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The Accuracy of the NT Picture of the Pharisees as Compared to that in Josephus

March 4, 2016

Throughout history there have been many sects that have formulated around a common ideology or purpose unique to that particular sect. The most infamous sect in history was known as the Pharisees. To discover who this particular Jewish sect was and what they stood for there are only two main historical accounts to investigate, namely the NT and that of Josephus’ historical works. This paper is interested in arguing that the NT picture of the Pharisees is converse to that in Josephus’ writings. To undertake this claim there will be an introduction on the biblical content concerning the Pharisees. Then, there will be an introduction on the extra-biblical content concerning the Pharisees. Finally, there will be a discussion of implications in the conclusion. Concerning the biblical content of the Pharisees, a detailed discussion of the origins of the Pharisees and the NT picture of the Pharisees will be presented. Then, Josephus’ picture of the Pharisees will be presented.

By way of introduction, there are two main views concerning the origins of the Pharisees. Some equate the origin of the Pharisees with the biblical scribe Ezra during the occasion of the return of exiled Jews from Babylon and the closing chapter of OT History.[1] On the other hand, some associate the formation of the Pharisees to a separatist faction of ethnic Jews. In this view, the origin of the Pharisees began when they separated themselves from their fellow Jews who syncretized with Greek culture (Hellenistic Jews).[2] While examining these two views to unearth the genesis of the Pharisees, one must appeal to the Word of God and its overall Canonical context which goes deeper and further to reveal the Pharisees’ origin. In Matthew 22:41-46; 32-36 Jesus Christ appeals to the OT when the text reads,

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying,

‘The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’?

If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. (NASB)

Jesus Christ is both David’s Creator and his Son. What is more, Jesus Christ quotes Psalm 110:1 for which He is the Messianic fulfillment, namely the one whose enemies are subject under His feet. This is a reference to Genesis 3:15, the protoevengelium where God pronounces judgment on the spiritual serpent. The Seed of the woman is Christ, who will have enmity with the seed of the spiritual serpent and will ultimately crush the spiritual serpent’s head. To this effect, Genesis 3:15 explains the victory of Christ over His enemies when it reads,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (NASB)

Throughout the OT Scriptures there was a battle between the Seed of the woman’s ancestral line and the seed of the serpent. A few examples of this enmity included when Amalek, grandson of Esau (Gen 36:12), led an assault against Israel during their exodus from Egypt (cf. Ex 17:8-16). Consequently, God promised to Moses to blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven and to have war with Amalek from generation to generation (Ex 17:14-15). In fact, God made the war with Amalek a part of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deut 25:17-18). What is more, the Amalekites showed up in Judges 3:13 and 6:3 when they attacked Israel and destroyed their food supply. After Saul became King he was commanded to destroy the Amalekites and their King Agag (cf. 1 Sam 15:1-35). Saul was disobedient and Samuel had to hew Agag to pieces (v. 33). Saul was removed as King for his disobedience concerning the Amalekites and David became King of Israel. David battled the Amalekites during his life and at one particular battle against them only four hundred young Amalekite men escaped David’s sword (cf. 1 Sam 30:17). Lastly, a descendant of Agag named Haman (cf. Est 3:1) attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish race, which if he had been successful, he would have ended the Messianic line of the Seed of woman. However, as God would have it, Haman was not successful and was caught in his own demise (cf. Est 7:10; Ps 10:2).

The reason the OT background is significant to the origin of the Pharisees is because in the same context of Matt 22:41-46, Jesus Christ identified the Pharisees’ origin as also being from the seed of the serpent. Jesus appealed to the entire OT historical narrative context from immediately subsequent the fall of man with Cain and Abel in Gen 4 all the way to the end of OT History in Zech 1:1, in only four verses;

Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matt 23:32-36)

The seed of the serpent was both from relatives of Israel (i.e. Esau as their grandfather) and among Israel’s own people (i.e. the fathers of the Pharisees). In either case, their purpose was to stop the Seed of the woman from crushing the head of the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15; Ps 110:1; Matt 22:41-46).

