Pool of SiloamMost anyone who has been around me and discussed the Hebrew roots of Christianity can probably attest that when we hit the subject of Pharisees, my view of them was somewhat unexpected, and forceful.  How could I say anything good about these guys?  Just check out the textbook definition of Pharisee:

1. A member of an ancient Jewish sect that emphasized strict interpretation and observance of the Mosaic law in both its oral and written form.

2. A hypocritically self-righteous person.

Not a really flattering picture, is it?  Nor were most of Jesus’ words with the Pharisees.  Just check out Matthew 23 for a good taste.  So why on earth should I have anything good to say about these guys? Well, in many/most cases, I don’t.  However, I think that by viewing them with the above definitions only, we miss the contextual picture of Jesus and these religious leaders of the day. After all, Jesus had Pharisee followers, some Pharisees warned Jesus of a plot to kill him (Luke 13:31-35), and Paul still claimed affiliation with the Pharisees long after his experience on the Damascus road.

Origins and Basic Beliefs

The Pharisees descended from the hasidim, the ‘pious ones’ of the Galilee region in the hundred and fifty years prior to Jesus’ birth.  These intensely religious people returned to the land of Israel after 300+ years in Babylon, after the Seleucid Greeks were defeated in the Hasmonean (Macabee) Revolt, and settled in the relatively unpopulated region around the Sea of Galilee.

These intensely religious people differed greatly from the Judeans to the south, who were primarily of the Sadducee/Priestly persuasion and believed only in the Pentateuch as God’s Word, and not the entire TaNaKh (which is our modern day Old Testament).  The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in all of the TaNaKh as God’s inspired Word, and had a theology developed around the coming of a Messiah and the Kingdom of God.  They also believed in the future resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees denied.

In the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Jerusalem, there were 70 seats, of which 65 belonged to the Sadducee party and 5 belonged to the Pharisees.  Interestingly, during the time of Jesus, 3 of the 5 pharisees on the council were named in the Christian Scriptures, all three of whom were either followers of Christ – or at least sympathetic to His followers.  These three were Niccodemus, Joseph of Aramathea, and Gamaliel (the grandson of the rabbi Hillel).

The Pharisees were also the first Jewish sect know to send out missionaries and to proselytize – which is how the Jews of the diaspora and the Jewish converts in Asia Minor had been restored to the Jewish faith prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries in the first century.  Their message was well accepted by many, though primarily by women (as men would have to be circumcised to become Jewish).

Additionally, like Jesus, the Pharisees were the most popular of the religious ’sects’ among the common people.  They brought the practice of worshipping in synagogue to Israel with them from their captivity in Babylon.  The Sadducees taught that God could only properly be worshipped in the temple, whereas the Pharisee rabbis led the synagogue schools and taught that God could be worshipped wherever His people gathered.

The Pharisees Believed…

When delving too deeply into doctrine, it really cannot easily be said that “the Pharisees believed X” on a number of topics, because – like Christianity today – there was a diversity in interpretation, with seven primary rabbinic schools of thought.  The most conservative school of thought – which held many beliefs in common with the Sadducees (though not their Hellenism) – was the School of Shammai.  The most ‘liberal’ (not in the modern sense) school of thought was the School of Hillel – who by modern Jews is still considered to be one of the greatest Rabbis of all time, and he probably was.

It was Hillel who gave the ruling, prior to Jesus’ ministry, that one’s enemy was also a neighbor (except for Samaritans, who were apostates), and “do not do to your enemy that which you hate” – which Jesus later expanded in a positive way to “do to others that which you would have them do to you.”  Additionally, Jesus uses the same illustration as Hillel did several years earlier of a cup being clean on the outside but filthy on the inside (Luke 11:39-40) when replying to Pharisees (most likely from the school of Shammai, who argued in favor of ceremonial washing as a work of righteousness) about ceremonial hand-washing before meals.

In the eight debates that Jesus entered with the Torah teachers and the Pharisees, it is interesting that he sided with Hillel – or took the interpretation farther, in the case of ‘Who is my neighbor?’ – seven times, and only with Shammai once (on the subject of divorce).

