Several months ago this column addressed the doctrine of the Pharisees. Inasmuch as the doctrine of the Pharisees was so significant during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, logic suggests there would be an application for current times. And so it is, the doctrine of the Pharisees is widely present today and aptly describes those who oppose and suppress the doctrines and teachings of Christ. Such thinking defines the major issues confronting both the church and state today.
Therefore, in the following weeks this column will present a series on pharisaic thinking that pervades contemporary culture. We’ll see that such thinking is as dangerous in our present culture as it was during Jesus’ original time on earth. We’ll examine the folly of their thinking, their issues with Jesus as well as Jesus’ denunciation of their doctrine along with their final destiny.
Recall the Jewish sect called the Pharisees originated after the Jews returned to Judea upon their freedom from their Babylonian captivity. The timing would have been approximately five centuries before the birth of Christ.
The Pharisees added many ‘traditions’ to the Jewish law claiming such traditions were derived from the same official law delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai. Such traditions were self serving with the primary purpose to set the Pharisees apart as elitists and holier than the common Jewish person. The Pharisees taught that their ‘traditions of the elders’ carried the same weight as the true Mosaic Law.
Their main problem was that they could not accept the New Covenant and continued to teach adamantly that salvation was still partially based on obeying the law and their Jewish heritage. In other words they could not accept that salvation was a matter of faith alone.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry the Pharisees constantly questioned and opposed His authority and His teachings.
“…Then the Pharisees…asked Him (Jesus), ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders…’? He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites…: This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’.” Mark 7:1-7
Then Jesus summarized the discussion by revealing the unintended consequences of such thinking.
“For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition… And many such things you do.” Mark 7:8a, 13
The significance of this issue cannot be over emphasized. Men invented self-serving ordinances and attributed to them the same weight as God’s laws. Such a practice in effect made ‘the word of God of no effect’ or basically nullifying God’s word.
It can be compared to current policies that contradict God’s precepts such as being a debtor to other nations. Pharisaic thinking is the basis of the practice of drafting and approving legislation that protects those who break God’s laws.
During the early days of the church many Jews would not abandon tradition or ritualism.
“And certain men… taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’…some of the sect of the Pharisees…rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses’.” Acts 15:1, 5
The issues of traditionalism and ritualism were several of Paul’s major obstructions in growing the church.
“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.” Galatians 4:2-3
Paul’s response was that if anyone depended on the law to save him they must obey the whole law which is, of course, impossible.
Paul taught consistently that depending on works for salvation is deception of Satan. He consistently taught that Christ alone was sufficient.
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men…and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him…” Colossians 2:8-10
Paul’s argument was and is the basis of Christian doctrine.