Did the Pharisees Know Doctrine Well?

Did the Pharisees Know Doctrine Well?

Insofar as they knew their doctrines, yes the Pharisees were well versed in their own doctrines. However, when it came to Biblical doctrine the Pharisees were rebuked by our Lord Jesus for hold to their traditions/doctrines and ignoring the Word of God. So the Pharisees were well versed in their own false teachings, but as far as Scripture goes they were clueless. What is interesting to me is that somehow this obvious fact has been turned on its head, and the term “Pharisee” is used pejoratively to condemn those who place a strong emphasis on doing theology properly. Somehow, somewhere down the line, sound theology became associated with Phariseeism, while a lack of attentiveness to sound theology became a virtue. I tend to think that the root of this ungodly attitude is to be found in the liberal theology of several decades ago that snuck into the church and began destroying it from the ground up by saying irrational things like “No creed but Christ!” (which is itself a creed, and not Christ!)[1] and by placing Christ in opposition to the Scriptures. You see, these liberals did not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures so they denied the basic core doctrines of sound Christian teaching[2] but wanted to retain some sort of religious face. So they tried to make feelings more important than truth, by emotionally driven sloganeering (one phrase that comes to mind is “Doctrine divides!” which is, again, both doctrinal and divisive) that geared toward making professing Christians less concerned with knowing what the Bible teaches and more concerned with behaving in a way that they considered to be morally praiseworthy.

Moralistic emotionalism replaced level-headed Christian thought, and we are now seeing the fruit of such ungodly thinking. There are many who profess the name of Christ, but who view Him in a way that is completely inconsistent with what He actually reveals of Himself in Scripture. For instance, there are many who would identify Christians who are concerned with theological orthodoxy as “Pharisees” while maintaining that those who are nice or “kind hearted” and who do a lot of “good” are clearly, at least to them, “expressing the heart of Jesus” – no matter what they believe. I’ve heard professing brothers and sisters in Christ go so far as to claim that we cannot make a judgment regarding the salvation of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, and other anti-Christ religious movements. And what is implicit to their talk is the idea that it is not what a person believes that matters, but what a person does. In other words, the object of one’s faith is not what justifies him; rather, it is their works that justify them. And that, no matter how you slice it, is a satanic lie. I don’t think that those who say such unbiblical things are meaning to overthrow the faith, but whether they desire to do so or not, they are contributing to the devil’s work, and not Christ’s.

Hence, the title of my post; the Pharisees twisted Scripture in order to promote the breaking of God’s commandments,[3] and created traditions that gave more authority to than they did to the Scriptures.[4] They did a lot of good by giving to the poor,[5] praying in public,[6] and fasting for extended periods of time.[7] Even our Lord Jesus said that they “outwardly appear[ed] beautiful,” but which were dead on the inside.[8] They were promoters of false doctrines which Christ exposed over and over again and warned His disciples about.[9] The irony of this, though, is that I’m almost convinced that the Pharisees would be exalted in our day as holy men whose sincerity we shouldn’t be questioning since, after all, it doesn’t matter what they believe, because, you know, we’re all fallible…right? Unfortunately, it is too easy for me to imagine the Pharisees being held up as exemplary people of faith, despite the fact that Christ told them that their spiritual deadness was evident in what they said, i.e. what they believed, about Christ,[10] and not only in how they conducted themselves.

In fact, it was their doctrine that was worst of all in our Lord’s eyes. I was raised to think of the Lord Jesus as a sentimentalist who, like Rodney King, just wanted us all to get along nicely. This Jesus was powerful and mighty – but He really didn’t care much for doctrinal orthodoxy. What this Jesus wanted was to make you feel at ease, and to make you go out and help people get on with life. Now that the Lord has saved me, and taught me from His Word, not my experiences or emotions or philosophies, and used teachers throughout church history to rebuke me, and humble, and show me that I have no right to prance around and speak authoritatively just sort of “off the cuff” because I have “an anointing” or because “the Spirit is moving in me,” I know better. In a word, by God’s grace I’ve learned that Jesus was very concerned with doctrine, since He is the point of all doctrine, He is the subject of all proper theology, as He is the pivot of all history. If our teaching about Him is drastically wrong, then it is evidence that our hearts are probably not in the best spiritual condition. The Pharisees are a prime example of this, but there are many throughout church history who exemplify this fact.

