Reclaiming the Reputation of the Pharisees

Two rabbisThis post is written in response to “Freeing the Church from Pharisee Influence“, but also to Christians in general. As a scholar on first-century Judaism and the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), I get pretty tired of people beating up on the Pharisees. I’m also a Christian and I want people to read the New Testament appropriately. And so, I decided to write this article.

When you think of a “Pharisee,” what do you think? Here’s a definition that I pulled from dictionary.com:

Phar·i·see [fair-uh-see]

noun

  1. a member of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st century BCE and 1st century CE and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and traditions, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah.
  2. ( lowercase ) a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person.

Today, Christians use the word “Pharisee” mostly in the second sense. We use it to describe a hypocritical and self-righteous person (or group). We also think that Jesus totally opposed the Pharisees and that they mostly just got in his way. In this article, I want to reclaim their reputation and have you re-think who they were and how they are related to Christianity.

But first, we need to get something out of the way. When the Gospels says something like “The Pharisees came to Jesus and…” do not immediately assume that this is a group representative of all Pharisees and that whatever these people say will be exactly what they all believed. Does every Christian believe the same thing? What about everyone in a single denomination? Don’t assume they represent the views of all Pharisees. The truth is that first-century Judaism was a complex conglomerate of what scholars call multiple “Judaisms.” Consider first-century Judaism more of a spectrum than a single, uniform entity. So this means that when Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites,” he is not indicting the whole bunch. Rather, he is calling-out a specific sub-group.

Second, yes, there was some real tension between Jesus and certain Pharisees, enough that some of them wanted to kill him (e.g. Mk 3:6). Most Christians, however, stop there and don’t realize that this was not the entirety of Jesus’ relationship to the Pharisees. This article will go into his relationship with them in greater detail.

Where Did the Pharisees Come From?

After the return from the Babylonian, the people were falling more and more in line with Greek (Hellenistic) culture. This was a primary impetus for the Maccabean revolt (ca. 165 BCE). The Greek rulers were slowly trying to squelch Judaism by outlawing its practices (circumcision and Sabbath being the two big ones). A group of Jews known as the Hasidim responded by revolting, kicking out their oppressors, and rededicating themselves to following the law (a good thing!). However, it wasn’t long before their new Jewish rulers became as Hellenized as the Greeks they had just kicked out. In response to this, a group split off from the Hasidim who wanted to maintain traditional Jewish practice and observance of the law. This group would become known as the Pharisees, probably from the Hebrew word perushim, meaning “separatists”.[1]

The Pharisees Wanted Everyone to Know Torah

One of the groups of people we owe the most to, religiously speaking, are the Pharisees. Why? Because their main mission was the educate the people. They believed that the people should hear the law and be able to follow it. Why? Because the entire people, not just the priests, are under God’s admonition to be holy (Ex. 19:6). They believed that everyone should take this seriously, and so did Jesus! (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16) This is why they built synagogues in every town. This is why they wanted to read they law every day in the synagogue. They believed that understanding of Judaism wasn’t just for the religious elites, but it was for everyone. Basically, they wanted to give the Bible to the people! The idea that every person can be holy, can follow the commands of God, is directly carried over into Christianity.

The synagogue, run by Pharisees, was also specifically for the people. Evertt Ferguson writes that, “The synagogue was the center of community, religious, and social life for the Jewish people.”[2] It functioned as a meeting place, school, house of worship, and house of judgment for administering community justice.

Basically, the Pharisees are the “good guys” who care deeply about your average, everyday folk.

Jesus was Respected by (at least some of) the Pharisees

Yes, it’s true, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees on many occasions, but Jesus was also respected by the Pharisees. He was apparently respected enough that they warned him of a plot to kill him in Luke 13:31. If they all really hated him and were diametrically opposed to him, they could have left well-enough alone and just let Jesus die, but they didn’t. Obviously not all Pharisees wanted Jesus dead.

Jesus had Pharisee Disciples

The New Testament specifically mentions two prominent Pharisees:

  • Nicodemus, who defended Jesus in public: “Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, ‘Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?’“ – John 7:50-51
  • Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19:38), was a member of the Sanhedrin (Mk. 15:43)

However, we also know that many Pharisees followed Jesus around as disciples (John 9:40). And we also know that in the early church there were many believers who “belonged to the party of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5). It doesn’t say “used to belong” or “were formerly Pharisees”, but rather that they actively identified as Pharisees.