There then was a dichotomy between the truly converted Israelite and the non-converted Israelite, because the seed of the serpent had gotten in among them. The significance of Jesus comparing the Pharisees to Cain in Matt 23:32-36 was because Cain was the first to establish a system of false religious worship which led to the murder of his biological brother Abel. Hence, the Pharisees were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Therefore, even amongst Israelites there were non–converted Jews who establish false religious systems that killed their own. On the other hand, there were converted Jews who were committed to the true worship of God and His plan for the redemption of man. Biblically, the Pharisees did not originate with Ezra the Scribe. Although Ezra was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses (cf. Ez 7:6), he did not add to the Law of Moses with a man-made system of false religious worship. Conversely, Ezra understood the Law properly in the way that truly pleased God because Ez 7:9c-10 read the following; “because the good hand of his God was upon him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra was a scribe. There was nothing wrong with being a scribe in and of itself during Ezra’s time. It only depended on behalf of who one was a scribe. The Pharisees had their scribes who wrote for their agenda and would receive the greater condemnation (cf. Lk 20:46-47). On the other hand, God had His scribes that participated in the formulation of the Canon of Scripture (cf. Matt 13:51-52). The Apostles and the biblical scribe Ezra had this in common – namely, God the Holy Spirit chose Ezra to write down what God wanted in the Scriptures. Likewise, God the Holy Spirit used Matthew and some of the other Apostles to write down what God wanted in the Scriptures. Therefore, the Pharisees could not have originated with the biblical scribe Ezra because the NT presented what this writer calls a “battle of the scribes” – that is, the OT and NT together vs the added writings of Pharisees and their scribes.

Probably the most well-known or memorable parable concerning the Pharisees is Luke 18:9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Jesus told other Parables about the Pharisees to be sure (i.e. the Parable of the Landowner cf. Matt 21:33-46), but Lk 18:9-14 is the only Parable where Jesus actually used the term Pharisee inside the Parable. Parable is a subset of narrative literary genre. In other words, a parable it is a made-up story inside a story (in Luke’s case a historical narrative) where the people and events which occurred inside the parable represent people and events in the real world. Jesus spoke in parables to teach theological truth (i.e. soteriology in the context of Lk 18). Jesus purposed His parables to only be understood by those who were converted, therefore those who did not understand his parables heard them to their judgment (cf. Psalm 78:1-4; Matt 13:10-15). The reason why the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector showed that the Pharisees did not originate with the biblical scribe Ezra was because Ezra’s prayer in Ez 9:5-6 was more compatible with the Tax Collector’s prayer in Lk 18:13 than the Pharisee’s prayer in Lk 18:9:11-12. Jesus said that the Tax Collector went home justified rather than the Pharisee. In other words, an example of two ethnic Jews in which one was converted by the power of God, the other one not converted but rather reflected the bad fruit of man-made false religion. Consider the similarities of Ezra’s prayer of confession with the Tax Collector’s prayer of confession:

Ezra 9:5-6 Luke 18:13-14
But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens.” “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

On the other hand, the Pharisees originated during the Maccabean or Hasmonean Dynasty (c.175 B.C. – 67 B.C.). Everett Ferguson offered a historical timeline of the Hasmonean Dynasty beginning with 175 – 163 B.C when the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes had control of Judea. The last biblical high priest from the line of Zadok, namely Onias III was deposed from the high priesthood when his own brother Jason bought the High Priesthood from Antiochus Epiphanes. However, Jason did not last long as High Priest due to a man named Menelaus who offered Antiochus IV Epiphanes more money than Jason for High Priesthood. Consequently, Jason was also deposed and there has never been a descendent of Zadok as High Priest since.  This act of corruption caused a great controversy among the Jewish people. Accordingly, two factions arose, namely the Hellenizers (i.e. those who supported Greek Culture) and the Hasidim (i.e. “the Pious” those who did not support Jewish syncretism with Greek Culture). During this time was when the Pharisees (i.e. “the separated ones”) formulated as a Jewish sect. Moreover, in 169 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Menelaus plundered the Temple and conducted sacrilege in the Temple. In 166/165 B.C. Judas Maccabee (i.e. “the hammer”) was given leadership from his father Mattathias for the cause of revolution against the blasphemous tyranny of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 165/164 B.C. Judas dethroned Menelaus from the High Priesthood. In 160 B.C. Judas died. In 160-143 B.C. Jonathan, Judas’ brother, became the leader of the revolution. From 143-134 B.C. Judas and Jonathan’s brother Simon successfully removed Seleucid control completely from Judea. After Simon died John Hyrcanus became the ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty from 134-104 B.C. Then from 104 – 103 B.C. Aristobulus I ruled the Hasmonean Dynasty. Next, Alexander Janneus ruled the Hasmonean Dynasty from 103 – 76 B.C. Lastly, from 76 – 67 B.C. Salome Alexandra (i.e. Janneus’ wife) reigned as Queen over Judea. She had two sons who fought against each other for control of the Hasmonean Dynasty, but for the purpose of the discussion of the Pharisees it is helpful to conclude the Hasmonean Dynasty with Salome Alexandra.

