Easton's Bible Dictionary
separatists (Hebrew 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 ( John 7:48 ). They were extremely accurate and minute in all matters appertaining
to the law of Moses ( Matthew 9:14 ; 23:15 ; Luke 11:39 ; 18:12 ). Paul, when
brought before the council of Jerusalem, professed himself a Pharisee ( Acts 23:6-8
; 26:4 , 26:5 ).
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 ( Matthew 5:20 ; 15:4
, 15:8 ; 3:3 , 23:14 , 23:23 , 23:25 ; John 8:7 ). On the first notice of them
in the New Testament ( Matthew 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 ( Matthew 9:11 ; Luke 7:39 ; 18:11 , 18:12 ). They were frequently
rebuked by our Lord ( Matthew 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.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
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 Christs teaching was in some respects thoroughly antagonistic to theirs.
He denounced them in the bitterest language; see ( Matthew 15:7 , 15:8 ; 23:5
, 23:13 , 23:14 , 23:15 , 23:23 ; Mark 7:6 ; Luke 11:42 - 44 ) and compare ( Mark
7:1-5 ; 11:29 ; 12:19 , 12:20 ; Luke 6:28 , 6:37 - 42 ) To understand the Pharisees
is by contrast an aid toward understanding the spirit of uncorrupted Christianity.
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.
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, ( Luke 18:12 ) were their tithing; ( Matthew 23:23 ) and such,
finally, were those minute and vexatious extensions of the law of the Sabbath,
which must have converted Gods gracious ordinance of the Sabbaths rest into a
burden and a pain. ( Matthew 12:1 - 13 ; Mark 3:1 - 6 ; Luke 18:10 - 17 )
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. ( Matthew 6:2 , 6:6 , 6:16 ; 23:5 , 23:6 ; Luke 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 mans relation to either God or his fellow creatures.
With all their pretences to piety they were in reality avaricious, sensual and
dissolute. ( Matthew 23:25 ; John 13:7 ) They looked with contempt upon every
nation but their own. ( Luke 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. ( Matthew 22:15
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 .
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.
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
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
far'-i-sez (perushim; Pharisaioi):
Name and General Character:
A prominent sect of the Jews. The earliest notice of them in Josephus occurs in
connection with Jonathan, the high priest. Immediately after the account of the
embassy to the Lacedaemonians, there is subjoined (Josephus, Ant, XIII, v, 9)
an account of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, therefore implying that then
and in this connection they had been prominent, although no notice of any of these
parties is to be found that confirms that view. Later (XIII, x, 5), the Pharisees
are represented as envious of the success of John Hyrcanus; Eleazar, one of them,
insults him at his own table. From the fact that earlier in the history the Assideans
occupy a similar place to that occupied later by the Pharisees, it may be deduced
that the two parties are in a measure one. See HASIDAEANS; ASMONEANS. It would
seem that not only the Pharisees, but also the Essenes, were derived from the
Assideans or chacidhim.
