesu Predigt, 1892, p. 32). The Pharisees were an outgrowth of the long conflict between the Jews and surrounding heathenism, from the Babylonian Captivity onward. That captivity impressed the following things upon Judaism: intense monotheism, the Synagogue service, the OT Scriptures and Scribal interpretations of them, the Sabbath strictly observed as a sign of God’s covenant, and a Puritan hatred of heathenism, which put the stamp of separation for ever upon Pharisaic piety. The Reformers under Ezra and Nehemiah were forerunners of the Pharisees, as the priestly court party under Zerubbabel foreshadowed the Sadducees. In these international relations—Jews in Palestine and in the Dispersion—Judaism grew gradually into a Church, and as such had an inner circle of the pious in contrast with mere adherents—‘children of the world.’ This transition cannot be fully traced, but appears well marked under the Maccabees (b.c. 167–63). The Macedonian policy of Alexander made the East Greek; the Romans made the West Latin; Persia and Carthage were overthrown; then Rome absorbed the Hellenistic East; and a world-system for the first time appeared when Jesus was born under the first Emperor. The denationalizing process prepared by Greece and introduced by Rome affected even the Jews, and helped to produce the Synagogue church system. But Pharisaic Judaism reacted strongly against it at first, and under the Maccabees battled for religious independence. When, however, the Maccabaean princes fought further for civil liberty, the Pharisaic party withdrew and formed a theocratic group, democratic in a measure, which soon gained the leadership of the majority of the nation. These Hăsîdîm, or Puritans of the century before Christ, became the Pharisees of NT times. They received the name ‘Pharisees’ or separated, when they withdrew from the Saddrcee court party of the Maccabaean rulers under John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135–105). They were the men of ἀμιξία. (2 Maccabees 14:38) from everything heathen and impure. Their aim was in daily life to be as ceremonially pure as the priests were in the Temple.

2. Differences between Pharisees and Sadducees.—The chief differences were the following: (1) the Pharisees ‘delivered to the people a great many observances by tradition which are not written in the law of Moses’ (Josephus Ant. xiii. x. 6). These the Sadducees for the most part rejected. (2) The Pharisees had an elaborate doctrine of immortality, resurrection, angels, demons, heaven, hell, intermediate state, and Messianic Kingdom, about all of which the Sadducees were agnostic. (3) The Pharisees taught both predestination and free-will,—much as St. Paul did,—while the Sadducees held the Greek doctrine of absolute free-will. (4) The Pharisees had a high theory of the theocracy, which led them to oppose foreign interference from the time of the Syrian kings to the Roman emperors, and reject also the Maccabaean rule as inconsistent with the high priesthood. The Psalms of Solomon are full of sharp utterances against the Sadducee rulers (e.g. 4:1; 3:8; 9:4). It was this theocratic spirit which developed national Judaism into a Church, with a world-consciousness equal to that of Rome and a spiritual unity not inferior to that of Greece. (5) The Pharisees were also missionary, and made many converts (Ant. xx. ii.–iv.; BJ ii. xix. 2; Matthew 23:15). Hillel said: ‘Love men and lead them to the Law’ (Aboth i. 2); and the international Synagogue, inspired from Jerusalem, compassed sea and land in making proselytes. The Sadducees had no such interest. This Pharisaic propaganda, however, when it met the successful missions of the Christians, ceased making converts, condemned the translation of the LXX Septuagint , and buried itself in the Talmud. (6) The Pharisees differed from the Sadducees by the wide distance between the Synagogue, the centre of the one party, and the Temple, the stronghold of the other. The Temple was waning in influence. Jesus refers little to it, and when it disappeared the religion of the Jews went on without a break. The Pharisees even prescribed rules for the priestly Sadducees in the Temple (Ant. xiii. x. 5), and had their prayers introduced alongside the sacrifices. In fact, the Temple services were regarded as meritorious because done in obedience to the legal teachings of the Pharisees (cf. Kohler, art. ‘Pharisees’ in JE [Note: E Jewish Encyclopedia.] ). Some Pharisees seem in theory to have even abandoned the Temple worship (cf. Enoch 89:58, 73, 90:28, Ps-Sol 10:8; 17:18). (7) The Pharisees formed a fraternity with peculiar vows, which separated them from the heathen, the common people, and the Sadducees. The great majority of Jews were Pharisees in belief, but only about 6000 or 7000 were members of the brotherhood. Edersheim compares them with the Jesuits in the Roman Church (Sketches of Jew. Soc. Life, ch. xiv.). They married, however, and their fellowship included the families of members. On entering the order, they took two vows in the presence of three witnesses, one to tithe everything eaten, bought, or sold; the other not to be guest of the ‘am-hâ’âreẓ, and to observe all ceremonial purification. They were the true Israel, ‘the saints’; their opponents wore ‘the ungodly,’ ‘the profane’ (cf. Luke 18:9, Ps-Sol 14:1; 17:16). (8) The Pharisees were the religious power in Palestine in the time of Christ. They represented the authority of the Scriptures in home, school, synagogue, courts of law, and daily life. John almost identifies them with ‘the Jews’ (John 1:19; John 2:18). Though an outgrowth of the school of the Scribes, they eclipsed their teachers. They were in business, and their goods were legal tender everywhere. They were united, zealous, dogmatic, patriotic, stood for the people against rulers and hierarchs, preached the keeping of the Law and the coming world of blessedness as reward of obedience, and were everywhere active in moulding Jewish life according to their principles. In opposition to Sadducees and common men, the Pharisees developed a new conception of piety; it was something that could be learned, and they were its teachers. The wise men were the good, and took the place of both prophet and priest. Hillel said: ‘The uneducated fears no sin; but ‘he who acquires knowledge has attained eternal life’ (Aboth ii. 6, 8). All this made the Pharisees more and more proud, formal, and uncharitable. They despised the common people (John 7:49); they had reached the climax of their power in the time of Jesus; and, half-feared, half-hated, they were declining in spiritual influence.

