From perishin Aramaic, perashim, "separated." To which Paul alludes, Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:15, "separated unto the gospel of God"; once "separated" unto legal self righteousness. In contrast to "mingling" with Grecian and other heathen customs, which Antiochus Epiphanes partially effected, breaking down the barrier of God's law which separated Israel from pagandom, however refined. The Pharisees were successors of the Assideans or Chasidim, i.e. godly men "voluntarily devoted unto the law." On the return from Babylon the Jews became more exclusive than ever. In Antiochus' time this narrowness became intensified in opposition to the rationalistic compromises of many. The Sadducees succeeded to the latter, the Pharisees to the former (1 Maccabees 1:13-15; 1 Maccabees 1:41-49; 1 Maccabees 1:62-63; 1 Maccabees 2:42; 1 Maccabees 7:13-17; 2 Maccabees 14:6-38). They "resolved fully not to eat any unclean thing, choosing rather to die that they might not be defiled: and profame the holy covenant." in opposition to the Hellenizing faction.
So the beginning of the Pharisees was patriotism and faithfulness to the covenant. Jesus, the meek and loving One, so wholly free from harsh judgments, denounces with unusual severity their hypocrisy as a class. (Matthew 15:7-8; Matthew 23:5; Matthew 23:13-33), their ostentatious phylacteries and hems, their real love of preeminence; their pretended long prayers, while covetously defrauding the widow. They by their "traditions" made God's word of none effect; opposed bitterly the Lord Jesus, compassed His death, provoking Him to some "hasty words" (apostomatizein) which they might catch at and accuse Him; and hired Judas to betray Him; "strained out gnats, while swallowing camels" (image from filtrating wine); painfully punctilious about legal trifles and casuistries, while reckless of truth, righteousness, and the fear of God; cleansing the exterior man while full of iniquity within, like "whited sepulchres" (Mark 7:6-13; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:53-54; Luke 16:14-15); lading men with grievous burdens, while themselves not touching them with one of their fingers. (See CORBAN.)
Paul's remembrance of his former bondage as a rigid Pharisee produced that reaction in his mind, upon his embracing the gospel, that led to his uncompromising maintenance, under the Spirit of God, of Christian liberty and justification by faith only, in opposition to the yoke of ceremonialism and the righteousness which is of the law (Galatians 4; 5). The Mishna or "second law," the first portion of the Talmud, is a digest of Jewish traditions and ritual, put in writing by rabbi Jehudah the Holy in the second century. The Gemara is a "supplement," or commentary on it; it is twofold, that of Jerusalem not later than the first half of the fourth century, and that of Babylon A.D. 500. The Mishna has six divisions (on seeds, feasts, women's marriage, etc., decreases and compacts, holy things, clean and unclean), and an introduction on blessings. Hillel and Shammai were leaders of two schools of the Pharisees, differing on slight points; the Mishna refers to both (living before Christ) and to Hillel's grandson, Paul's' teacher, Gamaliel.
An undesigned coincidence confirming genuineness is the fact that throughout the Gospels hostility to Christianity shows itself mainly from the Pharisees; but throughout Acts from the Sadducees. Doubtless because after Christ's resurrection the resurrection of the dead was a leading doctrine of Christians, which it was not before (Mark 9:10; Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:40). The Pharisees therefore regarded Christians in this as their allies against the Sadducees, and so the less opposed Christianity (John 11:57; John 18:3; Acts 4:1; Acts 5:17; Acts 23:6-9). The Mishna lays down the fundamental principle of the Pharisees. "Moses received the oral law from Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and these to the prophets, and these to the men of the great synagogue" (Pirke Aboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers"), 1). The absence of directions for prayer, and of mention of a future life, in the Pentateuch probably gave a pretext for the figment of a traditional oral law.
The great synagogue said, "make a fence for the law," i.e. carry the prohibitions beyond the written law to protect men from temptations to sin; so Exodus 23:19 was by oral law made further to mean that no flesh was to be mixed with milk for food. The oral law defined the time before which in the evening a Jew must repeat the Shema, i.e. "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt love the Lord," etc. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9.) So it defines the kind of wick and oil to be used for lighting the lamps which every Jew must burn on the Sabbath eve. An egg laid on a festival may be eaten according to the school of Shammai, but not according to that of Hillel; for Jehovah says in Exodus 16:5, "on the sixth day they shall prepare that which, they bring in," therefore one must not prepare for the Sabbath on a feast day nor for a feast day on the Sabbath. An egg laid on a feast following the Sabbath was "prepared" the day before, and so involves a breach of the Sabbath (!); and though all feasts do not immediately follow the Sabbath yet "as a fence to the law" an egg laid on any feast must not be eaten.