In considering the characteristics and doctrines of the Pharisees we are in some
difficulty from the nature of our authorities. The writers of the New Testament
assume generally that the character and tenets of the Pharisees are well known
to their readers, and only lay stress on the points in which they were in antagonism
to our Lord and His followers. The evidence of Josephus, a contemporary and himself
a Pharisee, is lessened in value by the fact that he modified his accounts of
his people to suit the taste of his Roman masters. The Pharisees, with him, are
a philosophic sect, and not an active political party. Their Messianic hopes are
not so much as mentioned. Although the Talmud was written, both Mishna and Gemara,
by the descendants of the Pharisees, the fact that the Gemara, from which most
of our information is derived, is so late renders the evidence deduced from Talmudic
statements of little value. Even the Mishna, which came into being only a century
after the fall of the Jewish state, shows traces of exaggeration and modification
of facts. Still, taking these deficiencies into consideration, we may make a fairly
consistent picture of the sect. The name means "separatists," from parash, "to
separate"--those who carefully kept themselves from any legal contamination, distinguishing
themselves by their care in such matters from the common people, the `am ha'arets,
who had fewer scruples. Like the Puritans in England during the 17th century,
and the Presbyterians in Scotland during the same period, the Pharisees, although
primarily a religious party, became ere long energetically political. They were
a closely organized society, all the members of which called each other chabherim,
"neighbors"; this added to the power they had through their influence with the
I. HISTORY OF THE SECT
The Assideans (chacidhim) were at first the most active supporters of Judas Maccabeus
in his struggle for religious freedom. A portion of them rather than fight retired
to the desert to escape the tyranny of Epiphanes (1 Macc 2:27 f). The followers
of these in later days became the Essenes. When Judas Maccabeus cleansed the temple
and rededicated it with many sacrifices, it is not expressly said, either in the
Books of Maccabees or by Josephus, that he acted as high priest, but the probability
is that he did so. This would be a shock to the Assidean purists, as Judas, though
a priest, was not a Zadokite; but his actions would be tolerated at that time
on account of the imminent necessity for the work of reconsecration and the eminent
services of Judas himself and his family.
1. Associated at First with Hasmoneans, but Later Abandon Them:
When Bacchides appeared against Jerusalem with Alcimus in his camp, this feeling
against Judas took shape in receiving the treacherous Alcimus into Jerusalem and
acknowledging him as high priest, a line of action which soon showed that it was
fraught with disaster, as Alcimus murdered many of the people. They had to betake
themselves anew to Judas, but this desertion was the beginning of a separating
gulf which deepened when he made a treaty with the idolatrous Romans. As is not
infrequently the case with religious zealots, their valor was associated with
a mystic fanaticism. The very idea of alliance with heathen powers was hateful
to them, so when Judas began to treat with Rome they deserted him, and he sustained
the crushing defeat of Eleasa. Believing themselves the saints of God and therefore
His peculiar treasure, they regarded any association with the heathen as faithlessness
to Yahweh. Their attitude was much that of the Fifth Monarchy men in the time
of Cromwell, still more that of the Cameronians in Scotland at the Revolution
of 1688 who, because William of Orange was not a "covenanted" king, would have
none of him. As the later Hasmoneans became more involved in worldly politics,
they became more and more alienated from the strict Assideans, yet the successors
of Judas Maccabeus retained their connection with the party in a lukewarm fashion,
while the Sadducean sect was gaining in influence.
About this time the change of name seems to have been effected. They began to
be called Pharisees, perushim, instead of chacidhim--"separatists" instead of
saints. A parallel instance is to be found in the religious history of England.
2. Change of Name:
The Puritans of the 17th century became in the 19th "Non-conformists." The earliest
instance of the Pharisees' intervening in history is that referred to in Josephus
(Ant., XIII, x, 5), where Eleazar, a Pharisee, demanded that John Hyrcanus should
lay down the high-priesthood because his mother had been a captive, thus insinuating
that he--Hyrcanus--was no true son of Aaron, but the bastard of some nameless
heathen to whom his mother had surrendered herself. This unforgivable insult to
himself and to the memory of his mother led Hyrcanus to break with the Pharisaic
party definitely. He seems to have left them severely alone.
3. Later Fortunes of the Sect:
The sons of Hyrcanus, especially Alexander Janneus, expressed their hostility
in a more active way. Alexander crucified as many as 800 of the Pharisaic party,
a proceeding that seems to intimate overt acts of hostility on their part which
prompted this action. His whole policy was the aggrandizement of the Jewish state,
but his ambition was greater than his military abilities. His repeated failures
and defeats confirmed the Pharisees in their opposition to him on religious grounds.
