Christ’s Syllogism Against the Pharisees

Modus TollensA Van Tillian friend of mine some time ago posted a link to an article by John W. Robbins of the Trinity Foundation. He spoke of it as an example of an “uncharitable” reading of one Christian author by another. In it, Robbins critiques a book by John Frame. Robbins’ comments about the book begin by addressing Frame’s ideas about the Pharisees. I’ll post the relevant portion of Robbins’ article.

“Frame wastes no time making startling statements. In a footnote on page 5 he writes:

“The Pharisees were very orthodox in their beliefs but, Jesus teaches us, devoid of true faith.”

Now Jesus does teach us that the Pharisees generally were “devoid of true faith,” but he teaches us that by denying that the Pharisees were orthodox in their beliefs: “You hypocrites! Blind Guides! Lovers of Money! If you believed Moses you would believe me; for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” Christ explicitly denies that the Pharisees held orthodox beliefs. Christ disagrees with Professor Frame.

Frame offers us a paradox -as his school of theology is so fond of doing -the paradox of an orthodox believer who does not believe orthodoxy. He confuses himself and his readers by using two words: faith and belief, as though they were different things. Jesus is not so confused, nor is the rest of the Bible: Faith and belief are the same, a true believer is one who believes the truth, and true faith is faith in the truth. As Jesus said, the Pharisees were devoid of true faith because they did not believe Moses, that is, they did not believe Moses’ writings. (Notice that “believing Moses” is “believing Moses’ writings” and “believing me [Jesus]” is “believing my [Jesus’] words.” Trusting a person and believing his words are the same thing.)

Frame’s elementary confusion about faith, which vitiates the rest of what he has to say about faith and psychology, could easily have been avoided had Frame believed what the Bible has to say about the mind and faith. But the school of theology to which Frame belongs has been struggling against the intellect for fifty years.

(from, A Christian Perspective on John Frame,

My friend and I argued over whether or not Robbins was right about Frame mistakenly calling the Pharisees “orthodox” in their beliefs. At the time, I spent too many pixels on what is a very easy to settle issue.

The Pharisees were not Orthodox. Period.

Robbins’ is resting Christ’s own deductive argument. Observe:

If you believed Moses’ words, you would believe in Me.

You do not believe in Me.

Therefore, you do not believe Moses’ words.

Note the form of the argument (viz, modus tollens or “denying the consequent”); the argument is valid. As for the premises, they are necessarily sound.

Christ’s argument, then, stands in direct contradiction to Frame’s assertion. Whatever the relative merits of Robbins’ article may or may not be is not really my concern here. Rather, I am drawing attention to the fact that Christ Himself states that the Pharisees are not orthodox.


Because they did not believe in Christ. To believe Moses’ writing is to believe Christ.

The point of my post is not to simply quarrel. I want to draw attention to a problem in apologetics. Namely, inductivism. You see, Christ’s Word is absolute. We don’t need to scour the New Testament for semblances of what we would consider to be orthodox enough theology. Christ tells us: The Pharisees did not believe Moses’ writing. Period. End of discussion. Yet I hear Christians speak about doctrine as if it is a matter of probability, percentages, averages and means, etc. “God usually doesn’t do x; therefore, ….” is the way that they argue.

But here God Himself tells us very clearly that “If x, then y; not y; therefore, not x” and still many would argue with Christ. Either Christ is correct, or Christ is not. The Christian who thinks that the Pharisees were orthodox implies that they believed Moses’ writings. And yet Christ says that the Pharisees did not believe Moses’ writings. Therefore, it is the professing Christian’s word against the Word of Jesus Christ at this point.

Are we wiser than He?

Before we subject the Word of God to the same immanentistic, empirical, and uncertain criteria of judgment (e.g. Percentages, averages, etc), let us take heed to the Word of God. God has spoken absolutely about this matter:

If the Pharisees were orthodox (i.e. Believed Moses’ writings), they would have believed Christ.

They didn’t believe Christ.

Therefore, they were not orthodox (i.e. Believe Moses’ writings)



3 thoughts on “Christ’s Syllogism Against the Pharisees

  1. Cyril X. Flowers says:

    Some people describe the Pharisees by saying, “Their doctrine was as straight as an arrow, but they just used it to beat people over the head.” (This, of course, is to try to condemn those who judge a person to be lost who does not believe essential gospel doctrine.) But the passage above debunks this foolishness. The doctrine of the Pharisees was not “as straight as an arrow” (orthodox); it was heterodox.


  2. cucumberlodge says:

    Very clear, coherent article. Really a blessing. I hold so many of Robbins messages in high regard. An excellent spokesman and teacher. Your analysis adds much needed clarity to an issue that is getting attacked with greater frequency lately.


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