“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees…Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” –Matthew 16:6, 12
The following is a careful examination of what the New Testament says about the Pharisees and their teachings:–spiritual teachings that Jesus warned Christians against. Everything here is backed up by the New Testament. In a time like the 21st century, when rare people in the church try to make a stand for holiness, often the accusation of “Pharisee” is thrown at them. But let’s see what THE NEW TESTAMENT says about Pharisees; and make a right judgment about how to use the word “Pharisee.” And, finally obey Jesus’ teaching to be on our guard against Pharisaical teachings, as described in the New Testament. The NASB is mainly used.
I ask you, “Do you know of any church leaders, churchgoers, so-called Christians, etc. that have the teachings of the Pharisees?” Let these serve as a guide for spiritual discernment.
1. Focusing on Outward Rituals (the Ceremonial Law, or man-made religious traditions); and Not Inward Holiness (Obedience to the Moral Law from the Heart). Matthew 23:36: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” | Luke 11:38: “When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal.” | Matthew 5:20: “I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” | Matthew 15:3-9: “He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’ “But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'” | Acts 15:5: “Some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'” – The Judaizers were heretics in the early church who said salvation from Hell was only possible through circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and the ceremonial law…still having the residue of Pharisaism.
2. No Grace for Repentant Sinners. Luke 7:39: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.'” | Matthew 9:10-13: “As Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (NKJV). | John 8:3-6: “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.”
3. Holier-Than-Thou: Arrogant When Comparing Themselves With Blatant Sinners. Luke 18:11: “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
4. Not Preaching Hell; nor Warning of God’s Wrath to Come. Matthew 3:7: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
The average man…“The old ‘Hell-fire’ preaching is not preached to him now, but he would not tolerate it if it were. Once it appeared sound doctrine…” (E. S. Waterhouse, “The Theological Revolution and the Average Man,” The Living Age, vol. LIX, April-June, 1913, p. 44).
5. Refusing to Accept Deliverance Ministry (or Exorcism). Matthew 9:33-34: “After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’ But the Pharisees were saying, ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.’ – And by saying this, they were basically saying, “You have a demon!” (John 7:20).
6. Nitpicky and Unreasonable About Sabbath-Keeping. Matthew 12:1-2: “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.'” | Luke 6:7: “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” | In John 9:13-34, the Pharisees rejected the healing of a blind man as a proof that Jesus is the Christ, because in their view, Jesus “is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (v. 16):–because He healed the blind man on the Sabbath.
7. Plotting to Kill Saints. Matthew 12:14: “The Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”
8. Putting Saints “On the Spot” to Perform Miracles. Matthew 12:38: “Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.'”
9. Morally Lax About Divorce and Remarriage. Matthew 19:3: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?’” | My stance is that remarriage for the innocent party is allowable ONLY if their spouse has committed adultery (Matthew 19:9), has deserted them (1 Corinthians 7:15), or died (Romans 7:1-3). This view agrees with The Westminster Confession, “Of Marriage and Divorce,” Chapter 24; and William Heth, “Remarriage for Adultery or Desertion” in Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views. | The Pharisees, however, believed in divorce for any reason they could come up with (“incompatibility”: what Jesus called “hardness of heart,” Matthew 19:8).
10. Plotting to Trap Saints in Their Words: To Get Them In Trouble with the Government or Church Leaders. Matthew 22:15: “The Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.” | Matthew 22:34-36: “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
11. Rejecting the Deity of Christ. Matthew 22:41-46: “Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, ‘SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET’? ‘If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?’ No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”
12. Proud of Being Famous, Guilt-Tripping, Religious Leaders. Matthew 23:1-12: “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in Heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
13. Rejecting Repentance, Baptism, and Lordship Salvation (the Gospel). Matthew 23:13: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of Heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” | Luke 7:30: “The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.” – Also called a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4)…this is probably why Jesus’ first direction to Nicodemus, the seeking Pharisee, was for him to be born again of water first, and then of the Spirit (John 3:1-5). Before one could accept the teachings of Jesus, one had to first accept the teaching of John the Baptist: “REPENT!” (This does not mean baptismal regeneration; or salvation by baptism. It means REPENTANCE, or turning away from sin continually in the heart, and getting baptized as a sign of it, in obedience to God.) Sadly, most Pharisees were not like Nicodemus; but were impenitent when faced with the Gospel of Christ.
