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Are You a Modern Day Pharisee?

During the time of Jesus there were 3 Sects (or Denominations) of Judaism. These were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. For a Jew the “Torah”, which is also the first 5 books of the Old Testament, was believed to be given to Moses by God. The Jews also have collections of stories called the “Oral Tradition” that show to them how God was with them. These 2 important pillars of the Jewish religion, along with the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, can indicate to us how religious life was during Jesus’s time on earth.


Of the 3 sects the Essenes were out of the mainstream of Jewish life. They lived a communal life, did no trading with others and were mostly celibate. They elected a leader that guided their group interests and customs including a purification ritual. They practiced piety towards “the Deity,” righteousness towards humanity, and maintained a pure lifestyle, abstaining from criminal and immoral activities. They believed in the immortality of the soul, and that they would receive their souls back after death. It has been suggested that their lifestyle was similar to the Christian Monastic life.


The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the two sects that encompassed most of the Jewish people. The Sadducees were the elite sect composed of Jewish aristocrats, mostly from Jerusalem, and included the Temple priests. They were wealthy and politically, socially, and religiously influential. Sadducees oversaw many formal affairs of the state domestically and internationally alike, serving on the Sanhedrin, equipping and leading the army, and collaborating with the Romans. On the other hand, the Pharisees were not elite but included some wealthy and all other classes of people. There were Pharisees that served on the Sanhedrin and were interspersed in other aspects of Jewish life. They were dedicated to preserve Judaism, the identity of God’s people and how God’s people should live. Their power came from their influence—over the Jewish people and government leaders. 


The differences between Sadducees and Pharisees were what caused the tension and the reactions that were often seen when Jesus interacted with them and the people. The Sadducees believed only the Torah handed down from God to Moses was sacred, while the Pharisees believed “Oral tradition” that was handed down from God was equal to the written tradition of the “Torah”. The Sadducees thought that worship can only be done in the Temple in Jerusalem, while the Pharisees were open to worship practices in life outside the Temple. Sadducees believed the soul is not immortal, there is no afterlife, there are no rewards or penalties after death, and there is no resurrection of the dead. Pharisees believed in the afterlife as well as resurrection, a point that saved Paul (Ac 23:6).


We know that all Judaism was waiting for the long-desired Messiah, so how could all these sects of believing Jews get things so wrong and then kill the Messiah? When you read about the interaction of the Pharisees and Sadducees with Jesus, we can speculate as to why. When Jesus’ disciples were asked by the Pharisees why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mt 9:11), it could be because their sect considered these people unclean. By asking this question, they revealed that they idolized their dogma and not God. They again revealed their idolatry and anger when they told Jesus that His Disciples were eating grain on the Sabbath

(Mt 12:2). When Jesus drove out a demon, the Pharisees said He was doing that by the Prince of Demons

(Mt 12:24), revealing their jealousy, envy and hostility.  When Jesus’ Disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating (Mt 15:2), it was likely that again their idolatry got in their way. When they asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven (Mt16:1), they were testing God, because they could not accept that Jesus was the Messiah, although all the signs were there. When there were large crowds, the Pharisees began to ask Jesus questions to trick Him into making a false statement (Mt 19:1-12) and revealed their jealousy over His success as a teacher and leader of the people and their fear over His threat to their power. They continued this pattern again and again (Mt 21:45, Mt 22:18, Mt22:34), until finally a group of them falsely accused their long-awaited Messiah and had Him killed.


We as Christians affirm that Jesus is the long awaited for Messiah, because we accept the Old Testament and the stories of Jesus in the New Testament. As Christians we have also inherited many of the traits from those in the 3 Judean sects. As a Christian we have our Bible, which in the New Testament contains both our “Torah” in the red highlighted words of Christ and our “Oral Tradition” in the written words of the Apostles and Disciples, as the witnesses to the situations that occurred in the life of Christ. We, like the Jews, have our “Sects” that we call “Denominations,” and like them we have our disagreements over the meaning and importance of each word and thought as written and interpreted. We also tend to think that we are in the “right” denomination or church, and the others are somehow wrong. What the Jews did and how they got things wrong is the same way that we get things wrong and kill our faith in Christ daily.


So as modern-day Pharisees, what are we getting wrong? We forget that GOD is ALL and in all! The only thing we need is to have faith, and above all, to love all. The bottom line is that we are only sojourners in this life, and we must live for our life after this life. The Disciple Group suggests that you look hard at why you believe what you do and, yet, don’t understand why others don’t believe as you do. Often times a conversation with others and a look at our “Torah” and our “Oral Tradition” together will bring both parties to a better understanding of our GOD. The Disciple Group also suggests that if you are having a hard time trying to live as Jesus did, talk to our pastor. The Disciple Group or another Group, are other resources that may be able to help you improve your Christian health.