He scandalized them by calling himself king, although not of the Davidic line,
and further still by adopting the heathen name "Alexander," and having it stamped
in Greek characters on his coins. Although a high priest was forbidden to marry
a widow, he married the widow of his brother. Still further, he incurred their
opposition by abandoning the Pharisaic tradition as to the way in which the libation
water was poured out. They retaliated by rousing his people against him and conspiring
with the Syrian king. On his deathbed he advised his wife, Alexandra Salome, who
succeeded him on the throne, to make peace with the Pharisees. This she did by
throwing herself entirely into their hands. On her death a struggle for the possession
of the throne and the high-priesthood began between her two sons, John Hyrcanus
II and Aristobulus II. The latter, the more able and energetic, had the support
of the Sadducees; the former, the elder of the two brothers, had that of the Pharisees.
In the first phase of the conflict, Hyrcanus was defeated and compelled to make
a disadvantageous peace with his brother, but, urged by Antipater, the Idumean,
he called in Aretas, who inclined the balance at once to the side of Hyrcanus.
The Romans were appealed to and they also, moved partly by the astuteness of Antipater,
favored Hyrcanus. All this resulted ultimately in the supremacy of the Herodians,
who through their subservience to Rome became inimical to the Pharisees and rivals
of the Sadducees.
4. In New Testament Times:
When the New Testament records open, the Pharisees, who have supreme influence
among the people, are also strong, though not predominant, in the Sanhedrin. The
Herodians and Sadducees, the one by their alliance with the Ro authorities, and
the other by their inherited skill in political intrigue, held the reins of government.
If we might believe the Talmudic representation, the Pharisees were in the immense
majority in the Sanhedrin; the nasi', or president, and the 'abh-beth-din, or
vice-president, both were Pharisees. This, however, is to be put to the credit
of Talmudic imagination, the relation of which to facts is of the most distant
Recently Buchler (Das grosse Synedrion in Jerusalem) has attempted to harmonize
these Talmudic fables with the aspect of things appearing in the New Testament
and Josephus. He assumes that there were two Sanhedrins, one civil, having to
do with matters of government, in which the Sadducees were overwhelmingly predominant,
and the other scholastic, in which the Pharisees were equally predominant--the
one the Senate of the nation, like the Senate of the United States, the other
the Senate of a university, let us say, of Jerusalem. Although followed by Rabbi
Lauterbach in the Jewish Encyclopedia, this attempt cannot be regarded as successful.
There is no evidence for this dual Sanhedrin either in the New Testament or Josephus,
on the one hand, or in the Talmud on the other.
Outside the Sanhedrin the Pharisees are ubiquitous, in Jerusalem, in Galilee,
in Peraea and in the Decapolis, always coming in contact with Jesus. The attempts
made by certain recent Jewish writers to exonerate them from the guilt of the
condemnation of our Lord has no foundation; it is contradicted by the New Testament
records, and the attitude of the Talmud to Jesus.
The Pharisees appear in the Book of Acts to be in a latent way favorers of the
apostles as against the high-priestly party. The personal influence of Gamaliel,
which seems commanding, was exercised in their favor. The anti-Christian zeal
of Saul the Tarsian, though a Pharisee, may have been to some extent the result
of the personal feelings which led him to perpetuate the relations of the earlier
period when the two sects were united in common antagonism to the teaching of
Christ. He, a Pharisee, offered himself to be employed by the Sadducean high priest
(Acts 9:1,2) to carry on the work of persecution in Damascus. In this action Saul
appears to have been in opposition to a large section of the Pharisaic party.
The bitter disputes which he and the other younger Pharisees had carried on with
Stephen had possibly influenced him.
5. In Post-apostolic Times:
When Paul, the Christian apostle, was brought before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem,
the Pharisaic party were numerous in the Council, if they did not even form the
majority, and they readily became his defenders against the Sadducees.
