Jesus Would Be Called A Pharisee Today (2)

By Patrick Donahue

Even Christians Make Charges of Phariseeism That Would Condemn Jesus

In our last article, we pointed out that denominationalists over the years have accused Christians of being Pharisees. The same charges and many additional ones are now being made by those who are supposed to be members of God’s church. I believe that many, if not all, of those making these charges 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! Notice that Jesus would have been accused of many of the most common of the charges now being made by Christians, which are listed below.

Jesus was a “legalist.” A simple definition for “legalism” would be, “strict adherence to law.” According to this definition, Jesus was a legalist, because he believed in strictly following God’s law. About a still binding (at that time) old law, he said in Matthew 5:19, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Remember Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-2? They worshiped God by burning incense, but were destroyed by God, because they didn’t do it exactly as God prescribed. It has been my experience that anytime the charge of legalism is made, the accuser is not willing to follow God’s law as completely and as accurately as the accused. Contrary to popular opinion, we should be legalists. We should learn from Jesus, and Nadab and Abihu that we must follow God’s law completely and in every detail. So the next time you are called a legalist, consider it a compliment.

Jesus was “picky.” Some Christians have been accusing their brethren of being too picky with some passages in the Bible. I wonder what they think of Jesus’ “pickiness” when he made an argument based upon just the tense of a verb in Matthew 22:32? Was Paul too “picky” when, in Galatians 3:16, he based a point on an Old Testament word not being plural? What about James? Would they think he was too picky when he said in James 2: 10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all”?

Jesus “debated the Bible.” It hasn’t always been this way, but many Christians have decided that debating the Bible is wrong. “The Pharisees spent all their time wrangling over minor doctrinal points they might say.” Don’t we realize that it is not what we think, but what Jesus thought and did that matters? What would you call what Jesus did as recorded in Mark 13:13-37, if it was not debating the Scriptures? Acts 15 even records a debate with Christians on opposite sides of the question in dispute.

Jesus would be accused of having a “judgmental attitude.” It seems that some Christians have confused preaching the truth against sin with having a “judgmental attitude.” The truth is that quoting Mark 16:16 to one who has not been baptized is not having a judgmental attitude, and quoting Matthew 19:9 and Revelations 21:8 to someone in an unscriptural marriage is not having a judgmental attitude either.

Jesus was an “extremist.” Yes, Jesus was an extremist. His teaching was so extreme in John 6:53-58 that “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (v. 66), because they thought it was such an “hard saying” (v. 60). Jesus taught that we should be “extremely” forgiving of someone who sins against us and then repents (Lk. 17:3), when he told us in Matthew 18:22 that we should be willing to forgive “until seventy times seven.”

Jesus believed in “law keeping.” Don’t let it be heard that you believe that we live under law to God today or somebody will accuse you of thinking that there is no difference between the New Testament and the law of Moses, or accuse you of being a New Testament Pharisee. We must not let that kind of persecution keep us from preaching Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” It is amazing to me how someone who understands that Christians are to avoid sin, cannot understand from 1 John 3:4 (“sin is the transgression of the law”) that Christians are to keep (not transgress) the law.

Jesus would be accused of having “too narrow a fellowship.” It seems that anybody who still believes in withdrawing from brethren that walk “disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6) is said to have too narrow a fellowship. Some reason that as long as a church is on the “non-institutional churches of Christ” list, it must be okay. It seems that everyone but the so called “Pharisees” among us are ignoring passages like Romans 16:17, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them,” and 2 John 10- 11, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (of Christ, v. 9), receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

Jesus didn’t know that “it is better to love than to rebuke.” One brother said that “the only ‘strategy for victory’ entails a proper balance between truth and love. Another has said that “love is more powerful than physical force, than sarcasm, than rebuke, than argument.” I suppose than many think that the Pharisees were good on the truth and rebuke side, but not too good at love. As we saw in our last article, they were not good at any one of the three. The Scriptures do not contrast truth, or rebuke, with love. To the contrary, we are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Love is not the opposite of rebuke; instead it is the motivation for rebuke, they are inseparable. Notice this from a reading of Proverbs 3:12, “For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.”

Jesus would be thought of as being “too negative.” The “positive mental attitude” philosophy advocated by the world has permeated God’s people. More and more, we hear the demand (and the compliance with the demand) for more “positive” preaching, and less, if any, “negative” preaching. We are told that the problem with the Pharisees is that they were too negative in their teaching. It is true that Jesus’ message had positive elements in it, but it is also a fact that he was one of the most negative preachers in the history of time. Read for yourself his scathing rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Most churches today would not be able to take the negative preaching from Paul that the church at Corinth took. Among other things, he rebuked them for division in chapter 1, for harboring an adulterer in chapter 5, for taking the brethren to law in chapter 6, and for improprieties in the Lord’s supper in chapter 11. A desire for less negative preaching by Christians today seems to indicate that many people are tired of being made to feel guilty for the sins that they are practicing. Brethren, we cannot afford to let up.

Jesus believed in “just using a lot of proof texts.” One “preacher” has claimed that “there is no book, chapter, and verse for book, chapter, and verse.” Although they would not admit it in word, many of our more popular meeting preachers indicate by their preaching that they agree with this sentiment. They are “too good of a speaker” to just do like Paul and persuade “concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets” (Acts 28:23). It is indicated that “reasoning with them out of the Scriptures ” (Acts 17:2-3) would bore the audience and not hold their attention. Instead we are told that we need more stories and jokes to get the gospel (so-called) message across. I don’t know about you, but I think I will continue to do like Apollos, and show “by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:28). After all, the gospel is actually the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).

Jesus was “dogmatic.” In today’s religious world, any person who “earnestly contends for the faith” (Jude 3) is thought of as dogmatic. If that is the case, I want to be dogmatic. Anything that is as important as God’s truth is certainly worth rigorously contending for. Evidently Paul thought so. Acts 17:17 reads, “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.” From just a casual reading of the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7), we can see that Jesus was very dogmatic about the truth he was bringing into the world. The audience sure knew it as vv. 28-29 of chapter 7 reads, “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” If being dogmatic means that we refuse to compromise the truth under any circumstances, then Paul was certainly being dogmatic as recorded in the context ending with Galatians 2:5, “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

Jesus thought of the Bible as a “book of rules,” a “list of do’s and don’t’s.” When one brother was questioned from the Scriptures concerning a false position he took on the marriage, divorce, and remarriage question, he replied, “You have the wrong approach to the Bible, you think of it as a book of rules.” With the concept of the Bible that this brother has, you could make God’s word say anything you want it to. It is obvious that Jesus thought of the Old Testament as a book of rules. When asked by the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?,” Jesus answered in v. 17, “If thou wilt enter into life ‘ keep the commandments,” and further proceeded to name a few of them. Many non-Christians and Christians alike don’t like it, and stringently object to it, but the Bible still says, “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7).

Jesus believed it “only takes one sin to separate from God.” For “more security” and in order to allow “fellowship” with more people, many have come to the new conclusion that one sin does not necessarily separate us from God, especially if we are “sincere.” I don’t see how they learned this from Isaiah 59:2 (“your iniquities have separated between you and your God”) or Romans 6:23 (“For the wages of sin is death”). They certainly could not have learned it from the examples of Adam and Eve, Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah, Ananias and Sapphira, and Simon the sorcerer, all of which were condemned by one sin. Security is nice, fellowship is great, but both are damaging when interpreted more loosely than the Bible allows.

Jesus believed in keeping the “letter of the law” as,well as the spirit. Many have been labeled Pharisees because it is claimed that they, as well as the Pharisees, emphasize the “letter” of the law over the “spirit” of the law, as if ssuchh were possible. Men usually use this terminology with “let,ter” meaning what the words actually say, and “spirit” meaning what the words really mean. First of all, this way of using the terms is not a Bible way. For example, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, the contrast of “letter” and “spirit” has nothing to do with keeping the law outwardly verses keeping the law inwardly; instead, it is a contrast between the Old Testament law (v. 14) and the New Testament law (v. 6). Second, even granting the terminology as it is being used, it is impossible to keep the outward without having the right attitude, and vice versa. Matthew 13:19 shows this by teaching that everything we do on the outside comes from the inside; either we have both a good outside and a good inside, or we have both a bad outside and a bad inside, there is no mix. Obviously, the only way we can know what Jesus really meant is from the words he actually said. Jesus not only believed in keeping the “letter” of the law, he believed in keeping the “jot” and “tittle” of the law (Matt. 5:18-19).

Jesus would be thought of as being “too strict.” Everybody has heard many times that the Pharisees’ main problem was that they were too strict with God’s law. This is simply not the case. Even the text used to show that they were too strict, Matthew 23:23, really shows that they were not condemned by Jesus for being too strict, but for not being strict enough. They were not rebuked for being good at keeping the “fighter” matters of the law; instead they were rebuked for not being good at keeping the “weightier” matters of the law. They were not condemned for doing God’s law, but for not doing God’s law. I imagine Uzzah found out about the strictness of God when he touched the ark in 1 Chronicles 13:7-10. Jesus was so strict with the old law that he said in Matthew 5:18, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Jesus taught in Matthew 7:5 that we are supposed to get the beam out of our own eye so that we can get the mote (smallest speck) out of our brother’s eye. God’s way is a strict (strait and narrow) way (Matt. 7:14), accusations of Phariseeism notwithstanding.


As has been shown, according to some Christians’ view of Phariseeism, Jesus Christ himself would be labeled 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 by some our own brethren. To you who are making the charges: realize that most of your charges could be levied verbatim against Jesus. Make sure you understand exactly what Phariseeism is before accusing someone else of being one. Don’t make emotionally filled charges, just to get out of having to strictly follow the Bible.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 22, pp. 691-693
November 19, 1992