As far as etymology is concerned, the term “Pharisees” has historical and grammatical significance in understanding this particular Jewish faction. The Greek term for Pharisees is   Φαρισαῖος, ου, ὁ and has a Hebrew equivalent, namely הַפְּרוּשִׁים. הַפְּרוּשִׁים has the definite article הַ to indicate identification, not classification. What is more, הַפְּרוּשִׁים is the plural form of פָּרוּשׁ. It is in the Qal passive participle indicated by the waw after the second root letter with the dagesh in its bosom. It is used substantively (i.e. “the ones who”). Therefore, the English translation of הַפְּרוּשִׁים is “the separated ones, separatists.”[3] Because the form is passive particle it is necessary to point out that the Pharisees attributed being separated from sinners by an act of God upon them (cf. Lk 18:11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’”).

In the Canon of Scripture the term “Pharisee(s)” is only found in the NT. In Matthew, the term “Pharisee(s)” has twenty-nine occurrences. In Luke there are twenty-seven occurrences of the term “Pharisee(s)”. In John there are twenty occurrences of the term “Pharisee(s)”. In Mark there are twelve occurrences of the term “Pharisee(s).” In Acts the term “Pharisee(s)” occurs nine times and it is found only once in Philippians.

Accordingly, the biblical content concerning the Pharisees is extensive. Therefore, this paper will be selective of how much will be covered for the purposes of fulfilling the thesis statement mentioned above. Consequently, Matthew’s historical treatment of the topic will facilitate more than enough of an accurate portrayal of the NT’s picture of the Pharisees.

To start, the Pharisees first showed up in Matthew when they went to John the Baptist to get baptized. However, John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers (3:7). What is more, Jesus Christ said that their “righteousness” was not enough to enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). The Pharisees questioned Jesus about Matthew’s call to follow Jesus (9:11). The Pharisees are portrayed in Matthew as blasphemous (9:34). Furthermore, they did not understand the Sabbath (12:2). Moreover, the Pharisees plotted to destroy Jesus (12:14). They wrongly called Jesus satanic to their own destruction because they were projecting on Him what was actually true of themselves (12:22-37).

Also, they demanded signs from Jesus (12:38). Additionally, the Pharisees transgressed the commandment of God for the sake of their tradition (15:3). Likewise, they invalidated the Word of God for the sake of their tradition (15:6). They were called hypocrites (15:7). They were destined for lip service but not heart service (15:8). They worshiped God in vain (15:9a). Correspondingly, they taught man-made doctrines (15:9b). They were planted by the devil (15:13-14. cf. 13:38-40). They tested Jesus (16:1; cf. 19:3; 22:34). They could predict and identify the weather by its color (16:2-3), but they were clueless to identify God in human flesh when he was standing and talking right in front of them (16:2-3). They were an evil and adulterous generation (16:4). Jesus warned against the influence of their teaching (16:6-12). One of the few parables that they understood taught their doom (i.e. the parable of the Landowner cf. 21:33-46). They wanted to trap Jesus in what He said but to no avail (22:15). Once again they were referred to as hypocrites (22:18). Jesus pronounced eight woes to the Pharisees in 23:1-36. Finally, the Pharisees lied about the facts concerning Jesus’ cross work and resurrection (27:62-66; 28:8-15). In conclusion, as one can observe from the extensive content in Matthew’s historical narrative of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees are pictured as an extremely evil and wickedly corrupt sect of Judaism. The Pharisees are the antagonists in Matthew’s account whereas the Lord Jesus Christ is the protagonist in Matthew’s account.

There are a few exceptions in the NT concerning the Pharisees that appear on the surface to picture them to be neutral. For instance, they warn Jesus that Herod was seeking to kill Him (cf. Lk 13:31). However, the Pharisees were also seeking to kill Jesus (cf. Matt 12:14). Nicodemus who was a Pharisee was challenged by Jesus with the reality of true regeneration in the new birth (cf. Jn 3) and actually repented because He defended Jesus before the Pharisees, not succumbing to the fear of man (cf. Jn 7:51-52). What is more, the Apostle Paul before he became a Christian was a Pharisee as well, but repented (cf. Phil 3:5-11). In fact, in Acts 23:6-7 Paul appealed to being a Pharisee and one who hoped in the resurrection of the dead to pin the Pharisees against the Sadducees. However, in Acts 5:40 the Council (comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees) flogged the Apostles.

