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Reference: Pharisees


A numerous and dominant sect of the Jews, agreeing on some main points of doctrine and practice, but divided into different parties or schools on minor points; as for instance, the schools or followers of Hillel and Shammai, who were celebrated rabbins or teachers. The name is commonly derived from the Hebrew purash, to separate, as though they were distinguished form the rest of the nation by their superior wisdom and sanctity. They first appeared as a sect after the return of the Jews from captivity. In respect to their tenets, although they esteemed the written books of the old Testament as the sources of the Jewish religion, yet they also attributed great and equal authority to traditional precepts relating principally to external rites: as ablutions, fasting, long prayers, the distribution of alms, the avoiding of all intercourse with Gentiles and publicans, etc. See Mt 6:5; 9:11; 23:5; Mr 7:4; Lu 18:12. In superstitious and self-righteous formalism they strongly resembled the Romish church. They were rigid interpreters of the letter of the Mosaic law, but not infrequently violated the spirit of it by their traditional and philosophical interpretations. See Mt 5:31,43; 12:2; 19:3; 23:23. Their professed sanctity and close adherence to all the external forms of piety gave them great favor and influence with the common people, and especially among the female part of the community. They believed with the Stoics, that all things and events were controlled by fate yet not so absolutely as entirely to destroy the liberty of the human will. They considered the soul as immortal, and held the doctrine of a future resurrection of the body, Ac 23:8. It is also supposed by some that they admitted the doctrine of metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls; but no allusion is made to this in the New Testament, nor does Josephus assert it. In numerous cases Christ denounced the Pharisees for their pride and covetousness, their ostentation in prayers, alms, tithes, and facts, Mt 6:2,5; Lu 18:9, and their hypocrisy in employing the garb of religion to cover the profligacy of their dispositions and conduct; as Mt 23; Lu 16:14; Joh 7:48-49; 8:9. By his faithful reproofs he early incurred their hatred, Mt 12:14; they eagerly sought to destroy him, and his blood was upon them and their children. On the other hand, there appear to have been among them individuals of probity, and even of genuine piety; as in the case of Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the aged Simeon, etc., Mt 27:57; Lu 2:25; Joh 3:1. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee of the strictest sect, Ac 26:5; Ga 1:14. The essential features of their character are still common in Christian lands, and are no less odious to Christ than of old.

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separatists (Heb persahin, from parash, "to separate"). They were probably the successors of the Assideans (i.e., the "pious"), a party that originated in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes in revolt against his heathenizing policy. The first mention of them is in a description by Josephus of the three sects or schools into which the Jews were divided (B.C. 145). The other two sects were the Essenes and the Sadducees. In the time of our Lord they were the popular party (Joh 7:48). They were extremely accurate and minute in all matters appertaining to the law of Moses (Mt 9:14; 23:15; Lu 11:39; 18:12). Paul, when brought before the council of Jerusalem, professed himself a Pharisee (Ac 23:6-8; 26:4-5).

There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax morality (Mt 5:20; 15:4,8; 23/3'>23:3,14,23,25; Joh 8:7). On the first notice of them in the New Testament (Mt 3:7), they are ranked by our Lord with the Sadducees as a "generation of vipers." They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Mt 9:11; Lu 7:39; 18:11-12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Mt 12:39; 16:1-4).

From the very beginning of his ministry the Pharisees showed themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could not bear his doctrines, and they sought by every means to destroy his influence among the people.

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From perishin Aramaic, perashim, "separated." To which Paul alludes, Ro 1:1; Ga 1:15, "separated unto the gospel of God"; once "separated" unto legal self righteousness. In contrast to "mingling" with Grecian and other heathen customs, which Antiochus Epiphanes partially effected, breaking down the barrier of God's law which separated Israel from pagandom, however refined. The Pharisees were successors of the Assideans or Chasidim, i.e. godly men "voluntarily devoted unto the law." On the return from Babylon the Jews became more exclusive than ever. In Antiochus' time this narrowness became intensified in opposition to the rationalistic compromises of many. The Sadducees succeeded to the latter, the Pharisees to the former (1Ma 1:13-15; 1Ma 1:41-49; 1Ma 1:62-63; 1Ma 2:42; 1Ma 7:13-17; 2Ma 14:6-38). They "resolved fully not to eat any unclean thing, choosing rather to die that they might not be defiled: and profame the holy covenant." in opposition to the Hellenizing faction.

