Are you a Pharisee? Am I?
The Pharisees – a strict sect of Judaism which stressed Torah observance – were often Jesus’ opponents in the Gospel. Because if this Christians (and others) often invoke the charge of ‘Pharisee’ to label any religious hypocrite. Because I’ve had hypocrisy on the brain ( here, here, and here) I’ve of course reflected on some passages where they show up. Of course, religious hypocrisy is terrible but that’s not my point today. My point is that throwing around the label ‘Pharisee’ is neither accurate nor kind. Many Pharisees were hypocrites. But some of them put their faith in Christ. Because of recent study comparing Christians to Pharisees*, that label needs to be rethought.
Problems with calling others Pharisees are:
1) Just because someone is more conservative religiously does not mean they’re a hypocrite.
2) Just because someone is more conservative religiously does not mean they’re a legalist.
3) Pharisees were a real sect. That means, although one could conceivably be ‘Pharisee-like’, you’d actually have to be a Pharisee to ‘be’ a Pharisee. Kind of like how ‘fascist’ is thrown around these days. To be a fascist you have to actually adhere to fascism.
4) The descendants of the Pharisees are still with us today – Observant Jews. The Jews focused on ‘Temple’ fizzled out after the first century, but those focused on ‘Torah’ remained. Throwing around the pejorative ‘Pharisee’ runs the risk of anti-semitism.
So who were the real Pharisees? Read this article from Scot McKnight to get a better picture.
* For a good response to that study, read these thoughts over at Christ and Pop Culture by Derek Rishmawy.