|Vol. 16 No. 10 October 2014||
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
Surely one of the greatest heartaches Jesus faced in His earthly ministry was the sect of the Jews called the Pharisees. There is no doubt that this group took its religion seriously, but sadly, they were seriously misguided. Zeal without knowledge is never a good combination (Romans 10:2).
Of the three “sects” that Josephus lists – Pharisees, Essenes and Sadducees, the Pharisees seemingly appealed to him the most. He admired the Essenes with whom he lived for three years, but he joined the Pharisees. The Pharisees are not mentioned in the Old Testament, and most likely trace their origin back to the Intertestamental Period during the Maccabean interlude. The New Testament refers often to the Pharisees, and usually, if not always, to their faults and hypocrisy. The Talmud lists seven categories of Pharisees, and only the seventh is laudable. There was the shouldering Pharisee who paraded good deeds; there was the delaying Pharisee who let business wait in order to do a good deed; there was the bruised Pharisee who walked into a wall to keep from looking at a woman; there was the pestle Pharisee who with false humility walked with his head down like a pestle on a mortar; there was the ever-reckoning Pharisee who asked what good deeds he might do that would be reckoned as canceling out his neglects, and there was the fearful Pharisee who was in terror of God. Then, there was the loving Pharisee who like Abraham loved God; he was admirable (adapted from https://www.come-and-hear.com/sotah/sotah_22.html). The name Pharisee means “a separate one; separatists.” At their zenith, they are said to have boasted some 6,000 members.
The Pharisees were a strict sect of the Jews, who demanded strict obedience to the Law of Moses and the traditions of the elders. Sadly, they placed tradition on a higher plane than the Law. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, angels, spirits, heaven and hell. They were extremely influential in the synagogues and were viewed as experts in the Law. However, they rejected Jesus because He did not fit into their hypocritical mold. In particular, they hated the fact that Jesus associated with less than perfect people (Matthew 9:11), and He did not follow their traditions (Matthew 15:2).
Boiling It Down
Sometimes today people are referred to as legalistic or Pharisees when they demand a strict adherence to the Bible. However, we must understand that strict adherence to God and His Word is not legalism or Phariseeism. Among other things, saying one thing and doing another is what condemned the Pharisees (Matthew 23:3). Thus, when we boast to believe one thing, but fail to practice it religiously, we are in danger of being just like the Pharisees. We must test ourselves daily (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure the things we say and do are in harmony with each other.
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
The very name by which this group was called refers to much of their ideals and lifestyles. The Greek name Essenoi or Essaioi is related to the Aramaic hasya, meaning “pious.” The Essenes were a close-knit group of isolationists that thought of themselves as the “holy ones.” Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the only information we knew about the Essenes came from classical historians. Because of their semi-monastic, separatist ideals, much information regarding them died with this isolationist sect of the Jews.
The Essenes are not mentioned in New Testament or the Talmud, but Philo and Pliny the Elder mentioned them, and Josephus gave a detailed description of them. The community at Qumran was evidently an Essene community, due to the detailed information of Josephus and the information from Qumran. Although they are not mentioned by name in the New Testament, they were evidently active during the life of Jesus.
Their religious beliefs were indeed interesting. The Essenes believed that everything in life was determined by divine providence and that fate determines all things. They stressed the importance of angels, even to the point of possibly worshipping them. This group may have prompted the Spirit to guide Paul’s pen in Colossians 2:18-23. While they revered the Law of Moses, they also added their own interpretations to it. For example, not only would they not cook on the Sabbath, but they would not so much as even move a cooking utensil on Saturday. Also, they would not use the bathroom on the Sabbath either. They would not handle a coin with the image of a man on it because they believed it was idolatry to even look upon such.
They lived in communal type environments, much like the monks of the middle Ages. They were ascetic, that is, living life without any pleasures, such as money, marriage, sex, meat or any such thing that would be considered to make life a bit better. They would not even apply any oil to dry, rough skin, as they thought this would be too extravagant.
Boiling It Down
Some Christians have adopted this lifestyle as well. They only associate with other Christians. While the idea, at first thought, may seem appealing, Jesus never authorized such a lifestyle. We are to be “salt” and “light” to a dark, dismal world (Matthew 5:13-16). The reason we are to be in the world, but not of it, is to attract others to Jesus (Romans 12:1-2). As Christians with a mission to evangelize the world, we must not become isolationists.