So the beginning of the Pharisees was patriotism and faithfulness to the covenant. Jesus, the meek and loving One, so wholly free from harsh judgments, denounces with unusual severity their hypocrisy as a class. (Mt 15:7-8; 23:5,13-33), their ostentatious phylacteries and hems, their real love of preeminence; their pretended long prayers, while covetously defrauding the widow. They by their "traditions" made God's word of none effect; opposed bitterly the Lord Jesus, compassed His death, provoking Him to some "hasty words" (apostomatizein) which they might catch at and accuse Him; and hired Judas to betray Him; "strained out gnats, while swallowing camels" (image from filtrating wine); painfully punctilious about legal trifles and casuistries, while reckless of truth, righteousness, and the fear of God; cleansing the exterior man while full of iniquity within, like "whited sepulchres" (Mr 7:6-13; Lu 11:42-44,53-54; 16:14-15); lading men with grievous burdens, while themselves not touching them with one of their fingers. (See CORBAN .)

Paul's remembrance of his former bondage as a rigid Pharisee produced that reaction in his mind, upon his embracing the gospel, that led to his uncompromising maintenance, under the Spirit of God, of Christian liberty and justification by faith only, in opposition to the yoke of ceremonialism and the righteousness which is of the law (Galatians 4; 5). The Mishna or "second law," the first portion of the Talmud, is a digest of Jewish traditions and ritual, put in writing by rabbi Jehudah the Holy in the second century. The Gemara is a "supplement," or commentary on it; it is twofold, that of Jerusalem not later than the first half of the fourth century, and that of Babylon A.D. 500. The Mishna has six divisions (on seeds, feasts, women's marriage, etc., decreases and compacts, holy things, clean and unclean), and an introduction on blessings. Hillel and Shammai were leaders of two schools of the Pharisees, differing on slight points; the Mishna refers to both (living before Christ) and to Hillel's grandson, Paul's' teacher, Gamaliel.

An undesigned coincidence confirming genuineness is the fact that throughout the Gospels hostility to Christianity shows itself mainly from the Pharisees; but throughout Acts from the Sadducees. Doubtless because after Christ's resurrection the resurrection of the dead was a leading doctrine of Christians, which it was not before (Mr 9:10; Ac 1:22; 2:32; 4:10; 5:31; 10:40). The Pharisees therefore regarded Christians in this as their allies against the Sadducees, and so the less opposed Christianity (Joh 11:57; 18:3; Ac 4:1; 5:17; 23:6-9). The Mishna lays down the fundamental principle of the Pharisees. "Moses received the oral law from Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and these to the prophets, and these to the men of the great synagogue" (Pirke Aboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers"), 1). The absence of directions for prayer, and of mention of a future life, in the Pentateuch probably gave a pretext for the figment of a traditional oral law.

The great synagogue said, "make a fence for the law," i.e. carry the prohibitions beyond the written law to protect men from temptations to sin; so Ex 23:19 was by oral law made further to mean that no flesh was to be mixed with milk for food. The oral law defined the time before which in the evening a Jew must repeat the Shema, i.e. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord," etc. (De 6:4-9.) So it defines the kind of wick and oil to be used for lighting the lamps which every Jew must burn on the Sabbath eve. An egg laid on a festival may be eaten according to the school of Shammai, but not according to that of Hillel; for Jehovah says in Ex 16:5, "on the sixth day they shall prepare that which, they bring in," therefore one must not prepare for the Sabbath on a feast day nor for a feast day on the Sabbath. An egg laid on a feast following the Sabbath was "prepared" the day before, and so involves a breach of the Sabbath (!); and though all feasts do not immediately follow the Sabbath yet "as a fence to the law" an egg laid on any feast must not be eaten.

Contrast Mic 6:8. A member of the society of Pharisees was called chaber; those not members were called "the people of the land"; compare Joh 7:49, "this people who knoweth not the law are cursed"; also the Pharisee standing and praying with himself, self righteous and despising the publican (Lu 18:9-14). Isaiah (Isa 65:5) foretells their characteristic formalism, pride of sanctimony, and hypocritical exclusiveness (Jg 1:18). Their scrupulous tithing (Mt 23:23; Lu 18:12) was based on the Mishna, "he who undertakes to be trustworthy (a pharisaic phrase) tithes whatever he eats, sells, buys, and does not eat and drink with the people of the land." The produce (tithes) reserved for the Levites and priests was "holy," and for anyone. else to eat it was deadly sin. So the Pharisee took all pains to know that his purchases had been duly tithed, and therefore shrank from "eating with" (Mt 9:11) those whose food might not be so. The treatise Cholin in the Mishna lays down a regulation as to "clean and unclean" (Le 20:25; 22:4-7; Nu 19:20) which severs the Jews socially from other peoples; "anything slaughtered by a pagan is unfit to be eaten, like the carcass of an animal that died of itself, and pollutes him who carries it."