3. Pharisaic environment of Jesus.—Pharisaic Judaism in the time of Christ included the best, as well as the worst, of the people. The Jewish saints in the NT, the parents of the Baptist and of our Lord, Simeon, Anna, and others, Hillel too, and Gamaliel and Jochanan ben Sakkai, were noble types of Pharisaic Jews. Galilee especially was the home of the more earnest Pharisaic piety, with its severe living and strong Messianic hope. Here the Zealots appeared, and the outbreaks against Rome had their seat; and here Jesus grew up and began His ministry in an atmosphere of Pharisaic devotion. He did not denounce all Pharisees, or the Pharisaic Judaism amid which He grew up; since it stood for the whole transmitted religion of Israel,—for that salvation which was of the Jews. He stood nearer the Synagogue than the Temple, and in some respects presented His teaching in the line of the Pharisees. The Rabbis taught their disciples to honour the Scriptures, to seek first after heaven and its righteousness (Ant. xvi. ii. 4, v. 4, vi. 8), to look past the present legal life to a future world of grace and glory, to make proselytes, to have baptisms and holy suppers in their brotherhood, to pray, to fast and give alms—these three were ‘the chief pillars of the Jewish religion’ (Bousset, Relig. Judenthums, p. 159). All these things Jesus favoured also, and they passed, with many others, from the Synagogue into the Church. But Jesus was not a Pharisee. He rebuked them for their anti-scriptural traditions, as He did the Sadducees for ignorance of the word of God (Mark 7:9). Neither was He a heretic; the Pharisees did not put Him out of the synagogue, though He was called a Samaritan and possessed of a devil. He preached from the common ground of the Scriptures; and, just because the Pharisees held in theory so much that was true, He castigated the more their formalism and insincerity. But, while opposing Pharisaic superstition, He did not favour the agnosticism and rationalism of the Sadducees. From the heart of Divine revelation, illuminated by the Holy Spirit and in the full consciousness of Himself as Son of God, in and through and above all the Scriptures, He proclaimed the everlasting truth of the gospel, setting aside everything in Pharisaic teaching and life that was inconsistent with it.