14. Devouring Widows’ Houses. Matthew 23:14a: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses.” – Adam Clarke’s Commentary says:
On this subject I am in possession of nothing better than the following note of Dr. Whitby.
“This sect,” says Josephus (Ant. 50.17.3) “pretended to a more exact knowledge of the law,” on which account the women were subject to them, as pretending to be dear to God. And when Alexandra obtained the government (Wars. 1.4), they insinuated themselves into her favour, as being the exactest sect of the Jews, and the most exact interpreters of the law, and, abusing her simplicity, did as they listed, remove and dispose, bind and loose, and even cut off men. They were in vogue for their long prayers, which they continued sometimes three hours; that perhaps they sold them, as do the Roman priests their masses, or pretended others should be more acceptable to God for them; and so might spoil devout widows by the gifts or salaries they expected from them. Now this being only a hypocritical pretence of piety, must be hateful to God, and so deserve a greater condemnation.
15. Acting Pious with Long Prayers in Public. Matthew 23:14b: “…for a pretense you make long prayers.”
16. Making Ungodly Disciples. Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.”
17. Swearing Oaths on Worthless Things. Matthew 23:16-22: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by Heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”
18. Emphasizing Tithes and Offerings:–But Neglecting Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness. Matthew 23:23-24: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
19. Emphasizing Beauty and Cleanliness Outwardly, But Being Robbers, Materialistic, and Self-Indulgent Inwardly. Matthew 23:25-26: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” | Mark 7:3-4: “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.”
20. Appearing to Be Righteous Outwardly, But Full of Hypocrisy (Pretending) and Lawlessness Inwardly. Matthew 23:27-28: “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. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” | Luke 12:1: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Strong’s Concordance Greek #5272 for hypocrisy: “THE ACTING OF A STAGE PLAYER.”
21. Descending From a Family Line That Kills Saints. Matthew 23:29-33: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of Hell!?”
22. Working with Corrupt Political Leaders. Matthew 27:62: “The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate.” | Mark 3:6: “The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”
23. Breaking God’s Commandments In Order to Keep Their Religious Traditions. Mark 7:9: “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” | John 7:19: “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law?”
26. Trying to Scare Saints Away From Their Territory. Luke 13:31: “Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.” [This was a lie; because later on during the trial of Jesus, Herod sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:8-12); and then Pilate could barely be moved to harm Him, except at the urging of the Pharisees and the angry mob of Jews, yelling, “Crucify Him!” It was the Pharisees who wanted to kill Jesus or have Him leave their territory (Luke 23:18-25)].
27. Being Materialistic (or a Lover of Money). Luke 16:13-15: “‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.'” | Materialistic priests, pastors, clergymen, prosperity gospel televangelists–who not only love money as a thing in itself; but love to spend it on luxury items, as the rich man who went to Hell (Luke 16:19).
28. Being Against the Worship of Jesus. Luke 19:37-40: “As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!'”
29. Being Jealous of Saints with a Large Following. John 4:1: “The Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John.” | John 11:48: “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” | John 12:19: “The Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.'”
30. Rejecting Jesus As the Messiah or Christ. John 7:31-32: “Many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, ‘When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?’ The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him.” | John 7:48: “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” | John 8:13: “The Pharisees said to Him, ‘You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.'” | John 12:42: “Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue (excommunicated).”
31. Using Judas Iscariot to Capture Jesus by Force. John 18:3: “Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.”
32. Believing in the Spirit World. Acts 23:8: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.” – Perhaps this is the only good thing about the Pharisees, but as we can see from all the former teachings, it is far from good enough.
Bible Dictionary Recapitulations:
Additional Things About Pharisaic Teaching to Be On Guard Against
1. “In respect to their tenets, although they esteemed the written books of the Old Testament as the sources of the Jewish religion, yet they also attributed great and equal authority to traditional precepts relating principally to external rites: as ablutions (ceremonial washings), fasting, long prayers, the distribution of alms, the avoiding of all intercourse with Gentiles and publicans, etc. See Matthew 6:5 9:11; 23:5; Mark 7:4 Luke 18:12. In superstitious and self-righteous formalism they strongly resembled the Romish church…In numerous cases Christ denounced the Pharisees for their pride and covetousness, their ostentation in prayers, alms, tithes, and fasts, Matthew 6:2, 5; Luke 18:9, and their hypocrisy in employing the garb of religion to cover the profligacy (extravagance) of their dispositions and conduct; as Matthew 23:1-39; Luke 16:14; John 7:48, 49; 8:9. By His faithful reproofs He early incurred their hatred, Matthew 12:14; they eagerly sought to destroy Him, and His blood was upon them and their children…The essential features of their character are still common in Christian lands, and are no less odious to Christ than of old” [“Pharisees” in ATS Bible Dictionary].