An orthodox Jew still may not eat meat of any animal unless killed by a Jewish butcher; the latter searches for a blemish, and attaches to the approved a leaden seal stamped kashar, "lawful." (Disraeli, Genius. of Judaism.) The Mishna abounds in precepts illustrating Col 2:21, "touch not, taste not, handle not" (contrast Mt 15:11). Also it (6:480) has a separate treatise on washing of hands (Yadayim). Translated Mr 7:8, "except they wash their hands with the fist" (pugmee); the Mishna ordaining to pour water over the dosed hands raised so that it should flow down to the elbows, and then over the arms so as to flow over the fingers. Jesus, to confute the notion of its having moral value, did not wash before eating (Lu 11:37-40). Josephus (Ant. 18:1, section 3, 13:10, section 5) says the Pharisees lived frugally, like the Stoics, and hence had so much weight with the multitude that if they said aught against the king or the high-priest it was immediately believed, whereas the Sadducees could gain only the rich.

The defect in the Pharisees which Christ stigmatized by the parable of the two debtors was not immorality but want of love, from unconsciousness of forgiveness or of the need of it. Christ recognizes Simon's superiority to the woman in the relative amounts of sin needing forgiveness, but shows both were on a level in inability to cancel their sin as a debt. Had he realized this, he would not have thought Jesus no prophet for suffering her to touch Him with her kisses of adoring love for His forgiveness of her, realized by her (Lu 7:36-50; 15:2). Tradition set aside moral duties, as a child's to his parents by" Corban"; a debtor's to his creditors by the Mishna treatise, Avodah Zarah (1:1) which forbade payment to a pagan three days before any pagan fest

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A study of the four centuries before Christ supplies a striking illustration of the law that the deepest movements of history advance without the men, who in God's plan are their agents, being clearly aware of what is going on. The answer to the question

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This name was given to a religious school among the Jews; it is supposed to have been derived from the Hebrew word parash, signifying 'to separate'; it was given to them by others, their chosen name being chasidim, 'pious ones.' Josephus speaks of them as early as the reign of Jonathan (B.C. 161-144). They prided themselves on their superior sanctity of life, devotion to God, and their study of the law. The Pharisee in the parable thanked God that he was 'not as other men.' Lu 18:11. Paul, when before Agrippa, spoke of them as 'the most straitest sect.' The Pharisees included all classes of men, rich and poor: they were numerous, and at times had great influence. In the council before which Paul was arraigned they were well represented. Ac 23:6-9. They were the great advocates of tradition, and were punctilious in paying tithes. In many respects the ritualists of modern days resemble them.

The Lord severely rebuked all their pretensions, and laid bare their wickedness as well as their hypocrisy. It may have been that because of the great laxity of the Jews generally, some at first devoutly sought for greater sanctity. Others, not sincere, may have joined themselves to the sect, and it thus degenerated from its original design, until its moral state became such as was exposed and denounced by the Lord. The very name has become a synonym for bigotry and formalism. Probably such men as Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Saul were men of a different stamp, though all needed the regenerating power of grace to give them what they professed to seek.

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a religious party or school among the Jews at the time of Christ, so called from perishin, the Aramaic form of the Hebrew word perushim, "separated." The chief sects among the Jews were the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes, who may be described respectively as the Formalists, the Freethinkers and the Puritans. A knowledge of the opinions and practices of the Pharisees at the time of Christ is of great importance for entering deeply into the genius of the Christian religion. A cursory perusal of the Gospels is sufficient to show that Christ's teaching was in some respects thoroughly antagonistic to theirs. He denounced them in the bitterest language; see

15/7'>Mt 15:7-8; 23/5'>23:5,13-14,15,23; Mr 7:6; Lu 11:42-44

and compare

Mr 7:1-5; 11:29; 12:19-20; Lu 6:28,37-42

To understand the Pharisees is by contrast an aid toward understanding the spirit of uncorrupted Christianity.

1. The fundamental principle all of the of the Pharisees, common to them with all orthodox modern Jews, is that by the side of the written law regarded as a summary of the principles and general laws of the Hebrew people there was on oral law to complete and to explain the written law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai and transmitted by him by word of mouth. The first portion of the Talmud, called the Mishna or "second law," contains this oral law. It is a digest of the Jewish traditions and a compendium of the whole ritual law, and it came at length to be esteemed far above the sacred text.