From Josephus we learn that with the outbreak of the war with the Romans the Pharisees
were thrust into the background by the more fanatical Zealots, Simon ben Gioras
and John of Gischala (BJ, V, i). The truth behind the Talmudic statements that
Gamaliel removed the Sanhedrin to Jabneh and that Johanan ben Zakkai successfully
entreated Vespasian to spare the scholars of that city is that the Pharisees in
considerable numbers made peace with the Romans. In the Mishna we have the evidence
of their later labors when the Sanhedrin was removed from Jabneh, ultimately to
Tiberias in Galilee. There under the guidance of Jehuda ha-Qadhosh ("the Holy")
the Mishna was reduced to writing. It may thus be said that Judaism became Pharisaism,
and the history of the Jews became that of the Pharisees. In this later period
the opposition to Christianity sprang up anew and became embittered, as may be
seen in the Talmudic fables concerning Jesus.
II. DOCTRINES OF THE PHARISEES
1. Josephus' Statements Colored by Greek Ideas:
The account given of the doctrines of the Pharisees by Josephus is clearly influenced
by his desire to parallel the Jewish sects with the Greek philosophical schools.
He directs especial attention to the Pharisaic opinion as to fate and free will,
since on this point the Stoic and Epicurean sects differed very emphatically.
He regards the Pharisaic position as mid-way between that of the Sadducees, who
denied fate altogether and made human freedom absolute, and that of the Essenes
that "all things are left in the hand of God." He says "The Pharisees ascribe
all things to fate and God, yet allow that to do what is right or the contrary
is principally in man's own power, although fate cooperates in every action."
It is to be noted that Josephus, in giving this statement of views, identifies
"fate" with "God," a process that is more plausible in connection with the Latin
fatum, "something decreed," than in relation to the impersonal moira, or heimarmene,
of the Greeks. As Josephus wrote in Greek and used only the second of these terms,
he had no philological inducement to make the identification; the reason must
have been the matter of fact. In other words, he shows that the Pharisees believed
in a personal God whose will was providence.
2. Conditional Reincarnation:
In connection with this was their doctrine of a future life of rewards and punishments.
The phrase which Josephus uses is a peculiar one: "They think that every soul
is immortal; only the souls of good men will pass into another body, but the souls
of the evil shall suffer everlasting punishment" (aidia timoria kolazesthai).
From this it has been deduced that the Pharisees held the transmigration of souls.
In our opinion this is a mistake. We believe that really it is an attempt of Josephus
to state the doctrine of the resurrection of the body in a way that would not
shock Hellenic ideas. The Greek contempt for the body made the idea of the resurrection
abhorrent, and in this, as in most philosophical matters, the Romans followed
the Greeks. It would seem that Josephus regarded the Pharisees as maintaining
that this resurrection applied only to the righteous. Still even this restriction,
though certainly the natural interpretation, is not absolutely necessary. This
is confirmed by the corresponding section in the Antiquities (XVIII, i, 3): "They
also believe .... that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according
as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life, and the latter are to
be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to
revive and live again." Josephus also declares the Pharisees to be very attentive
students of the law of God: "they interpret the law with careful exactitude."
3. New Testament Presentation of Pharisaic Doctrines--Angels and Spirits--Resurrection:
Nothing in the Gospels or the Acts at all militates against any part of this representation,
but there is much to fill it out. They believed in angels and spirits (Acts 23:8).
From the connection it is probable that the present activity of such beings was
the question in the mind of the writer. In that same sentence belief in the resurrection
is ascribed to the Pharisees.