Secondly, the extra-biblical content concerning the Pharisees is most confined to Josephus. Flavius Josephus was an ethnic Jew who lived c. 37 A.D. – 100 A.D./120 A.D (?). Historian J. Julius Scott Jr. offers a brief biography of Josephus when he writes,

Through his father Mattathias, Josephus was of the priestly nobility. He was related to the royal Hasmonean house through his mother. Originally named Joseph, he later called himself Flavius Josephus, Flavius being the name of the family of Roman emperors who were his patrons, and Josephus the romanized form of his Hebrew name. Between his birth and death (c. 37–100) Josephus was a student, sectarian, statesman, military officer, traitor, historian, and apologist for the Jews…. By age fourteen, Josephus claims, his learning was so highly regarded that rabbis consulted him. A couple of years later he began a study of the three primary national sects, Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. For three years, he says, he lived as an ascetic in the wilderness with Bannus, a hermit. He then became a Pharisee. In 64 Josephus visited Rome and obtained freedom for some priests who had been imprisoned there. In that city Josephus was impressed with the grandeur and power of the empire. Back in Judea Josephus found his country headed for war with Rome. Realizing the folly, he sought to steer his nation in other directions. But when only twenty-nine years of age Josephus was placed in charge of preparing Galilee for the anticipated Roman invasion.[4]

After Josephus lost to the Romans he helped his men commit a mass suicide and then being the last man standing Josephus surrendered to Titus and Vespasian and lived the rest of his life in luxury on a private villa spending most of his time writing his historical works. Scott records the end of Josephus’ life when he writes,

After the war Josephus was taken to Rome by Titus, who himself eventually succeeded to the imperial throne. Under Vespasian and Titus, Josephus lived as a ward of the court. Granted a stipend and a villa, he spent much of his time in writing. His fortunes may not have fared quite so well after the death of Titus. With regard to the length of his life, we know that Josephus outlived Herod Agrippa II, who died in 100.[5]

Josephus favored the Pharisees in a positive light because he had once himself belonged to the Pharisees. The two main works in which Josephus recorded content concerning the Pharisees were his Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews. In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus claimed the Pharisees had great power over the multitude and “that when they say anything against the king or high priest they are presently believed.”[6] What is more, Josephus maintained that the Pharisees’ profession was to be righteous and please God.[7] Moreover, Josephus said that the Pharisees lived meanly and despised delicates in diet.[8] Also, Josephus asserted that they followed conduct of reason.[9] Also, Josephus argued that the Pharisees honored the elderly and never tried to contradict them and never question them ever.[10] As far as the doctrines of the Pharisees, Josephus stated that they had a deterministic view but more compatible with “fate” determinism.[11] However, Josephus also claimed that the Pharisees had a syncretistic view of man’s action with “fate” because he wrote that the Pharisees, “say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate but not caused by fate.”[12] Josephus alleged that the Pharisees feared God and are weary to take away the freedom of men.[13] They performed divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices.[14] Josephus said that they exhibited virtuous conduct in the action of their lives and their discussions.[15] Apparently, the Sadducees put up with the Pharisees because they feared the populous who supported the Pharisees.[16] During the reign of the Hasmonean ruler Hyrcanus, Josephus discussed the relationship between the Pharisees and the Sadducees when he wrote the following:

The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the Law of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances … which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers…. But the Pharisees have the multitude of their side.[17]

According to Josephus, the Pharisees were insubordinate to ruling authorities because they refused oaths of allegiance to Caesar and Herod and some were put to death.[18]. Hyrcanus left the Pharisees because their form of punishment was too light for his liking toward one of his enemies.[19]

In The Wars of the Jews, Josephus claimed that the Pharisees valued themselves highly upon the exact skill they had in the law of their fathers.[20] The Pharisees made men believe that they were favored by God.[21] Josephus said that during the nine year reign of Alexandra the Pharisees were the real rulers of the nation. The Pharisees joined Alexandra to assist her in government, appeared more religious than other Jews, interpreted the Law more accurately, and “artfully insinuated” themselves in Alexandra’s favor.[22] What is more, they bound and loosed men at their pleasure in authority.[23] Josephus said that Alexandra “governed other people, the Pharisees governed her.”[24] The Pharisees took revenge on a man Diogenes and all those who assisted Alexandra’s husband when he crucified eight hundred Pharisees.[25]