II. Theology of the Pharisees and the Teaching of Jesus.—Two views formerly held respecting the relation of Jesus and His teachings to the Pharisaic Judaism of His time may now be regarded as obsolete. One was that both He and the Jews drew so directly from the OT that their ideas of the Messiah and His work were essentially the same, the chief question at issue being whether or not Jesus was the looked-for Messiah (cf. Schöttgen, Hor. Heb. 1742; Bertholdt, Christ. Jud. 1811; Gfrörer, Jahr. d. Heils, 1838). The other was the theory that the gospel preached by Jesus was only a reformed Judaism (Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 1867, iii. 217; Kohler, l.c.). But ‘such a reconstruction of history belongs wholly to the past’ (Lucius, Der Essenismus, 1881, p. 8);* [Note: Cf., however, J. Weiss, Wernle, Wrede, Weinel, etc., of the Religionsgeschichtliche school, who incline again towards the position of Renan, Grätz, Geiger.] and we can set forth the relation of Jesus to Pharisaic Judaism better by way of contrast than of comparison (cf. Bousset, Jesu Predigt, p. 7; Chamberlain, Grundlagen d. 19 Jahr. 1900, i. 221). ‘Jesus’ appearance was really not a fulfilment, but a contradiction of the Jewish religion.’ If there was anything the Pharisees lacked, it was religious originality. Chamberlain says, ‘The fable that the Jews had especial qualifications for religion has been finally destroyed’ (i. 29). Jesus did stand upon the soil of OT piety, and was in vital relation to current Judaism; but His unique Divine consciousness as Son of God led Him to speak with absolute authority respecting both. Whatever might have been said to men of old time must yield to His ‘I say unto you’: and no word of prophet or scribe or Pharisee had any authority for Him (John 7:17). When He spoke, God spoke, and all must hearken and obey (7:16).

The theology of the Pharisees was crude and unscientific,—‘a terrible mass of conflicting statements and debasing superstitions’ (Edersheim, Life and Times, i. 106), everywhere limited by national conditions. It was less reasonable than certain views of the Sadducees, and lacked the mystic freedom from sacerdotalism of the Essenes. It had no appreciation of that natural theology so dear to the Greeks, or of the immanence of God as Father which Jesus saw in every flower of the field. Art, philosophy, science, history, culture were avoided as secular and profane. The Pharisees ‘killed nature by legal prescriptions’ (Wellhausen, Phar.u. Sadd. p. 19). In their confused teachings drawn from the OT by traditional exegesis, three great groups of thought may be distinguished; they refer to God, His revelation in the Law, and the hope of a promised Messiah. The thirteen articles of the Jewish Confession of faith still show the same division (cf. Landau, Die alten Gebete d. H. 1843, p. 120) as appeared in Rabbinical preaching in the time of Christ. Honour God, keep His Law as far as possible, and through all failures hope for the mercy of God in the Messianic age—that is the prevalent course of thought in Pharisaic Judaism. NT writers follow it also. St. Paul teaches a just God, His holy Law, and peace through faith in the Messiah. St. Peter, when the Law convicted men of murder, preached to them repentance toward God and faith in the slain Messiah, Jesus (Acts 2:37-38; Acts 3:19 f.). St. John sums up the contrast between Jew and Christian in the Law of God given by Moses, and grace and truth coming in the Messiah (Acts 1:17). And when the Jews attacked early Christianity, their opposition lay along these lines (Acts 6:11). Stephen was stoned for blaspheming God, Moses, and the customs of the Pharisees, and doing so in the name of Jesus Christ. In like manner Jesus was accused of blasphemy against God, violating His Law, and claiming to fulfil the Messianic hope.

1. Doctrine of God.

(1) Pharisaic view of Divine transcendence.—The Pharisees had an abstract, transcendental view of God, which gave rise to the legalism that marks their teachings, and added colour to their Messianic hope (cf. Baldensperger, Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, p. 45). Opposition to heathenism, coupled with Rabbinical study of the OT, produced this conception. God was Creator in the beginning, and will be final Judge at the end; but meantime He is a far-off ruler of the Universe. His name, the mysterious τετραγράμματον, was no longer spoken; and all anthropomorphic and humanlike features in God were set aside. The God who tabernacled in Israel was succeeded by ‘the God of heaven’ (1 Maccabees 3:60, Enoch 13:4; 106:11, 2 Esdras 8:20, Ps-Sol 2:34, To 7:17). ‘God’ and ‘heaven’ became interchangeable terms; and in place of words about the personal care of Jehovah, we meet cosmological and meteorological discussions of the stars and rain and snow, with suggestions of sun-worship (Enoch 72:35, Ps-Sol 2:13–14; 4:21). It was a deistic view of God that became prominent. Two important views grew out of this theology: one was the doctrine of middle beings between God and man—good and evil spirits, angels, especially the Memra or mediating Word of God, and the Holy Spirit; the other was a personal conception of God, which appeared in belief in individual immortality and personal resurrection as involved in responsibility to God and hope of entrance into the Messianic Kingdom. A further outgrowth of this theology was the teaching that keeping carefully the Law of God would hasten the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. Thus Divine transcendence, mediation, individual piety, legalism, and the Messianic hope were closely related elements in the Pharisaic teachings.

