We are finally on a different chapter and for this one, Loftus wants to discuss the Pharisees. Were they that bad? Now if we mean that these were evil men lurking in the shadows waiting to stomp on anyone who disagreed with them, then no. They weren’t. By and large, most Pharisees were simply ordinary citizens who had a certain view of the Torah and went about their own way. Ironically, I don’t see a mention of the historicity of the Pharisees starting out in the apocryphal writings.
I’d also like to note that Loftus is wanting us to understand the Pharisees. I have no problem with doing such. I just wonder if he’s willing to extend the same grace to the Christians in the Crusades. Are we going to say that they weren’t that bad or are they immediately going to be seen as blood-thirsty warriors who sought to kill all who disagreed?
Now I won’t say either that I think all the Crusades were justified or all that happened in them was. I do believe there is some justification for some of the activity that went on and I’m sure many of the Crusaders were men who thought that they were doing right by going and freeing the holy land of Jerusalem from the hands of the Muslims.
Enough about that. Let’s look at the Pharisees and what Loftus tells us about them.
First, they were patriots. Loftus tells us that they fought for the independence of Jerusalem years earlier. They were largely middle-class and the power they had depended on who was king at the time. They were respected by the people at the time and they were intent on living separatist lives from society. (Though certainly not as much as the Essenes.) They were zealous for the rabbinic traditions.
Second, they were indeed men of the book. These people knew the Tanakh backwards and forwards. This is something we need to grasp when we see how Jesus responded with them and said “Have you not read?” when speaking of the OT. This would have been seen as an insult to the Pharisees. They were, however, quite strict in their interpretation of the Law.
Examples Loftus gives are handwashing and the Sabbath. What is written is quite interesting and does show the point. Loftus wishes to make a caveat though. “It would be a mistake to think that the Pharisees were consciously trying to make life more burdensome for people.” (P. 217) I agree. I don’t think the Pharisees sat down with ill intent to think of ways to make life more miserable for people through the law. However, intent doesn’t tell whether something is right or wrong.
Next, Loftus gives the areas of content. The first is between the oral law and the written law. Jesus saw the oral traditions handed down as burdensome to the people. Again, while the Pharisees did not intend such, it is quite likely that that had happened. Jesus wanted to return to the law itself for them and reminded them that the externals of the law were not enough.
This gets us to the second point in fact. The Pharisees focused on external purity while Jesus emphasized internal purity. I don’t think though, if we considered this statement, that anyone would prefer people have external purity over internal purity. I disagree though that Jesus judged their motives. He judged their actions. The statements he makes in Matthew 23 refer not to the hearts of the Pharisees but their actions, like the oaths and the adding onto the law and the building of tombs for the prophets.
Lastly, the Pharisees wanted to separate themselves from the sinners. Jesus was a friend to them though and his reason was simple. He came not to call the righteous but sinners. In their defense, Loftus says they wanted to associate with people who fulfilled the law. Well and good. I would hope we would want to associate with godly people as Christians. I would hope though we would want to associate with ungodly as well though. That is the only way we are going to be salt and light to them after all.
Perchance, it would be easier to see the reason the Pharisees acted the way they did is not because of who the Pharisees were but who Jesus was. Jesus shocked the very social system of his time and that was not something the Pharisees were taking lightly. There was tremendous religious and political turmoil where Jesus went due to his nature and teachings.
Let us reconsider where the problem lies. It is not with our view of the Pharisees. It is with our view of Christ. Until we realize how revolutionary he was, how much of him have we really grasped?