4. Traditions Added to the Law:
Another point is that to the bare letter of the Law they added traditions. While
the existence of these traditions is referred to in Gospels, too little is said
to enable us to grasp their nature and extent (Matthew 15:2 ; 16:5 ; Mark 7:1
- 23). The evangelists only recorded these traditional glosses when they conflicted
with the teaching of Christ and were therefore denounced by Him. We find them
exemplified in the Mishna. The Pharisaic theory of tradition was that these additions
to the written law and interpretations of it had been given by Moses to the elders
and by them had been transmitted orally down through the ages. The classical passage
in the Mishna is to be found in Pirqe' Abhoth: "Moses received the (oral) Law
from Sinai and delivered it to Joshua and Joshua to the elders, and the elders
to the prophets and the prophets to the men of the great synagogue." Additions
to these traditions were made by prophets by direct inspiration, or by interpretation
of the words of the written Law. All this mass, as related above, was reduced
to writing by Jehuda ha-Qadhosh in Tiberias, probably about the end of the 2nd
century AD. Jehuda was born, it is said, 135 AD, and died somewhere about 220
The related doctrines of the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the
body, and the final judgment with its consequent eternal rewards and punishments
formed a portion and a valuable portion of this tradition.
5. Traditional Interpretations of the Law by Pharisees (Sabbath, etc.):
Less valuable, at times burdensome and hurtful, were the minute refinements they
introduced into the Law. Sometimes the ingenuity of the Pharisaic doctors was
directed to lighten the burden of the precept as in regard to the Sabbath. Thus
a person was permitted to go much farther than a Sabbath day's journey if at some
time previous he had deposited, within the legal Sabbath day's journey of the
place he wished to reach, bread and water; this point was now to be regarded as
the limit of his house, and consequently from this all distances were to be ceremonially
reckoned (Jewish Encyclopedia, under the word "Erub"): The great defect of Pharisaism
was that it made sin so purely external. An act was right or wrong according as
some external condition was present or absent; thus there was a difference in
bestowing alms on the Sabbath whether the beggar put his hand within the door
of the donor or the donor stretched his hand beyond his own threshold, as may
be seen in the first Mishna in the Tractate Shabbath. A man did not break the
Sabbath rest of his ass, though he rode on it, and hence did not break the Sabbath
law, but if he carried a switch with which to expedite the pace of the beast he
was guilty, because he had laid a burden upon it.
6. Close Students of the Text of Scripture:
Along with these traditions and traditional interpretations, the Pharisees were
close students of the sacred text. On the turn of a sentence they suspended many
decisions. So much so, that it is said of them later the Text of that they suspended
mountains from hairs. This is especially the case with regard to the Sabbath law
with its burdensome minutiae. At the same time there was care as to the actual
wording of the text of the Law; this has a bearing on textual criticism, even
to the present day. A specimen of Pharisaic exegesis which Paul turns against
their followers as an argumentum ad hominem may be seen in Galatians 3:16: "He
saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is
(1) Messianic Hopes.
It is also to be said for them, that they maintained the Messianic hopes of the
nation when their rivals were ready to sacrifice everything to the Romans, in
order to gain greater political influence for themselves. Their imagination ran
riot in the pictures they drew of these future times, but still they aided the
faith of the people who were thus in a position to listen to the claims of Christ.
They were led by Rabbi Aqiba in the reign of Hadrian to accept Bar-Cochba about
a century after they had rejected Jesus. They were fanatical in their obedience
to the Law as they understood it, and died under untold tortures rather than transgress.
They elevated almsgiving into an equivalent for righteousness. This gave poverty
a very different place from what it had in Greece or among the Romans. Learning
was honored, although its possessors might be very poor. The story of the early
life of Hillel brings this out. He is represented as being so poor as to be unable
sometimes to pay the small daily fee which admitted pupils to the rabbinic school,
and when this happened, in his eagerness for the Law, he is reported to have listened
on the roof to the words of the teachers. This is probably not historically true,
but it exhibits the Pharisaic ideal.
III. ORGANIZATION OF THE PHARISAIC PARTY
We have no distinct account of this organization, either in the Gospels, in Josephus,
or in the Talmud. But the close relationship which the members of the sect sustained
to each other, their habit of united action as exhibited in the narratives of
the New Testament and of Josephus are thus most naturally explained. The Talmudic
account of the chabherim affords confirmation of this. These were persons who
primarily associated for the study of the Law and for the better observance of
its precepts. No one was admitted to these chabhuroth without taking an oath of
fidelity to the society and a promise of strict observance of Levitical precepts.