2. While it was the aim of Jesus to call men to the law of God itself as the supreme guide of life, the Pharisees, upon the Pretence of maintaining it intact, multiplied minute precepts and distinctions to such an extent that the whole life of the Israelite was hemmed in and burdened on every side by instructions so numerous and trifling that the law was almost if not wholly lost sight of. These "traditions" as they were called, had long been gradually accumulating. Of the trifling character of these regulations innumerable instances are to be found in the Mishna. Such were their washings before they could eat bread, and the special minuteness with which the forms of this washing were prescribed; their bathing when they returned from the market; their washing of cups, pots, brazen vessels, etc.; their fastings twice in the week,

Lu 18:12

were their tithing;

Mt 23:23

and such, finally, were those minute and vexatious extensions of the law of the Sabbath, which must have converted God's gracious ordinance of the Sabbath's rest into a burden and a pain.

Mt 12:1-13; Mr 3:1-6; Lu 18:10-17

3. It was a leading aim of the Redeemer to teach men that true piety consisted not in forms, but in substance, not in outward observances, but in an inward spirit. The whole system of Pharisaic piety led to exactly opposite conclusions. The lowliness of piety was, according to the teaching of Jesus, an inseparable concomitant of its reality; but the Pharisees sought mainly to attract the attention and to excite the admiration of men.

6/2'>Mt 6:2,6,16; 23:5-6; Lu 14:7

Indeed the whole spirit of their religion was summed up not in confession of sin and in humility, but in a proud self righteousness at variance with any true conception of man's relation to either God or his fellow creatures.

4. With all their pretences to piety they were in reality avaricious, sensual and dissolute.

Mt 23:25; Joh 13:7

They looked with contempt upon every nation but their own.

Lu 10:29

Finally, instead of endeavoring to fulfill the great end of the dispensation whose truths they professed to teach, and thus bringing men to the Hope of Israel, they devoted their energies to making converts to their own narrow views, who with all the zeal of proselytes were more exclusive and more bitterly opposed to the truth than they were themselves.

Mt 22:15

5. The Pharisees at an early day secured the popular favor and thereby acquired considerable political influence. This influence was greatly increased by the extension of the Pharisees over the whole land and the majority which they obtained in the Sanhedrin. Their number reached more than six thousand under the Herods. Many of them must have suffered death for political agitation. In the time of Christ they were divided doctrinally into several schools, among which those of Hillel and Shammai were most noted. --McClintock and Strong.

6. One of the fundamental doctrines of the Pharisees was a belief in a future state. They appear to have believed in a resurrection of the dead, very much in the same sense: as the early Christians. They also believed in "a divine Providence acting side by side with the free will of man." --Schaff.

7. It is proper to add that it would be a great mistake to suppose that the Pharisees were wealthy and luxurious much more that they had degenerated into the vices which were imputed to some of the Roman popes and cardinals during the two hundred years preceding the Reformation. Josephus compared the Pharisees to the sect of the Stoics. He says that they lived frugally, in no respect giving in to luxury. We are not to suppose that there were not many individuals among them who were upright and pure, for there were such men as Nicodemus, Gamaliel, Joseph of Arimathea and Paul.

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PHARISEES, a sect of the Jews. The earliest mention of them is by Josephus, who tells us that they were a sect of considerable weight when John Hyrcanus was high priest, B.C. 108. They were the most numerous, distinguished, and popular sect among the Jews; the time when they first appeared is not known, but it is supposed to have been not long after the institution of the Sadducees, if, indeed, the two sects did not gradually spring up together. They derived their name from the Hebrew word pharash, which signifies "separated," or "set apart;" because they separated themselves from the rest of the Jews to superior strictness in religious observances. They boasted that, from their accurate knowledge of religion, they were the favourites of Heaven; and thus, trusting in themselves that they were righteous, despised others, Lu 11:52;

18:9, 11. Among the tenets inculcated by this sect, we may enumerate the following: namely, they ascribed all things to fate or providence; yet not so absolutely as to take away the free will of man; for fate does not cooperate in every action, Ac 5:38-39. They also believed in the existence of angels and spirits, and in the resurrection of the dead; Ac 23:8. Lastly: the Pharisees contended that God stood engaged to bless the Jews, to make them all partakers of the terrestrial kingdom of the Messiah, to justify them, and make them eternally happy. The cause of their justification they derived from the merits of Abraham, from their knowledge of God, from their practising the right of circumcision, and from the sacrifices they offered. And as they conceived works to be meritorious, they had invented a great number of supererogatory ones, to which they attached greater merit than to the observance of the law itself. To this notion St. Paul has some allusions in those parts of his Epistle to the Romans, in which he combats the erroneous suppositions of the Jews, Romans 1-11.