(2) Jesus’ doctrine of God as Father.—The theology of Jesus set out from the Fatherhood of God. It had been foreshadowed in the OT (Deuteronomy 32:6, Psalms 68:5) and later Jewish literature (Wisdom of Solomon 2:16), but was first taught in its unique importance and fulness by Jesus. It was peculiar to Him because He was related as none other to the Father. None but God could know Him, as He alone knew the Father (Matthew 11:27). To Him alone could God appear as Father without wrath against sin in Him. This doctrine of God as Father is what was fundamentally new in the message of Jesus (cf. Bousset, Jesu Predigt, p. 4; Hausrath, NT Times, ii. 146). Through it God appeared everywhere in His love, caring for flowers and sparrows, just and unjust; beholding sin and Satan in the world, but still declaring it the happy home of God’s children. He here ‘broke through, at the most decisive point, the transcendental ascetic spirit of Judaism’ (Bousset, Relig. Jnd. p. 65; Baldensperger, 225; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, i. ch. 2). This new doctrine of God led to a new doctrine of man’s relation to Him. If God is Father, then men who come to Him enter into all the liberty of children, but at the same time are lovingly bound to be holy and perfect like God. The confused view of the Pharisees, that the Jew was partly in national relations to God and partly member of a holy congregation, disappears. His blurred hope of partly keeping the Law, partly being resigned to Divine chastisement, and partly redeemed in a world to come—all resting on merit—is supplanted by a joyful gospel of present peace. Instead of the other-worldliness of Pharisaic piety,—an attempt to imitate the transcendent God,—Jesus taught a present joy in a present Father for all men, ‘amhâ’ârez as well as scribe and Pharisee. Here love to God and love to man first met in reality. As the Father in heaven forgives, so men are to forgive; the latter is the proof of the former. Religion and ethics were in perfect harmony. Jesus did teach a certain separation from the world, a selling all to follow Him, a bearing the cross; but it was not separation on ceremonial or external grounds; it was a question of values, a putting the Kingdom of God first that all other things might be added thereto. So sunny and natural was His relation to the world and common life, that He was at once denounced as a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. Next to the fundamental doctrine that God is our Father, came this second dominating teaching of man’s social relation to the world about him. Here is the great point of departure from Judaism and the Ghetto, already erected by the Pharisees in Jerusalem, towards Christianity and the gospel of humanity.

2. The Law

(1) Written and oral.—This was central for Judaism in the days of Jesus. It was regarded in both written and oral form as coming from God through Moses (Aboth i. 1). It took the place of the God of heaven. Every word was inspired, and he who ‘gains the Law gains the life of the world to come’ (Hillel). Obedience to God’s Law under the awful Categorical Imperative of Sinai, as applied by scribes and Pharisees, was the dominant principle, the yoke upon the neck of the Jews, when Christ appeared (Acts 15:10, Galatians 5:1). The Oral Law of tradition arose because prophecy ceased; cases arose not provided for in the OT, and Rabbinical exegesis of the Scriptures sought the cover of ancient names.

(2) Law as civil code.—Here especially the OT exegesis and tradition were necessary in using the Bible as the source of civil law, when Israel changed from a small pastoral people to become a world-wide commercial race. The chequered history of centuries under heathen rule broke up many customs, as those of tithes, offerings, Sabbath, Temple service, contact with Gentiles, etc. Hence from Hillel onwards the Pharisees elaborated a civil code by means of tradition and exegesis from the Scriptures. The great loss to religion in such a process was in making it largely negative. The Rabbis counted 248 classes of things to be done, and 365 of things forbidden.

(3) Ceremonial law.—This the Pharisees made to touch every detail of human life. They regarded nature and spirit as so related that impurity could pass from one to the other. A bad man’s body was impure, and to touch it would bring uncleanness to another man’s soul. Adam’s sin extended evil to unclean beasts, and foods, and the dishes holding them. There was no end to this defilement and the consequent necessary purification by various kinds of water or by breaking ceremonially the unclean vessels. Twelve treatises of the Mishna deal with this subject. It is said: ‘He who lightly esteems hand-washing will perish from the earth’ (Sota, 4). Jesus felt the utter superficiality of all this washing of the body while the inner life was unclean. Delitzsch says (Jesus und Hillel, 1879, p. 23) there is no historical point of departure in the time and land of Jesus for His method of contrasting the moral with the ceremonial. He here ‘turned His back upon the highway of Rabbinical traditions, and opened a path which until then had never occurred to any human heart.’

