By Partick Donahue
The charge of “Phariseeism” has been made by many in the religious world in recent times. I believe that many, if not all, of those making the charge misunderstand what Phariseeism really was. According to their view of Phariseeism, as seen in their explanations for their charges, the “arch-enemy” of the Pharisees in biblical times, Jesus Christ himself, would be charged a Pharisee!
What Really Was Phariseeism?
Before we proceed further to prove our proposition that “Jesus would be called a Pharisee today,” let’s look closely at the Scriptures to see why the Pharisees were actually condemned. According to my Bible, the Pharisees were guilty of:
1. Thinking that they needed no help (Matt. 9:10-13; Lk. 7:36-47; Jn. 9:39-41; Lk. 18:10-14)
2. Neglecting the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23)
3. Being hypocritical (Matt. 23:3,5; Lk. 11:47-48)
4. Trying to trick Jesus (Matt. 22:15-22; 22:23-33)
5. Transgressing the commandment of God with their tradition (Matt. 15:1-9). The Pharisees were certainly sinners, but not in the way that most religionists view them today.
Denominationalists Charge Christians With Phariseeism
No doubt many Christians have been accused of being Pharisees by denominationalists. Notice that Jesus would have been accused of many of the most common of these charges, which are listed below.
Jesus Taught That Salvation Is Connected With Obedience
Have you ever been looked down upon because you didn’t go along with the theory that “our works have nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation”? Take comfort in the fact that you are in the company of Jesus on this point. Notice that in Matthew 7:21 Jesus taught, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Hebrews 5:9 reads, “And being made perfect, he (Jesus) became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
Jesus “Argued the Bible”
Matthew 22:15-46 could well be termed one long Bible argument between Jesus and the Pharisees. Thankfully, Jesus “won the argument” (v. 46). Jesus even argued the Bible with the devil himself in Matthew 3:11.
Jesus Didn’t Affirm That “You Believe Like You Believe, and I’ll Believe Like I Believe”
Many denominational people say this when made to feel uncomfortable by the Scriptures. I wonder if Paul was ascribing to this obvious cop out, when he said in 2 Timothy 2:17-18, “And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” Jesus obviously expected everyone to believe his one certain way, because he said in John 8:24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” Paul thought that it mattered what someone believes or teaches; he taught in Galatians 1:6-9 that teaching any gospel different from what he taught would bring about a curse.
Jesus Thought That “There Is Only One Way”
Denominationalists teach that there are many ways to heaven; that it is possible for non-believers to be saved if they haven’t heard the gospel; also, that it doesn’t matter what a Christian believes. Some call anybody who believes otherwise a bigoted, dogmatic Pharisee. Again, Jesus becomes the accused. He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Ephesians 4:4 says that there is but “one faith,” many false teachers’ “good words and fair speeches” (Rom. 16:18) notwithstanding.
Jesus Taught That “His Little Group Was the Only One Going to Heaven”
Christians are sometimes ridiculed for believing that there is only one true body, or church. Evidently, Jesus thought the same, as he only mentioned one when he said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church” (singular). In addition, Ephesians 4:4 states unequivocally that there is just “one body.”
Jesus Was Concerned About the Outside As Well As the Inside
An acquaintance of mine once told an off-color joke in my presence. When I questioned him about it, he assured me that God was concerned about the inside, not the outside; that God knew that he had a good heart. My first thought was that it was too bad Jesus didn’t know that principle. Instead, Jesus said in Matthew 15:18, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”
Jesus Thought That “Doctrine Was Important”
It seems that, nowadays, anybody who thinks that it is important to be right about doctrine is labeled a Pharisee. Jesus will have to accept the same label because he said in Matthew 15:9, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Romans 6:17 reads, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” 2 John 9 teaches that if one does not abide in the doctrine of Christ,” he “hath not God.”
As can be easily seen, according to the denominationalist’s view of Phariseeism, Jesus Christ himself could be called a Pharisee. Therefore, we shouldn’t get discouraged if some call us a Pharisee for simply following in the steps of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21). We must not let false accusations keep us from continuing to follow Jesus’ example, even if it does mean being called a Pharisee. In our next article, we will consider some charges of Phariseeism that Christians make against other Christians, that again, could be levied verbatim against Jesus.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 21, pp. 646-647
November 5, 1992