Additionally, Jesus’ primary criticism of the Pharisees is not so much their theology, but their practice of their beliefs.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:1-3)

In terms of the theology of any of the Jewish sects of his day (Essene, Sadducee, Pharisee, and Zealot), Jesus’ theology is most closely aligned with that of the Pharisees.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of Pharisee teachings which are mirrored in the words of Jesus, and vice-versa (after his death and resurrection).  It only makes sense that Jesus would be most critical of those who most closely knew the truth, but did not live it.

Which brings us to the primary topic of this article – the Seven Types of Pharisees.

The Seven Types

Within the Pharisee circles, just prior to the coming of Jesus, it was taught that there were (at least) seven ‘types’ of Pharisees, of which five (some say six) were bad and only two (or one) were good.  A number of scholars now believe that Jesus’ criticisms were primarily aimed at the ‘bad’ types of Pharisees – who were cursed more deeply and violently by Hillel and other Rabbis, than even Jesus did – and that he drew a large number of his followers from the ranks of the ‘good’ Pharisees and their followers.

  1. The Shoulder (or Shechemite) Pharisee: This type of pharisee was one who wore his good deeds on his shoulder – on display for all men to see.  Jesus opens his primary criticism of Pharisees in Matthew, with the mention of the shoulder – possibly a reference to this commonly-labeled type of Pharisee

    They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

  2. The Wait-a-little Pharisee: This type of pharisee would want to wait to see how a situation played out before acting in any matter.  While he agreed with Pharisee theology, he would always fall short in practice of his ‘belief’ because he wasn’t sure if he should/could/wanted to act.  This type of Pharisee liked the prestige brought about by being a religious leader, but didn’t like what it actually required.

    Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ (Matthew 23:5-7)

  3. The Blind (or Bruised and Bleeding) Pharisee: This type of Pharisee was typified by the idea of him walking with his head down or turned away to avoid looking at, or bumping into women (who might be on their menstrual cycle) or other unclean folks.  So, because they weren’t looking where they were going, they would end up bruised or bleeding from their avoidance of small things (cleanliness laws) – all the while forgetting the more important laws.  Jesus refers to some Pharisees as ‘blind guides’, possibly referring to this type of Pharisee.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23-24)

  4. The Pestle (or Hump-backed) Pharisee: Similar to the Blind Pharisee, the Pestle Pharisee was known for walking around with his eyes averted for the purpose of avoiding visual temptations.  Avoiding temptation is one thing, but this type of Pharisee’s heart was wrong, because it was the importance of making a show of his avoidance of temptation (and piety) which was to be criticized.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:27-28)

  5. The Ever-Reckoning Pharisee: Here was a religious person who was always keeping score – trying to make sure that his good deeds always outnumbered his bad ones.  He wanted this so that God would be in his debt with the attitude of God oweing him something for being good.  Their belief was truly one of works-based righteousness.

    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!” (Matthew 23:29-32)

  6. The God-fearing (or Timid) Pharisee: He was considered to be a ‘God-fearer’ in the manner of Job.  While he had great reverence and respect for God, it was out of fear of punishment,  he made sure to follow all of God’s commands in order avoid curses from God and, ultimately, hellfire.  Unlike the previous types of Pharisees, both his belief and practice were correct, but his motivation was out of fear of God.  It is possible that Jesus’ expressed woe in Matthew 23:13 is directed at this spirit of fear that then prevents others from enjoying the eternal life provided by God

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)

  7. The God-loving Pharisee: This type of Pharisee was considered to be the ideal – a person who obeyed God out of true love and affection for Him, as in the manner of Abraham.  A minority of Pharisees were believed to have been of this type, though Pharisees from the School of Hillel (who died just prior to Jesus’ ministry) may have comprised a majority of this type of Pharisee.  Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and Paul (and most likely Gamaliel, as well, from both Biblical and extra-Biblical accounts) were all Pharisees who would have fit into this category.

