Join the Unexplained Mysteries community today! It's free and setting up an account only takes a moment.
- Sign In or Create Account -
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Paranoid Android

Pharisees - bringers of legalism or love?

17 posts in this topic

I was reading a post from someone earlier today, and I've read similar comments before in the past, but as far as I can remember I can't recall a thread being dedicated to this topic before. The Pharisees were a sect of Jewish leaders operating during the time of Jesus. The texts of the New Testament present these people as legalistic to a fault, to the point where they are actually leading people astray from the teachings of Yahweh. It was one of the key arguments Jesus had against them.

Some people believe, though, that the Pharisees are being unfairly vilified in the New Testament texts. That they are being presented as the "bad guys" when they were really the ones respected by all as teachers of love and peace.

I was wondering what people thought about that. What were the Pharisees like, really? I have my own views based on some of the teachings of the Pharisees (as found in the Mishnah) but I thought I'd get opinions from others before I taint the thread with my own ideas on the topic.

Any and all comments welcome :tu:

~ Regards, PA

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't say I know very much about what the Pharisees were about exactly, but I think without a doubt the Gospels were written with a political slant, and that was to try as far as possible not to antagonise the Romans (for perfectly reasonable political reasons, since they knew that the Authorities could stamp them out without hesitation), so I think without doubt they tried to emphasise the role that the Jewish authorities played in the pesecution of Jesus. On the other hand, though, I think it is very much in keeping with Jesus' whole argument that the old, ritualistic rule-following ways were no longer necessary for people to get in contact with God, and I think they probably did represent the kind of ways of thinking that he did think was no longer necessary, so I don't think he did perhaps feel overwhelmingly sympathetic towards them. But their pedantry and legalism, too, may quite possibly have been emphasised, if not exaggerated, in order to explain why Jesus didn't have much time for them, since those who were trying to establish the early Church could, obvioudly, not make too much of Jesus' anarchic and individualistic view of how to approach a relationship with God, since what they wanted was to establish hierarchies and structures.

On the whole, then, there's quite a few ironies, I think.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The progenitors of the Pharisees sect goes back to the Babylonian captivity and led to corruptions in the Hebrew religion. Babylon was a melting pot of ideas and religions. It is where synagogues and rabbinical literature was born such as the Qabbalah. In other words, I dont believe the Pharisees sect is a perfect distillation of the pre-Babylonian Hebrew religion -- the teachings of Yahweh. For example, in much the same way I dont believe the Roman Catholic church represents the teachings of Apostles either is the pitch perfect illustration of the point I am trying to hit home.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The political debates continue. There is one party that consistently receives bad press, sometimes unfairly. The Pharisees. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were not inherently bad or insincere people. Quite to the contrary, they were exceedingly devout, earnest, righteous Jews – convinced they were righteous and right – and they practiced their faith as if their life and the life of generations to come depended on it. The Pharisees were constitutionalists. And their constitution was the Law of Moses, both the written Law and a second, the oral Law, believed to also derive from Moses. This second Law had come out of their long period of exodus, when they were exiled from their land and their Temple worship, having to make all kinds of principled decisions and practices in a foreign place. This oral Law is what the Gospel according to Mark calls “the Sayings of the Fathers,” which were intended to be a “fence for the Law,” guarding it against violation.

The Pharisees and Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

i don't know much about the Pharisees or the bible in general but I did read this excerpt and thought it might be of interest to some

fullywired

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Basically, the New Testament reveals the conflict between Jesus and his disciples (whom were true Mosaic Jews) against the Pharisiac cult.

Jesus strictly followed the Torah aka the Written Law, and the Talmudist Pharisees favoured the "Traditions Of The Elders" aka the Oral Law aka Babylonian Talmud.

There are quite a few passages in the Gospels where Jesus and his Mosaic disciples argued with the Pharisees over proper interpretation of the Law. Jesus basically said do not follow any religious laws and traditions but only that of Moses as written in the Torah ALONE.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The political debates continue. There is one party that consistently receives bad press, sometimes unfairly. The Pharisees. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were not inherently bad or insincere people. Quite to the contrary, they were exceedingly devout, earnest, righteous Jews – convinced they were righteous and right – and they practiced their faith as if their life and the life of generations to come depended on it. The Pharisees were constitutionalists. And their constitution was the Law of Moses, both the written Law and a second, the oral Law, believed to also derive from Moses. This second Law had come out of their long period of exodus, when they were exiled from their land and their Temple worship, having to make all kinds of principled decisions and practices in a foreign place. This oral Law is what the Gospel according to Mark calls “the Sayings of the Fathers,” which were intended to be a “fence for the Law,” guarding it against violation.

