info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
During the earthly life of Jesus, no religious group was more castigated by him than the Jewish sect of the Pharisees.
The name Pharisees literally means the Separated Ones. This could refer to their belief that they were separate from (and superior to) the common people of IsraEl. They also believed that they would be the only ones to be ‘saved’ when God brings retribution on the wicked.
The Pharisees actually set the pattern for many modern-day so-called ‘Christian’ beliefs (although the group predated the earthly life of Jesus). They also seem to have taught that souls don’t die and that bad people suffer eternal punishment (as was taught by many pagan religions of the time).
The Pharisees fasted twice per week, they were conscientious about paying the tithes, and they believed in the resurrection. In addition, they took pride in their ‘righteousness,’ and they obviously looked down on the common people. They had detailed rules about what could and couldn’t be done on a Sabbath, and it was because these rules went beyond the spirit of God’s Laws that they hated Jesus when he exposed their foolishness by healing the sick on Sabbath days.
To impress their peers with their righteousness, the Pharisees made the wooden cases in which they carried the Scriptures larger than normal, and they made the fringes of the bottoms of their robes a little longer than those of the rest of the Jews.
They also prayed aloud to be heard by other people, and they fasted in public. Most were relatively wealthy, and they enjoyed the privileges of being viewed as ‘holy people.’
So, why was Jesus so opposed to them and their teachings?
Firstly, many of their teachings were out of line with what was written in the Scriptures.
Secondly, they were self-righteous and they were constantly turning Bible principles into laws. They then told other people what they should be doing, but then made up rules to make themselves exceptions to those laws.
Does any of this sound familiar?
A common human failing when people are trying to live righteous lives, is that they typically look down on others that aren’t trying as hard. A similar failing is when such people take the rules they created for themselves and turn them into laws that they force others to live by. Of course, this is also a constant problem among zealous religious groups today.
As Jesus pointed out, such self-righteous attitudes aren’t pleasing to God.
One example of this bad attitude is seen where the Pharisees objected to the Apostles (and Jesus, in Luke’s account) not washing their hands before eating a meal. There is nothing in God’s Law that required washing your hands before eating. The Pharisees had just elevated the principle of ‘being a clean people’ into a law, which they used to condemn even righteous law-abiding people (for more information, see the commentary Eating With Unwashed Hands).
As you can see, whenever a person or religious group turns Bible principles into ‘laws,’ they step into the shoes of the Pharisees.
For a greater discussion of this, please see the commentary, God’s Laws and Principles.