The Chabherim--Pharisaic Brotherhoods:
One of the elements of their promise has to be noted. The chabher promised not
to pay ma`asroth, "tithe," or terumah, "heave offering," to a priest who was not
a chabher. They were only permitted to take this oath when their associates in
the brotherhood certified to their character. Even then the candidate had to pass
through a period of probation of 30 days, according to the "house of Hillel,"
of a year, according to the "house of Shammai." This latter element, being quite
more Talmudico, may be regarded as doubtful. Association with any not belonging
to the Pharisaic society was put under numerous restrictions. It is at least not
improbable that when the lawyer in Luke 10:29 demanded "Who is my neighbor?" he
was minded to restrict the instances of the command in Leviticus 19:18 to those
who were, like himself, Pharisees. A society which thus had brotherhoods all over
Palestine and was separated from the rest of the community would naturally wield
formidable power when their claims were supported by the esteem of the people
at large. It is to be observed that to be a chabher was a purely personal thing,
not heritable like priesthood, and women as well as men might be members. In this
the Pharisees were like the Christians. In another matter also there was a resemblance
between them and the followers of Jesus; they, unlike the Sadducees, were eager
to make proselytes. "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte" (Matthew 23:15).
Many members of Roman society, especially women, were proselytes, as, for instance,
IV. CHARACTER OF THE PHARISEES
1. Pharisees and People of the Land:
Because the ideal of the Pharisees was high, and because they reverenced learning
and character above wealth and civil rank they had a tendency to despise those
who did not agree with them. We see traces of this in the Gospels; thus John 7:49:
"This multitude that knoweth not the law are accursed." The distinction between
the Pharisees, the Puritans and the `am ha-'arets, "the people of the land," began
with the distinction that had to be kept between the Jews and the Gentiles who
had entered the land as colonists or intruders. These would, during the Babylonian
captivity, almost certainly speak Western Aramaic, and would certainly be heathen
and indulge in heathen practices. They were "the people of the land" whom the
returning exiles found in possession of Judea.
2. Arrogance toward Other Jews:
Mingled with them were the few Jews that had neither been killed nor deported
by the Babylonians, nor carried down into Egypt by Johanan, the son of Kareah.
As they had conformed in a large measure to the habits of their heathen neighbors
and intermarried with them, the stricter Jews, as Ezra and Nehemiah, regarded
them as under the same condemnation as the heathen, and shrank from association
with them. During the time of our Lord's life on earth the name was practically
restricted to the ignorant Jews whose conformity to the law was on a broader scale
than that of the Pharisees. Some have, however, dated the invention of the name
later in the days of the Maccabean struggle, when the ceremonial precepts of the
Law could with difficulty be observed. Those who were less careful of these were
regarded as 'am ha-'arets.
3. Regulations for the Chabher:
The distinction as exhibited in the Talmud shows an arrogance on the part of the
Pharisaic chabher that must have been galling to those who, though Jews as much
as the Pharisees, were not Puritans like them. A chabher, that is a Pharisee,
might not eat at the table of a man whose wife was of the `am ha-'arets, even
though her husband might be a Pharisee. If he would be a full chabher, a Pharisee
must not sell to any of the `am ha-'arets anything that might readily be made
unclean. If a woman of the `am ha-'arets was left alone in a room, all that she
could touch without moving from her place was unclean. We must, however, bear
in mind that the evidence for this is Talmudic, and therefore of but limited historical
4. The New Testament Account:
(1) Their Scrupulosity.