The Pharisees were the strictest of the three principal sects that divided the Jewish nation, Ac 26:5, and affected a singular probity of manners according to their system; which, however, was, for the most part, both lax and corrupt. Thus many things which Moses had tolerated in civil life, in order to avoid a greater evil, the Pharisees determined to be morally right: for instance, the law of divorce from a wife for any cause, Mt 5:31, &c; 19:3-12. (See Divorce.) Farther: they interpreted certain of the Mosaic laws most literally, and distorted their meaning so as to favour their own selfish system. Thus, the law of loving their neighbour, they expounded solely of the love of their friends, that is, of the whole Jewish race; all other persons being considered by them as natural enemies, whom they were in no respect bound to assist, Mt 5:43; Lu 10:31-33. They also trifled with oaths. Dr. Lightfoot has cited a striking illustration of this from Maimonides. An oath, in which the name of God was not distinctly specified, they taught was not binding, Mt 5:33; maintaining that a man might even swear with his lips, and at the same time annul it in his heart! And yet so rigorously did they understand the command of observing the Sabbath day, that they accounted it unlawful to pluck ears of corn, and heal the sick, &c, Mt 12; Lu 6:6, &c; 14. Many moral rules they accounted inferior to the ceremonial laws, to the total neglect of mercy and fidelity, Mt 5:19; 15:4; 23:23. Hence they accounted causeless anger and impure desires as trifles of no moment, Mt 5:21-22,27-30; they compassed sea and land to make proselytes to the Jewish religion from among the Gentiles, that they might rule over their consciences and wealth; and these proselytes, through the influence of their own scandalous examples and characters, they soon rendered more profligate and abandoned than ever they were before their conversion, Mt 23:15. Esteeming temporal happiness and riches as the highest good, they scrupled not to accumulate wealth by every means, legal or illegal, Mt 5:1-12; 23:5; Lu 16:14; Jas 2:1-8; vain and ambitious of popular applause, they offered up long prayers in public places, but not without self-complacency in their own holiness, Mt 6:2-5; Lu 18:11; under a sanctimonious appearance of respect for the memories of the prophets whom their ancestors had slain, they repaired and beautified their sepulchres, Mt 23:29; and such was their idea of their own sanctity, that they thought themselves defiled if they but touched or conversed with sinners, that is, with publicans or tax-gatherers, and persons of loose and irregular lives, Lu 7:39; 15:1.

But, above all their other tenets, the Pharisees were conspicuous for their reverential observance of the traditions or decrees of the elders: these traditions, they pretended, had been handed down from Moses through every generation, but were not committed to writing; and they were not merely considered as of equal authority with the divine law, but even preferable to it. "The words of the scribes," said they, "are lovely above the words of the law; for the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the scribes are all weighty." Among the traditions thus sanctimoniously observed by the Pharisees, we may briefly notice the following: the washing of hands up to the wrist before and after meat, Mt 15:2; Mr 7:3; which they accounted not merely a religious duty, but considered its omission as a crime equal to fornication, and punishable by excommunication: the purification of the cups, vessels, and couches used at their meals by ablutions or washings, Mr 7:4; for which purpose the six large water pots mentioned by St. Joh 2:6, were destined: their fasting twice a week with great appearance of austerity, Lu 18:12; Mt 6:16; thus converting that exercise into religion which is only a help toward the performance of its hallowed duties: their punctilious payment of tithes, (temple-offerings,) even of the most trifling things, Lu 18:12; Mt 23:23. And their wearing broader phylacteries and larger fringes to their garments than the rest of the Jews, Mt 23:5. See PHYLACTERIES.

With all their pretensions to piety, the Pharisees entertained the most sovereign contempt for the people; whom, being ignorant of the law, they pronounced to be accursed, Joh 7:49. Yet such was the esteem and veneration in which they were held by the populace, that they may almost be said to have given what direction they pleased to public affairs; and hence the great men dreaded their power and authority. It is unquestionable, as Mosheim has well remarked, that the religion of the Pharisees was, for the most part, founded in consummate hypocrisy; and that, at the bottom, they were generally the slaves of every vicious appetite, proud, arrogant, and avaricious, consulting only the gratification of their lusts, even at the very moment when they professed themselves to be engaged in the service of their Maker. These odious features in the character of the Pharisees caused them to be reprehended by our Saviour with the utmost severity, even more so than the Sadducees; who, although they had departed widely from the genuine principles of religion, yet did not impose on mankind by a pretended sanctity, or devote themselves with insatiate greediness to the acquisition of honours and riches. A few, and a few only, of the sect of the Pharisees, in those times, might be of better character,

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