The Pharisees and Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

i don't know much about the Pharisees or the bible in general but I did read this excerpt and thought it might be of interest to some

fullywired

From what I read in the bible, and was taught in church. They followed the letter of the law to a fualt. They were the librals of their time, except they didn't have two laws one for them and one everyone else. Like the liberls of today have. Christ preached that you should follow the spirit of the law.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Poor Pharisees, thanks to some hellenized Bull-S they have gotten some bad rap.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Poor Pharisees, thanks to some hellenized Bull-S they have gotten some bad rap.

Judas also.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Judas also.

I thought you were down on all the books of the Bible not just the New Testament.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Heh, I'd forgotten I'd started this thread. Thanks for the input, folks. My take on it is that the Pharisees were an unfortunate product of their history. When the Jews were conquered by the Babylonians in 590-580BC they viewed this as God's punishment against them for going their own way and not following God. So when they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple, they viewed this as the end to God's Judgement. To ensure that they never broke God's laws again, and thus ensure they are never judged like this again, the Pharisees began to clarify the laws of God, putting up definite lines that must not be crossed, and adding in little bits of ritual that ensure that they follow God's laws as perfectly as they can.

Thus the Pharisees were legalistic to a fault. To use an example, it was wrong to work on the Sabbath. In order to ensure this rule was never broken, the Pharisees created a set of rules to define exactly what "work" was. These rules stated that you could carry something in your own house (eg, water from one part of the house to another, but you couldn't carry it outside. Which seems fair enough. But if you see a person who is dying of thirst lying outside your house, you were breaking the law if you brought water for him to drink. But if he knocked on your door and you invited him in, you could give him as much water as he liked.

Healing on the Sabbath was wrong. It was "work". Thus when Jesus healed the man with a shrivelled hand (Luke 6:6-11) on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were outraged that Jesus would perform such "work". Likewise later in Luke 13:10-17, when Jesus heals the crippled woman, it sparks the Pharisees to actually preach to the crowd - "six days you have to work, come and get healed on those days, not on the Sabbath".

It was this kind of legalism that Jesus spoke out against. They were outwardly righteous, and no one can say that the Pharisees didn't uphold their rules. But in their desire to never go against God again, they forgot the spirit of the law, focusing instead on the letter of the law (and not even the law of the Bible, the extra additions that they made to ensure that they didn't break the law in the Tanakh, much of which is found in the Mishnah).

There are many other examples of how the Pharisees had added these legal bits and pieces, but I don't want to overload a post, not everyone likes reading long posts. In short, that is my view of the Pharisees. They an unfortunate product of the Jewish history, putting the letter of the law above the spirit of the law.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Howdy, PA

There is a limit to how bad a rap Pharisees get in the New Testament, given how much of it is attributed to a Pharisee, Paul. Even the parts he actually wrote, along with the chunk of Acts that is about him, are a substantial and influential portion of the Testament. Jesus, too, said things consistent with some Pharisee factions, like Hillel's "summary of the Law" as love of God and neighbor (itself based on Jewish scripture). Jesus also shared their rivalry with Sadducees.

So, maybe Paul is the template for an "acceptable-to-Jesus Pharisee." A major theme in his writing is the frank admission that behavioral conformity with the Law in every particular is unrealistic, and that however you choose to say it, it was time to move on. Maybe equally important was Paul's realization that the alternative to scrupulous observance of the Law was not antinomian chaos. Unfortunately, the most visible example of that insight is that he didn't need Deuteronomy as a pretext for his anti-gay and anti-lesbian oratory. He could still rail against those people equally well in a regime of justification by grace through faith.

In the often-threaded perciope about the "unforgivable sin," as you may recall, I think Jesus is complaining that those particular Pharisees' minds, the ones who accused him, are closed to metanoia - which means "change of mind" as much as "repentance." Once Paul opened his mind to the novelty, he found that he already had plenty of ideas, fully formed just because he was a Pharisee, that equipped him well to understand, accept and teach the Christian message.

The John-Jesus-Apostolic ministry was about repentance. Just as you can't rise from the dead unless you die, you can't repent unless you have something to be repentant about. While Jesus was definitely challenging the Pharisees with "You're doing it wrong," I think Jesus could easily have appreciated that the Pharisees were sincerely trying to do it right, that righteousness was about personal qualities and not piling up animal corpses. They just needed their consciousness expanded a bit. Jesus tried it with Paul, bam!, and it worked like a charm.

Edited by eight bits

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Healing on the Sabbath was wrong. It was "work". Thus when Jesus healed the man with a shrivelled hand (Luke 6:6-11) on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were outraged that Jesus would perform such "work". Likewise later in Luke 13:10-17, when Jesus heals the crippled woman, it sparks the Pharisees to actually preach to the crowd - "six days you have to work, come and get healed on those days, not on the Sabbath".

... and so fall into his own trap, as surely that was working as well. "Ha! Got you" ~ Jesus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Howdy, PA

There is a limit to how bad a rap Pharisees get in the New Testament, given how much of it is attributed to a Pharisee, Paul. Even the parts he actually wrote, along with the chunk of Acts that is about him, are a substantial and influential portion of the Testament. Jesus, too, said things consistent with some Pharisee factions, like Hillel's "summary of the Law" as love of God and neighbor (itself based on Jewish scripture). Jesus also shared their rivalry with Sadducees.

So, maybe Paul is the template for an "acceptable-to-Jesus Pharisee." A major theme in his writing is the frank admission that behavioral conformity with the Law in every particular is unrealistic, and that however you choose to say it, it was time to move on. Maybe equally important was Paul's realization that the alternative to scrupulous observance of the Law was not antinomian chaos. Unfortunately, the most visible example of that insight is that he didn't need Deuteronomy as a pretext for his anti-gay and anti-lesbian oratory. He could still rail against those people equally well in a regime of justification by grace through faith.

In the often-threaded perciope about the "unforgivable sin," as you may recall, I think Jesus is complaining that those particular Pharisees' minds, the ones who accused him, are closed to metanoia - which means "change of mind" as much as "repentance." Once Paul opened his mind to the novelty, he found that he already had plenty of ideas, fully formed just because he was a Pharisee, that equipped him well to understand, accept and teach the Christian message.

The John-Jesus-Apostolic ministry was about repentance. Just as you can't rise from the dead unless you die, you can't repent unless you have something to be repentant about. While Jesus was definitely challenging the Pharisees with "You're doing it wrong," I think Jesus could easily have appreciated that the Pharisees were sincerely trying to do it right, that righteousness was about personal qualities and not piling up animal corpses. They just needed their consciousness expanded a bit. Jesus tried it with Paul, bam!, and it worked like a charm.

True enough, I agree to an extent. Certainly Paul was a Pharisee, and with his acceptance of Jesus' message of repentance, he did use his Pharisaic understanding to understand, accept, and teach the Christian message. I would personally argue that he did this because he was able to let go of the "fences around the Torah" (as a Jew I saw posting recently worded it), and focus on the spirit of the law that Jesus preached (and indeed that Hillel also preached).

And yet the Mishnah includes many teachings that revolve around rituals and "works" in order to avoid sin. For example, this is what the Mishnah has to say regarding washing your hands before a meal -

The hands are susceptible to (spiritual) uncleanness and are rendered clean up to the wrist. How so? If one poured the first water up to the wrist and the second beyond the wrist and it went back to the hand - it is clean. If he poured out the first and the second pouring of water beyond the wrist and it went back to the hand, it is unclean. If he poured out the first water onto one hand, and was reminded and poured out the second water on to both hands, they are unclean. If he poured out the first water on to both hands and was reminded and poured out the second water on to one hand, his hand which has been washed twice is clean. If he poured out water on to one hand and rubbed it on the other, it is unclean

~ Mishnah, Yadayim 2:3

There were certain things that made a person "unclean" to the Jewish community (menstruation, etc). Just to be absolutely 100% certain that a person was spiritually "clean" when they got to the table, the Pharisees had a ritual of exactly how to wash your hands. If you didn't wash them in just the right way, then you were "unclean". It certainly worked to the extent that it ensured no one who sat at the table was "unclean", but it is also overkill (something the laws added by the Pharisees did).

