In this post I will identify the first of the three types. For those of you who have been faithfully following this series you have likely deduced the three types by now…
On the surface, the original Pharisees didn’t look so bad. They were dedicated (one may say ultra-dedicated) to their belief system. Outwardly, it looked as though they were faithfully following the Word of God. They overtly held the Word of God in high honor. But this must be qualified. Their emphasis was not actually on the entire Word. As many Christians today, they had their prejudices and were quite selective regarding Scripture, though they convinced themselves otherwise. Regarding this practice, and how they made their supposed application thereof, the Hebrew Scriptures of that time (the OT) had a different format than that which we have today in our “Christian” Bibles. Their Scriptures consisted of three main divisions:
(1) The Law (Torah, or “Teaching”), which comprised the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT
(2) The Prophets, which included not only the individual accounts of the Major and Minor Prophets but also the earlier historical books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, and Samuel
(3) The Writings (the remainder of the OT, primarily the Psalms, which the Lord referred to often)
The Pharisees were specifically very high on The Law. They emphasized the teachings of Moses. And though Moses was certainly a prophet, they didn’t necessarily see him that way nor do most Christians. They saw Moses as the great lawgiver and ostensible head of the nation in that he revealed all the particulars of how they should live.
Moses (1526-1406BC) predated the kings of Israel and the many prophets, both the well-known and the not so much, which arose several centuries later. The Pharisees certainly had respect for Abraham (1946-1771BC), but focused primarily on the Law and neglected (often spurned) The Prophets.
The latter is due in part because the Pharisees (Separated Ones) originated at a time which was already far into the “Silent Years” in which the prophetic voice was entirely absent from the nation. Regarding a specific date of their founding, some say it coincided with the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt in 167BC. However, there had likely already been a loose organization by that time which may have existed for a few decades which rapidly coalesced in response to the attack and desecrations of Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
The last Hebrew prophet was Malachi in approximately 450-420BC. Therefore, since there were no longer any prophets or prophetic voice speaking to the nation in what remained of Israel (primarily Judea) after that date, the entire focus shifted to The Law, since this was the area of expertise of the Tribe of Levi, along with the temple and its ceremonies, rites, etc. The Levites were the only ones remaining in authority in charge of anything “spiritual,” so to speak. Lacking the very necessary prophetic Word and the highly anointed Prophets to balance them out, correct them, and keep them in line (theses two camps often clashed), it is not difficult to see how the nation drifted away from the heart of God and proceeded to emphasized dogma, laws, rites, externals, liturgies, and unbridled religious authority from an ecclesiastical caste which superseded the heart of the Lord as characterized through the prophetic writings.
Which made it all the more strange that the Pharisees and their precursors effectively dishonored the Law. How did they do this? First of all, one may recall the apostle Paul’s admonitions about the letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law:
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. [Romans 7:6]
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [2Corinthians 3:4-6]
Those who look at The Law from a strictly legal perspective have a problem with it covertly though they may honor it overtly. The problem? It is not specific enough. Though it contains a great many laws (613), including the ceremonial directives, it correspondingly contains behavioral commands about what to do and what not to do and lists many “for instance” particulars which are very specific. It also defines sin. Yet it cannot possibly list all the sins known to man and could not possibly list all the possible “for instances” that might occur. So even though it appears to be a comprehensive collection of all conceivable thou shalts and shalt nots that would satisfy the strictest Torah teachers and certainly everyone else, who would otherwise think it to be much too extensive and far-reaching (and extremely difficult to follow and obey), there were some who thought it to be quite limited.
Why? Because they could conjure up other specific particulars that Moses never addressed. In their defense, they likely experienced such particulars or heard of such and knew as lawyers they must address every possible occurrence. So while God was giving specific laws through Moses these laws were seen as somewhat general laws and needed to be further parsed out. This is why the Torah teachers, over several centuries, began adding greater specificity to the original Torah so as to have an answer for pretty much any eventuality. All these additional “laws” were collected over time and became quite extensive. And because they could never write all these additional laws down and thereby give them the same legitimacy as the Torah, their vast collection became known as the Oral Law. It was passed down orally over the centuries and collected greater weight and honor along the way.
