Being Like A Pharisee

By Greg Gwin

It happened again just the other day. Someone called me a “Pharisee.” This religious name calling is the equivalent of being branded a Communist in politics, or a bigot in social matters. It is meant to draw instant negative response. The very notion of the Pharisees, based upon what we learn of them in the Scriptures, calls to mind things that we all despise. My immediate reaction is to deny the charge! Surely, I don’t want to be like the Pharisees.

Do you know why I was so accused? It was during a time of private Bible study with a “liberal” brother. I was stressing the importance of Bible authority. I was condemning any practice that could not be justified by a “thus saith the Lord.” I was demanding book, chapter, and verse for all that we do in service to God. And then he let me have it. Without any answer to my challenges, he hit me with that despicable title, “Pharisee.” I’m sure he expected me to surrender my position. After all, no one wants to be like the Pharisees.

But wait! What was wrong with the Pharisees anyway? They certainly received Jesus’ strongest condemnations, but why? Why would Jesus, in one brief address, call them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools,” “whited sepulchers,” and “serpents” (Matt. 23:1-33)? Why did they deserve all of this?

The same text (Matt. 23) gives us the answer. They would not do what they taught others to do (vv. 3,4). They did their religious works “to be seen of men” (vv. 5-7). They embezzled widow’s money (v. 14). They blatantly violated their oaths (vv. 16-22). They were merciless (v. 23). They gave the appearance of being devout, but their hearts were “full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (vv. 25-28).

Obviously, there was a lot wrong with the Pharisees. But, unless I am mistaken, the man who accused me of being like them had none of these things in mind. His complaint was that I, like the Pharisees, demanded strict, exact, and careful adherence to the things taught in God’s word. Is this wrong? Am I wrong? Were the Pharisees wrong in this regard.

We have noted that the Pharisees truly had their problems. And, additionally, we realize that they had erred in binding some of their own traditions, making them even more important than God’s commands (Matt. 15:1-9). But what about their insistence on a careful observance of the law was that wrong? Did Jesus rebuke them for stressing (at least in their teaching, if not in their practice) that the commands of God must be meticulously obeyed? No! In fact, Jesus said of them, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do” (Matt. 23:2,3). And concerning their punctilious practice of tithing even their garden herbs, Jesus said, “These ought ye to have done” (Matt. 23:23).

So then, are we wrong when we demand Bible authority for all we do? Have we “missed the boat” in calling for “book, chapter, and verse”? The answer is “no!” And that’s one place where the Pharisees weren’t wrong either!

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 9, p. 269
May 4, 1989