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Jesus the Pharisee?


The book I’m reading, King of the Jews by D. Thomas Lancaster, has a chapter devoted to the idea that, theologically speaking, Jesus was most likely a Pharisee. What?!

As the book points out, we usually think of Pharisees as super bad dudes. The term “Pharisaical” was even brought up (negatively) in a response to Motte’s post about budgeting. In general, being associated with the Pharisees is not a good thing. But, says Lancaster, perhaps we have misunderstood exactly what was going on with Jesus and the Pharisees:

Gospel scholars have recently come to the shocking conclusion that not all Pharisees were hypocrites. In fact, the majority of them seemed to be pretty decent fellows! … The simple point is that Yeshua (not to mention His brother James and His apostle Paul) was, for all practical purposes, a Pharisee. His theology, His hermeneutic, His parables, His argumentation, His conclusions and even His dinner invitations were Pharisaic in origin. While we cannot be overly dogmatic that Yeshua was a Pharisee, there is no other sect or form of faith in all of human history with which He shared a closer affinity. He conducted Himself as if He were one.

The book goes on to point out that the Pharisees are often with Jesus — in more ways than one:

The Pharisees themselves were never far from Yeshua theologically or geographically. He was often a dinner guest in their homes, and they were often critics of His ministry. At times, some Pharisees vehemently opposed Him. On other occasions, they cheered Him on while He thwarted the Sadducees or nailed home a point of Torah. On another occasion, the Pharisees are depicted trying to rescue Him from Herod (Luke 13:31).

Now, we do know that some of the Pharisees are critical of Jesus, but sometimes the questions they ask are simply that — questions. They are not always trying to trap Him — they are truly seeking to know Jesus’ theology.

And, according to this book and other scholars I’ve heard, much of what we see Jesus do throughout the Gospels is in line with the Pharisaic tradition of the time. Jesus commends the Pharisees for tithing mint, dill and cumin — something that was not part of biblical law, but was part of Pharisaic tradition. Many of the parables of Jesus are actually old Pharisaic stories — sometimes with different endings. Much of Jesus’ thoughts on issues were in line with the teachings of the Rabbi Hillel — a Pharisee.

Now, Jesus does call the Pharisees out quite often. But Lancaster posits that the times Jesus gets angry with the Pharisees is when they elevate tradition above the Scripture. And although Jesus seemed to follow many of the Pharisaic customs, He obviously held the Word of God above the traditions of men. Lancaster notes that while Jesus may have theologically lined up with many of the teachings of the Pharisees, He never did so to the detriment of the Truth.

Unlike the Pharisees, He did not allow Jewish tradition to be elevated to the same level as Scripture. He was quick to discard any traditions that contradicted the Word of God. He placed compassion above the stringencies of tradition, and He rebuked hypocrisy and pretense whenever He saw it. But He did all of this from within traditional Judaism and as a part of traditional Judaism.

Anyway, I found all of this to be quite interesting. Although I haven’t quite formed an opinion yet, I’m interested to hear yours. What do you think of the idea that Jesus was a Pharisee?


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