We find traces of this scrupulosity in the Gospels. The special way in which the
ceremonial sanctity of the Pharisees exhibited itself was in tithing, hence the
reference to their tithing "mint and anise and cummin" (Matthew 23:23). In the
parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, one of the things that the Pharisee
plumes himself on is that he gives tithes of all he possesses (Luke 18:12). He
is an example of the Pharisaic arrogance of those "who trusted in themselves that
they were righteous and set all others at nought." Their claiming the first seats
in feasts and synagogues (Matthew 23:6) was an evidence of the same spirit.
(2) Their Hypocrisy.
Closely akin to this is the hypocrisy of which the Pharisees were accused by our
Lord. When we call them "hypocrites," we must go back to the primary meaning of
the word. They were essentially "actors," poseurs. Good men, whose character and
spiritual force have impressed themselves on their generation, have often peculiarities
of manner and tone which are easily imitated. The very respect in which they are
held by their disciples leads those who respect them to adopt unconsciously their
mannerisms of voice and deportment. A later generation unconsciously imitates,
"acts the part." In a time when religion is persecuted, as in the days of Antiochus
Epiphanes, or despised as it was in the Hellenizing times which preceded and succeeded,
it would be the duty of religious men not to hide their convictions. The tendency
to carry on this public manifestation of religious acts after it had ceased to
be protest would be necessarily great. The fact that they gained credit by praying
at street corners when the hour of prayer came, and would have lost credit with
the people had they not done so, was not recognized by them as lessening the moral
worth of the action. Those who, having lived in the period of persecution and
contempt, survived in that when religion was held in respect would maintain their
earlier practice without any arriere-pensee. The succeeding generation, in continuing
the practice, consciously "acted." They were poseurs. Their hypocrisy was none
the less real that it was reached by unconscious stages. Hypocrisy was a new sin,
a sin only possible in a spiritual religion, a religion in which morality and
worship were closely related. Heathenism, which lay in sacrifices and ceremonies
by which the gods could be bribed, or cajoled into favors, had a purely casual
connection with morality; its worship was entirely a thing of externals, of acting,
"posing." Consequently, a man did not by the most careful attention to the ceremonies
of religion produce any presumption in favor of his trustworthiness. There was
thus no sinister motive to prompt to religion. The prophets had denounced the
insincerity of worship, but even they did not denounce hypocrisy, i.e. religion
used as a cloak to hide treachery or dishonesty. Religion had become more spiritual,
the connection between morality and worship more intimate by reason of the persecution
of the Seleucids.
5. Talmudic Classification of the Pharisees:
The Talmud to some extent confirms the representation of the Gospels. There were
said to be seven classes of Pharisees:
(1) the "shoulder" Pharisee,
who wears his good deeds on his shoulders and obeys the precept of the Law, not
from principle, but from expediency;
(2) the "wait-a-little" Pharisee,
who begs for time in order to perform a meritorious action;
(3) the "bleeding" Pharisee,
who in his eagerness to avoid looking on a woman shuts his eyes and so bruises
himself to bleeding by stumbling against a wall;
(4) the "painted" Pharisee,
who advertises his holiness lest any one should touch him so that he should be
(5) the "reckoning" Pharisee,
who is always saying "What duty must I do to balance any unpalatable duty which
I have neglected?";
(6) the "fearing" Pharisee,
whose relation to God is one merely of trembling awe;
(7) the Pharisee from "love."
In all but the last there was an element of "acting," of hypocrisy. It is to be
noted that the Talmud denounces ostentation; but unconsciously that root of the
error lies in the externality of their righteousness; it commands an avoidance
of ostentation which involves equal "posing."