Interestingly, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and after the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 A.D. was thrown down by the Roman empire, the only remaining sect of Judiasm remaining was that of the Pharisees – which became Rabbinic Judiasm.  Additionally, it is the School of Hillel that dominated (and still does to this day) in religious Judiasm.  Many Jewish-Christian scholars see this as God’s provision of a remnant – a common theme in the scriptures – and may or may not figure into eschatology.

So What?

As we examine the context of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and we read his words against a majority of them, it would be valuable for us to see who these people were and what it was about some of them that Jesus criticized.  These were the folks who had theology almost exactly in line with Jesus – with the primary discrepancy being Jesus’ concern for the poor, the unclean and the oppressed.

As we read through the examples of the types of Pharisees, and the way that even the School of Hillel treated apostate enemies, how surprising is it that when we look at these, how many of them look just like -

us.

Were he standing here today, which type of Pharisee would Jesus see in us?

UPDATE:
Sources for this article were primarily pulled from:

  1. Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church” by Dr. Ron Moseley
  2. Jesus: The Jewish Theologian” by Brad Young
  3. Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith” by Marvin Wilson
  4. The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation” by Brad Young
  5. Parables: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” – podcast by Ray VanderLaan



Comments

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 22nd, 2007 at 7:02 am and is filed under Hebrew Context, Lessons, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Comments so far

  1. Russ N. on February 23, 2007 7:59 am

    Very interesting post – never knew what you have summarized here and I guess I’d better head off to Amazon for a couple of these books!

  2. Chris on February 24, 2007 8:08 pm

    Have you seen Ben Witherington’s posts on Rob? What do you think?

  3. Chris L. on February 24, 2007 9:27 pm

    I hadn’t read them until this evening. The NOOMA reviews seem rather fair in their weighing the content and production.

    I diagree with his take on “Dust” – which is in stark disagreement with a number of First Century scholars, and appears to be somewhat in the vein of the work in the church in the 400s-900s, which worked in deepening the schism between the Jewish and Christian faiths.

    The Rabbinic heritage began with the diaspora Jews returning from Babylon in 170-50 BC, though they were referred to as hasidim (pious ones, or sages) prior to being called ‘rabbi’. Bell’s comments on rabbis and such came from Ray VanderLaan and the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research (among a couple other sources I’m familiar with), and the research and teaching of this information has been around for several decades – since the restoration of Israel in 1948.

  4. Chris on February 25, 2007 12:16 am

    I’ve actually gone to Mars Hill for over four years. Witherington mentions that he believes Jesus was a sage. His beef is that he thinks the rabbinical education system that Rob talks about didn’t develop until post AD 70. He also says that the Jews scriptures weren’t cannonized until after Jesus lived. If this is true then young jewish students wouldn’t have been learing the entire Old Testament in Jesus’ day. Scot Mcknight seems to agree with Witherington’s criticisms. I also noticed that N.T. Wright refers to Jesus as a prophet, but never as a rabbi. I would guess Wright would agree with Mcknight and Witherington. I love Rob and Mars Hill and I’m thankful that I get to be part of it, but it’s hard for me not to have serious doubts about this area of his teaching when two of the greatest Bible scholars alive both disagree.
    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts once you’ve read BW’s review of Velvet Elvis and the Sex God tour. -I just finished Sex God last night btw- Make sure you read the comments in BW’s blog as he gets more into his criticisms of Rob’s take on first century Judaism.
    Great blog! Thanks for taking on Ken!

  5. Chris L. on February 25, 2007 12:55 am

    Chris,

    I’ll read more of Witherington this weekend…

    I tend to get a good deal of my Jewish Roots information from the writers of Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research and Jerusalem Perspective, the late David Flusser (probably one of, if not the greatest Jewish-Christian researcher in our time) along with Ray VanderLaan, and others.

    The Septuagint was translated prior to the birth of Christ, and would have been what was commonly studied, though the Essenes maintained the original Hebrew – rediscovered in Qumran in 1947. The only real disrepancies in the books included/excluded are Daniel and Esther (included) and Macabees and Wisdom of Ben Sira (excluded). The book of Esther is the only one not found in Hebrew in the Dead Sea scrolls. These are not in the Torah or the Prophets – they are part of ‘the writings’, which would have been the least-studied, anyway.

