Who’s A Pharisee?

James Tissot's John and the Pharisees

James Tissot’s John and the Pharisees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m amazed about how often I hear this word misapplied. This is an especially favorite taunt for people who make extra-biblical or heretical statements  directed against people who have asked for a biblical explanation for what they claim.  Since they’re making claims and statements that don’t line up with what the bible say’s, they can’t tolerate someone exposing them as false prophets. Unable to actually present sound arguments, biblical or otherwise, they resort to ad-hominem attacks against the character of the person they disagree with.

In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus had nothing good to say about Pharisees, often referring to them as vipers, serpents, & hypocrites (see Matt 23:31-33) . It is for this reason that it is used as a taunt, what Christian wants to be identified with these people?

People who teach unbiblical beliefs want to shut sown any hint of criticism.  Since their teachings can’t survive even a brief examination they  become immediately become offensive, often accusing people who question their statements of being a Pharisee. This is a blatant attempt to manipulate and intimidate questioners into silence since there is simply no biblical justification for what they say or do. They try to make it seem that a person using the bible as a basis for judging whether something is of God or not is being ‘legalistic’ and is thus a ‘Pharisee’. They want their hearers to believe that they are only accountable to God and have no need to give an accounting to ‘lesser’ (in their view) people.

That in itself proves their total lack of biblical understanding. This is demonstrated in two ways: 1) Totally corrupting and misstating the definition of a Pharisee to suit themselves. 2) Totally disregarding the commands in scripture for the hearers to verify their claims against scripture.

1) The Pharisees were one of the main Jewish sects during Christ’s earthly ministry. They were noted for their zeal for the Torah – the Law of Moses. The Apostle Paul was himself a Pharisee (see Philippians 3:1-6) before his conversion . They were also known for maintaining an oral tradition – which eventually became written – called the Talmud – A.K.A. The Teachings of Man –  which they regarded as equal in authority to  and sometimes exceeding the Torah’s – A.K.A.: God’s Inspired Infallible Word. 

Look at Matthew 15:1-3 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” Jesus didn’t criticize the Pharisees because they obeyed and followed scripture, but because they didn’t. Pharisees disregard the word of God to promote their own ideas and teachings instead of God’s.

 2)  False prophets however don’t want people comparing what they say to what God says.  But what does the scripture say? When Paul & Silas proclaimed the Gospel in Berea, Acts 17:11 says:  “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The Bereans were praised for seeking and finding scriptural verification of what was being proclaimed.  1 John 4:1 Tells us to ‘test the spirits’.  1 Thessalonians 5:20 & 21 tells us not to disregard but to test prophecies and hold on to the good. The only way to do that is to verify what is being taught with what God Himself has already said in the bible because God can’t lie or contradict Himself  (see Numbers 23:19).

You wont go wrong in your Christian walk believing that the Bible has all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. A person who thinks that their personal dreams, words, and revelations surpass or override biblical revelation is being foolish and will lead you to hell with them.  Don’t be manipulated and controlled by someone claiming spiritual authority who has become offended with you because you asked them “Where does it say that in the bible?” .

I’ll finish by asking you to consider one thing: If a Pharisee is actually someone who disregards the bible to promote their own teachings; who then is actually the Pharisee, the person who asked for biblical proof, or the guy offended because you did?




Twisting is totally OK for pretzels. Twisting God’s word is totally unacceptable.

I want to introduce what may be  new phrase to you:  ‘proof texting’. Though the phrase may be new to you, the concept isn’t a new one, it’s been around forever. ‘Proof texting’ is when a preacher wants to prove his point using the bible. So he searches scripture and finds one that he feels can be used regardless of the context or topic, the Holy Spirit originally intended. I always called this ‘scripture twisting’.

The danger in ‘proof texting’ of course is that rather than presenting the Word in the way God intended, the preacher presents his own ideas instead of God’s truth.  Rather than ‘rightly dividing the word’, he makes the scripture say what he wants it to.

The Bible is God’s Word and you need to approach the study of it seriously and prayerfully. You need to ask for and rely on the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance. When you study the Bible you should consider several things:

  1. When was the passage written?
  2. Who was it written to?
  3. Where was it written?
  4. How has it been historically understood?
  5. Why was it written?

When was the passage written? This is important because you need to understand the historical context to comprehend what God was speaking to his people at that time.

For example; in Jeremiah 25 the captives of Judah in Babylon are told that their captivity will last seventy years. This was written 70 years before Babylon was overthrown by the Medes & Persians and Israel returned to Judea from their captivity.

Who was it written to? Is this a specific word to a specific people at a specific time? Or is it a timeless truth that applies to all of God’s people throughout the ages?

For example: in Exodus 25, Moses gets instructions from God about building a tabernacle. Obviously we are not being instructed to do that today. This is a specific word for a specific time. In John 3:16, Jesus says (ESV): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life..” This is a timeless truth.

Where was it written? Was the author writing in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek? What concept did they intend to convey? How did their native culture & language influence what they wrote?

For example Paul in his letter to Titus quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides:  ”One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”. Here you see Paul, in the Holy Spirit, using a cultural reference Titus would understand.