At this point it should be noted that there was a period of time during the Hasmonean Dynasty that the Pharisees underwent a hostile interval of oppression by the Hasmoneans. It began under the reign of John Hyrcanus who originally joined the Pharisees. However, a member of their group made a slanderous comment that Hyrcanus should quit the priesthood because his mother had conceived him in prison out of wedlock. Because of this Hyrcanus left the Pharisees to join the Sadducees.[26] During the reign of Alexander Janneus who ruled the Hasmonean Dynasty from 103 – 76 B.C. he crucified 800 Pharisees and had their children’s throats cut before their eyes.[27] It was when Alexander Janneus was on his death bed that he felt remorse for what he had done and instructed his wife Alexandra (she inherited the kingdom as his successor) to make amends with the Pharisees. She did reconcile with the Pharisees and it is during her reign that the Pharisees rose to power.[28]

To end, Josephus’ picture of the Pharisees was more of a positive description. He portrayed the Pharisees as a pious Jewish sect with integrity, a zeal to honor God and protector of the common people of their own ethnicity. However, Scott claims that Josephus was particularly partial to the Pharisees when he writes, “Josephus’s references are hardly neutral; he says, for example, that he governed his ‘life by the rules of the Pharisees.’”[29]

In Matthew 15:9 Jesus quoted the OT text to describe the Pharisees when He said, “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Isa 29:13). According to Jesus the Pharisees’ doctrine was man-made. This is because the Pharisees lowered God’s standard, redefined God’s standard by adding to it so that they could achieve it by their own effort. They were not faithfully upholding the truth of God like the biblical scribe Ezra (cf. Ez 7:9c-10). The Pharisees had extra-biblical writing that was systematically setup as a system. To this effect, part of the Pharisees’ extra-biblical revelation was called the Mishnah. The Pharisees believed that there was extra revelation to the Word of God that was not written but passed down by Moses orally. They believed that throughout the centuries their fathers preserved this oral tradition. However, the oral tradition was an ongoing revelation that God was continually revealing to Rabbis. Butler records that the Mishnah was a progress of an oral precepts set up separate from the testimony of Scripture, not according to the OT but rather the traditions of the Pharisaical elders when he writes the following:

Modern Scholars see the Mishnah as a collection and editing of Jewish case law whose traditions may go back 150 B.C. but primarily from the period of 50 B.C. to 220 A.D. The tradition of the Mishnah appears to begin with the sect of Judaism called the Pharisees, who sought to liberalize the legal system of Judaism by applying regulations for Temple purity particularly with regard to food laws to the entirety of Judaism. This sect may be regarded as liberal since they argued that the entirety of the nation should be righteous before God in ways similar to the priesthood. The Pharisees were largely a lay movement. The major representatives of this party in the Mishnah are Hillel and Shammai who taught around A.D. 50.[30]

Likewise, Ferguson explains the Mishnah when he writes,

Some Pharisees based the oral law simply on tradition: it along with the written law had been delivered to Moses and was transmitted through the succession…. The rabbinic literature preserves competing interpretations, for although the legal decision was according to the majority of the sages, freedom of interpretation was allowed. Opinions of the minority were preserved and studied as part of the tradition, because majority rule was an expedient for practical purposes and not a determination of final truth. Yet respect for the views of the majority of scholars was deeply rooted in the development of Judaism.[31]

The oral tradition of the Mishnah was so unreasonable that the Pharisees considered it a sin if on the Sabbath a Pharisee reached out his hand outside his front door to give bread to a beggar. However, it was not sin if a beggar reached his hand into a Pharisees’ house on the Sabbath and a Pharisee gave him bread. In the context of the Pharisees condemning Jesus’ disciples for picking the heads of grains on the Sabbath to eat He said,

Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?… But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matt 12:3b-4, 7)

In conclusion, the Pharisees are pictured in the NT as corrupt, an extremely evil and wicked sect of Judaism. Likewise, the Pharisees are represented in the NT as those who set up and propagated a false religious system that leads men into shackles and murders those who rise up against it. Matthew, who covers the Pharisees the most in the NT, portrays the Pharisees as the antagonists whereas the Lord Jesus Christ is the protagonist. On the other hand, Josephus’ picture of the Pharisees is more of a positive description. He portrays the Pharisees as a pious Jewish sect with integrity, a zeal to honor God and heroic defenders of the common people. However, logic declares if there are two different positions on a topic that contradict one another, one position could be wrong, both positions could be wrong, but both positions cannot be right if they contradict one another. Josephus does provide helpful historical background concerning the Pharisees to understand the cultural and political characteristic of the Hasmonean Dynasty and the first century under Roman occupation of Judea. Nonetheless, in the case of the Biblical data the Christian believes the NT to be true over that of Josephus’ account which is biased concerning the Pharisees. The Christian believes God’s testimony over that of man’s because God is not a hypocrite and it is impossible for Him to lie (cf. Num 23:19; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18).