The most famous Pharisee disciple of Jesus, however, was Paul. Years after realizing that Jesus is the Messiah, Paul declares “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6). Ever catch that before? Years after actively becoming part of the Christian movement, Paul still considers himself a Pharisee!

Jesus Agrees with the Pharisees on Important Issues

Think that Jesus never agreed with the Pharisees? Think again. When a Pharisee came up to him and asked him a question, Jesus responds, the Pharisee agrees, and Jesus commends him:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. — Mark 12:28-34

A few notes should be made here. First, I know it says “teacher of the law,” but this is basically a term for a Pharisee. The fact that Jesus and the Pharisee here agree on one of the biggest issues in first-century Judaism (“what is the greatest command?”) is incredibly important. Jesus also agrees with the Pharisees on a host of other issues, including that there will be a resurrection.

Jesus Supports the Pharisees

What did Jesus think of the Pharisees as teachers of the people? Did he think that they should listen to them?

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” — Matt 5:20

Is Jesus being sarcastic here? Is he saying we must be better than the scumbag hypocrites? Is he saying that since we can’t be legalistically perfect, we need grace? No, no, and no. He’s being totally serious! Your righteousness has to surpass the BEST of the BEST. According to Jesus, unless you actually try to follow God with all of your heart, soul, and strength, you’ve got no place in the Kingdom. That’s hard to swallow. (Note: I’m not saying that you can work your way to Heaven. I am saying that God wants partners, not admirers.)

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” –Matt 23:2:

Here, Jesus tells his followers to listen to the Pharisees and to do what they say! Most Christians unfortunately focus on the rest of the chapter in which Jesus lambastes the Pharisees with the (in)famous “seven woes against the Pharisees.” His remarks are perhaps the most scathing against them in the entire New Testament. So why would he admonish his disciples to follow the Pharisees and then rip them up? Good question. Let’s dig a little deeper.

But What About All Those Disagreements that Jesus had with the Pharisees?

The main reason we see so much conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is because when the Gospels were being written, the early Church was in the process of differentiating itself from Judaism. When Christianity as a movement was in its infancy it was considered a sect of Judaism (even by those within it). However, as time went on, conflict grew between those who believed in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and those who didn’t. Within the synagogue, this friction took hold as trying to show whose interpretation of the Torah was better, Jesus’ or other Pharisees’. Thus, the Gospels were all written to show how Jesus’ interpretation of Torah differed from his Pharisee counterparts. However, note that these differences make up a small fraction of their overall shared theology. Jesus agreed with 99% of Pharisee interpretations of Torah. When Jesus is asked about divorce, he sides with Rabbi Shammai (ca. 50 BCE – 30 CE). When Jesus is asked about the greatest command, he sides with Rabbi Hillel (ca. 110 BCE – 7 CE). Yes, you read that right, Hillel had those two commands picked out as the greatest before Jesus was born! The New Testament abounds with examples where Jesus is asked a question and he gives an answer that agrees with some segment of the Pharisees. In fact, given the religious sects of the time and Jesus’ propensity to agree with the Pharisees, some scholars have suggested that Jesus was probably a Pharisee.

But What About All the Scathing Criticisms of the Pharisees?

When discussing Pharisees, one thing today’s Christian simply has to understand is that first-century Judaism functioned via testing one anothers’ interpretations of Torah, and making scathing remarks if they didn’t think it was correct. Why? Because they all cared deeply about getting it right! Jesus is simply functioning as part of that society when he disagrees with some detail of a Pharisee’s interpretation. Louis Feldman, a Jewish scholar, writes this about Jesus:

“Matthew’s Gospel is particularly antagonistic to the Jewish establishment. But when Jesus refers to Pharisees as “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13) and a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33), he is berating fellow Jews. Jesus undoubtedly regards his violent language as following the tradition of the prophets when they castigated fellow Jews of their day. In other words, it is a family quarrel. Jesus looks upon himself as continuing the Jewish tradition of self-criticism.” – Louis Feldman [3]

