The Pharisees In Christ’s Time

Most modern students of the Bible know that many or all of the Pharisees` in Christ's time:


         prayed long prayers (see Matthew 23:14), fasted often (see Matthew 9:14), tithed regularly (see Luke 11:42 and 18:12), built expensive tombs for the Old Testament prophets (see Matthew 23:29), believed that demons existed (see Matthew 12:24) and believed God performs miracles (see Mark 8:11).

         were self-righteous and proud about themselves and about their obedience to God’s commands found in the Mosaic Law and Old Testament prophets (see Luke 16:15 and 18:9-14).

         emphasised obedience to the less important matters of the Mosaic Law and neglected the more important (see Matthew 23:23).

         concentrated on religious practices which gave them an outward appearance of being clean before God but left them unclean in their hearts (see Matthew 23:25-27).

         followed many commands and rules which were not found in the Bible but which they invented themselves (see Matthew 15:1-9 and Mark 7:1-13).

         put heavy religious burdens on those they taught (see Matthew 23:4).

         did good works so that other people could praise them (see Matthew 23:5).

         condemned Jesus for supposedly not obeying the Mosaic Law in relation to the Sabbath (see Matthew 12:9-14).

         and concentrated on God’s Law more than on His mercy (see Matthew 9:9-13 and 23:23).


But few modern believers understand that the New Testament teaches that many or all of the Pharisees practiced the following sins which are also common today among many liberal compromising churchgoers and some church leaders:


Lovers of money


Many or all of the Pharisees were lovers of money who used God as an excuse to pressure widows into giving them their houses. Luke 16:15 says “…the Pharisees, who were lovers of money…” In Matthew 23:14, Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses…”

In Matthew 23:25, Christ said that many of the Pharisees were “full of extortion and self-indulgence.” In Greek, the word “extortion” here is a form of the word “harpage” which means “pillage, plundering, robbery”. [1] “Plundering” refers to systematically robbing or embezzling another person of money and/or possessions.



Without self-control in many matters


In Christ’s time, many or all the Pharisees were without self-control in many areas of their lives. In Matthew 23:25, Jesus said that they were “full of…self-indulgence”. In Greek, the word “self-indulgence” here is a form of the word “akrasia” which means “lack of self-control, self-indulgent”. [2] How contrary this is to one popular modern view of the Pharisees!

Many today imagine the Pharisees were very self-disciplined, full of self-control and rigid in their suppression of enjoyments and pleasures for self. But Jesus said they were not like this. This is except in the areas of their strict obedience to the Sabbath commands and to their own man-made extra-Biblical rules about the Sabbath and washing of their hands (see Matthew 12:1-14 and Mark 7:1-8).


Possibly sexually unclean


Some or many of the Pharisees in Christ’s time were possibly sexually unclean. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus said many of the Pharisees were inwardly “full of…all uncleanness”. In Greek, the word “uncleanness” here is a form of the word “akatharsia” which means “impurity, dirt”. [3]

In Romans 1:24, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 4:19, 5:3, Colossians 3:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:7, forms of “akatharsia” are used to refer to various types of sexual immorality. Louw and Nida say “akatharsia” means in many contexts “the state of moral impurity, especially in relation to sexual sin. [4] Because in Luke 18:11, Jesus spoke of a Pharisee saying he was not like others who were adulterers and John 8:3-12 records the Pharisees wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery, most modern believers assume that all the Pharisees had high sexual morals.

But in Romans 2:17-22, Paul referred to religious Jews who emphasised not committing adultery who actually practiced it. Also, as we see in Chapter “Divorce and remarriage”, many Pharisees had a very liberal attitude to divorce. Their attitude to divorce was far more liberal than allowed in the Mosaic Law.

The Pharisees may not have been blatant adulterers. But the lusts in many of their hearts for other women was accommodated through their easy divorce teachings.


Full of lawlessness


In Christ's time, many or all of the Pharisees were “full of…lawlessness” according to Jesus (see Matthew 23:28). They emphasised obedience to the Mosaic Law in certain ways. But they also invented many false exceptions to justify disobeying numerous absolute commands of God. These man-made exceptions expressed their lawlessness. Also, they refused to obey the weightier matters of the Mosaic Law – justice, mercy, faith and love of God (see Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42). Their lawlessness was expressed as well in their self-righteousness and refusal to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (see Luke 11:53-54, 18:9-14 and John 7:45-49).

Bible Study Questions


1.         What are the truths which most believers know about many or all the Pharisees who lived in Christ’s time?

2.         Explain what Luke 16:15, Matthew 23:14 and 23:25 reveal about the attitudes of many or all of the Pharisees to money and material possessions.

3.         What do Jesus’ following descriptions of many or all of the Pharisees mean:


A)           “full of…self-indulgence” (see Matthew 23:25)

B)            “full of…all uncleanness” (see Matthew 23:27)

C)            “full of…lawlessness” (see Matthew 23:28)?


[1] Vine, page 219.

[2] Bauer, page 33.

[3] Ibid, page 28.

[4] Louw and Nida, page 770.



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