(4) Rule of faith and practice.—The Pharisees bound spiritual and moral living also under law. But law cannot produce affection, or win the heart, or find place for the Holy Spirit, or be a vessel of grace. The idea of religion as a supreme impulse from the depths of man’s nature, as Jesus taught it, independent of both superstition and ethics, was peculiarly foreign to the Pharisaic Jew (cf. Chamberlain, ii. 29). He said: ‘To do right and wrong is in the work of our hands, and in Thy righteousness Thou chastisest the children of men. He who works righteousness obtains life from the Lord’ (Ps-Sol 9:7–9). Do the best you can, and submit to God’s punishment for your defects, was the substance of such legalism. One sad result of this national legal religion was that it had one standard for the Jew and another for the Gentile. Adultery with a Gentile was trivial compared with such offence against a Jew. Pharisaic ethics taught to hate Gentiles as enemies; their morality had no unifying principle of application to man as man—while Jesus taught love even to enemies and Gentiles.

(5) Jesus and the Law.—Even the best legal maxims of the Pharisees fall far short of the teachings of Jesus. Hillel’s golden rule was negative, while that of Jesus was positive, showing all the difference between justice and love. The greater principle of love to God and one’s neighbour, which the scribe (Mark 12:32), and Jesus, and St. Paul, and Akiba all regard as fundamental (Galatians 5:14; Bacher, Die Agada d. Tannaiten, 1884, i. 7, 285), became a new thing in the application of Jesus. He made love to man a test of love to God; He united organically the two OT texts, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:13; He put love to man on the same level with love to God; He widened the conception of neighbour from haber to ‘am-hâʾâreẓ, from ‘am-hâʾâreẓ to Samaritan (Luke 10:36), and to all men—thus moving in direct opposition to that separation which underlay all Pharisaic holiness. Jesus dropped the whole Law as a way of salvation,—a way the Pharisees themselves could not keep (Romans 7:8), as appeared in their numerous evasions of it, such as ‘blending of courts,’ and their ostentatious putting of appearance in place of reality. He threw aside the endless civil, ceremonial, and ethical rules of the Pharisees, and went back to the spiritual religion of the OT as fulfilled in Him and transformed in the gospel. The Law was, at its best, but a παιδαγωγός to the gospel. Salvation by way of the Pharisees was impossible, hence Jesus declared they were either blind or hypocrites in claiming to please God in that way. The best Jews admitted this (Ps-Sol 9:9–15; 13:9, 14:1–6). Jesus led men to God as Father through a new birth by the Holy Ghost, into a family of loving children, by way of repentance, faith, and union with Himself (Mark 1:14-15, John 3:5 f.). This gospel of the loving father and the prodigal son, of the penitent publican and the proud Pharisee, was as a honeymoon compared with the funereal legalism of the Pharisees (Mark 2:19). Gamaliel said: ‘Get thyself a teacher that thou mayest be free from doubt’ (Aboth i. 16); but Jesus showed Nicodemus that all Pharisaic learning could not give the new life of the Spirit of God and the Son of God. He brought a new cup of blessing full of the wine of the Kingdom, a sweet blending of religion and ethics as inseparable in thought as the inside and outside of the holy cup itself. Here was ‘the appearance of a new kind of humanity,’ springing from contact with Jesus, ‘for through Him for the first time humanity received a moral culture’ (Chamberlain, i. 204, 207). It was because the gospel was utterly incompatible with Pharisaic Judaism that Jesus gathered disciples, taught them, gave them His Spirit (John 20:22), and sent them out to evangelize the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

3. Religious hopes of the Pharisees.

(1) Their views of the Messiah and His Kingdom.—The void between God and man was partly filled from Daniel onwards by Apocalypses of the Messianic Kingdom. This hope roused the godly in Israel to greater obedience, that the coming of the Son of David might be hastened. Law and Messiah were two centres of Jewish thought when Christ appeared. The burden of the one led to greater expectation of the appearance of the other. In this expectation, the nature of the Messiah also took a more universal, and at the same time more personal character, corresponding somewhat to the growing sense of personal responsibility in religion among the Jews. The Messiah, as Son of Man, appeared sharing the majesty, glory, and heavenly nature of Jehovah (Enoch 47:3 and often). ‘The identification of Divine hypostases with the Messiah had already taken place in pre-Christian Judaism.’ It was not related at all to Philo and his λόγος doctrine (cf. Baldensperger, p. 88). But there was also the human Messiah, the Son of David; and two confused accounts arose among the Pharisaic theologians respecting these two views of the Messiah and His Kingdom (cf. Stanton, The Jewish and Christian Messiah, 1886, p. 135 f.). The one was more earthly, national, material; the other more spiritual and universal. The material was usually regarded as leading up to the spiritual, and the millennium appeared as a transition from one to the other. A full account of the ordinary expectation is given in Ps-Sol 17:23–50. The Pharisees had no idea that the Messiah would be a Saviour of all men. Even the Baptist thought He would come only to separate by judgment the evil and the good in Israel, and establish the latter in the Kingdom of God. That He would bring a new revelation, and by temptation and suffering attain victory, as Jesus did, was utterly foreign to them. Especially foreign was the conception of a suffering and dying Messiah, as Dalman has shown (Der leid. u. sterb. Mess. 1888, pp. iii, 22 f.). Even the Apostles did not know it (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:12-31; Mark 10:33). The usual explanation of two Messiahs did not arise till two centuries after Christ (Dalman, l.c.).

