SIDEBAR: Pharisaical Attitudes and Actions

by Gary J. Tyra

Based on my own survey of the manner in which the Gospels portray Jesus confronting the Pharisees, I suggest He had a tremendous problem with the Pharisees’ tendency toward:

  • Egoism (self-righteousness and spiritual arrogance) — Some Pharisees tended to be so “confident of their own righteousness” that they looked down on everybody else (Luke 18:9–14).
  • Dogmatism / Sectarianism — Some Pharisees tended to assume without question that their doctrinal positions were the epitome of absolute truth and that their party alone enjoyed God’s approval (Luke 7:29–35; John 9:24–34).
  • Super-Spirituality / Hyper-Piety — Some Pharisees tended to parade their piety about publicly, drawing attention to their super-scrupulous observance of religious rituals and spiritual disciplines to gain the attention and admiration of their peers (Matthew 6:1,2,5,16; 23:5–7).
  • Traditionalism / Ritualism — Some Pharisees tended to deify human traditions, with the result that they became so overly concerned with a proper engagement in religious customs that they ended up substituting a real relationship with God with a feverous devotion to various religious rituals (Mark 7:1–13).
  • Legalism / Separatism — Some Pharisees tended to believe that a right relationship with God could be achieved and maintained by mere human effort and by isolating themselves from everyone who did not share their commitment to ritual purity (Matthew 9:10–13; Luke 15:1–32; John 5:39,40).
  • Judgmentalism — Some Pharisees tended to behave in harsh, unloving, ungracious, judgmental ways toward anyone who did not belong to their group or whose piety did not match their own (John 8:3–11; 9:13–34).
  • Pugilism — Some Pharisees tended to believe they were doing God a service by actually persecuting those who might succeed at promoting a religious perspective that differed from their own (Matthew 23:29–34).
  • Trivialism (spiritual myopia/tunnel vision) — Some Pharisees tended to “strain out gnats” while “swallowing camels.” They tended to focus all of their attention and emotional energy on trivial issues that lacked scriptural support while ignoring those matters that, according to the Bible, mean a great deal to God (Matthew 23:23,24).
  • Formalism / Hypocrisy — Some Pharisees tended to pose and posture — to pretend to be more spiritually mature than they really were (Matthew 23:25–28).

These are the actions and attitudes that, according to the four Gospels, Jesus confronted in the lives of at least some of the original Pharisees. For all of their concern to maintain purity before God, their lifestyles were earmarked by behaviors that distressed the heart of our Heavenly Father.