Pharisees of the Twenty-first Century

Copyright Ó 2007 Bruce Alan Killian            August 27, 2007 email bakillian at

                                                                        Updated July 29, 2020 A.D.

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Today the Hasidic Jews follow the teaching of the Pharisees, and they can be called the heirs of that teaching. They teach God requires separateness from the world (which is true). But they teach a separateness like God required of a priest in the Temple. Others follow the ways of the Pharisees, not in separateness from the world, but in their manner of rationalization.

The link between various classes of people in Jesus’ day and our own is of interest. In Jesus’ day, the Scribes and the Pharisees were the intellectual elite. Today these same men would be the teachers in our universities. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was called the teacher in Israel (John 3:1, 10). These men were very much for the status quo, they were well off, and they were held in high esteem by the people. Knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). Today, college professors are also well off and held in high esteem (although the average difference is much less).

Jesus regularly calls these men hypocrites. The word translated hypocrites in Greek means “stage actor,” And they wore masks.  It had the connotation of a sinner. It is of interest that today actors and these intellectuals have much the same political philosophy. But their philosophy would still be condemned by Jesus (although they would dispute that assertion). They expected the people to keep laws they could not, and God said those laws were not good. (Ezekiel 20:25)

These two groups link to today’s liberals (from the Greek having time for leisure). These men, with few exceptions, were roundly condemned by Jesus, particularly for their deficient worldview and principles. A big part of their problem was jealousy and envy. They continuously tried to hinder Jesus because of their envy. They appeared to prevail for a time, but in the end, they were destroyed.

There is another group also represented in the gospels that universally gets a good rating from Jesus, and that is the Roman soldiers. They were an occupying force that was generally hated by the population. We have soldiers seeking the baptism of John and asking what we can do to please God? (Luke 3:14). We also have a centurion living the beatitudes and commended for great faith (Matthew 8). A Centurion was also the first gentile convert (Acts 10).

Although the Pharisees were held in high esteem by the people, the people, particularly of Galilee, were the chief protection that Jesus had to keep these intellectuals from destroying him early. The Pharisees feared the crowds, a little like mob democracy. Periodically these intellectuals managed to convince these crowds to take their side, incorrect as it was (Mark 15).