Consider the teachers on the Trinity Broadcasting Network who spin doctrines out of thin air, sometimes borrowing concepts from the occult and blending them with Christian sounding terminology (see, the word of faith movement, for example), and then are held up as godly men and women for their spiritual powers and their contributions to the poor and needy. Consider Mother Theresa, a woman who believed in a completely different Jesus than the One our Scriptures proclaim to us, and who is yet praised as an example of Christ’s love. Consider Ghandi, a man who rejected the truth of Scripture, and who is yet lauded as a holy man who probably had a connection to God. This is not only illogical thinking on behalf of those who call themselves by the name of Christ, it is pure blasphemy. “Good deeds” are only good when they meet the criteria that God lays out in His Word regarding what a good deed is; and the number one criterion is not the act itself, but the motivation behind the act. Are the lying prophets of TBN performing their tricks in order to glorify God? No. They are doing them to line their pockets with the social security checks of desperate widows and the weak willed. Was Mother Theresa doing “good” to glorify God? No. She was doing whatever she did because she believed that her works were “meriting” (i.e. earning) her a place in heaven. I’m sure she now knows that she was wrong for blaspheming Christ that way. Lastly, was Ghandi doing what he did in order to glorify God? No. He hated Christ, refusing to acknowledge that all men are sinners who are in need of a Perfect Savior – even self-professing holy men who fast and meditate and pray and say things they mean to be profound but which are, in reality, satanic gobbeldy gook.

Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you think that the Pharisees were concerned about orthodox doctrine, please read your Bibles again. They weren’t. They were concerned with lining their pockets with the money of the powerless, appearing to have a super-special connection to God, nullifying God’s Word in order to establish their false doctrines and man-made traditions, and, worst of all, blaspheming Jesus Christ in order to exalt themselves. The Pharisees were rebuked for twisting scripture, teaching false doctrines, and for ignoring God’s Word so that they could get a spiritual high by means of their practice of unscriptural traditions. Jesus Christ was very concerned about doctrine: For it is the object of faith (Jesus Christ) that justifies men, not their “good” intentions and “good deeds.”

[1] The idea that liberals attempted to convey by using this phrase is that creeds, i.e. statements of faith, were divisive, whereas Christ unites people together. They failed to realize that Christ Himself taught that His teaching would bring division (in one’s own home no less, cf. Matt 10:34-35; John 15:18-22), and that the apostles advocated division over doctrinal matters of serious consequence (cf. Ro 16:17-18; Phil 3:2-3; 1 Tim 1:3-4, 18-20; 2 Tim 2:16-19; Titus 3:10-11; et al). For a related article, see John W. Robbins’ article in the Trinity Review entitle, Why Heretics Win Battles.

[2] J. Gresham Machen discusses the heretical views of liberal “Christians” in his book Christianity and Liberalism.

[3] Cf. Matt 15:3-6

[4] Cf. Matt 15:1-6

[5] Cf. Matt 6:1-2

[6] Cf. Matt 6:5

[7] Cf. Matt 6:16

[8] Cf. Matt 23:25

[9] Cf. Matt 16:5-11

[10] Cf. Matt 12:22-35


4 thoughts on “Did the Pharisees Know Doctrine Well?

  1. murderyourSELF says:

    awesome! This is definitely an accusation I get a lot when I talk about doctrine. I think the “Pharisee card” is another way for people to say, “I have nothing to say here.”


  2. JL says:

    Thank you for a defense of correct doctrine over, as you term it, moralistic emotionalism. True doctrine comes from knowing Jesus Christ, because, as you say, He is the subject of all true theology. He is the Truth. The Greek Fathers say that the true theologian is one who prays, that is, he who practices intimacy with God. In a virtuous circle, true doctrine also defends the possibility of such a knowing relationship with God. You have to know God to know the truth about God, but you can’t know God if you believe falsehoods about Him!

    That said, I would offer the criticism that you or I cannot really know the motivations of people around us, and should refrain from passing judgment on them as individuals. That is exactly the sort of judgment Christ warned against. I don’t purport to know who around me is going to be saved. What I do know is that only those who are in Christ will be saved, because Jesus Christ is the only Savior. But how can I tell who is in Christ? By their works? As you say, good deeds can hide false doctrine. By their doctrine. Likewise correct doctrine can hide a lack of love. Those that are truly in Christ are characterized by right belief AND righteous lives. But there are so many chameleons out there of all different colors, I don’t make it my business to figure ’em out. What I think is more important is to defend correct doctrine as such, and point out the extreme danger of false doctrine as such, as you are doing here. What I mean is that I will not pass judgment on a Muslim, but I will on Islam. Muhammad will not save anybody, because there is only one Name that saves.


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