(2) Messianic teachings of Jesus.—The teachings of Jesus differed from those of the Pharisees on salvation, first, by showing it was not by law; and, second, by presenting the Messiah as a sin-bearer. By repentance and faith in Him men would be saved. From the time of His baptism He looked toward the cross; for He was to give men rest by becoming a ransom for their sin (Matthew 11:28; Matthew 20:28). He did not infer He must die from the fate of the prophets—a prophet need not be crucified,—or borrow the idea from the scribes—they never had it, and they thought that to kill Him would end His Messianic claims,—nor did His disciples invent it; they fought against it, and nearly forsook Him when He taught it. Out of His Messianic consciousness Jesus went forth to die as the great Shepherd for His sheep (Mark 8:31-38; Mark Mar_9:9 f., Mark 10:32). Messiah and sufferer were inseparable thoughts; and as soon as He was confessed as Messiah and Son of God, He declared He must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again (Mark 8:29 f., Matthew 16:16). His preaching of the Kingdom, also, was very different from that of the Pharisees. He proclaimed it as present, not in the future; a certainty, a reality, not a hope; both within men, and yet to be fully realized in the future. Much that the Jews expected He grouped under a new doctrine, that of the second advent of the Messiah. He appropriated to Himself the lofty Messianic conception of the Pharisees; He was ‘Son of God’ (Enoch 105:2 f., John 19:7); ‘Son of Man’ (Daniel 7:13 f., Matthew 17:12); ‘son of woman’ (Enoch 62); and Κύριος (Ps-Sol 17:23). He adopted their view that He was pre-existent with God (cf. Baldensperger, p. 87); and on the ground of such consciousness forgave sins, wrought miracles, and answered prayers. It is little wonder that such words on the lips of Jesus amazed the Pharisees; in fact, nearly all He said contradicted their teachings. He had no dread of God, His law, sin, or death; and invited all men to share His rest and peace. He set aside the Law, and turned Jewish eschatology into soteriology. He and the Kingdom were one; to have Him was to share everlasting life. Jewish teachers, leading away from Him, He called thieves and robbers, and the Pharisaic conception of the Messianic Kingdom was earthly and devilish (Matthew 4:8, Luke 4:5 f.). The new heavens bent already above Him; the new earth was beneath His feet; and here He gathered citizens of the Kingdom, men of the Beatitudes. In all this lies the greatest possible contrast to Pharisaic teachings; and the gospel of Jesus can by no possibility be understood in the framework of later Judaism (cf. Bousset, Jesu Predigt, p. 65).

III. Opposition of the Pharisees to Christ, and His criticism of them

1. Pharisaic opposition to Jesus.—The Pharisees quickly saw the dangerous tendency of Jesus’ teachings, and took steps to crush His work. Messianic ideas were abroad, zealots were appearing, and a false Messiah could work ruin. Jesus arose as a prophetic man in Galilee, independent of them. From boyhood He had learned nothing from the scribes (Mark 1:22; Mark 6:2, John 7:15), and everybody felt the authority of His words. They questioned the Baptist (John 1:19; John 1:26), who added to their anxiety by declaring the Messiah was at hand with a baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. As soon, therefore, as Jesus began to preach, a delegation of the Pharisees and scribes went to Galilee to oppose Him (Mark 2:6; Mark 7:1). They roused the Nazarenes to cast Him out (Luke 4:16 f.); they called forth a reaction against Him in Bethsaida and Capernaum (Matthew 11:21); induced His own family to think Him insane (Mark 3:21; Mark 3:31) and in danger; and formed an alliance with the Pharisees of Galilee to oppose Him. His first public appearances, cleansing the Temple and preaching in Nazareth, called for decisive action. He attacked moneychangers for disturbing the worship of Gentiles in the outer court, and pointed out that the prophets helped a Gentile widow and healed Naaman the Syrian, while the people of Israel were passed by. He talked with a woman of Samaria, and healed the child of a Roman. He helped all in need,—publicans, sinners, harlots, lepers, demoniacs,—and told the multitudes that a sincere heathen was better than a formal Pharisee. No wonder the Pharisees opposed Him. They attacked especially (1) His violation of the Law, and (2) His relation to God.

