Part 2: Who Were The Pharisees?
Much of what is preached or taught about the Pharisees is derived from The Gospels and Paul’s writings. Nevertheless, there are things beyond these writings that some of us do not know or even acknowledge concerning these devoted people of God. I hope that the information below will shed some light on the Pharisees’ practices, thoughts, and loyalty towards God.
-The Name Pharisee: 'Pharisee' is usually derived from the Hebrew word parush, meaning separate, but also can mean interpret, and was used primarily by outsiders. Now what we refer to as Pharisee “emerged out of the Hasidim at the time of the Maccabean revolt. After the Maccabean revolt, if one did not choose to drop out of political life and withdraw to the wilderness (like the Qumranians) one of two courses could be followed with regard to the law. First, the traditional code might be expanded to meet new circumstances and be reinterpreted in accord with new beliefs, or second, those who accepted the first policy became the Pharisees, and those who adopted the second became the Sadducees.”
-Religion/Politics: In regards to religion, politics, power, and leadership influence, before the time of Herodian rule, and during the time of Hycarnus, the historian Josephus states that the Pharisees rejected Hyrcanus’s right to be both king and priest, so he gave his allegiance to the Sadducees. According to Josephus, they became a political party who opposed their beliefs on the nation. Eventually they wrestled with the acting governing council and supplanted the priests as interpreters of the law. Interesting enough, Rabbinic literature credits them restoring the Torah at this time. Therefore, by the time, we encounter Jesus, the Roman Empire is of great influence, and the Herodian Dynasty has been established. The Pharisees, now with limited political power, focus a lot of their energies and strength on influencing the Israelite nation on a more domestic and local level. Thus, thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection, around 70 A.D., the Pharisees, take the lead in giving the Jewish people a new center of religious life apart from the temple. “The Pharisaic scholars at Jamina and at Usha after the Bar Kokhba revolt were recognized by Rome as the governing body for the internal life of the Jewish people, so the Pharisees again became a party with political power as well as religious influence. The Judaism that survived was primarily Pharisaic Judaism.” Therefore, we can gather from this that the Pharisees experienced much political and empirical change.
In addition, their focus was to preserve the Torah, God’s teachings, throughout time. Structurally they believed in mainly two things: the Torah and tradition. The Torah, which means teaching, or law, consisted primarily of the five books of Moses, and had been given to all Israel, not just to the priests, and therefore was open to all who were competent to interpret it. Overall, they saw Torah as a developing, dynamic social force; they sought to keep the law of Moses from becoming a dead ritual and to give it new meaning and life. Thus, they were open to further doctrinal developments, such as the resurrection of the body, last judgment, and rewards and punishment in the afterlife.
-History:The Pharisees believed that history is controlled by divine providence with a divine purpose, whereas the Sadducees insisted on the freedom of the individual to control his or her own life and history. The Pharisees held that the destiny of human beings and of history is determined, while each human being is allowed the choice of distinguishing between good and evil.
-The Resurrection: The Pharisees believed in a resurrection after death, as well as a life beyond this world where people are rewarded or punished according to their behaviour in this life. In this they had been greatly influenced by Persian and Hellenistic thinking.
-Eschatology:The Pharisees regarded themselves as the true and pure Israel, therefore enjoying a special relationship with God and an exclusive destiny. There would come a time when God would assert himself and restore the glory of the Davidic kingdom by placing a descendant of David on the throne. They expected this kingdom to be set up in this world, though they believed that the pious dead would rise to experience the splendour of a new era.
-Community Affairs/War: After the Hasmonaean regime had come to an end, the Pharisees, unlike the Zealots, rejected the use of power and violence. They believed that God himself would determine the political march of events and liberate his people.
Therefore, as there are many positive attributes to the Pharisees and their teachings, whether unfair or not, many scholars, preachers and the like continue to shed a negative light on them. Thus, because of some these conflicting views, I believe it is important to understand the agreements and disagreements between Jesus and the Pharisees. So, what were the agreements and disagreements between them and Jesus? How can we become more like the Pharisees, rather than less like them? We will address these questions further.
Next: Part 3—Becoming More ‘Like’ the Pharisees!
(note: some info. taken from “Backgrounds of Early Christianity” by Everett Ferguson and Libronix Library)