The Pharisees

September 3rd, 2008

I was doing some background reading for an assignment recently and I had to look at the groups of people that were around in Jesus’ time. It was interesting reading about one of the main groups at the time – the Pharisees.

I found it interesting to read about what was important to them and why. Here are a few things…

  • they were a strict religious group of Jews that numbered 6000 at the time of Christ
  • they were lay people with many were middle class business owners or merchants
  • they devoted themselves to the Law – which included the Law of Moses (first five books of Old Testament) and a number of other teachings that interpreted the law for everyday living (613 in total)
  • they paid special attention to being ritually pure and had a number of very strict rules for washing themselves and eating the right foods
  • they also had very strict rules on tithing, the Sabbath, divorce, taking oaths and their clothing and strived very hard to make they kept them all
  • they distanced themselves from others who did not follow their strict rules especially in regard to ritual purity
  • for the Pharisee their religion was not a profession, it was a way of life. They were deeply committed to following all the rules so they could be “right” with God.
  • they wanted to be a holy nation and they believed that if Israel could be pure for a time, then the Messiah would come.

It was interesting that they saw Jesus as a threat. This was because He taught that it was not so much as what we did on the outside that made us right with God, but our heart attitudes towards God and others.

We see in Matthew 23 that Jesus reserved some of His harshest criticism for the Pharisees. They got so caught up in keeping the Law that they forgot the things that are more important to God like being just, showing mercy and being faithful (Matthew 23:23-24).