Could The Person Who Calls You A Pharisee Actually Be The Real Pharisee?

Those of us who stand for the Word of God frequently get accused of being Pharisees, particularly by Charismatics, egalitarians and progressive evangelicals. The very thought that Scripture alone is authoritative and sufficient for directing our lives and our worship rankles their nerves so deeply that they scramble for a way to put us in our place. Thus, remembering the constant rebukes Jesus leveled against the Pharisees during His earthly ministry, they eagerly hurl this term at us. In doing so, they want us to bow in humble contrition, admitting that we’ve been too rigid in interpreting the Bible.

Occasionally, we deserve the accusation. None of us should allow pride to keep us from asking the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts to expose any self-righteousness we may harbor. Even when we proclaim all the right doctrine, we run the danger of proclaiming it with a sanctimonious attitude. So let’s not automatically dismiss an accusation without taking it to the Lord.

That said, the vast majority of our accusers have a simplistic understanding of who the First Century Pharisees were and why Jesus opposed them so fiercely. For the most part, people equate them with self-righteousness legalists who adhered so tightly to Scripture that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) recognize God’s activity.

The popular caricature of Pharisees is partially true. The First Century Pharisees did pride themselves on their knowledge and apparent observance of God’s law. And they trusted in their own righteousness instead of humbly acknowledging that God alone gave them the ability to obey Him. Furthermore, Jesus challenged their interpretations on Scripture, and therefore He threatened their authority over the common people.

But if we stop at that understanding of these First Century Pharisees, we miss the primary reason that Jesus rebuked them so frequently. A couple articles at Gotquestions helped me round out the real problem Jesus had with this group.

A major issue, according to this website, was that the Pharisees didn’t really base their religion on Scripture alone.

The Pharisees accepted the written Word as inspired by God. At the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, this would have been what we now call the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the Pharisees gave equal authority to oral tradition, saying the traditions went all the way back to Moses. Evolving over the centuries, the Pharisaic traditions had the effect of adding to God’s Word, which is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2). The Gospels abound with examples of the Pharisees treating their traditions as equal to God’s Word (Matthew 9:1415:1–923:523:1623Luke 11:42). Jesus applied the condemnation of Isaiah 29:13 to the Pharisees, saying, “Their teachings are merely human rules” (Mark 7:7).

I found that point fascinating because many people who accuse me of being a modern-day Pharisee promote all sorts of extra-biblical positions. Most prevalent, as you might imagine, are the outcries against my stance that God doesn’t give anyone personal revelation. But there are many other extra-biblical dogmas ranging from legalistic systems to the open embrace of sin.

For instance, two women I’ve encountered online have argued with me over the Bible’s teachings regarding the roles of women. One says that women shouldn’t vote, work outside the home (even if she’s unmarried) or attend college. According to her, a woman should remain in her father’s care, learning domestic skills, until she marries. The other woman militantly advocates for women becoming pastors, vehemently objecting to any suggestion that wives should submit to their husbands. In both cases, these women manipulate Scripture to support their respective theologies. Like the First Century Pharisees, they add their personal preferences to Scripture, looking down on anyone who dares to counter their arguments with Scripture.

I doubt the first woman would label me as a modern-day Pharisee, but I’m reasonably confident that the second one would (at least privately). Both, however, exhibit the characteristics of the First Century Pharisees because they add their human traditions to God’s Word, sometimes even negating God’s Word in order to perpetuate their traditions.

Professing Christians behave as functional Pharisees any time they deviate from Scripture. The aberrant positions on the roles of women provide only one example. Any incident of twisting God’s Word and doubling down on that error in the face of Scriptural correction indicates that someone is on his or her way to becoming a Pharisee. All of us have blind spots, admittedly, but a Pharisee refuses to accept any correction — even when someone presents clear evidence of misjudgment.

A second issue Jesus had with First Century Pharisees centered on their hypocrisy. I can think of quite a few times when He called them out for this hypocrisy, but let me — for the sake of brevity — confine myself to just one.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ~~Matthew 23:27-28 (NASB95)

Gotquestions offers a vivid explanation of why this pronouncement so pointedly exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees:

The comparison to whitewashed tombs would have been quite offensive because the Mosaic Law states, “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days” (Numbers 19:11, ESV). For a group of people who prided themselves on ceremonial cleanliness and following the law, the accusation that they were full of dead bodies would be insufferable. That was precisely Jesus’ point, though. They may have been ceremonially clean, but, inside, they were the highest level of unclean—full of the death and decay they tried so hard to avoid.

My last blog post focused on people who have impeccable statements of faith, but whose behavior strongly indicates that they are actually polluted by worldly and sinful attitudes. They appear very orthodox, saying everything they believe might convince their audience that they believe the Word of God. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, they use generic doctrinal confessions to disguise their deviations from Scripture itself. They don’t understand how anyone could possibly question their faithfulness to God’s Word. And if we challenge their actions, they quickly take us back to their statements of faith as proof that we must trust their positions.

Yet these very people habitually behave badly, especially online. They slander respected pastors, ignoring evidence that their accusations are false, When confronted, they play shell games, changing the subject to avoid responsibility for spreading falsehood. Women usually play the victim card at some point, as if the abuse they’ve supposedly suffered automatically absolves them from being questioned. They, by default, are right; no one should dare to say anything that even slightly contradicts their narrative. But they can treat their opponents with contempt, and they have every right to distort facts, destroy reputations and belittle anyone who challenges them. Like the First Century Pharisees, they consider themselves immune from correction.

Again, all of us should continually check our hearts to see whether or not we are Pharisees. None of us is above the temptation of hypocrisy or self-righteousness. But if people unjustly call you a Pharisee, take a good look at their lives. Quite possibly, they are the real Pharisees.

One thought on “Could The Person Who Calls You A Pharisee Actually Be The Real Pharisee?

  1. I agree with your conclusion sister. Scripture is our only Authority that is consistently standing in opposition to man’s changing opinions. Any doctrinal standard should be set aside if it contradicts with Holy Scripture. Sola Scriptura!


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