Modern Day Pharisees.

posted in: Bible 5

The pharisees and teachers of the law appear in opposition to Jesus in all of the four gospels. It is not just that they oppose Jesus, Jesus himself says some harsh words to them. E.g., the woes he declares in Luke 11v42 to 54. It begs the question, who are the modern day equivalent to pharisees?

Tom Wright in his commentary on Luke, which I have been reading recently, makes some very interesting suggestions. Pages 144-145.

He starts by saying that as a young man he was taught that modern pharisees were religious teachers who insist on all kinds of religious observances. E.g., those who said you had to fast on Fridays, or kneel and stand at certain points in church services or cross yourself. He was taught it applied to those who said you couldn’t play cards; go the theatre or wear make-up. The modern equivalent of the pharisees is therefore anyone who teaches that we should focus on other things rather than calling us simply to believe and trust God for our salvation.

He suggests this cannot be right for two reasons. Firstly, the real Pharisees we meet in the Bible are nothing like that. They were people who held strong political opinions, and this is what lay behind the religious sanctions; their rules were designed to make people keep the Jewish law as best they could, so that Israel would be made holy, and then God would bring in his kingdom. Secondly, the Pharisees were a pressure group working in both the social and political sphere, not just religious teachers.

He then makes his interesting suggestions of what modern Pharisees might look like. He suggests they are groups in society that urge people to take on particular codes; like those, for instance, who insist on “green” policies for the disposal of garbage, people insisting on certain duties and not simply religious duties in the old sense. He goes on to say that there are also western newspapers, as well as individual journalists, who take it upon themselves to be the guardians of public morality. They will shriek in mock horror at all kinds of offenses and take delight in pointing the finger at the rich and respectable. But at the same time many of the journalists who make a living by doing all this are by no means shining examples of moral virtue. In some cases, they are the ones who load heavy burdens on people’s backs but don’t themselves lift a finger to move them.

As I say, worth pondering on. Pharisees are still alive and kicking and Jesus had harsh things to say to them!

5 Responses

  1. Al
    |

    Interesting! Had no idea about the political side of the Pharisees!

  2. Jeremy
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    People who insist on green policies for the disposal of garbage?
    And, journalists who point their fingers at the rich and respectful?

    The Church is filled with modern Pharisees. There are plenty of them in the Evangelical Church in the US. I don’t see how your examples of Pharasees fit at all.

  3. tony thompson
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    Tom Wright explains it,
    He suggests this cannot be right for two reasons. Firstly, the real Pharisees we meet in the Bible are nothing like that. They were people who held strong political opinions, and this is what lay behind the religious sanctions; their rules were designed to make people keep the Jewish law as best they could, so that Israel would be made holy, and then God would bring in his kingdom. Secondly, the Pharisees were a pressure group working in both the social and political sphere, not just religious teachers.

    That is not to condone some of the things happening in the Evangelical church in the US, it is just that Tom says that is not a modern equivalent to the Pharisees. That is why I found it so interesting.

    Reflecting more on this, I think that the Evangelical Church in the US do appear to behave like Pharisees at times.

  4. Richard Mayes
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    I recently read Tom Wright’s “Luke for everyone” as I am usually a fan of his writing, but I was surprised by his calling those who advocate green policies for garbage disposal Pharisees. Surely as Christians promoting such policies (and green policies in general) is an important part of loving our neighbours with whom we share this planet?
    And while it is certainly true that some of our press do seem to deserve to be called Pharisees, surely rich people are not necessarily always “respectable”.

    Richard

  5. Paul
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    “[Wright] suggests [Pharisees] are groups in society that urge people to take on particular codes; like those, for instance, who insist on “green” policies for the disposal of garbage, people insisting on certain duties …” such as being vaccinated to signal that you love your neighbour.

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