Oh the pharisees, such a unique collection of folks they were in Scripture. As most casual churchgoers and Bible readers are familiar with, they were the chief critics of Christ. However, many mistakenly assume that the fact that they were critical, is the reason today that we look negatively upon them. As I was reading a critical comment on a Facebook status of the megachurch preacher Perry Noble, a member of their church responded to that person by accusing them of being a pharisee. Thus I was inspired to review this topic with you all today.
Now let’s observe the first instance we come to know the Pharisees when John the Baptist encounters them in Matthew 3:7-10 which states, “7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10 The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Now this is going to be the prevailing theme why the Pharisees are continually denounced in Scripture. John emphasized to them that their claim to Abraham as their father would not stop God from cutting them and throwing them into the fire because they didn’t bear good fruit.
So what does it mean to bear good fruit. Well, the Greek word for fruit according to the Greek Concordance I use has two meanings. One being an actual fruit from a tree, and another meaning work, act, or deed. It would seem we could presume this is referring to the latter, given that at the beginning of John’s warning to them, he states to them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The greek translated word for repentance is metanoia, which means change of mind. So it would appear to correlate with that meaning of repentance, that John is warning them to act good in keeping with their change of mind, rather than just saying they have Abraham as their father. Not literally bear fruit in keeping with their change of mind, because to my knowledge I don’t know of any scripture that correlates literal fruit with keeping with one’s changed mind from doing wrong. If so, we all better get some more of that fruit.
So now that you understand what the theme of the criticism will be, let’s skip ahead to where we see when Jesus gives a long criticism of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. In Matthew 23:1-5 it states, “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their [a]phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.”
Now I underlined verse 3 through 5 in particular, because this is the main denunciation that Jesus has of the Pharisees. If you look at the rest of the chapter when Jesus starts saying woe to them, He basically reiterates what He states in verse 3, that they say or do one thing, but they don’t actually live up to or do the thing that they preach to live by. In other words, they’re hypocrites. As we see in the rest of the verses I underlined, Jesus states the Pharisees tie heavy burdens on others, but they are unwilling to move them themselves, and they only do deeds to be noticed, rather than for the good of it. So the denunciation of the Pharisees is based not on them being critical, as some today inaccurately tag that label on those who are critical of them, but on them being hypocritical in not living according to the teachings of Scripture while telling others what they should be doing.
As we learn in Matthew 7:1-5, pointing out something wrong in others is not judgment that Jesus denounces unless the other person is guilty of not acknowledging the same wrong themselves and needs to correct themselves first. It’s a dangerous thing when one of the large congregations in the US and it’s head pastor is often unwilling to accept any correction of errors. For the sake of the congregation of Newspring Church and it’s head pastor Perry Noble, I hope they may carefully consider the criticisms directed at their church, and re-evaluate whether there’s some scriptural truth to them and change their actions accordingly if necessary.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments, feel free to share them with me. Peace to all those who are in Christ.