(1) He was assailed because He paid no attention to the separation principle of the Pharisees, and came in contact with the ‘am-hâ’âreẓ, Gentiles, and the diseased in a way that horrified them (Matthew 9:25, Mark 3:10). It is very likely these ‘lost sheep,’ this ripe harvest field, these ‘poor’ that Jesus refers to as ‘babes and sucklings’ (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 21:16), perhaps also as ‘little ones’ (Matthew 10:42; Matthew 18:6). The Pharisees were ‘the wise and prudent.’ Jesus also violated the Sabbath law, this second bulwark of the Pharisees, and did so with such miraculous power as led the people to hail Him as Son of David, and the Evangelist to recall the prophecy that He would save both Jews and Gentiles. He spoke disparagingly also of tithing rules (Luke 11:42). A crisis had come, for the people felt Jesus could not be a sinner and do such mighty works. This led to the inquiry by what power He did these things.

(2) Relation of Jesus to Jehovah.—Jesus taught that He wrought Sabbath miracles and all miracles by the Holy Spirit and as Son of God (John 19:7). The Pharisees replied that He did wonders by Beelzebub. It was the devil incarnate that went about doing good in Jesus. His forerunner, the Baptist, was also possessed by Satan (Matthew 11:18). No wonder Jesus ‘looked round upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts’ (Mark 3:5). It was worse; Jesus called it blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Mark 3:28 ff.). They expected the Holy Spirit to come with the Messiah; but when both came, neither was accepted (Acts 7:51-52). It was an age ‘in the highest degree religiously excited, but it did not possess the Spirit’ (Gunkel, Die Wirkungen d. H. G. 1888, p. 57). Jesus claimed authority over all human affairs—to regulate the Sabbath, forgive sins, and adjudge future rewards and punishments. The claim to pardon sins especially provoked Pharisee attacks (Mark 2:7), for it made Jesus equal with God (John 5:18). He had called them blasphemers of the Spirit; they now called Him a blasphemer of God. The contrast was complete. Jesus’ teachings and miracles prevented the Pharisees from attacking Him openly; so they tried now to catch Him by questions on purification, worship, the commandments, and tribute to Caesar. He told them they were so wicked they could not see a sign from heaven, silenced them, and declared them hypocrites. Then came His last visit to Jerusalem, and the secret plotting of the Pharisees against Him. He appeared now openly as the Messiah (Mark 11:10). When Caiaphas asked Him, ‘Art thou the Christ, Son of the Blessed?’ He answered, ‘I am’ (Mark 14:61-62). The Pharisees asked Him to rebuke the crowd for calling Him Son of David; they sent spies to profess to be disciples and betray Him to the Romans (Luke 20:20); they cast the blind man healed out of the synagogue; and led Jesus to ask, ‘Why go ye about to kill me?’ (John 7:19). They said He had a devil, mocked Him, and took up stones to kill Him as a blasphemer in the Temple (John 8:22; John 8:59). The Pharisees supported the Sadducee leaders in the last assault upon Jesus. ‘Chief priests and Pharisees’ (Matthew 27:62, John 18:3) plotted to kill Him (Mark 14:2; Mark 14:43), sent men to seize Him and went with them, judged Him in the high priest’s palace, sought false witnesses against Him, heard Him say He was the Son of God and declared it blasphemy, spat in His face, smote Him, put Him on a mimic throne and said, ‘In this way let us honour the Son of God’ (so Justin M., 1 Apol. 35, and Evang. Petri), mocked His prophecies, and led the multitude to cry ‘Crucify Him.’ They charged Him with being a false prophet, deceiver of the people, a false Messiah claiming to be the Son of God (Luke 22:67, John 19:7), the enemy of Caesar, forbidding to pay tribute to him, and claiming to be King of the Jews, able to save others but unable to save Himself, and a destroyer of the holy nation. ‘Chief priests and Pharisees’ made His sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch over ‘that deceiver’ (Matthew 27:63-66).

2. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees.—Jesus’ criticism followed the line of Pharisaic attack, and showed

(1) the legalistic perversion of religion in Judaism. He showed (a) that they were utterly wrong in limiting the grace of God to the Jew under the yoke of the Law. The man who was offended at Him for helping the poor and outcast was not among the blessed. The righteousness of the Pharisees centring in themselves would never admit to heaven. The Roman centurion had more faith than the best Pharisees (Matthew 8:10), and Gentiles would enter heaven while they went into outer darkness (Matthew 8:11-12). (b) Jesus told them their ceremonial usages were worse than useless, for they led to transgression of God’s commandments (Matthew 15:3). They not only killed obedience by legalism, but made it impossible by putting small and great commandments on the same level. He told them they were doomed unless they abandoned their theology and mode of life, (c) He especially upbraided them respecting the Sabbath. In healing on that day He imitated David, the priests, the prophets, the Giver of the Sabbath and the Lord of the Sabbath, all of whom they ignorantly opposed when they taught that a man could not do good on that day. Their Sabbath theory sprang from hardness of heart, which had no mercy for the withered hand, the hungry disciples, the sick folk, the demoniac. They were blind, and with their followers perishing for lack of the knowledge He offered them. He then exhausted language in describing their wickedness. He anticipated St. Paul’s description of heathenism and applied it to the Pharisees (Matthew 23, etc., Romans 1:28-32; Romans 2:1 f.).

(2) Jesus upbraided them further for rejection of God and His Christ. He told Nicodemus he must be born again of the Spirit and Son of God. The Pharisees who opposed Him followed the old Serpent who deceived Adam, and did his deeds. They were liars and murderers, and could not believe Jesus, who was of the truth (John 8:44-45). They could not see the holy proofs that He came from God, because they were wicked and adulterers. The darkness could not comprehend the light. They were bewitched, under demoniacal influence, and their persecution of Jesus was a matter of course. Having no word of God, or love or life of God in them, they could not follow Jesus (John 5:38 f.). Their rejection of Him was proof that they had already forsaken God. Jesus had shown He did not break the Sabbath law. He then went on to tell the Pharisees they had no authority to criticise Him, for His works were the works of God (John 5:17). But they did not know the works of God when they saw them; they did not even understand Moses (John 5:46), or David, or the prophets, for they were utterly out of touch with Divine revelation; and the Law they thought they were defending would condemn them at the last day (John 6:45 f.). They stumbled especially at Jesus’ forgiving sin as Son of God, and His calling men to Him as the way to God; but He told them that, unless they accepted Him as Saviour, they would die in their sins (John 8:24). He mixed appeals and warnings in His last dealings with them; but all in vain. Many of the common people accepted Him, but none of the Pharisees (John 7:48). His last words to them were a series of ‘Woes,’ which He closed with the terrible sentence, ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?’ (Matthew 23:33).

Literature.—Besides the works quoted in the text, of which Wellhausen’s, Bousset’s, and Baldensperger’s are especially important, cf. Montet, Essai sur les origines d. partis Sad. et Phar. 1883; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] § 26, and Predigt Jesu in ihrem Verh. z. AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] u. z. Jud.; Weber, System d. altsyn. Paläst. Theologie, 1880; Sack, Die altjüd. Religion, 1889; Sieffert, ‘Pharis, und. Sadd.’ in Herzog, PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] xv. 264 ff.; Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, 1898 (Words of Jesus, 1902); Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, 1903, i. chs. ii.–vii., ii. chs. iv.–vi.; Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums, i. pp. 197–226; Ehrhardt, Der Grundcharakter der Ethik Jesu im Verhült. z. d. mess. Hoffnungen s. Volkes, 1895; Haupt, Die eschatol. Aussagen Jesu, 1895; J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes, 1892; Toy, Judaism and Christianity,’ 1891, pp. 220–290, 331–362; Pro Christo et Ecclesia (1901), 16, 33; and art. ‘Pharisees’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible . See also H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ (1892), 221; J. B. Mozley, Univ. Serm.2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (1876), 25; F. W. Robertson, Serm., 1st ser. (1875), 115; and the controversy on the Gospel representation of the Pharisees by I. Abrahams in JQR [Note: QR Jewish Quarterly Review.] xi. (1899), 626, and C. G. Montefiore in Hibbert Journ. i. (1902), 335, and reply by A. Menzies, do. 789.

Hugh M. Scott.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Pharisees (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/pharisees-2.html. 1906-1918.

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