But this large collection of specific oral additions to the written Law of Moses caused a problem. By attempting to be too fine, the Oral Law had a tendency to lessen the impact of the original. After a while, those guys went even further in their attempt to add to the Law by adding much additional fine tuning to their initial fine tuning. For example, if the Law stated plainly “Don’t Do This,” they would break down all the possibles of what that single command entailed so as to have every possibility covered. One may see this as a good thing in that it merely added greater clarity to the issue, especially since there were penalties involved in breaking such a law, sometimes severe.
But as I alluded to previously, a very strange thing happened. Within the list of further particulars and possibles contained in the Oral Law was the possibility of some particulars which seemed to get one off the hook. In delving into all such possibilities an even stranger occurrence took place. The Torah teachers actually started making laws designed to do that very thing. They eventually created a massive system of statutes that only they were privy to and they learned exactly how to implement them to gain a particular outcome.
Therefore, is it surprising that the Oral Law tended to favor its most loyal supporters, those who actually created it? Is it not a phenomenon in this world that laws are often written to favor those in charge and do damage to perceived political enemies? This was the inherent danger in adding to the Word of God, whether one was sincere or not. Mixing religious prejudicial renderings from the hand of man causes the Word of God to lose its impartial and holy nature.
Remember, this was the “Oral Law.” It was never written down before 70AD when the nation ceased to be. The only way to learn it and know it was by being taught by the few who did, and the only way that could happen was by being an ultra-dedicated student who would honor their Torah teachers (lawyers) exclusively and never question them or their teachings.
Though it may seem obvious to people from without (or should), those people who created, passed on, and taught the Oral Law had actually created an elite Secret Society with its own precise rules and regulations in which only the top members knew what their Oral Law actually stated in total. Most Israelites were apparently completely unaware of these sinister goings-on. Maybe they never noticed because the internal goings-on were always done essentially in secret though in appearance in the open. (There existed a superficial front of legitimacy hiding the actual unspoken agenda.) In other words, the few candidates to become members of the next generation of Oral Law teachers learned their craft in schools which only they attended. The people at large had no idea what went on in such places but were conditioned over time to believe that the Torah schools (in which the Oral Law predominated) were a great and holy enterprise created and supported by God. They learned to never question anything that went on there.
Now, while this was true for the majority of Israelites, whether some actually believed in the institution fully or not but went along with it anyway, there were a few who disagreed. And some of those who disagreed and saw through the false façade of the Oral Law institution and its teachers were strongly opposed. Yet, not having a voice and being appropriately wary of crossing powerful people who had tricked the general public into supporting them and gaining their trust, few ever spoke out. But the time came when the centuries of silence finally ceased. The blessed day arrived when God’s voice returned.
THE AGE-OLD CLASH SUDDENLY REIGNITED
It was the coming of John the Immerser that blew the lid off and exposed them. A Great Awakening had begun. God was intent on exposing this secret society and all others like it which had gained illicit control over the nation and its people to their detriment. We have seen the same thing happen throughout our current Age of Grace which has existed from that time. There have been many occurrences when great corruption was exposed within Christianity in general. We are now living in one of those times.
Never forget that corruption always thrives in secret. John had to be completely and absolutely disconnected from society at large in order to be incorruptible and effective. He did an excellent job. May real Christians in the present be as effective.
It is always the case that a lack of proper accountability results in eventual corruption. When the ability to correct is removed, especially from those who lead and have great power, their corruption will spread throughout whatever it is that they control. When the corrupt controllers have the ability to threaten, coerce, and make demands upon the people they rule over and have the law and the means on their side to carry out their threats, there is no remedy or ability to counteract them outside the Kingdom of God. It is why countries, societies, and yes, religious organizations, should never allow the establishment of a tyrannical government, secret society, ruling class, or religious clergy group to take control because once they do, freedom will be the first casualty. And they will twist everything around for their own benefit.