Today’s Pharisees are those who promote a false pretense to protect their properties and positions. There are religious hypocrites today who “teach as doctrines the precepts of men” (cf. Matt 15:9) and seek to live in a system that has invalidated the word of God for the sake of tradition (cf. Matt 15:6). There are men in leadership in evangelicalism today that God the Father has not planted and as such will be uprooted (Matt 15:13). These are modern day Pharisees who are drunk with the sin of partiality (cf. James 2:9), the sin of the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), falsely accusing the brethren (3 John 10), and promoting earthly wisdom (cf. James 3:14-16) in both doctrine and practice. On the other hand, standing up for the truth of God is not being a Pharisee. The Pharisees did not uphold the truth of God, instead they added to the Word of God and “nit-picked” through the Word of God and reinterpreted for the purpose of serving their system. It is not wrong to stand for the truth of God and to be a man or woman who promotes plerophory concerning the Word of God – that is, total assurance about particular sound doctrines from the Word of God. Today many sound brothers and sister are falsely accused of being Pharisees because they uphold the truth of God. However, those who make these accusations against sound brothers and sisters are projecting what is indeed true of themselves.

E. V. Powers


Butler, Trent C. Holman Bible Dictionary: With Summary Definitions and Explanatory Articles On Every Bible Subject, Introductions and Teaching Outlines for Each Bible Book, In-Depth Theological Articles, Plus Internal Maps, Charts, Illustrations, Scale Reconstruction Drawings, Archaeological Photos, and Atlas. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003.

Josephus, Flavius. Complete Works. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1974.

Meyer, Rudolf. “Φαρισαῖος” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IX, ed. by Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964-1976.

Scott, J Julius. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000, 1995.

Picture from: The Passion of the Christ. Film. Directed by Mel Gibson. United States: New Market Films 20th Century Fox, February 25, 2004.

[1] “The way Josephus first mentions the Pharisees (in connection with the reign of Jonathan Maccabeus, but with the assumption that they had been in existence for some time) raises the much discussed question of their origin. Some see the Pharisees’ roots in the biblical Ezra, others in the Hasidim. Recent studies suggest that the Pharisees were part of a general revolutionary spirit of the pre-Maccabean times; they emerged as a scholarly class dedicated to the teaching of both the written and oral law and stressing the internal side of Judaism. In any case, they were clearly one of the groups which sought to adapt Judaism for the postexilic situation” J Julius Scott. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1995), 195-232.

[2] Rudolf Meyer, “Φαρισαῖος” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IX, ed. by Gerhard Kittel and Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964-1976), 11-35.

[3] William Arndt and F Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Adaptation of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch Zu Den Schriften Des Neuen Testaments Und der Übrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 861.

[4] J Julius Scott Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books,

2000), 29.

[5] Ibid., 30.

[6] Flavius Josephus, Complete Works; Antiquities of the Jews (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1974), Ant. XIII, X, 5 (281).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., XVIII, i, 3 (376).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., XIII, v, 9 (274).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., (377).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., XIII, x, 5 (281).

[18] Ibid., XVII, ii, 4 (358).

[19] Ibid., (XIII, x, 6, 281).

[20] Flavius Josephus, Complete Works; The Wars of the Jews (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1974), Wars. XVII, II, 4 (358).

[21] Ibid. I, v, 1 (433).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ant. XIII, x, 5-7 (281).

[27] Ibid., XIII, xiv, 2 (285).

[28] Ibid., XIII, xvi, 2 (287).

[29] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament, 195-232.

[30] Trent C. Butler, Holman Bible Dictionary: With Summary Definitions and Explanatory Articles On Every Bible Subject, Introductions and Teaching Outlines for Each Bible Book, In-Depth Theological Articles, Plus Internal Maps, Charts, Illustrations, Scale Reconstruction Drawings, Archaeological Photos, and Atlas (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers, ©1991), 975.

[31] Everett Ferguson. Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 537-582.

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