When you read a passage in the Gospels, and Jesus is criticizing his fellow Jesus (usually the Pharisees), you need to read it as part of an in-house debate. Jesus is an insider, using insider language, to talk about important topics. In fact, the Pharisees themselves were just as brutally scathing to each other as Jesus is to them. Here’s two examples:

  • They classified themselves into 7 groups, 5 of which were not at all living up to the ideals of the Pharisees, 1 which was sort-of okay, and 1 which was ideal. The classifications themselves are brutal. Here’s the 5 bad ones (found in Babylonian Talmud Sotah 22b), along with New Testament references for when Jesus used similar (or exactly the same) language:
    1. Shoulder Pharisee: The “Shoulder” Pharisee paraded his good deeds before men like someone wearing a badge on his shoulder. (Mt. 23:4)
    2. Wait-a-little Pharisee: He walks with exaggerated humility. According to the Jerusalem Talmud: “He says, ‘spare me a moment that I may perform a commandment.'” This is the “wait-a-little Pharisee”, who begs for time in order to perform a meritorious action. They made a big deal about performing good deeds. (Mt. 6:2-5)
    3. Bleeding (“bleeding nose”) Pharisee: They were so concerned with being disobedient that they went to ridiculous extremes. This Pharisee would bruise himself walking into a wall because he had to shut his eyes to avoid seeing a woman. They are most frequently criticized not for their extremeness, but for laying that extremeness on other people. (Mt. 23:13-15)
    4. Pestle (Mortar) Pharisee: “[His head] is bowed like [a pestle in] a mortar.” Also known as the “hump-backed” Pharisee, always walking around slumped over, the Pharisee who advertises his holiness lest anyone should touch him so that he should be defiled. (Mt. 23:5-7,27-28, Mt. 6:16)
    5. The Ever-reckoning (or “accounting”) Pharisee: The Pharisee who was always counting his good deeds to see if they offset his failures. He keeps track of every little good thing he’s done, even down to the smallest minutia. (Mt. 23:23, Lk. 17:20)
    6. The last two? “The Pharisee from Fear” who does things because he is afraid of God’s retribution, and “The Pharisee of Love” who does everything out of love for God. One might call Paul a “Pharisee of Love” based on his famous exposition on love in 1 Cor. 13.
  • In the Torah, Jewish men are required to where tassels on their clothes to remind them of all of God’s commands (Numbers 15:37-40). Some wore large tassels as a way to show off their holiness. In the Mishna we read of a man named “ben Tzitzit Ha-kesset” which means “son of the extremely long tassels” which is clearly a mockery of their external claims of piety. Jesus comments on this too in Matt. 23.

Basically, Jesus’ scathing remarks regarding the hypocrisy of the Pharisees aren’t outliers; they’re the norm for the Pharisees!

Conclusion

Were the Pharisees perfect people? Of course not. However, I hope you now see a few things. First of all, the Pharisees were good people who were actively trying very hard to “get it right.” Second, Jesus had more in common with the Pharisees than not. Third, any time Jesus disagrees with the Pharisees, he is engaging in an in-house debate and using insider language.

But throughout the centuries, we’ve lost this idea that the Pharisees are “the good guys.” Here’s how Roland Deines sums it up:

Because of this self-identification with the Pharisees by a Jewish majority following the rabbinic form of Judaism, Christians, too, saw their Jewish contemporaries as the descendants of the Pharisees of the New Testament and therefore as Jesus’ declared enemies who wanted him dead (cf. Mark 3:6). This reductionist view of the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees created age-long tensions and hostilities between Judaism and Christianity and overlooked completely the many elements Jesus and the Pharisees had in common.”[4]

In other words, to list all the reasons why the Church needs to be free from Pharisee influence is overly simplistic and misses the point of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees. Want to know what the point really is? Here it is:

The Pharisees are the good guys who really believe in the Kingdom of God and the power of righteous obedience. That’s us. That’s anyone who takes their faith seriously. The fact is, I’m a Pharisee. I take my faith very seriously and when I encounter Jesus in the text, he reminds me not to miss the heart of God while I struggle to follow his commands. In other words: don’t be so focused on throwing out the bathwater that I miss the baby in the process.

May the Church be full of Pharisees.