2. “There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax morality (Matthew 5:20; 15:4,8; 23:3,14,23,25; John 8:7). On the first notice of them in the New Testament (Matthew 3:7), they are ranked by our Lord with the Sadducees as a “generation of vipers.” They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matthew 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11,12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matthew 12:39; 16:1-4)…From the very beginning of His ministry the Pharisees showed themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could not bear His doctrines, and they sought by every means to destroy His influence among the people” [“Pharisees,” in Easton’s Bible Dictionary].
3. “Paul’s remembrance of his former bondage as a rigid Pharisee produced that reaction in his mind, upon his embracing the Gospel, that led to his uncompromising maintenance, under the Spirit of God, of Christian liberty and justification by faith only, in opposition to the yoke of ceremonialism and the righteousness which is of the law (Galatians 4; 5)…The Mishna has six divisions (on seeds, feasts, women’s marriage, etc., decreases and compacts, holy things, clean and unclean), and an introduction on blessings. Hillel and Shammai were leaders of two schools of the Pharisees, differing on slight points; The Mishna refers to both (living before Christ) and to Hillel’s grandson, Paul’s’ teacher, Gamaliel…The actions to be so judged were in reference to the ceremonial points as much as the moral duties…In many respects their doctrine was right (ORTHO-DOXY), so that Christ desires conformity to their precepts as from “Moses’ seat,” but not to their practice (Matthew 23:2-3) (ORTHO-PRAXY). But while pressing the letter of the law they ignored the Spirit (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:31-32)” [“Pharisees,” in Fausset’s Bible Dictionary].
4. “The chief sects among the Jews were the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes, who may be described respectively as the Formalists, the Freethinkers and the Puritans…A cursory perusal of the Gospels is sufficient to show that Christ’s teaching was in some respects thoroughly antagonistic to theirs. He denounced them in the bitterest language; see (Matthew 15:7,8; 23:5,13,14,15,23; Mark 7:6; Luke 11:42-44) and compare (Mark 7:1-5; 11:29; 12:19,20; Luke 6:28,37-42)…While it was the aim of Jesus to call men to the law of God itself as the supreme guide of life, the Pharisees, upon the pretense of maintaining it intact, multiplied minute precepts and distinctions to such an extent that the whole life of the Israelite was hemmed in and burdened on every side by instructions so numerous and trifling that the law was almost if not wholly lost sight of. These “traditions” as they were called, had long been gradually accumulating. Of the trifling character of these regulations innumerable instances are to be found in The Mishna. Such were their washings before they could eat bread, and the special minuteness with which the forms of this washing were prescribed; their bathing when they returned from the market; their washing of cups, pots, brazen vessels, etc.; their fastings twice in the week, (Luke 18:12) were their tithing; (Matthew 23:23) and such, finally, were those minute and vexatious extensions of the law of the Sabbath, which must have converted God’s gracious ordinance of the Sabbath’s rest into a burden and a pain (Matthew 12:1-13; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 18:10-17)…It was a leading aim of the Redeemer to teach men that true piety consisted not in forms, but in substance, not in outward observances, but in an inward spirit. The whole system of Pharisaic piety led to exactly opposite conclusions…With all their pretenses to piety they were in reality avaricious (greedy; materialistic), sensual (sexually immoral) and dissolute (morally lax) (Matthew 23:25; John 13:7). They looked with contempt upon every nation but their own (racism). (Luke 10:29)…The Pharisees at an early day secured the popular favor and thereby acquired considerable political influence. This influence was greatly increased by the extension of the Pharisees over the whole land and the majority which they obtained in the Sanhedrin. Their number reached more than six thousand under the Herods” [“Pharisees” in Smith’s Bible Dictionary].