How has it been historically understood? Often modern preachers and authors in seeking to discover ‘new revelation’ have seriously erred by ignoring what the word itself says as well as what the Church has historically believed and taught.

For example: Consider Job, in Job 1:1 he’s described as ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.’ James 5:11 referred to him as blessed and steadfast and uses his story as an example of God’s mercy. Down through the ages this story is used to encourage people who were going through tough times to persevere and keep their faith and hope fixed on God for the final victory. But to some today, Job is a fool. An ‘unbelieving’ believer who needlessly suffered calamity just because he wouldn’t watch his mouth and trust in God. Taking Job 3:25 out of context, ‘ For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me’.  They ignore what God Himself had to say, and in the process blaspheme God, calling Him a liar. Ignoring that God never once blames Job for his supposed ‘negative confession’. Instead these scripture twisters join the chorus of Jobs false-friends who slandered and accused him assigning  sin and blame to Job. God rebuked them then, and will also eventually rebuke the scripture twisters of today. Their god is too small and bears no resemblance to the One True God. Seeking to establish control over their lives by manipulating what happens in their lives with their words, they replace the sovereignty of God Almighty for the pitifully inadequate sovereignty of self.

Why was it written? What divine purpose did God intend? What truth is God seeking to convey? What is the theme of the book?

For example: 3 John 1:2 has been wrongfully used to teach people that God wants them to be both healthy and wealthy. KJV: ‘Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth’.

But when you read in a modern translation like the ESV: ‘Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.’. It becomes plain that the writer in his greeting to the recipient was simply expressing his best wishes. Reading the entire letter in context it becomes clear that the letter is written as an apostolic instructions about to handle visiting believers not about the recipients health or financial situation.

In conclusion, as believers we need to hold ourselves and our preachers accountable for how we use the Word of God. Beware of anyone claiming ‘new revelation’,  or taking verses out of context. Take the time and trouble to emulate the example of the Bereans in acts 17 who listened to the teaching of Paul and then checked to make sure that what he was preaching was actually in the Word.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Painting of Andersen, 1836, by Christian Albre...

Image via Wikipedia

We’re all familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s legendary tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s the story of the vain and self-absorbed ruler who spends all his time and treasure on looking good. Two con-men decide to take advantage of the Emperor’s vanity by convincing him that they can make him a fabulous new suit out of cloth so fine and light that anyone who was unfit for their office or uncommonly stupid would be unable to even see it. The two scoundrels spend hours locked away in a room supposedly sewing the new suit. The curious Emperor sends underlings to check on the progress. The two ‘tailors’  show the new clothes being worked on to the underlings, none of whom want to be called incompetent or uncommonly stupid. All agree that the completed suit is marvelous to look at. Finally the completed new suit is delivered to  the emperor, who puts it on and goes for a stroll so that all of his subjects can admire his glorious new suit. The Emperor’s subjects  realize that it would definitely be politically incorrect to admit being unable to see the new suit so everyone expresses their admiration of the Emperor and his new clothes. Everyone of course except for one little child who exclaimed, “The Emperor’s naked!”.  Everyone else then started shouting out “He’s naked! He’s naked!”. The Emperor finally comprehended that he had been hoodwinked, but he was so full of pride that he could not admit the truth and continued on with the procession.

Many leaders in the American church today are like this vain and foolish emperor in H.C. Andersen’s story. They rule over their congregants with an iron fist, demanding unquestioning loyalty and obedience. They are overly impressed with themselves and the pursuit of their own fame, wealth, and glory. They make wild extravagant claims about themselves and their ‘anointing’. They are experts at whipping the emotions of their hearers into a frenzy. They promise miracles of every kind but very few ever actually occur. “Do you need a miracle in your life?” they scream. “Then just come up to the altar and let Jesus heal your job, your marriage, and your crappy personality!” They’ll pull bible verses out of context and teach their followers that if they repeat the verses often enough – like some pagan incantation – and believe hard enough, then God will fulfill every selfish desire they’ve ever had. Provided of course enough money is ‘sowed into the ministry’. The amazing thing is that when God doesn’t give them what they want, the people hear: “You didn’t have enough faith.” or “You didn’t confess the Word enough.”  or “You didn’t sow enough money ….  to get your ‘miracle”. Do you notice the onus for failure is always on the people, never the preacher or the falsehood of the message he preaches.   The cycle repeats leaving a trail of broken and disheartened people.

Everyone in their circle of influence goes along with what the church emperor says. No one wants to admit that there is no substance or truth to the message and face being labeled spiritually incompetent or uncommonly stupid. But in reality even a little child can see the foolishness and deception being practiced. Indeed anyone who is willing to compare what the bible says versus what the religious emperor says will – like the little child in the story – proclaim “He’s naked! He’s naked!”

In Matthew 18:2,3,4 (ESV) And calling to him (Jesus) a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

So do not be taken in by a lot of slick talking. Check what you hear with what God says in the bible. Don’t be fooled into trying to make the bible say what you want it to say. Remember the apostle Paul’s word to the Corinthians – For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT) and 1 Corinthians 2:3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 

You see, by the power of  the Holy Spirit a real man of God speaks little but accomplishes much. A false man of God speaks much but accomplishes little.

%d bloggers like this: