We have a critical view of the Pharisees because pretty much everything we hear and read about them is negative. Nobody likes to be called a Pharisee as it is a label that suggests unbecoming actions and attitudes. Calling someone a Pharisee is a judgement on and put down of him or her.
Those familiar with the New Testament Gospels know Jesus was often in conflict with the Pharisees. They frequently criticized Him and tried to trap Him. Jesus, however, never fell for their traps, but took them to task as well. Clearly there is much to criticize about the Pharisees.
While there is a great deal of legitimate criticism of the Pharisees, there are also some things for which they should be commended. That may surprise you, but it is true. As one observer notes, “The Pharisees were not wrong in everything they did.” Without giving them a pass on their shortcomings, in what follows allow me to suggest some positives about the Pharisees.
For one thing the Pharisees took their relationship with God seriously. They were deeply earnest about their religion. This reminds me of the emphasis in the book of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7a) and “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10a). The fear of the LORD is not shrinking from Him in terror, but acknowledging and honoring Him. Chuck Swindoll says to fear the LORD is to “take God seriously.”
The Pharisees are to be commended for several theological beliefs they held and taught that paved the way for Christianity. One is they made monotheism (belief in one God) the heart of Judaism. They also maintained the Old Testament expectation of God’s promised Messiah. A third point of theology, unlike the Sadducees, is the Pharisees made belief in the resurrection and afterlife a crucial part of Judaism.
Ultimately, the most important point of commendation for the Pharisees is they loved the Word of God. As a matter of fact, it was their extreme resolve to fully and meticulously carry out every rule and regulation the Scribes came up with that resulted in the criticisms they receive. It resulted in their legalism, self-righteousness, and critical spirit.
A variety of New Testament scholars have pointed out that Jesus probably was closer to the Pharisees in terms of belief and practice than any other group during that time. Like the Pharisees, Jesus taught in the synagogue and had a high view of God’s Law. He was also similar in many ways to the leading Rabbis. He often interacted with Pharisees and in the end had at least two followers from the group: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. It seems obvious some of the Pharisees were truly virtuous and good with great devotion for God.
Without adopting their negatives (and there are many), I would like to be more like the Pharisees in terms of what was good about them. I want to take my relationship with the Lord seriously; I want to love, read, understand, and obey His Word; I want to be pure in heart and mind; and I want to attend, participate, and learn in corporate worship as often as possible.
What about you?
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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/42744434@N02/27131576373″>Holy and Great Council: Divine Liturgy in Kissamos, Crete</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
(The picture is not of Pharisees and is intended only to create interest.)