Such a word in most places is used in an insulting manner to describe a religious bigot. (Side note: the word “bigot” has even turned into an insulting word, it wasn’t this way for a long time). I have come to believe that many people in Christian circles know very little about the Pharisees. They often know that these were bad, legalistic men who used religion for their own gain. That is true, but there is more depth to it than that.

To begin with, the Pharisees did not believe the Scriptures. Jesus says to them, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). Later, when the Pharisees condemned the disciples for plucking some grain off of the fields on the sabbath day, Jesus then says, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7). Did the Pharisees check out what Jesus said? For crying out loud, the scriptures were speaking against them.

An important and humbling fact I’ve come to realize in recent years is that my actions are to be judged through the lens of the Word of God. In my own maturation as a Christian I’ve stopped doing more than a few things on a regular basis because they were sin–repentance, basically. However, once a good set of maturity takes place, there comes that tendency to forget that our actions are still under that lens. The Pharisees clearly forgot this.

And now on further, the Pharisees were clearly immoral men. Jesus also said that they devoured widow’s houses and that they made their proselytes worse than their own selves. As incredibly good and holy as they looked to many common people in their day, behind the scenes, they were clearly bad religious people. If I am not mistaken, C.S. Lewis said that there worst kinds of bad men were the religious bad men. I wholeheartedly agree.

These men were also greedy. They believed it was better to swear by the gold on the temple rather than the temple itself. Not to mention paying tithes right down to mint and cummin (right down to the penny, basically) but leaving out bigger matters. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart is also (Matthew 6:20-21). The big question to ask sometimes is, “Where is my heart?” Is the heart and mind on heavenly things? (Colossians 3:1-2). The Pharisees hearts’ certainly were not on the heavenly things, otherwise they would not have had the Lord of Glory crucified (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).

The picture only gets worse from here. The Pharisees harbored murder in their hearts which they eventually helped to carry out. Take the example of the woman caught in adultery. Look at this passage carefully, does something seem rather fishy about this situation? There are two things which are often missed. 1.) Were the Pharisees going from house to house just LOOKING to catch a woman in adultery(“in the very act”)? How weird is that? 2.) Did the Pharisees have the authority under a Roman government to stone a woman for something written in the Law of Moses? No, they didn’t. If Jesus would have allowed them to stone her, He would have been tried by the Roman government and probably put to death for it. This is why He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (Luke 8:7). They were making an attempt on His life.

There’s far more that I could write, but I think most readers get the point by now. These were the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. These were the men that Jesus contended with the most as the gospels point out. There’s one final point I want to make though. In that day, there were more than a few theologies floating around in the world of Judaism. The Sadducees were not the same as the Pharisees and the Pharisees were not the same as the zealots or the Essenes (though the Essenes are not exclusively mentioned in the Bible, they were a real group). So, which group’s theology was closest to what Jesus taught? It was, in fact, the Pharisees. Just some food for thought on this last point.