    Where some Christian scholars have had a sticking point has been in acceptance of whether the teachings of Hillel and other pre-Christian Rabbis as dated in the Talmud, are properly attributed. There are liberal scholars who have used this for years to suggest that Jesus’ teachings really weren’t his, or that Jesus was a conglomeration of multiple rabbis wrapped in a myth. Or, like in the Jesus seminar, they use teachings attributed to Choni, Hillel, Shammai and others to suggest that words attributed to Jesus weren’t really his words. As a response, some conservative scholars have rejected these teachings of Hillel’s as being later inventions of Judiasm (which is just as ludicrous, when you understand how the Talmud was recorded and how oral histories are far more accurate and less prone to editing and error than written ones). There is all sorts of evidence in the scriptures, themselves, that suggest that Jesus was part of the culture – including his rabbinic nature – rather than someone who worked completely outside the culture.

    Also, as a clarification (I don’t remember if Rob makes this point, but RVL always does), Rabbis as we know them today did not exist prior to the fall of the temple in AD 70. Prior to this, there are a large number of indications (Josepheus, Eusebius and others) that rabbis (or sages) existed as itinerate teachers, as described by RVL, Brad Young, Rob Bell, Ron Moseley and others. However, after the destruction of the Temple, the role of these Rabbis became what they are today, where they are much more analogous to ministers of the synagogue. So, technically, rabbis as we know them today didn’t develop until after AD 70. However, the ruins of the synagogue in Gamla (destroyed in AD 68 by Vespasian), confirm the existence of a rabbinic school and other details taught by Ray, Rob and others – Gamla was never rebuilt, so its synagogue and its practice are not “tainted” by post-70AD Judiasm.

    As for Ken, it’s just depressing how trutly anti-Christian our modern-day heretic hunters can be. Standing up to the likes of him is the only just response I can consider. There’s enough evil being done against the church from without, it shouldn’t be happening from within…

  6. Chris L. on February 25, 2007 12:55 am

    Oh – I finished Sex God this week, about 36 hours after it arrived, and thought it was excellent…

  7. Chris L. on February 25, 2007 1:32 am

    Chris,

    I’ve read Ben’s posts and the comments, and I think some of the hang-up is the use of ‘rabbi’ pre-70 vs. post-70 (as noted above). I can agree to disagree with Ben (I don’t know his background, etc…) on the subject, as it depends on how compelling you find the evidence in Gamla and elsewhere as to how developed the rabbinic system was prior to 70 AD. It is possibly sloppy to call them rabbis rather than sages, but it is more of an artifact to prevent misunderstanding between their roles before and after the destruction of the temple.

    Also, I think that his description of Mithraism as being late first century is very mistaken. There is a good deal of evidence throughout the Roman Empire from the first and second centuries B.C. There is also significant evidence that John is refuting the teachings of the Mithra cult in Revelation. Rather than Christians copying Mithraism, though, I think that it is the prophecy in Isaiah which demonstrates which originated first. I will have to take a look at Witherington’s bibliography, but I am still far more convinced by David Pryor, Ray VanderLaan, Brad Young and similar scholars (who are admittedly conservative in scholarship than a majority of the scholars in Jerusalem, but more liberal than traditionalist reformed scholars).

  8. Chris on February 26, 2007 12:49 pm

    Don’t know if you saw this, but looks likes Ken feels he needs to open Witherington’s eyes to the, “elvis of emergent.” Check out Nooma 1-5, I’m hoping BW responds, but that’s probably wishful thinking.
    Your latest post was helpful, thanks.

  9. CRN.Info and Analysis on February 27, 2007 12:23 pm

    [...] As for Jesus’ comments to the Pharisees, Cardwell makes the mistake of assuming that the Pharisees are a homogenous group, and not a diverse one, of which Jesus is particularly calling out ‘Shoulder (or Shechemite) Pharisees’ who paraded their words for all to see. [...]

