The Birth of Pharisaic Judaism

Writer: Evangelos D. Kepenes  (01/24/2018)                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Bible verses from LXXE, AKJV, ESV2011 and others if they fit better to the Grk txt

 

 

The sons of Aaron

 

God made the priests, the sons of Aaron, responsible for the teaching of the people of Israel and interpretation of the written law, and for their mutual affairs and disputes he suggested appointing judges and prosecutors.

 

 “And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” (Lev. 10:8-11)

 

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” ( Deu. 16:18)

 

The institution of the kingdom demanded by the Jews by the last judge, Samuel, has created, as in any kingdom, nepotism. Together with the ignorance of the law due to the poor teaching of the priests, who sometimes neglected even the maintenance of the temple (II Kings, 12:4), it created rival political and religious tendencies that brought schisms to the people of Israel, apostasy from God, partition of the kingdom and civil war conflicts. In the acts of the kings, Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, stands out by trying to do what is pleasing to God, and sends some non-responsible rulers along with the Levites to the cities of Judah to teach the people the Book of the Law of the Lord (II Chronicles, 17:7-9). Therefore, the involvement of the elite in the religious matters was in action, and the preservation of the interests required the survival of the nation, resulting in the gradual development of a nationalistic religious conscience and faith in one God, a national protector, who would guarantee the state's prosperity and supremacy against the others. Thus, the perception of God's good intention to bless all nations, as it was announced to Patriarch Abraham, was overshadowed.

 

Later on, in the Babylonian captivity and dispersion, the destruction of the built temple, the strongest institution of Judaism, strongly emphasized the need for the survival of the Jewish identity and the uplifting of the national and religious spirit. This need was met by the houses of prayer and study that evolved into synagogues, with educators, Jewish scholars, the later rabbis. The synagogues compensated for the lack of the temple and continued as a secondary religious institution after its rebuilding, which was carried out with the support and sponsorship of a foreign power, that of Persia. (Ezra, 7:14-15)

The protagonists at the time of the rebuilding of the temple, which was inferior to the first one in terms of beauty, were the political leader Zerubbabel and the priest and secretary Ezra, an expert in the written law of the Lord, who largely restored the knowledge of the law, appointed Levitical priests and judges, and so the kingdom of Judah continued to survive with those whose heart God had moved to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. (Ezra, 1:5)

 

Until the birth of Jesus, the Jewish nation continued its religious and political schismatic course. Besides the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, there was also a temple in Samaria, on Mount Gerizim, which was built by the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel and, according to Josephus, was destroyed by the high priest and king of the Jews John Hyrcanus in 128 BC, who inaugurated in Israel the institution of dual power, the political one and the religious one. Also, archaeologists assert a Jewish temple on the island of Elephantine of Egypt that served the needs of the Jewish community there. With the support of Ptolemy VI, another temple was built by the high priest Onias in Leontopolis, Egypt, where he resorted after having been persecuted by the family of the Maccabees; a temple that was the spiritual center of the Jews of Egypt. The participation of the Jews of Alexandria in the rebellion of the Jews of Palestine against the sovereignty of Rome also led to the destruction of the temple in Leontopolis.

 

Political division of the Jews

 

The civil war of the Greeks between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids who prevailed in Palestine, transformed, due to geographical position, the land of Judea into battlefields, dragging the Jews into a political division, dividing them into hellenizontes and nationalists. The violent policy of the hellenization of the Seleucids outlawed the Jewish religion causing a civil war between the Judaic factions with the participation of Hellenistic high priests. The revolution of the Maccabees after many struggles finally gave independence to the Jews again, peace came between the factions without, however, disrupting the spread of the Greek thinking and the tendency of hellenization. 

 

The involvement of the priestly institution in politics weakened its original mission and created a breach between the priests and the wise men and secretaries who controlled the synagogues. In this way, the ground was prepared for the emergence, among the scholars, of the sect of the Pharisees (= those who have been divided) who claimed to be the legal representatives, interpreters and custodians of Judaism, they recognized both the written and the oral Torah, thus creating the dipole of the commandments of God and the commandments of men. They placed a special emphasis on manmade rules, they uplifted the national spirit, and they were popular among the ordinary people. The Pharisees were in a permanent social and religious confrontation with the sect of the Sadducees who rejected the oral tradition, pursued hellenization and defended the rights and privileges of the ruling class. 

 

Τhe oral traditions over the written law of Moses

 

The Roman conquest, the Roman-friendly policy of the Jewish kings and the Hellenistic tendency mainly of the wealthy Jewish people of Palestine and those who settled in Egypt, strengthened the position of the Pharisees, but created a side effect in the Jewish perception, that of the dominance of the oral traditions over the written law of Moses, resulting in the birth of extreme nationalism. This fact was foreseen by the prophet Isaiah, and the Lord Jesus confirmed it.

 

“This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mat. 15:8-9)

 

Throughout his ministry in the land of Israel, Jesus always referred to the written law and prophets, and never to human traditions and teachings which he rejected.

 

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luk. 24:27, NET)

 

The apostle Paul “from the tribe of Benjamin” was a Pharisee, who studied in Jerusalem “at the feet” of Gamaliel who was also a Pharisee. He was more exceedingly zealous for his paternal traditions, and before his conversion to Christ, not having the spiritual understanding of the written law, he persecuted and abused the church of God.

 

“For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” (Gal. 1:13:14, NET)

 

But when he became aware, he understood that the Scriptures spoke not of a fleshly but of a spiritual people, who would receive a heavenly inheritance and kingdom that would be not of this world. So, what he thought was gain, he now regards it as dung so that he may win Christ. Having this understanding now, he recommends to the church:

 

“And these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that you might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” (I Cor. 4:6)

 

In Timothy, the same apostle exalts the divine origin of the Scriptures, unquestionably putting the written word of the Hebrew Bible above every human tradition and philosophy.

 

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.” (II Tim. 3:16-17)

 

And again: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom.15:4)

 

Not a single “genuine child of faith,” of the true Jesus, was enticed by the human traditions of the Pharisees; those who hoped in them believed that Jesus was the Jew who would restore the kingdom to the fleshly Israel according to the earthly pattern of David.


“When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (John, 6:15)

 

The same anti-biblical Pharisaic perceptions were an obstacle to recognizing the heavenly Jesus as the One true God, and for this reason they were asking to kill him, believing that Jesus was an earthly man just like them, who made himself God.

 

“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” (John, 5:18)

 

“The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone you not; but for blasphemy; and because that you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John, 10:33)

 

Pharisaic Judaism remained in the nationalistic, earthly perception of God's promises, and, by not understanding the written prophetic word, it denied the finisher of faith Jesus Christ and persecuted true Christianity from its birth, thus failing to achieve its spiritual fulfillment and become the receiver of the heavenly goods.

 

Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And you will not come to me, that you might have life.” (John, 5:39)

 

 “For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.” (Acts, 13:27-28)


Today's Rabbinic Judaism, which finds pleasure in collecting human Jewish traditions, is introduced as the ideological continuation of Pharisaic Judaism, with varying tendencies and stripped of the elements that legitimized Judaism, namely, the temple, the prophets, the priests, the sacrifices, the baptisms, the offerings and the genealogical Jewish bloodline; it preserves the expectation of a third handmade Temple in Jerusalem as a means of fulfilling its nationalistic ideologies, completely ignoring that:

 

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands;” (Acts, 17:24)