It is why America, in its original form post Revolution, was the greatest country and form of government ever created. And while America now has an ever increasing amount of domestic enemies, some in very high places, who hate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and never have any problem ripping apart the Founders and their hope of a place in this world where individual freedom may reign, they never address any better alternative in the world. Even in its present degraded condition, America arguably remains the best country on the planet in the eyes of a likely majority, though freedom is under severe attack and will not last much longer without a powerful corrective.
However, one must know that the necessary corrective will never come from this first type of Christian in America which I identify here. Their political equivalent in the 1770s were the American Tories who continually betrayed the cause of freedom and independence by staunchly siding with the English Crown and Parliament. These people comprised about one third of the American Colonists. Many if not most of them were directly connected economically to the higher money interests in England and Europe which essentially controlled the government of England since the Bank of England was created in 1694. For the Tories, then, it was a power and money issue. Why should they fight against the very hand that feeds them? Why should they sacrifice their comfortable position in American society or allow it to be threatened for a mere political cause?
There are Christian denominations that still exist which were identified as Tory at the time of the American Revolution. They opposed the relatively smaller Protestant denominations who stood for freedom, those who actually had ministers of the Gospel who took up arms and fought for the cause. One particular well known large denomination which still exists today, though a mere shell of what it once was and almost thoroughly taken over by the sinful culture, was so against the American Revolution that many members left the country or went into hiding. They supported the English money-controlled tyrants absolutely. Those that remained refused to fight. And then when the War was over and their side lost, the many members of this denomination suddenly came back out of the woodwork and began evangelizing in America again, taking full advantage of the new religious freedom won in the War. Talk about your blazing hypocrites!
In essence, those who believe in high church, who cannot exist without customary church structures and a ruling clergy, who must be told what to believe and do, who have no desire to do their own research into the written Word, who refuse to put the pure teachings of the Lord Jesus first and always, and who revert to the beliefs of their denomination or church or pastor though such beliefs often clash and disagree with the New Testament, are identified as this first type of Christian. They will stand by as real Christians who honor the Lord Jesus are persecuted. They are the equivalent of the religious acolytes who refuse to get their hands dirty by helping the unfortunate victims of assaulting robbers left dying on the side of the road. They are as the rich man Dives who neglected a destitute Lazarus asking for mere scraps to stay alive and viable. They will rarely do anything which may threaten or sacrifice their standing in church society or as members of a higher group. Their money, salaries, prestige, and success are always more important. They place a high premium on their social status and are mortified if people see them as something other than legitimately mainline.
They are opposed to the total authority of the Lord Jesus, the infilling of the Holy Spirit, and the free exercise of spiritual gifts. They are against the spiritual love and close fellowship as characterized by the originals and their unity in the Spirit. They insist that Christian unity can only exist through an authoritative establishment which must include institutional church structures just as the unbelieving Israelites insisted on the physical temple and its priesthood instead of the Lord’s new spiritual Temple comprised of every single believer as a priest thereof.
They gag at independent Christian home groups or Bible studies. They will only support whatever their church or leaders sanction and nothing else. They cannot see that church as we know it is much different than it was in the beginning. They don’t care about the beginning. They don’t care about Biblical Truth. They much prefer their own respective “Christian” interpretation which is more comfortable, socially acceptable, and not threatening to the devil. They love playing church. No matter how much someone may point out that so much of what they hold dear has no precedent or support in Scripture, they will continually insist they are perfectly satisfied with their interpretations, doctrines, and church formats to the point of actually holding Scripture in contempt. They hate it when Scripture proves them wrong. Even five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation we still have a great many Christians who insist on putting clergyites and church governments on the throne and allow their oppositional pronouncements and beliefs to counteract and overcome the Word of God.
These people are best defined as Christian Pharisees. They are perfectly described by the Lord Jesus in the following passage as He reveals the fallacy of the Pharisees’ vaunted Oral Law (the tradition of the elders), which Unreal Christianity has their own many examples of (extra-Biblical church doctrines, traditions, bylaws, statements of faith, confessions, catechisms, specific denominational beliefs, etc.) which render the Word of God of none effect:
The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘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.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” [Mark 7:5-13]
© 2022 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved. [To Be Continued]
 Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.