V. OUR LORD'S RELATION TO THE PHARISEES
1. Pharisaic Attempts to Gain Christ Over:
The attitude of the Pharisees to Jesus, to begin with, was, as had been their
attitude to John, critical. They sent representatives to watch His doings and
His sayings and report. They seem to have regarded it as possible that He might
unite Himself with them, although, as we think, His affinities rather lay with
the Essenes. Gradually their criticism became opposition. This opposition grew
in intensity as He disregarded their interpretations of the Sabbatic law, ridiculed
their refinements of the law of tithes and the distinctions they introduced into
the validity of oaths, and denounced their insincere posing. At first there seems
to have been an effort to cajole Him into compliance with their plans. If some
of the Pharisees tempted Him to use language which would compromise Him with the
people or with the Ro authorities, others invited Him to their tables, which was
going far upon the part of a Pharisee toward one not a chabher. Even when He hung
on the cross, the taunt with which they greeted Him may have had something of
longing, lingering hope in it: "If he be the King of Israel, let him now come
down from the cross, and we will believe him" (Matthew 27:42 King James Version).
If He would only give them that sign, then they would acknowledge Him to be the
2. Reasons for Pharisaic Hatred of Christ:
The opposition of the Pharisees to Jesus was intensified by another reason. They
were the democratic party; their whole power lay in the reputation they had with
the people for piety. our Lord denounced them as hypocrites; moreover He had secured
a deeper popularity than theirs. At length when cajolery failed to win Him and
astute questioning failed to destroy His popularity, they combined with their
opponents, the Sadducees, against Him as against a common enemy.
3. Our Lord's Denunciation of the Pharisees:
On the other hand, Jesus denounced the Pharisees more than He denounced any other
class of the people. This seems strange when we remember that the main body of
the religious people, those who looked for the Messiah, belonged to the Pharisees,
and His teaching and theirs had a strong external resemblance. It was this external
resemblance, united as it was with a profound spiritual difference, which made
it incumbent on Jesus to mark Himself off from them. All righteousness with them
was external, it lay in meats and drinks and divers washings, in tithing of mint,
anise and cummin. He placed religion on a different footing, removed it into another
region. With Him it was the heart that must be right with God, not merely the
external actions; not only the outside of the cup and platter was to be cleansed,
but the inside first of all. It is to be noted that, as observed above, the Pharisees
were less antagonistic to the apostles when their Lord had left them. The after-history
of Pharisaism has justified Our Lord's condemnation.
Histories of Israel:
Ewald, V, 365, English translation; Herzfeld, III, 354; Jost, I, 197; Gratz, V,
91; Derenbourg, 75-78, 117-44, 452-54; Holtzmann, II, 124; Renan, V, 42; Stanley,
III, 376; Cornill, 145, English translation; Schurer, II, ii, 4, English translation
(GJV4, II. 447); Kuenen, III, 233. ET.
Life and Times of Christ:
Hausrath, I, 135, English translation; Edersheim, I, 310; Lange, I, 302, English
translation; Farrar, II. 494; Geikie, II, 223.; Keim, I, 250; Thomson. Books Which
Influenced our Lord, 50; Weiss. I, 285. English translation; de Pressense, 116.
Articles in Encyclopedias, Bible Dictionaries, Lexicons, etc.:
Ersch and Gruber, Allg. Eric (Daniel); Winer, Realworterbuch; Herzog, RE, edition
1 (Reuss), editions 2, 3 (Sieffert); Hamburger, Realenic.; Smith's DB (Twisleton);
Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Lit. (Ginsburg); HDB (Eaton); Encyclopedia Biblica
(Cowley. Prince); Schenkel, Bibel-Lexicon (Hausrath); Jew Encyclopedia (Kohler);
Temple Dict. of the Bible (Christie); Hastings, DCG (Hugh Scott, Mitchell).
Wellhausen, Montet, Geiger, Baneth, Muller, Hanne, Davaine, Herford; Weber, System
der altsynagogen Palestinischen Theologie, 10, 44; Keil, Biblical Archaeology,
II, 1680; Ryle and James, Psalms of Solomon. xliv; Nicolas. Doctrines religieuses
des juifs, 48.
J. E. H. Thomson
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, characteristics of pharisees, denounced by jesus, mishna, nicodemus, oral law, pharisees, ritual law, saul (paul), second law, traditions