Beware of the Leaven

By Connie W. Adams

When Jesus warned the apostles to “take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” they reasoned that he said this “because we have taken no bread” (Matt. 16:6-7). He quickly reminded them of the miracles of feeding the five thousand and then the four thousand and how much was taken up in each case. He said their problem was one of “little faith” (v. 8). They could not get past the physical to the spiritual. “How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (vv. 11, 12).

The sect of the Pharisees began in an effort to preserve pure Judaism and to protect it from the compromising influences of Hellenism. These Hasidim could foresee everything that was typically Jewish being swallowed up by the influences of the Greeks. Over time they built a scaffold around the law to be sure it was protected. But in time they could not distinguish between their scaffold and the law itself. Their inventions became the “doctrines and commandments of men” which Jesus condemned. They had considerable influence. The synagogue activities were under their control. Since these doubled as schools, their influence on rising generations was great. That was their leaven — their influence.

The Sadducees were more liberal in their approach. They sought means of compromising with the Greeks during the inter-testament period. Consequently, those who ruled Palestine from the time of Alexander the Great through the Syrian and Egyptian periods (the Seleucids and Ptolemies) looked to the Sadducees as a local link in ruling the people. The function of the high priest fell under the control of the Sadducees. He became a sort of liaison between the ruling power and the Jewish subjects. Doctrinally they were weak. They denied the existence of angels and spirits and rejected any expectation of a resurrection from the dead. They were the modernists of the day. Their “leaven” was deadly.

The Pharisees bound where God did not bind and the Sadducees loosed where God did not loose. Both errors are to be avoided. There was no ground for compromise with either doctrine. It would not have done for the disciples to have written papers opposing the doctrine of either the Pharisees or the Sadducees and then go arm in arm with them while they sowed their seeds of error.

The Leaven of False Teaching

We have a remarkable thing in the land (and in other lands). There are those who preach and write that they do not agree with those who are teaching that it is scriptural for people to divorce and remarry without the exception which Jesus stated in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. Some are saying that the alien is not subject to the law of Christ and that baptism sanctifies the marriages of those divorced and remarried when fornication was not the cause for the divorce. Then there are those who say Jesus was simply explaining the Mosaic law and setting the record straight. Some say adultery is not sexual at all but is the breaking of the covenant of marriage. These and other erroneous views have caused trouble in congregations, and have generated false hope for those living in open violation of the will of God. Now, if you disagree with all this hodgepodge of error, why do you link arms and work with those who are teaching such things? Why are you so defensive about them? Why are those who not only oppose the doctrine but will not extend the right hand of fellowship to those who teach it the greatest enemies of all? Beware of the leaven — the doctrine.

In the Philippines there are some teaching the doctrine of the one eternal covenant that no law was nailed to the cross, only sin was so nailed. There are some there (both Americans and Filipinos) who say they reject the doctrine but they go arm in arm with those who are teaching it and have declared war on those of us who openly oppose the teaching and who admonish brethren not to “bid Godspeed” to those who bring such error.

When men who speculate that there are eons of time in the days of creation in Genesis 1, or eons between the days of creation, are called on to teach young people or to lecture before invited brethren, it is time for someone to warn of the leaven of theistic evolution or its close cousin. The forum given to men who hold and teach such views offers credibility to them and places any of us who raise questions about it under a cloud of suspicion. Some have turned around what the Lord said. They must think he said, “Beware of those who oppose the leaven.” No, he said “Beware of the leaven” and he defined that as “the doctrine” of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Leaven permeates whatever it touches. When it is applied to false doctrine the warning is clear. We must not be contaminated by erroneous teaching from either end of the spectrum.

Error is not as good as truth. It never has been. It works like an infectious disease to destroy all in its wake. When it is brought by men of charm, education, sophistication, skill and experience, the danger of the leaven is all the more serious.

I wish those who have found room in Romans 14 for fellowship with all sorts of false teaching (and teachers) would come to terms with the issue of the “leaven” of these views. Beware the leaven!