Towards the end of a longish evening together with three friends last Sunday, the topic of conversation arose: how did the Pharisees depicted in the gospels go wrong? The answers a-d were offered by the four of us.
The Pharisees held other people to standards that they did not themselves even attempt to live by; often, these standards were of their own invention.
The Pharisees thought that they could earn right standing with God by keeping his commandments, to the extent that by keeping the Law, they were putting God in their debt.
The Pharisees overloaded people with requirements and restrictions that could not be justified from what God had said, and they promoted these even to greater importance than what God actually had said.
The Pharisees relied on religious form, such as ritual observance, rather than the presence of God; they overemphasised superficial conformity rather than genuine faith.
I think I’ve discovered a theological Rorschach test, because those present were:
- A Roman Catholic
and three Evangelicals:
- A Baptist,
- A Free Church charismatic and
- An Anglican not-quite-so-charismatic.
See if you can match the theory of Pharisaism a-d with the theological position 1-4.
Evidently, there is some overlap between all four of these theories, which is the direction that the conversation took subsequently. But their divergence nevertheless should make us wary of projecting our own theological bugbears and preoccupations onto the world of the New Testament.
How do you think that the Pharisees went wrong?