Incidentally, it was this kind of ritualism that Jesus preached against in Mark 7 when he sat down to eat with his disciples. He said that it wasn't what went into your mouth that made you unclean, but rather what came out of it that made you unclean (lies, slander, etc). This passage was a direct attack on the Rabbinical teaching of hand-washing. At the time of Jesus, this would have been taught orally to the people, of course, since the Mishnah wasn't penned until about 200 AD. The Rabbinical oral tradition kept it alive before then, of course.

Perhaps it may be of use to compare the Mishnah to the rituals and traditions of certain Christian denominations (the Roman Catholics are the obvious one, though many protestant denominations also include lots of ritual and tradition into their worship). What I mean by this is that the Pharisees had begun to rely on Rabbinical tradition rather than the Torah to live their life. This meant a certain amount of legalism that ultimately led away from the spirit of love (and prompted Jesus to state that unless your Righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees, you had no chance). Paul broke from that Rabbinical tradition in order to preach love of Jesus to the world. In modern churches, there are perhaps rituals that equally lead us away from the message of love that exists in the Bible. People can get stuck in the Rosary or reverence of various Saints, perhaps even the rituals of the Holy Communion (which occur in virtually all Christian churches, regardless of denomination), Prayer Books, singing. This kind of thing. The ritual associated with these events can lead away from the spirit of love, to the point where "doing" things to the letter of the law is more important to Christians than God's actual message in the Bible.

But I digress, that's just a possible correlation that I am thinking of. Feel free to agree or disagree, I'll still really enjoy reading your response (you have a way with words, 8bits :P)

Edited by Paranoid Android

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Even today those laws are pretty strict. The way I understand it the jews aren't supposed to drive on the sabath. They consider it starting a fire and that is working.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think it was any different than any other religion based legal system. In the world today, we have religious based legal systems imposing their religion on everyone, even those who don't want to be part of it. People keep overthrowing them and they keep coming back in a different form.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

... and so fall into his own trap, as surely that was working as well. "Ha! Got you" ~ Jesus.

Jesus preached this,

moral laws > ceremonial laws and traditions

When the two conflict in every day life, the moral law always prevails!

EDIT: the Pharisaic cult were inversed: ceremonial laws and traditions > moral laws

When the two conflict in every day life, the tradition always prevails!

Edited by B Jenkins

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

PA

Thanks for the kind words.

If something scripted becomes an end in itself, then that can lead to absurdity.

You know that perennial thread topic, "If you could ask Jesus one question..." Well, there they are, the Pharisees who are living in the situation, and their one question to Jesus is "Did you wash your hands?"

I think your point about about some Christians getting caught up in the ritual performance, rather than attending to the meaning is apt. I recall listening to a Roman Catholic priest talking about all the particulars of the Eucharist. He was clearly into details: the wine has to be grape wine, and the bread must be made from wheat, he made a joke about "no rice cakes or sake," and then went on to say that in the Latin rite the bread must be unleavened, although the Eastern rite, which uses leavened bread, is valid anyway, because they, too, use the exact words of the institution narrative, but ...

I have to pause for a moment. This is a man who fully believes that he is discussing literally bringing himself face-to-face, bodily, with the living Christ, and this is what he's thinking about. I think he must be spiritually tone deaf not to realize how much he has in common with those Pharisees who had no better question for Christ when they were bodily face-to-face with him.

But if a ritual points to something beyond itself, then performing the ritual can lead the person to "look through" or "look past" the ritual to see whatever it is that the ritual is pointing to. At least hypothetically, I imagine thinking about why or whether there should be a fence around the Torah could be a valuable experience for some people. I know that for many people, including priests, the Roman Catholic Eucharist can be an intense spiritual experience.

Maybe it is inevitable for some people to go through a period of fixation on the prosaic performance of a ritual before they break through. Or, maybe they just get so fed up with the ritual fussiness that they just chuck it, and the breakthrough consists of a new perspective on the purpose or meaning of the ritual which is then left behind. Paul and Gautama might be examples.

Before the enlightenment arrives, though, the spiritual giant-to-be might be insufferable :) .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.