Thursday, June 6, 2013

Take It Easy on the Pharisees?

A guy named David Leman, at Jesus Creed, is trying to shed some light on the misconceptions about Pharisees.  This is interesting stuff. Example:

  • The Temple did not run according to the wishes of the Pharisees; if it had, this would have been a vast improvement and would have made the Temple much more in keeping with what Yeshua believed.

As long as I can remember, I have seen a knee-jerk tendency to level blanket attacks on the Pharisees in the Gospels, and to call any sort of self-righteous behavior today "Pharisiacal."  Leman seems to be saying we're doing the group an injustice because of the tendencies of a few. And worse, we're tempted to classify all of Judaism according the worst of Pharisaism.  And in doing so, making Jesus opposed  to Judaism instead of a renewing, revitalizing element within it.  This should make us think.  Another of his points concerns Paul:

  • Paul continued to say, “I am a Pharisee,” the rest of his life and never repudiated this identity.

Are all of his references to his Pharisaism, or scrupulosity for the Torah, to be considered in a negative light? Or is this part of our modern protestant tendency to divide everything up into the "saved by grace" people vs. the "saved by works" people, with the latter category often enveloping anyone who pays scrupulous attention to behavior. Thus giving us the freedom to assume that grace simply means a more loosy-goosy way of doing things?  Are these kinds of assumptions just missing the point?

To this last point, I learned recently that Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 included the the word often translated "self-indulgence," which literally means "weak-willed." He was accusing them of becoming flabby, morally out-of-shape. Not legalistic, per se, although their scrupulosity in things like tithing was certainly a cover-up for their general moral failure.  Which criticism you level at someone has wider implications for how one is required to respond. 

Interesting things to ponder.

1 comment:

dle said...

Disagree. My son and I are reading through the NT together this summer, and the one reality that you can't escape in the Gospels is how hard Jesus attacked the Pharisees. He basically called them every unpleasant thing He could. Their response to this was to hate Him all the more. This was a really head-to-head battle.

I guess I would argue that Paul's noting of his Pharisee background was to reinforce to his audience his earnest obsession with theological perfection, even if Jesus noted that such Pharisaical earnestness missed the point entirely, something Paul himself notes in other places.