Peace,

James

P.S. With all that said, a word about the post I responded to is pertinent here. I think the things that Jayson highlighted are still worth pondering. Jesus definitely pushed the Pharisees to take it up a notch. In that regard, Jayson’s post is definitely helpful.

Citations

 [1] It should be noted that the exact origins of the Pharisees is not completely known. However, the above is the best and most widely accepted view.
 [1] Evertt Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 575.
 [3] Louis Feldman, “Is The New Testament Antisemitic?” Moment, December, 1990, pp. 32-35, 50-52.
 [4] Roland Deines, “Pharisees” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, 1061-1063.

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11 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Reputation of the Pharisees

  1. I’m curious to know what other investments you bring to the table besides your historical scholarship. You smell very reformed. I trust that if you’re going to play the historical critical card with Matthew’s gospel, you’re not going to turn around and talk about Biblical inerrancy on other issues.

    On a literary level, the New Testament creates a pretty poignant dichotomy between Jesus and the Pharisees (or more awkwardly Jesus and the Jews in John). If we take away the foil that those characters provide to Jesus whoever they were or whatever historical critical reason Matthew had for inventing them, then we lose a critical part of the message of the gospel. Jesus defines himself against the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 when he quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

    Mercy not sacrifice is the basic dichotomy at the heart of the gospel. Righteous obedience doesn’t mean jack shit if it isn’t for the sake of mercy, because if you’re engaged in sacrifice without a concept of God’s mercy, then you’re inevitably going to become a hypocrites (hoop-o-cree-tays, the original Greek term) putting on a performance before God and other people. It doesn’t require a clumsy law/grace duality to recognize that we need to start from a foundation of God’s mercy or our righteousness is going to be poisoned by our need for self-justification. Sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake is toxic; so many Christians use their self-deprivation as the soapbox upon which they get to stand and judge others.

    So I’m very wary of trying to undercut the negative example that the Pharisees give us which Jesus illustrates in so many of his parables (Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, unmerciful servant, Pharisee and tax collector praying, etc). It smells very fishy to me to try to reduce Christianity to “righteous obedience” without any concept of mercy. I recognize you’re polemicizing here, but there’s more to the foil between Jesus and the Pharisees than just him telling them to “take it up a notch.” Like I said, you smell very reformed.

    • Morgan,

      Thanks for replying.

      I am not reformed, nor do I come from a reformed church tradition. As a scholar, I am going to approach the Bible with a historical-critical lens, so I wouldn’t even mention “inerrancy” or other such things. I realize that the Pharisees provide a “foil” for Jesus in the Gospels. However, the point of this article was to read beyond that. As I mentioned, the reason this foil exists is because when the Gospels were written the early Church was attempting to differentiate itself from Judaism. The issues that Jesus and the Pharisees disagree on in the Gospels were all hot-button issues when the Gospels were actually composed and give us a window in early church polemics against the synagogue. “These factors suggest a community that was in contact with, and sought to define itself over and against, a developing Pharisaic tradition within Judaism.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd edition, 169) For this reason, the Pharisees become the “bad guys” when they probably actually deserve a better reputation than that.

      Jesus was not the only one to focus on “mercy, not sacrifice.” It is a topic of discussion among the Jews of his day and before. The Pharisees were especially interested in ways to practice religion without the sacrificial cult which was run by the Sadducees (whom the Pharisees disliked so much that they said the Sadducees had no inheritance in the next life). Some of the very parables you mention find their counterpart in rabbinic literature, such as the Praying Pharisee (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 28b). As I mentioned above, the Pharisees were just as harsh on themselves as Jesus was on them.

      This post was not trying to “reduce Christianity to ‘righteous obedience’ without any concept of mercy.” That is perhaps the farthest thing possible from my goals. This post was attempting to call into question our harsh mistreatment of the Pharisees who were actually (overall) a pretty righteous bunch. They wanted the same thing that Jesus wanted: the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ vision for that Kingdom surely looked differently than most of theirs, but that doesn’t mean we malign them as all being hypocrites.

      James

      • Cool. Thanks for your reply. Sorry if my tone was overly strident. I think I’m just invested in the literary foil because there’s a legitimacy to it in our day. So many Christians today have become exactly like the people who crucified Jesus (in Matthew’s telling of the story) whatever we want to call them. I just think that dichotomy of mercy and sacrifice is a critical lens for understanding the gospel. It’s the difference between a conception of holiness as purity for the sake of God’s honor and holiness as perfect love in response to whatever evil.

