In contemporary Christianity, the word « Pharisee » has quite become a synonym for hypocrite. Many christian assemblies (fortunately not all of them) do teach that Yeshua slates Pharisees for « bending under the heavy weight of the Torah ».
In the mind of many average citizens, Yeshua's harsh words against the Pharisees have been interpreted as a slate of Jewish people in general.
Yeshua encountered my path and I can ensure you all that there is nobody more Jewish than Yeshua our Messiah. He is indeed the best teacher of Torah. Yeshua has nothing but love for the Torah, as the rabbi He actually is and even when He corrects some of His folks, it is an expression of unconditional love.
Examining the Bible in its Hebrew context
I do believe, as a follower of Yeshua, that it is much more important than people think (even if they do not wish to follow Him the Hebrew way), to replace His words into the very Hebrew context of the 1st Century. Truth is not meant to please us at all times, but I am advocating truth.
There is a truth I will point out in any case, even if it might get much rejection : neither the Old nor the New Testament are Western documents. If you fail to look at them in their authentic context, you will also completely miss the point. Relying on translated documents opens the door to huge misinterpretation and cultural nonsense.
Wait a minute : who are the Pharisees ?
The word « Pharisee » comes from the Hebrew parush, separate. The Pharisees of the 1st Century existed along with many other Jewish sects, such as the Essenes, the Ebionites ,Sadduceans, the Zealots...I will not get into detail because the differences between the different groups of beliefs are sometimes quite complex. We know from the New Testament that the Pharisees believed in the Resurrection, while the Sadduceans did not.
What Yeshua is actually saying in Matthew 23
Yeshua's words have so often- willingly or unwillingly- been taken out of context. Sadly, they were also misused many times to justify antisemitism.
These are the words Yeshua told the crowds and His disciples regarding the Pharisees :
« The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but do not the works they do. »
Strangely verse 2 seems to have been overlooked. Yeshua recognizes the Pharisees as legitimate and
is asking people to do and observe whatever they tell us. However, He clearly shows us that He disapprove of their behavior, because they are speaking and not doing.
What does Yeshua exactly reproach them ? They are preaching the precepts of Torah, but do not apply them, and thus, are canceling the Torah.
« For they preach, but do not practice. »
But they are even adding to their fault, by the way their way of acting-which could be some kind of « acting » as well ; their behavior is based on the appearance and not grounded in the observance of Hashem's commandments.
« They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but themselves are not willing to move tem with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long and they love the places of honor at feats and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. »
The Pharisees are also depicted as « brood of vipers », « hypocrites », « whitewashed graves » by Yeshua. Because our Lord was challenging about the vanity of their actions, many christian scholars have wrongly interpreted it as a total condemnation of the Pharisees, and by extention, of Jewish people who had become « God killers », despised and rebuked by God Himself. Because of the 3rd Century split between followers of Yeshua and Jewish people, and the deliberate will of the pagan emperor Constantine to make official Christianity match with pagan traditions, misunderstanding between both communities started to grow.
A lot of people in our contemporary times are still convinced that Yeshua hates His own people.
Some arrogant church leaders have created a « replacement theology » in order to prove that Israel has been definitely rebuked by our Lord and excluded from Salvation.
A throughout reading of the Scriptures and a true closeness with Yeshua will prove you the opposite.
Speaking about modern churches (of very different denominations), I have been observing behaviors that are much worse than everything that is reproached the 1st Century Pharisees (gossips, adutery, misuse of monetary fonds...)
One needs to face the ultimate truth. Hate me if you want for stating it, but I'll state it anyway : Yeshua our Messiah did not come to start Christianity. Yeshua is plain Jewish. He never came to cancel the Torah in any way, but to help people perfect their practices of the everlasting Law.
Yeshua never hated the Pharisees in His words, but showed them tough love for them to envision their faults and to be able to correct their ways.
Remember: He told you to do and observe what the Pharisees told you. Listen to their teachings, for they are right, but do not imitate their corrupt ways.
Copyright© by Isabelle Esling