  10. Question about converting to Messianic Judaism - Page 2 - Christian Forums on April 29, 2012 11:11 am

    [...] Article Pharisees – Good Guys? Jesus and the Pharisees What you never knew about the Pharisees Seven Types of Pharisees | Fishing The Abyss David Bivin on the “Hypocrisy of the Pharisees” Also, there are some excellent [...]

  11. Divine Invitation - Page 12 - Christian Forums on January 13, 2013 11:56 pm

    [...] – as seen here: Originally Posted by MessianicMommy You may find this of interest: Part 7 Seven Types of Pharisees | Fishing The Abyss Teaching Article Pharisees – Good Guys? Jesus and the Pharisees David Bivin on the [...]

  12. David Walker on June 27, 2013 9:40 pm

    This is certainly not an email with wisdom but with questions given the extent of Jewish knowledge I’ve read on this site. In doing research in the Mishna on divorce and remarriage, I came across the fishingtheabyss website last night and wanted to address a matter with you to see if you have knowledge I’ve thus failed to substantiate. For years I’ve pondered whether Matthew 5:32 had mitigating happenings to led Jesus to declare, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress (if she remarries), and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” As a Jew well-versed in the Torah, Jesus knew the primary legislation was found in Deut. 24:1-4, a passage that failed to prohibit remarriage. His listeners knew the same passage and the debates about divorce circulating then. Schools also argued that grounds for divorce were not limited to adultery.
    My focus has been to determine if Jesus was possibly addressing a matter of special cultural circumstance not obvious to the modern-day reader. Did his words have a different sense to his original listeners due to a dispute well known among the Jews of Christ’s listening audience but either lost or hidden to us? More specifically, do you know of any argument or writing that allowed a man to marry, gratify himself sexually and divorce his new wife afterward? No one, especially Jesus, disputed the prohibition of the 7th commandment, Do not commit adultery. But in Matthew 5, Christ shows that the lustful look is the impetus behind the forbidden sexual act, Matt. 5:27 and 28 state: You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Sex, however, was permitted in marriage, even one lasting only hours or days before a divorce certificate was written. We know that if a woman did not provide evidence of her virginity on her wedding night, her husband could divorce her the next morning.
    What has stirred my mind along the lines of a cultural happening is a practice in Islam. Could Jesus have been addressing the same kind of offenses that have occurred among Muslims since the early days of Mohammad’s writings? The practice first came to my attention after the taking of power by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran when the Shaw was deposed. Khomeini immediately imposed harsh Sharia Law that made adultery a capital crime. The way around the lethal offense was for a man to marry, gratify himself and divorce the woman quickly by uttering these words, I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you. With no more than repeating this one sentence three times in succession, a divorce took immediate effect with no paperwork and no delay. Witnessing the process, a reporter for Time magazine referred to it as thinly disguised prostitution.
    After putting together a host of intriguing pieces of information including this one, I concluded that Jesus was appalled at a similar kind of well known practice in his day. Matthew 5:17 suggests Jesus was going to war with bad teaching and bad teachers. This verse becomes the launching point for dealing with the six disputes he quotes and corrects in the verses making up the remainder of chapter 5. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. A paraphrase based on the context most clearly provides his meaning: Do not think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets (as the Scribes and Pharisees have done by their traditions and misinterpretations) but to fill full the intended meaning of the Law and Prophets. A person who wanted to abuse marriage, no matter what others in his or another’s school thought, could claim he was married and, therefore, entitled to sexual activity.
    I hesitate to assert that any Jewish man in the time of Christ lived his life so immorally. Still, the suspicion more than lingers—it provides a reason why Jesus uttered such a closed-door statement knowing it is not good for a man (or woman) to be alone and that a woman no longer could have a provider for her unless she entered an adulterous marriage. Apart from an explanation such as the one above relative to an Islamic practice, his remark makes no sense.
    If you have insights or know where to research further, please advise me.

    Thank you

    David Walker

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