  2. Pingback: Freeing the Church from Pharisee Influence | Jayson D. Bradley

  3. Pingback: Something Worse Than A Hypocrite | TheoCult Collective

  4. Well written indeed. I notice that as you put many verses about the Pharisees, Jesus himself was not stereotyping them but at times pointed out to certain wrong practices among them. Truly Pharisees have been subject to stereotyping as if all of them were legalistic. There are a lot of Christians who need to find a better word in place of using ‘pharisee’ when trying to describe pompous legalistic people.

    God bless you abundantly!

  5. James,
    Like the brother of Jesus, [his brother] James recognized the place of living “our utmost for His highest”, as Oswald Chambers had stated in his famous book.
    Yes, it is very possible that Jesus and James would be more “at home” theologically and “halachically” [as in following Torah] with the Pharisees, than any of the other sects of the contemporaneous Judaisms of the time.
    As Jesus Messiah [Yahoshus ha-Moshiach], the Glory and Hope of Israel, came not to change the Torah, but to fulfill it, we may acknowledge that He is the teleos [goal as fulfillment or end] unto sacrifice, not the signal personality to abrogate the Torah and its teachings and mitzvoth [commandments].
    We should also note that sacrifice, the unfortunate translation of the Hebrew word “KORBAN”, more precisely would mean “TO DRAW NEAR”, so as to achieve intimacy and closeness with The Eternal Father and His Son.
    That, and not punitive retribution for sin alone, is the ultimate goal of Messiah’s first Advent, and His Resurrection.
    Without the Life within, provided through the Atonement, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the Suffering Servant Moshiach ben Yosef [Messiah, son of Joseph], by His Living ‘Holy’ Spirit, dying man is left to his original mortal condition…and being mortal, corrupted from the beginning with the stain of death.
    The God of Israel cannot tolerate death in His Presence.
    He is the God of the living, the God of Life.
    For He Alone is immortal. [1Timothy 6:16]
    The Torah makes that abundantly clear.
    As the age of the Temple came to its Divinely ordained close and fulfillment , where there was animal sacrifice, where the blood of goats and bulls were used to imperfectly ‘intercede’ for the wages of sin, which is death, the ultimate KORBAN in Christ was essential

    As religion is man’s desperate and impotent struggle to attain holiness and “godliness” in his pursuit of heaven or everlasting life, by his own natural carnal self, and thus, must be doomed to fail, Relationship with the Living GOD, in Christ, empowers, imbues, and enables the natural man to become in essence, a NEW CREATION, and to pursue authentically the supernatural life.

    Such a path is not marked by religiosity, hyprocrisy, self-righteousness, or pride.
    Rather, it is the way of servanthood, and humility, as supremely manifest in the Life of Messiah Yahoshua [Jesus].

    There is no conflict between letting our acts of righteousness shine before men, so that they may praise our Father in Heaven, and being saved by “faith in Christ Alone”.

    In truth, these acts are the fruits of His Holy Spirit, and being such, we must humbly proclaim, that whatever good we do, it is not “I” but Christ, who lives within me, Who does them.

    The foundation of the conflict between Pharisee and Jesus is not whether we should follow the Mitzvot [commandments] of ADONAI YHWH [THE LORD GOD].
    The life of the Christian is to do just that, for not one jot or tittle of the LAW [TORAH] will pass way, until heaven and earth pass away.
    Clearly, that has not happened yet.
    And when the Kingdom finally does come, Out of Zion shall come forth the Torah, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [Isaiah 2:3]

    The life of faithful obedience is the true Christian life….not founded in our natural, carnal, rebellious strength, but in HIS supernatural, spiritual, willing and obedient power.

    It is our Sanctification that faithful obedience to Torah will obtain, NOT our Salvation.
    From the very beginning, in the Garden, it is by God’s Grace and His Grace alone that we are saved.

    I believe this is at the core of the apparent “in house intra-clan” conflict between Jesus and some of the Pharisees.
    It’s about Whom we serve, and WHY, and to Whom we assign honor and gratitude for EVERYTHING.

