Anyone who has read the Bible has read about the Pharisees and their seemingly never-ending run-ins with Jesus. In this post we will look at who the Pharisees were, what the definition of Pharisee is, and ask ourselves who are the Pharisees today!
Updated and republished from 2/27/2020
Who Are the Pharisees Today? – Pharisee Definition
The Pharisees or Perushim in Hebrew, were an elite, ancient group of religious Jews who were strict adherents to the Law and esteemed themselves more highly than others.
These were the most educated of Jews and spent their lives in the study of Torah Law. They not only studied Law, they taught it. They believed the Law was the only way to God.
According to Learn Religions:
Who Are the Pharisees Today? – Characteristics of Pharisees
We know the Pharisees were very religious and adhered to the Law above all else. But they also believed that oral law (or the traditions of the elders) and its interpretation was just as authoritative as the Law of Moses.
Much like we see justices of our Supreme Court deciding on matters of constitutional law and handing down opinions that would be precedent, they had sort of the oral equivalent (which would later be written).
Some believed themselves to be loftier than all others, including the Sadducees.
These sects within Judaism differed on some of their beliefs, such as matters of ritual and moral purity as well as a belief in the resurrection of the dead (which the Sadducees did not believe).
Those who did judged others and their observance of Law and often put themselves in the position of judge and jury, as we see in the New Testament story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11)
Interestingly enough, Jesus NEVER called into question the punishment prescribed by the Law. He knew the Pharisees were in fact correct. Stoning WAS called for by the Law of Moses.
But Jesus had grace and mercy on His mind, not condemnation. This was something these Pharisees just could not wrap their heads around. Mercy was not something they were familiar with because religious people will always go by rules, rather than relationship.Mercy was not something the Pharisees were familiar with because religious people will always go by rules, rather than relationship. Click To Tweet
But the Pharisees weren’t all bad and no good. In fact many Pharisees were similar to us. They believed in many of the things we do, such as the Messiah (although they differ on who He is), the resurrection of the dead, the world to come, etc. In fact, some scholars believe Yeshua Himself WAS of the Pharasaic sect, which is why they were often together to have these disputes.
Who Are the Pharisees – Two Schools
There were really two different sects of the Pharisees and they were very different from each other.
There was the more temperate Beit Hillel (School of Hillel) and the more stringent Beit Shammai (School of Shammai), which is the one Yeshua often clashed with on matters of tradition. You can often see these two going back and forth on issues in the Mishna.
Overall, many Pharisees were different than the ones we often see depicted in arguments with Yeshua or in dramatizations and they are responsible for the institution of the synagogue and, especially in the case of Beit Hillel, were key in preserving and fostering Judaism through the years.
To summarize, SOME Pharisees believed themselves to be holier than thou and it appeared as though they thought their opinions and traditions better than others.
Those are the ones this article will be speaking of when discussing who the Pharisees are today. It would be wrong to lump all Pharisees into the same boat as most were very reverent and genuine, but, for simplicity, I will use the broad name of Pharisee in this article since that is what people are most familiar with.
But please keep in mind, I am only speaking about the Pharisees that Yeshua experienced these negative encounters with and not the Pharasaic sect in general.
We see in Luke 18:9-14:
What is a Pharisee Spirit and Who Are Modern Day Pharisees?
A Pharisee spirit (when looking at those particular Pharisees) is a spirit of haughtiness, self-righteousness, pride and, yes, hypocrisy. Yeshua Himself said in Matthew 16:6:
He also said in Matthew 23:1-12:
Jesus was essentially saying ‘do as they say not as they do’. You see they taught the Law well. In fact, Yeshua makes a point of telling His followers to do what they tell them and respect their teachings.
They just weren’t that great at keeping it when it concerned themselves.
They look at what other people do and are critical of it but yet they turn around and do the same themselves.
They believed the rules did not apply to themselves because they were better and more learned than everyone else. Incidentally, many of the ‘rules’ the Pharisees insisted upon where traditions of the elders and not always Torah-based.
They (again, speaking of SOME, not ALL Pharisees) were offended by everyone and everything!
They were so full of themselves that they could not recognize the Messiah when He stood right in front of them because He didn’t fit THEIR vision of who He would be!
Who are the Pharisees today? A Pharisee spirit is one who believes they somehow do faith life better than others. They judge people for what they wear, what they drive, what church they go to, how often they pray, what version of the Bible they read, who they associate with.
They will criticize others for not reading the Bible as much as they do or praying as long as they do.A Pharisee spirit is one who believes they somehow do Christian life better than others. They judge people for what they wear, what they drive, what church they go to, how often they pray, what version of the Bible they read. Click To Tweet
Jesus was not many Pharisees’ picture of a victorious, conquering Messiah. They weren’t interested in God’s definition of a Messiah, they cared about their own.
They ignored the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
Many Pharisees will form their own version of truth based on what suits them.
The rules that apply to others, do not apply to them.
They had a picture of who the Messiah would be and Jesus just didn’t fit the bill. A lowly carpenter? Joseph’s Son? How could THIS be the Messiah? He isn’t as lofty as we are! How on earth could we EVER dare worship a Messiah lower than we are?
He’s the carpenter’s son! He is not a High Priest or a Scribe! It can’t be!
Doubt this is the case? Well, let’s see their own words in Matthew 13:55-57:
They were “offended”. They couldn’t possibly acknowledge a Messiah who was ‘common’.
They failed to see the WHY of a Messiah and chose to see the WHAT instead. They couldn’t possibly comprehend, in spite of the prophecies, that a Messiah came to be a suffering servant and not a conqueror of Rome.
He just didn’t fit their mold.
Who are the Pharisees today? They can be people who look at you and form opinions about your ministry or your calling because you fail to fit their “image”.The Pharisees had a picture of who the Messiah would be. A lowly carpenter? Joseph’s Son? How could THIS be the Messiah? He isn’t as lofty as we are! How on earth could we EVER dare worship a Messiah lower than we are? Click To Tweet
Who Are the Pharisees Today? – Modern Day Pharisees
Are there Pharisees today? Oh yes, there are Pharisees today and we know many of them.
We have modern day Pharisees in our own circles. We may even BE one (gasp!!).
Do you ever look at someone God is using and think you could do it better or that you are more deserving?
Do you ever look at someone’s church attendance and make judgments about their walk?
Have you ever gotten offended because someone dared take your seat at church or synagogue or YOUR parking spot near the door to the lobby and now you have to walk?
Have you thought of yourself better than someone else because you were in a higher tax bracket or had a certain skin color?
Do you discount someone’s gifting because they just became believers like yesterday and you’ve been at this a long time?
Do you think if a church sings contemporary worship and not good old time hymns they are somehow not as close to God?
Do you think someone is less knowledgeable about Scripture because they choose to read the NIV and not the KJV or ESV?
If people DO their walk differently than you do, do you judge their salvation?
Are you a modern day Pharisee?
Who are the Pharisees today? WE are much of the time.
We have all done it. I’ve done it and I can bet you have. And if you’re sitting there thinking “Well! I’ve never done THAT!” then you just proved my point.
None of us is perfect. ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Let me say that again….ALL fall SHORT!
As a body of Messiah, we need to do better.
We need to stop creating and fostering division in the community of believers. We need to stop judging with an overly critical eye.
We need to stop creating enemies out of each other and work together.
NASB – “Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation“
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.