Contrast Micah 6:8. A member of the society of Pharisees was called chaber; those not members were called "the people of the land"; compare John 7:49, "this people who knoweth not the law are cursed"; also the Pharisee standing and praying with himself, self righteous and despising the publican (Luke 18:9-14). Isaiah (Isaiah 65:5) foretells their characteristic formalism, pride of sanctimony, and hypocritical exclusiveness (Judges 1:18). Their scrupulous tithing (Matthew 23:23; Luke 18:12) was based on the Mishna, "he who undertakes to be trustworthy (a pharisaic phrase) tithes whatever he eats, sells, buys, and does not eat and drink with the people of the land." The produce (tithes) reserved for the Levites and priests was "holy," and for anyone. else to eat it was deadly sin. So the Pharisee took all pains to know that his purchases had been duly tithed, and therefore shrank from "eating with" (Matthew 9:11) those whose food might not be so. The treatise Cholin in the Mishna lays down a regulation as to "clean and unclean" (Leviticus 20:25; Leviticus 22:4-7; Numbers 19:20) which severs the Jews socially from other peoples; "anything slaughtered by a pagan is unfit to be eaten, like the carcass of an animal that died of itself, and pollutes him who carries it."
An orthodox Jew still may not eat meat of any animal unless killed by a Jewish butcher; the latter searches for a blemish, and attaches to the approved a leaden seal stamped kashar, "lawful." (Disraeli, Genius. of Judaism.) The Mishna abounds in precepts illustrating Colossians 2:21, "touch not, taste not, handle not" (contrast Matthew 15:11). Also it (6:480) has a separate treatise on washing of hands (Yadayim). Translated Mark 7:8, "except they wash their hands with the fist" (pugmee); the Mishna ordaining to pour water over the dosed hands raised so that it should flow down to the elbows, and then over the arms so as to flow over the fingers. Jesus, to confute the notion of its having moral value, did not wash before eating (Luke 11:37-40). Josephus (Ant. 18:1, section 3, 13:10, section 5) says the Pharisees lived frugally, like the Stoics, and hence had so much weight with the multitude that if they said aught against the king or the high-priest it was immediately believed, whereas the Sadducees could gain only the rich.
The defect in the Pharisees which Christ stigmatized by the parable of the two debtors was not immorality but want of love, from unconsciousness of forgiveness or of the need of it. Christ recognizes Simon's superiority to the woman in the relative amounts of sin needing forgiveness, but shows both were on a level in inability to cancel their sin as a debt. Had he realized this, he would not have thought Jesus no prophet for suffering her to touch Him with her kisses of adoring love for His forgiveness of her, realized by her (Luke 7:36-50; Luke 15:2). Tradition set aside moral duties, as a child's to his parents by" Corban"; a debtor's to his creditors by the Mishna treatise, Avodah Zarah (1:1) which forbade payment to a pagan three days before any pagan festival; a man's duty of humanity to his fellow man by the Avodah Zarah (2:1) which forbids a Hebrew midwife assisting a pagan mother in childbirth (contrast Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27-29).
Juvenal (14:102-104) alleges a Jew would not show the road or a spring to a traveler of a different creed. Josephus (B.J. 2:8, section 14; 3:8, section 5; Ant. 18:1, section 3) says: "the Pharisees say that the soul of good men only passes over into another body, while the soul of bad men is chastised by eternal punishment." Compare Matthew 14:2; John 9:2, "who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" compare John 9:34, "thou wast altogether born in sins." The rabbis believed in the pre-existence of souls. The Jews' question merely took for granted that some sin had caused the blindness, without defining whose sin, "this man" or (as that is out of the question) "his parents."
Paul: regarded the Pharisees as holding our view of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6-8). The phrase "the world to come" (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; compare Isaiah 65:17-22; Isaiah 26:19) often occurs in the Mishna (Avoth, 2:7; 4:16): this world may be likened to a courtyard in comparison of the world to come, therefore prepare thyself in the antechamber that thou mayest enter into the dining room"; "those born are doomed to die, the dead to live, and the quick to be judged," etc. (3:16) But the actions to be so judged were in reference to the ceremonial points as much as the moral duties. The Essenes apparently recognized Providence as overruling everything (Matthew 6:25-34; Matthew 10:29-30). The Sadducees, the wealthy aristocrats, originally in political and practical dealings with the Syrians relied more on worldly prudence, the Pharisees more insisted on considerations of legal righteousness, leaving events to God.
The Pharisees were notorious for proselytizing zeal (Matthew 23:15), and seem to have been the first who regularly organized missions for conversions (compare Josephus, Ant. 20:2, section 3): The synagogues in the various cities of the world, as well as of Judaea, were thus by the proselytizing spirit of the Pharisees imbued with a thirst for inquiry, and were prepared for the gospel ministered by the apostles, and especially Paul, a Hebrew in race, a Pharisee by training, a Greek in language, and a Roman citizen in birth and privilege. In many respects their doctrine was right, so that Christ desires conformity to their precepts as from "Moses' seat," but not to their practice (Matthew 23:2-3). But while pressing the letter of the law they ignored the spirit (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:27; Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:31-32). Among even the Pharisees some accepted the truth, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and John 12:42 and Acts 15:5.
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