    It is not within a man to know his path, nor to save himself, no matter how sincere or noble the effort.
    It’s nothing more, and nothing less than knowing fully…….that we owe EVERYTHING to our Father in Heaven.
    For it is in Him, through Him, with Him, and BY HIM, that we are able to do all things He has called and given us to do.

    As a Jewish follower of Messiah, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for your wise and thoughtful essays on the Christian life.
    In my own journey in the life of the called out, I wrote a book about Christianity and the Messiah of Torah and Israel.
    It is entitled, “The Light in the Wilderness” How Religion Has Led the World Astray.
    Author Is Norman Martin Wolk, M.D.
    Publisher is http://www.authorhouse.com.
    It is available as an e book, and can be viewed at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com as well as the publisher’s site, http://www.authorhouse.com.

    I hope you will have a chance to read it.
    I would be delighted to learn of your impression.

    Thank you for your invaluable contribution to the life of faith.
    Your work is a great resource, as we seek His Kingdom, and grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and KING.
    All the best,
    Norman
    Dr, Norman Martin Wolk, M.D.

  6. I love this post, and try to educate Christians and “the church” as much as I can on this subject. I know you can’t cover every angle in your posts, but I have a tangent based on the Luke 13:31 scenario.

    There is a larger context at work. Read all of Luke 13 and one will quickly realize that Jesus just finished healing a woman on the Sabbath (you know how that riled them up), and spent time talking about the mustard seed and the narrow door. Notice those outside who will stand outside and proclaim all their good deeds done in God’s name. (Notice also that this is no longer the “knock and the door will be opened” teaching; Jesus is channeling his inner Southern Baptist “the door has been closed, you missed out, and where you are goin’ ain’t fun” teaching.) Here’s the kicker, Luke 13:30 is the famous “the first will be last and the last will be first” quote. Yet the writer specifically adds the pesky phrase “at that very hour” to the next verse. (In fact, the Greek more directly translates to “just at that time.”) Why?

    Here’s my thoughts – even though Pharisees are never specifically mentioned in this passage, we tend to read them in. We so easily attribute the Pharisees getting up in arms about healing on the Sabbath (rightfully so, as they did that once, but stay with we). We so easily slam the narrow door shut in their face, stating that their pompous attitudes and big heads won’t allow them through the narrow door. We so easily superimpose them directly into the “those standing outside the door talking about their good deeds” role. (And we assume this is exactly what Jesus was saying as well.) We essentially read verse 30 as “The Pharisees thought so much of themselves, but Jesus said they were headed to the back of the line, not getting in!” (There’s a whole tangent here on arrogant humility and how we really have not moved passed that, but I’ll save it for another time.) And yet, what happens immediately after all of this? Who comes to the aide of Jesus to warn him? The disciples? Followers? Friends? All incorrect answers. Who comes forward – Pharisees.

    Our twenty-first century view of the Pharisees would have us interpret Luke 13 as Jesus’ cutting rebuke of the Pharisees and their practices, thoughts, beliefs, and customs. However, there’s a problem with our twenty-first century view of the Pharisees in this story. Jesus just healed someone on the Sabbath, called the Pharisees big-headed (indirectly, of course), and told them that when all is said and done, they’d be on the outside looking in. They should be enraged, fuming, livid, ! Yet what happens “just at that time”? The Pharisees step up and warn Jesus of a plot to kill him.

    Putting my college minor in Stating the Blatantly Obvious to good use, it is clear that the Pharisees (at least not all of them) wanted Jesus dead. As you said, “If they all really hated him and were diametrically opposed to him, they could have left well-enough alone in this situation and just let Jesus die.” But think about it even more…that plan even allowed them full deniability, as it was Herod’s plan. Best of both worlds for them: they do nothing, Jesus is removed from the picture (killed), and they aren’t blamed! But they DID NOT do nohting. On the contrary, they took action and warned Jesus.

    PURE speculation, but I would venture to guess that if you queried 100 Christians whether Pharisees ever saved Jesus’ life, you’d get upwards of 95 that would say “no”. Conversely, “don’t be like them” is all we’ve ever been taught in church, from playpens to pulpits. Thank you for your post and promoting, at the very least, a different (and more positive) perspective on the Pharisees.

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